Spare the Rod: What Spanking Teaches Children

I heard a comedian the other day, who really made a good point.  He said essentially this:  “My friends are always questioning my choice not to spank my kids.  They’ll often say, “Never?  You’ll never spank you kids?  There’s no situation where you think you might need to spank your kids?”  When I say I’ll never hit my wife, nobody says, “Never?  You’ll never hit your wife?  There’s no situation where you think you might need to hit your wife?”  This logic got a good laugh from the crowd, and I think it was spot-on.

I was teaching a group of care-givers recently and was surprised as I realized that while they were each aware that spanking was not acceptable in their professional setting, there was definite support for spanking at home.  And so our training took a sidebar.  We talked about what spanking teaches children, and I thought I’d share the same with you.

“Hitting is Acceptable Communication.”

I heard one proponent of spanking say, “Sometimes you just need that spankin’ to get their attention.”  Do you want your child to get people’s attention by hitting, or by using words, eye-contact, and soft touches?  Whichever you choose, be sure your behavior is likewise.

“Do as I Say, Not as I Do.”

We’ve all seen it.  The Grand Pooh-bah of all inconsistencies.  “Stop hitting your brother!” ….followed by a smack.  How can a child make sense of being hit for hitting?  How can an adult say hitting is not allowed, when they themselves will hit?  Spanking, particularly for physical aggression, is hypocrisy and will send confusing messages at the very least.  Very likely, it will also degrade your position as a trusted adult and mentor.

“Might Makes Right.”

For some children, spanking sends the message that it’s not OK to hit…..unless you’re bigger/in charge/ a grown up.  Consequently, many children will feel justified “spanking” other children when they are the older one, the bigger one, or simply want to be in charge.

A Question…

When you spank, are you truly trying to guide the child’s behavior, or are you reacting to your own urges and overpowering anger and frustration?  Responsibly guiding a child can never be done out of anger.  That doesn’t mean we don’t feel angry, but anger can’t be the source of our action.  Guidance has to come from love and respect and a desire to shape positive behavior.  Not a desire to punish with pain.  Some may argue that spanking is not the same as hitting, but a child won’t likely know the difference.

Abuse and Bad Practice

There are two over-arching premises in opposition to spanking.  One is that it can be abusive, and the other is that it is simply bad practice in terms of its effectiveness in teaching children correct behavior.

I was spanked on occasion as a child, and I certainly don’t think I was abused.  But I do know that some people believe they are “disciplining” their children when they resort to abusive tactics in the name of “spanking”.  That line can often be so small it’s nearly invisible.  It’s best not to start something that could easily get out of control.  Something you will inevitably regret.

But even if you are quite certain you would never spank out of anger, never cross that line into abuse, spanking is simply not good practice.  If you’re trying to teach good behavior, can that ever be accomplished by using broken tools? 

Spanking a child does nothing to teach a child good behavior.  It doesn’t build problem-solving skills, or communication skills, or magically instill them with the ability to share.  It teaches them only that they are “bad”, that they need to be “punished” and that your protection and love is conditional.

Better Tools

As the comedian above pointed out, many people are skeptic when they hear a parent will not spank.  They envision a passive, laissez faire parent with an unruly child as a result.  But it isn’t a lack of spanking that causes poor behavior.  It is the lack of tools.  Spanking is a broken tool.  But it’s a tool many people cling to because it’s the only one they have.  Once parents become aware of a full assortment of tools they can use to effectively guide child behavior in a positive way, they can be more confident as they lay their broken tools aside.

For more on positive guidance, click here.

Top photo by DAVIDKNOX.
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Filed under Child Development & DAP, Positive Guidance and Social Skills, Uncategorized

29 Responses to Spare the Rod: What Spanking Teaches Children

  1. Oh, Amanda, thank you for this important post. Children learn by modeling our behavior. If they see and experience adults hitting children, how confused must they be when they hit another child and are told, “We don’t hit!”

    I love that you don’t just counsel against spanking, but that you have also provided helpful links to provide parents with other positive tools.


  2. Excellent post!
    So true about what it teaches…all of the wrong things… you don’t want a child to use brawn over brain to work through a problem…you don’t want a child to pummel another, so why would anyone choose to spank if they want their children to be peaceful, kind, and loving?
    I grew up in an era when spanking was the way that most parents disciplined their children.
    My mom did not like to spank at all, so she would make a laundry list of our naughty deeds and would give them to my poor dad, who would get home late from work and see what we had done…
    he hated to spank, so he would give us a choice of what we wanted as a punishment, namely:
    a spanking, sent to our rooms for the evening, or miss t.v. for a week.
    I always went without t.v. (could have cared less about t.v.) but it did not teach me a thing…
    My sister always selected going to her room (her dolls were in her room) but it did not teach my sis a thing…
    My brothers always chose the spanking. All it taught them was that they could duke out a problem, and many times, that is what the four of them did with each other.
    My dad would practically implore them to not choose the spanking, as he hated to give them so many hours after they had done whatever it was that got them into trouble.
    My parents were so happy when the whole time out thing came along, but that wasn’t until my much younger brothers came along.
    Time out always seemed like a much more effective way to handle things, as my mom felt comfortable with it and all would be handled before my dad even came home from work…
    know that some people now speak out against time outs, but those to me seem far more effective, as if done correctly, it gives both the child and the parent a chance to cool off and gather their thoughts before having a debriefing of what happened and how things would be better the next time if different, more appropriate choices are made.
    They do not have to be punitive, or a way of shaming a child…to me, they should just be a time for people to be more rational.
    If we want improved behavior, we need to have the child learn to be introspective and for the child to learn to self monitor and choose more appropriate ways to express their frustrations rather than to do something that they should not do.

  3. I really enjoyed this post. Like you, I was occasionally spanked as a child, but don’t see it as abuse. Knowing the research and the fact that it does send the wrong message, I have chosen not to spank my own children. I love that your post set the points up so clearly, and distinguished between abuse and the ineffective nature of spanking. Thank you!

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  5. amandaisamomma

    Umm have you written a book yet? Can I pre-order the one I hope you do write?! Bravo- I just love what you have to say.

    • notjustcute

      Funny you should mention that! I actually do have an ebook in the works and hope to have it out in the next month or so. As for pre-ordering, I’ll be sure to offer subscribed readers advanced notice and an exclusive “early launch” price. Stay tuned! And thanks for your encouragement. It’s great to read back on these kinds of comments when I find myself wondering if anyone will want to read what I’m working on!

  6. Wanted to let you know that I gave Not Just Cute an award…love, love, love your blog…

    Colleen :)

    • notjustcute

      Thank you so much, Colleen! “Substance” is one of the most flattering descriptors I could hope for! Thank you so much for being a part of my community of readers! Now, as far as the five words go, I struggle with brevity! Ummm, “Loving, supporting the whole child”. I feel like I’m trying to write a Haiku! At any rate, thank you so much for your words of encouragement!

  7. Shelby

    I LOVE THIS… I told parents this when I worked in social services, before having children, violence only teaches violence. Now that I have my own toddler, I find myself in situations constantly that another parent might find spanking (or other forms of abuse) appropriate. I find empathy works for us…saying, “I know you’re having a hard day, lets hug and calm down. Mommy has hard days too.” After just a few times of using this, my child has stopped hitting me…as we all know, toddlers have difficulty communicating emotions, so hitting is the logical answer for them. I have to say, when I see her with other children and they are frustrated, she babbles then hugs. Shows I’m doing something right. Again, a good supportive note for us parents who are not interested in spanking or other forms of abuse. And yes, I consider spanking abuse.

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  9. Amy

    Sorry, I don’t see this at all. As someone that was spanked as a child I don’t have any abusive tendencies as an adult. I see this with A LOT of my friends and family (and my own children) that were raised the same way. Spanking is never done in anger and it’s WRONG if it is. No, I would never hit my child but that is completely different. It’s very easy to stay on that thin line between spanking and abuse when it is done out love not anger.
    Yes, it is entirely possible to raise a child without spanking but spanking is one way and I believe the Biblical way which is what I’m striving for.
    No offense to anyone who chooses not to. I wouldn’t force my convictions on anyone else. I just needed to put it out there that spanking does not always and as I see it, rarely ever leads to violence.

    • maureen C

      I am sorry but your sttaement that spanking ” seldom leads to abuse” is absured. I have been a social worker for 25 years and 12 years within a child protective agency. Mosr of the supported cases of physical abuse we’re done in the context of discipline or physical punishment. Parents who choose to use spanking…especially with implements …raises the risk level to teh hcild. The younger the child, the higher the risk . California in fact, just a few years back, had legislation to protect the youngest victims of abuse by creating laws that would not allow any form of physical discipline for children three or under. There are so many credible, experienced and wise christian pediatricians and child developmental experts who encourage parents not tp spank and use gentle forms of dicipline…including Dr. William Sears. Have you read his work?

  10. Thank you so much for this entry! I’ve forwarded it to everyone I know, including a family who believes strongly that spanking is an appropriate behavior. Although it sounds “funny,” I think your reference to the comic in the first paragraph sums it all up in a very logical way…..

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  13. Good post. I liked this one and your other one about not spanking.

    Good analogy from the comedian.
    Brave of you to speak up about something that’s accepted in many christian homes.

  14. Once again, you’ve helped me articulate what I’ve been feeling:) I’m so glad I’m catching up on your blog and that you linked this post from last year, because the timing is perfect! I’ve been thinking a lot about disciplining and setting boundaries for my son without resorting to spanking, but I didn’t know where to go for help. Now I do, and I’m excited about your book! Your blog is a blessing to me; thanks for taking time to look beyond the cute.

  15. Pingback: Christians Who Don’t Spank and Why | Why Not Train A Child?

  16. Jessica DeVore

    It’s comical that you would include a quote from someone comparing disciplining your child to beating your wife! Ha Parents HAVE to teach their children right from wrong, something that husbands don’t have to do to their wives, the two aren’t even related. From then on your article just seems very immature and unbeleivable. Furthermore, every example you provide as reasons not to spank your children are acceptable reasons, but they’re extreme cases and not always true. When people just randomly hit their child without teaching them anything that would be classified as abuse and not discipline or spanking so please don’t try and confuse the two. Spanking can be used in a very loving and structured manner and when done properly it is the most effective form of discipline.

    • notjustcute

      Jessica, I agree the dynamics between spouses is different than that between parent and child. The thing that is interesting to me is that swatting/spanking/hitting anyone other than your own child is protected against. The other connection is that in the past (as well as in other cultures currently) a man has had the right to hit his wife. From that viewpoint, it’s something I can’t logically get behind.
      Beyond that, however, I just don’t think it’s the only or best way to teach children right from wrong. There are other guidance tools I prefer to use. The research I’m aware of does not support the idea that spanking is the most effective form of discipline. The American Academy of Pediatrics Positition Statement offers a research-based statement on discipline in which they state:
      “Despite its common acceptance, and even advocacy for its use, spanking is a less effective strategy than time-out or removal of privileges for reducing undesired behavior in children. Although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use. The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse. Thus, at best, spanking is only effective when used in selective infrequent situations.”
      (Full statement here:;101/4/723#B16.)

      As I’ve said before, I was spanked perhaps a handful of times and don’t feel I was abused at all. I know and love people who have/do use spanking as a guidance tool and respect their right to a difference of opinion. However, based on research and philosophical views, it’s simply not something I can personally get behind.

    • maureen C


      Could I ask where you have found your research that it’s the most effective form of discipline? I must be missing something! I have been a social worker for 25 years. I am a master’s level licensed clinician and have done enormous amounts of research over the years both before and after earning my degree. We do know in our filed that spanking yields long term compliance through intimidation and fear of physical pain, however, there are no credible studies or research to suggest that spanking has any long term benefits over other form of discipline. In addiiton, there are 17 negative results or outcomes from spanking which can potentially effect the child in ways that parents never intended.

  17. Anthony

    This entry points out some important issues about improper parenting; but, it does not address the merits of spanking. The comedian could have said he is training his children for jail by using timeout. And the parent could have said ‘sometimes the child just needs [timeout] to get their attention.’ Regardless of the disciplinary method, it goes without saying that correcting a child’s behavior must never be done in anger. If spanking is used improperly it can be abuse; yet, with proper communication legitimate spanking is a powerful parenting tool.. There was no evidence given as to why spanking is ineffective other than a slippery slope argument towards abuse. If communicated correctly, spanking is not a broken tool. Spanking is not hypocrisy when it includes understanding and does not send mixed messages to children when used correctly. Spanking, when used correctly, demonstrates parental love and commitment. Spanking must be accompanied by an explanation and not left to the child to assume they are ‘bad’ or figure out ‘why’ they were spanked. The main problem is that some parents don’t know ‘when’ or ‘how’ to spank their children. This problem doesn’t mean that they should not spank them. When properly employed, spanking is biblical and instructs the child. As a Christian, discipline must include the rod and communication. These items must be woven together and balanced. They are not stand-alone methods.

    The crux of this issue boils down to correcting a child’s behavior. “When the experts tell you that you must find what works with each child, they are saying you must find the idols of the heart that will move this child.” Pop psychology and various methods of behavior modification may correct the behavior but they do not address the true issue at stake. Spanking, when appropriately used with communication, addresses the issue behind the behavior, the sinful nature of the heart. However, making deals with your kids (like bribes and contracts), rewarding and punishing behavior for being good or for being bad, using emotional appeals, using punitive correction (grounding and timeout), or using some mixture of all of these ideas only teaches a child to be selfish and provides a child with functional idols around which to organize his life. The method of correction is as important as the results. Don’t spare the rod. Use it correctly!

    • maureen C

      Why in the world do you believe that a child is unable to learn something unless you inflict physical pain on them? If you can look beyond your literal view of the bible and the absurd belief that a child’s heart is sinful, then perhaps you can lead and teach without the threat of pain. I have two lovely, intelligent, compassionate and talented daughters and I never for one moment considered hitting them to gain compliance. I used my words and communicated…even when they were very young and guess what…they listened and did the same! I would never want or expect unquestioning compliance to authority from my children, this is dangerous and not a trait that I would ever encourage. I enjoy that they are strong, opinionated yet respectful girls and expect that they may grown to be loving and gentle mother’s one day.

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  19. Just a Canadian who reads a lot.

    In my opinion Not spanking is just as wrong as Spanking all the time.

    I have one point to make. Can you bake a cake without beating the ingredients together? What will your cake look like if you don’t EVER beat the ingredients. I mean some people feel the need to beat the eggs and then add some flour and then beat it again and then add more ingredients and so on and so forth. Some people put it all in 1 bowl and beat it once. That’s all it needs anyway right? Why make a mess and add more dishes and work for yourself? Simple and clean is all it needs.

    And before anyone who thinks they’re a smart-ass and says a word, I’m well aware that a child is not a cake. This is a dumbed down comparison to explain my point.

    Which is: Parents need to learn HOW to spank. Where, When, How and Why. And they need to NOT rely on using spanking as the only tool. That is the major issue that should be addressed. After a spanking the parent is required to give the child time to think about what happened and why? Followed by the good parents duty to then approach the child and calmly/gently explain everything.

    My mother always came in 1 hour later and said. “Sweetie, do you know why mommy spanked you?” And at first I would say no. But after a few times I started answering her. I started understanding and guessing what the wrong thing I did was on my own. I was spanked a total of 6 times in my life. The very last one was with a wooden spoon (With good reason) I was 4 years old and a friend and I went out in a dingy(Rubber blow up boat) across the river and to the rapids to play around. Upon the millions of reasons why that was bad there were a couple main ones.
    1)There are bears roaming around those rapids
    2) We were in a blow up dingy in rapids
    3) No one knew where I was or where we went. Hello, I almost became a missing child on a cereal box.

    When my father DID find me he took me home and yelled and screamed at me and my mother got the wooden spoon.

    After the fact, I was grounded and I sat in my room wondering what I did to make them mad. In which case a few hours later they both came in and sat down and talked to me gently about why what I did was so wrong. I had scared my parents to death and I nearly got myself killed. That helped me realize that I should be mindful with my actions. I never got the spoon again-or a spanking, due to the fear of the consequences that could follow my actions not just to myself, but to other people as well.

    To have the smoothest batter one needs to blend the ingredients nicely. Parents need to use multiple elements in discipline. More then one lesson can be taught.

    Spank=stop what you’re doing, pay attention, this is wrong, don’t do it again.

    Give Time After= Let them be isolated to think, take away their toys so they don’t get distracted, keep them in a time out if you must. They need to wonder WHY and they need to WANT to look for answers.

    Approach and Explain: Finally, re-approach them with a lighter mood, and explain to them those answers. This is the opportunity to teach them vast amounts of common sense, right and wrong, morals and values, respect. You can gain their respect here by treating them on an equal level. Show them that you are forgiving and they can learn to be forgiving to others as well. Show them here that yes they made a mistake and prepare them for the real world where when you make a mistake you lose your job. But also, now they can be prepared to pick themselves up again. They can forgive themselves and they can forgive others because you are teaching them to understand important lessons.

    This formula is for those big No-no’s! It’s not something you use when your child say, hit their sibling. The Parent has to learn WHEN to spank. It’s common sense. If you hit a child for hitting their sibling that is contradictory. Never contradict yourself as a parent. Because kids are smart and curious and they will ask questions. “Why can you hit me and I cant hit him?!” And that’s when the “BECAUSE I SAID SO.” “BECAUSE I’m BIGGER. Because I’m your mother!”
    “These answers are NOT what you want to Teach your child. LEARN HOW to use the disciplinary tools. Create that curiosity that when they are inquizitive and awaiting to accept your answers you can give them valuable information that will help them in life.

    This is merely my view based on experience and also reading hours of oppositions. I’m not saying any one persons view is wrong or right. But It just seems like the debate of ‘Spanking or Not?’ is like saying, ‘Sleep or food?’ When in reality you need both, and you need them in the perfectly blended amounts.

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