To spank or not to spank, that is the question.

Pencil illustration of a boy getting a spanked...
Pencil illustration of a boy getting a spanked bottom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To spank or not to spank, that is the question.

Here, in little old South Africa, we have finally caught up to the rest of the globe and we are outlawing parents spanking their children.  I am not so sure this is a good thing and I think we have totally missed the boat.

It is not about whether spanking is appropriate or not – or, at least, that is not where the focus should be.  It should be about good parenting versus bad parenting.  A bad parent can put their child in time-out, ignore their children and cause more damage to their child – without spanking.  I know of a couple – not good friends of ours – who lock their two-year old in a dark bathroom for timeout and they never spank their child.  I am sure that child – because this is what I would prefer – would prefer a quick spank on the bottom and be done with it, than to sit in a dark bathroom for two minutes.  A good parent can give an appropriate spank and raise well-balanced and healthy adults, because of the time, energy, love and devotion given to their children.  I think we need to focus on good parenting – not on spanking.  We are missing the woods for the trees.

A bad parent will totally lose it with their children, yell, scream, belittle their kids and cause more damage than a simple spank could ever have done.  While a good parent will realise that they are at breaking point, take a step back from the situation or call for reinforcements, if necessary, and then give their child a simple spank, when calm, so that the child learns that their behaviour was inappropriate.

Whilst I am not against spanking, I do think it needs to be the last resort.

And I do realise that the topic of spanking is a hotly debated topic, and that there is no easy answers.  You will find that some adults who were spanked as kids will say, “Well, I was spanked and I turned out okay” (which is what I would say), or perhaps it is more a case of, “I was spanked and I hated it and so it should be outlawed.”  Seriously, I got many spankings as a child.  And I am fine.  Yeah, I may battle with anxiety, but that has nothing to do with being spanked.  In fact, quite the opposite – being spanked kept me grounded and gave me boundaries that helped define my childhood experiences and me.  Take discipline away, and the child becomes wishy-washy with experiences and memories that have no clear definition – in fact, they begin to all roll into one hazy childhood memory with no landmarks, so to speak.  Although most experts recommend against it, many parents still report that they use spanking to discipline their children.

Sometimes parents spank their children out of desperation.  Have you ever felt that desperate when no matter what you do, nothing works?  I know with Baby Girl, I can put her in time out, take away her toys and nothing will work but a spank.  And in fact, it is funny, because it is more like a tap than a spank, but it works.  She will change her behaviour and we can get going with whatever needs to be done.

The other reason parents spank is often out of exasperation.  Sometimes spanking seems to be the first line of defence when a parent thinks, “I can’t believe you just did that.”  Then they react out of anger or fear with a spanking.  Unfortunately, this does not model healthy ways to deal with difficult feelings to children.  It can make parents inconsistent with their parenting, which promotes anxiety in children.


Yes, I totally agree, but parents are just human and kids need to also learn to relate to parents who are tired, have worked the entire day, and running out of steam and a constant nip, nip, nip in your ears just ain’t gonna cut it.  We are the adults, and we do need to be the stronger ones, of course, but we are just human – losing it with your child, because you have told your child a thousand times to not hit their little brother, and you haven’t slept since God created the world, is a normal reaction.  And you know what – they will cope.  They will realise that mom or dad is tired, and best I behave myself and on another day, when mom and dad isn’t so tired, well, we can have some more fun as a family.

People often say that one of the main problems with spanking is that it doesn’t teach kids how to behave appropriately.  For example, they say that spanking models aggression and kids who were spanked, often become aggressive.  Huh?  I was spanked and I don’t consider myself as aggressive at all.  Here is the thing – I get to discipline my kids because I am the adult and they need to learn what appropriate or inappropriate behaviour is.  What I am doing is discipline – whether I use spanking, time out, taking toys away, etc, this is what a child needs to learn and I have the authority as a parent to this.  In fact, it is my total and complete responsibility to do this.  If a child hits another child – it is not for discipline and children need to be made aware of the difference.  Every now and then Baby Girl will tell me that she will smack a girl at school for doing something wrong – and I explain to her that some mommies and daddies spank their children because they love their children and want their children to do what is right, but that never ever gives us the right to just go around hitting just anybody.  And I explain to her that sometimes her daddy or I will give her spank if she is naughty and not listening, and we do this because we love her and want what is best for her, but once again, that does not give her the right to go around hitting anyone.  She is a child.  I am the adult.  And best she know that difference if she wants to get anywhere in this world.  In fact, that’s like saying because I have wine, she can have wine – there are many activities I get to do as an adult that she can’t do, including doting out her own form of punishment.  She needs to learn the difference and realise that what I get to do now as an adult, she will have to wait many years before she gets to do the same (and blog about all I did wrong and how she is going to do it all better… :-))

Some people or experts on spanking seem to think that kids learn to feel shame from spanking.  Well, I think they need to learn fear and they need to learn to respect authority.  And what is the government going to do about the couple who put their two-year old in dark bathroom without the lights on when in time out?  Are they going to outlaw putting kids in time out or discipline altogether?

And please note that I consider there to be a HUGE difference between a slight spank on the bottom and beating your child until he is black and blue; a very big difference and although we try to lump that all together, kids are smart – they know the difference too.

As I have said, I am not against spanking, but I do believe it should be the last resort and there are other effective discipline methods for kids – like time out.  Or one that I just discovered worked so well with baby girl – I put her toys in time out.  She wasn’t listening and no matter how I tried to gain control of the situation, she had the upper hand and she knew it.  So, I took her most “precious doggie” (which is what she calls it) and put her doggie in time out.  It’s a little stuffed toy, by the way, not a real doggie:-).  She went ballistic – and promised to be a good girl.  She learnt that her behaviour was inappropriate and she learnt that I wasn’t prepared to keep asking until SHE decided to listen – she had to listen the first time around.

And then there is this whole discussion on knowing the difference between discipline and punishment, with the emphasis on punishment being wrong, and discipline being correct.  Seriously?  Aren’t we just playing with semantics here?  Kids don’t like to be told what to do – no matter how they are told.  They want to play and do the things how they want to do it.  And sometimes a child does need to be punished – like the kid who used to live down the road from hubby and I and tried to drown his cat in a bucket of water.  And sometimes discipline is more effective.  But, this idea of always just being these Stepford wives and having no real emotion when it comes to working with your kids just doesn’t sit well with me.  We are, after all, also human and kids need to learn to relate to us as such (even when they’re teens and think we’re totally over the hill).  And I am not saying this as a licence to do whatever you want – but we are not robots.  Where is the passion, the emotion, the feeling in life – now we’re all just told to stay calm, fasten your seatbelts, and move forward in an orderly fashion.  God did not make us all to be the same.

According to,

“Noted parenting expert John Rosemond will have none of this.  Using a simple term of his own, he calls a ban on parental spanking “hogwash.”  Rosemond says there is no credible evidence that spanking is harmful to children, and he doubts any assertion that spanking damages the parent-child relationship.  “I talk to people my age who were spanked, some with belts or other devices, by their parents.  With very rare exception, they claim to love their parents.”  He also says he’s yet to see any research that proves spanking “confuses children.”  “There’s no research on this,” Rosemond says.  “But I’ve asked lots of people who spank with their hands if their kids clearly know the difference between when they are about to receive a pop on the rear and when they are about to receive an embrace or a pat on the back.  Do I need to tell you what they’ve all told me?  I didn’t think so.”  Rosemond says spanking has been around for centuries, and points out that “today’s kids are significantly more prone to violent behaviour … yet today’s kids are not being spanked nearly as much.”  An interesting correlation to consider.  Rosemond does admit that spanking is not always the answer.  But he says there are some offenses that do indeed call for a spanking.  Because many parents spank for the same offenses over and over again, he contends “the problem with spankings, therefore, is the manner in which they are delivered.”  He goes on to say any spanking must be followed up with “corrective” instruction.  “Punishment without correction is a waste of everyone’s time,” Rosemond writes.  “So, the problem is not spanking.  The problem is that most parents do not understand how to ‘discipline a child.’”


And that is the crux of what I have tried to say – it’s not about spanking, it’s about good parenting – and making sure that parents know how to deliver appropriate punishment/discipline and to follow that up with good behaviour modification.  The focus should always be on good parenting and good family life.

I came across this lovely article that supported what I am trying to say…

Why Spanking is Needed

Perhaps the most controversial punishment is spanking.  Many parents will agree that it is sometimes necessary to punish a child; however, some parents will argue that a child should never be spanked.  Some parents think spanking is ineffective; others even think spanking is abusive.  In these pages I hope to show that spanking is effective.  And spanking is certainly not the same as abuse.  Let me be clear about what I mean by spanking.  A spanking is a series of smacks with the open hand or paddle on a child’s bottom.  Hitting a child on the face or any part of the body other than the bottom is not spanking.  This site is a defence of spanking and only spanking.  A spanking is painful, but it should never leave lasting marks like bruises or welts.  A parent that slaps a child in the face or hits her until she is bruised is not spanking.  That parent is being abusive and that is not what I am defending here.  There is no excuse for parents abusing children, and those who defend spanking are not defending child abuse.  However, we should not stop spanking because some parents cross the line into abuse.  That is throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

Some may feel that while spanking is not abusive, it is cruel.  After all, I have admitted that spankings are painful.  Yes, spankings are painful; they must be.  If spankings are to be effective, they must be painful enough for your child to want to avoid them.  Most children cry when spanked; some cry hard.  Parents don’t like to hurt their children, so why should they spank.  As we have seen, it is sometimes necessary to use punishment, and all punishments are painful.  Having to pay a ticket for speeding is painful; staying after school is painful, not getting to go to a party because of misbehaviour is painful.  Punishments have to be painful if they are to work.  (Remember punishments are unpleasant consequences that stop an unwanted behaviour.)  We should not stop spanking because it is painful.  On those grounds, we would never use any punishment.

A parent must sometimes do unpleasant things for the child’s own good.  A parent may have to let a doctor give her child a shot.  The shot is painful and makes the child cry, but it is necessary.  A spanking is the same way.  It is painful, and no parent wants to do it, but it is sometimes necessary.  Letting misbehaviour go unpunished would be even worse.  For example, a parent does a child no favours by ignoring his lying.  The child will grow up to be a chronic liar that no one will trust or want to be around.  Is that better than giving a couple of spanking for lying early on?

I think that spanking is no more harmful than any other punishment.  In many cases, I think it is preferable to other punishments such as time-out or grounding.  The advantages of spanking are its intensity and its duration.  There is no doubt that spanking is an intense (strong) punishment, stronger than sitting in a chair or staying home.  But you need an intense punishment when other forms of punishment aren’t getting the job done.  You also need intense punishment for misbehaviour that is particularly dangerous or flagrantly disregards your authority.  I’ll come back to topic of when to use spanking later, but for now, my point is that you sometimes need intense punishment, and spanking is about the strongest, most intense punishment there is.  The second advantage of spanking is its duration–it’s short.  Unlike grounding, which can last a day or more, or time-outs, which can last for several minutes, a spanking is over in a few minutes or less.  I don’t think there is any point in dragging out punishment.  It should be delivered swiftly and then the parent and child can move on.  I am not suggesting that time-outs and grounding should never be used.  I merely point out that spanking has the advantage of being finished when many other punishments are just beginning.

The Bottom Line: The intensity and duration of spanking make it preferable to many other forms of punishment.


No matter what form of punishment I use for Baby Girl, I always give her a big hug, and explain to her what she did wrong and how she should behave going forward.  And that is what needs to be put into law – not having spanking outlawed.

References and resources:

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