Spanking Works. But Parenting Takes Effort.

I’ll preface all of this by saying that I have spanked children.  I have smacked the bottoms of children I loved.  I’ve held a squirming child up by his forearm, the better to reach his rear end, and delivered swift blows intended to tell him that I meant Business.

Pup2

This face changed everything.

This was before I had a son of my own.  If I lied to you, I would say that I was just following the example their mother, administering discipline in a way she saw fit.  The truth is, anytime I spanked them, I was angry.  I had lost my patience.  I couldn’t breathe.  I had to Do Something.  Anytime I spanked them, it was an impulse.  A reaction to their behavior.  They had gotten the best of me, and I took it out on their backsides.  After having my son two years ago, I suddenly realized how very wrong I’d been. 

There is a particular group of people who share a popular belief:  the Kids These Days belief.  You know what I mean.  People who think Kids These Days wouldn’t be so out of control if someone would just reach out and smack the crap out of them once in a while.  People who say “Kids These Days don’t know what it means to have respect for their elders,” or “the trouble with Kids These Days is that they don’t have a healthy fear of their parents.”  You know.  The kind of people who post this stuff on Facebook:

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I cannot roll my eyes hard enough.  The funny thing about people who believe this crap is that they haven’t done the research that will tell them over 90 percent of parents admit to spanking their children.

90 percent!  You can’t get 90 percent of people in this country to agree on ANYTHING.  Except hitting their kids.  How terrible is that?  And if Kids These Days are so terrible, AND we’re already hitting 90% of them, doesn’t that say something? Like, maybe hitting kids doesn’t work?

Except it does work.  Yep, I said it.  Spanking works for sure.  Teacher Tom says,

 “If I disagree with you, shouting you down works.  If I need money, stealing works.  If you’re standing in my way, pushing you works.  Indeed, spanking may work, but there are better ways.  They just take more effort.” 

Well that’s just a shot straight to the guts, isn’t it?  Sure.  Spanking works.  But parenting takes effort.  There is no effort required in spanking a child except that very small bit of effort you need to make sure you hit them hard enough to get your point across, but not hard enough to leave a mark, right?  You don’t exercise extra effort to reach out and hit someone when their behavior doesn’t satisfy you.  There’s no self-control necessary to smack a child.  You need not have respect for a kid in order to smack them around.  You never have to “try harder” to beat a child.  There is no patience involved in it.  No virtue. No tolerance.  There is no love in spanking. 

 Argument #1:  Spanking is the only thing my kid will respond to.

I hear this in all its various forms.  Essentially, people claim that because children are small, and because they lack the proper reasoning skills to improve their behavior by logic alone, then physical punishments are the only thing that produces results.  Most often people use this argument when talking about particularly spirited kids (the kids with ADHD or other high-needs children).

To begin with, I think this is a pretty crappy thing for a person to say about their own kid.  He’s not smart enough to understand anything besides a beating?  You mean like a farm animal?  Part of the reason this argument doesn’t make any sense is that we don’t use it unilaterally against the rest of the population.  If we have adult family members with mental handicaps who are functioning with the cognitive abilities of a 3 or 4 year old, do we also spank them when they misbehave?  Should we also hit our grandparents who are victims of Alzheimer’s disease because they can’t understand anything else? That’s the only way this argument makes any sense.  Can’t people see that? 

Argument #2: My parents spanked me and I turned out just fine.

This is the hardest one for me to talk honesly with people about.  Part of the reason is that I don’t want to embarrass the person I’m talking to at the time.  I rarely discuss subjects as sensitive as spanking with people I don’t know well, so when someone says, “I was spanked and I turned out fine,” the response in my head is based around my knowledge of them as a person.  I had a female friend respond this way to a comment I made about spanking on Facebook.  She said she had been spanked several times and turned out “just fine.”  In my head, I wanted to point out that she was over thirty, severely withdrawnJustFine as a person with no close friends.  She had never had a relationship with anyone that lasted more than a couple of months.  She allowed the men in her life to treat her poorly, and she treated herself pretty poorly too.   But these are things no one wants to point out to a person face-to-face.  No one wants to be the person to put it all out there and say, “Look at you!  You are NOT fine!”

This isn’t to say that “fine” people were never spanked.  My sister, for example is enviably fine.  She has an amazing marriage (her first and only one), a career she loves (without having to try 6 other ones), has always been successful at everything she tried to do, and has completely owned her own life.  She was never held back by anyone.  She traveled abroad (boyfriend be damned) for long stretches of time, unafraid of the world in front of or behind her.  Even as a young girl in her early twenties, she never waited around for something to happen to her.  She went out and snatched her dreams, plucked them right out of the sky and made them happen.  So yes, she’s just fine.  And she was spanked.  Repeatedly.  Unfairly.  She was humiliated in front of friends on playgrounds and sent to sit quietly in her room while our father allowed the foreboding to overwhelm her almost as much as the beating would.

So maybe she’s fine.  But how much work did she have to do to get there?  I won’t go into details about how “fine” was not always so for her — that’s her story to tell.  But before you use the “I was spanked and I turned out fine” argument, ask yourself if you’re really “fine.”  And if you are, ask yourself what “fine” even means, and if “just fine” is good enough for your kid. At the end of the day, I would like to think we’d all want a little bit more than “just fine” for our children.  “Just fine” is a terrible, lazy, meaningless goal.

Argument #3:  You have to show them who’s boss!  You have to make them respect you!

Okay.  Let’s break this down first. 

  • Respect:  a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

  • Fear an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

 
Which one of these emotions do you think spanking causes?  Do you think striking a child makes them “deeply admire you” because of some ability or quality you have?  Or do you think they are becoming fearful of the only person in the world they were born knowing they could trust? 
 
You’d be surprised though, at how many parents on message boards will replace the word “respect” with “fear.”  As in, “a child needs to grow up and fear his daddy; he has to know there are consequences for his actions!”  And this always breaks my heart.  Because out there, somewhere, there really are people who think children should fear their parents.  And I can barely even respond to that.
 
Children are so tiny.  They are virtually helpless in this big world we live in, until we teach them how to live in it.  They do not learn by listening to the things we say.  They do not learn as the result of being hit by their parents. Children learn by imitation.  They learn to trust us at the very beginning of their lives as we provide food, shelter, clothing, love, entertainment, and everything else they might need for the first few years.  We are everything in their whole little world.  And then we turn around and hit them.
 
And yes.  It is hitting.  You could say spanking is different, but it’s not.  You are hitting your kid.  You might use a different word to make yourself feel better about it.  Spanking, swatting, smacking, popping, tapping, slapping.  Whatever.  It’s hitting, and you know it.
 
But when your kid runs onto the playground and some other kid won’t give him a turn on the see-saw right away, and your kid jacks the other kid right in the face, you’ll spank him again.  You’ll hit him.  To teach him not to hit.  And he’ll learn from you that it’s okay to hit people, as long as you’re bigger and stronger than them, and as long as you cover it up under the name of discipline.
 
I’ll admit that when I first set out to write this blog post, I imagined helping people see a different way to discipline their children.  I have been coming back to this every few days to try and include a lot of that here.  But the truth is, thinking about spanking and writing this stuff is so emotionally draining for me, I can barely tie up the loose ends on the points I’ve already made, much less launch into a lesson about gentle parenting.  But you can see that I’m not the perfect parent, either.  I wrote about it here
 
And if I’m lucky, there might be one person out there who even has an interest in parenting more gently, more respectfully.  If I’m lucky, there will be One Person.  Most of my other readers already agree with me, and the other visitors will defend until their dying day their “right” to hit their children. 
 
So, to the One Person Out There who wants some help, I promise you right now, my next post will be the Beginner’s Guide to Gentle Parenting. God knows, I was a beginner.  It’s hard.  It takes effort.  And yes, I’ll say it, not everyone is a good enough person to try it.  Some people will hit their kids forever. 
 
But you and me, One Person Out There.  We’re going to change the world.
 
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24 responses to “Spanking Works. But Parenting Takes Effort.

  1. Totally get you. I used to be one of those people who said it never did me any harm and I fully intended to use it sparingly when I had kids. Now I’ve got an eight month old and the idea of hurting him in any way at all, and let’s face it, you are deliberately *hurting* your child to make a point when you spank, is anathema to me. I wish there were more conversations about ways in which to communicate with your kids without smacking.

  2. I have an 8 year old boy… I have spanked him before… and looking back on it, nearly every single time I hit him, it was simply because he embarrassed me. He is not a manipulative child, far from it, but my own insecurities turned me into something I never wanted to be. I, personally, don’t want my child growing up thinking that bullying, intimidation, and/or physical harm are EVER appropriate problem solving techniques. And you’re 100% right – it takes effort. I find myself logically explaining things almost constantly, and usually it’s the same basic principles. Over. and. Over. It’s tiring. It’s monotonous. It’s frustrating. But I knew raising children would be all of those things before I decided to do it.

    • Honestly, I think the parents who are the most effective, the ones who REALLY get it (this whole gentle parenting thing) are the ones who made the mistake of spanking a child at one point. People like us have to work for it. We have to read articles, research new methods of communication, virtually re-wire our whole brains. It takes fierce dedication. I’m glad you’re here. I’m happy for your little one that you made it. And of course, happy for you. Well done, mama.

  3. I have joint custody of my two beautiful sons with my ex. We share an equal amount of time and the boys appear to be healthy and happy. Un fortunately my ex chooses to spank our sons and her and I disagree on the matter. It has gone as far as them telling me that she hit them with her belt and her shoe. I have pleaded with her to stop but she says that she was spanked and turned out fine plus the boys don’t listen to her like they listen to me. A few months ago during a custody exchange I asked her to stop feeding them so much candy etc. because the dentist found four cavities. Well after a few words she decided to punch me four times in the face in front of our children. I did not hit her back but I did call the police. The judge admonished her for her behavior but stated that she was just having a bad day. I don’t know how to deal with this situation at this point but I refuse to give up or walk out of their lives. I am heartbroken though and I don’t want to take the kids away from their mom because they absolutely adore her. I believe that she loves them as well but she has never had a handle on her anger.

    • My heart is sick knowing this. I can only say that you must keep copious records. Write down times and details. Press charges if you’re able to, for anything. Make sure you keep an open dialogue with your boys. They need to know that they will never be in trouble for telling the truth about what happens there. They are so lucky to have you. I’ll keep you all in my thoughts.

  4. I loved your blog! My son is two and is my world! I feel like we have a great loving relationship but I spank him when he doesn’t listen and lately he misbehave much more and he doesn’t respect me at all and it also seems pike he is becoming more violent because of his punishments! I think this all is coming from him being spanked! I also just had his little sister who is two months old. I’m married 26 y/o woman. I am very interested in learning your gentle parenting blogs!!! Please help Dare!!

    • You CAN become a gentler parent, and yes, the outbursts from your little one are likely just him copying the behavior he sees you using to correct him. For now, check out ahaparenting.com for some really REALLY great articles on gentle discipline. Check back in here or just follow the blog to see more posts from me. I promise, you can do this!!

  5. Really interested to read your Beginner’s Guide. My son is 11 months old, and my husband and I grew up very differently. (He was spanked. I never was.) We’re in negotiations about how to raise our kid(s), so I look forward to your next post!

    • Thank Lex! I look forward to writing it! I’ve got most done, but need to set aside the time for the finishing up part. Look for it soon!

  6. Wow. I must be the only proponent of spanking reading this. I completely agree that you should NEVER spank in anger. It has happened in our household and I do believe it does more harm than good. However, a well thought out administering of an appropriate spanking can be very effective. I was spanked as a child, very rarely, mind you, but very effectively and appropriately, I believe. I have one of the most gentle parents on the planet, and my other parent is the paragon of reason, but they both spanked their children when it was necessary, not in anger, but in an attempt to send the message that obedience was paramount in this ugly and dangerous world. Anyway, I’m just sayin’ that when a spanking is delivered rarely, and thoughtfully, it has it’s place in a parent’s repertoire of discipline.

      • As bad as hitting a child is, in any mood, I can make sense of hitting a child in anger. I don’t spank my children, tho I did a few times with my oldest when I just had no other tools.
        But to hit a child when you’re not angry? When you are calm, and to hit your child purporting that you are hitting him BECAUSE you love him, and now that you are calm, you still find it in yourself to HIT. YOUR. CHILD. Wow, I still don’t have words for how that damages a child.
        It’s one thing to dismiss hitting as something that happens in anger, but something becuase you love another person? How is that any different from one partner hitting the other?
        There is no appropriate way to hit a person you love. There just isn’t.

    • Is obedience really paramount? Because honestly, I’d think that the kind of person I’d like to raise is quite the opposite of obedient. I’d like to raise a person who thinks for themselves, questions what he’s told, even if it’s me he’s questioning. Obedient? No, thank you.

      • my philosophy exactly! we’ve got enough people following along blindly, i don’t want to raise a sheep. i want to raise a person that will be loving, moral, and fair towards others because it’s the right thing to do, not solely because they’re afraid of the consequences if they don’t.

  7. Well done! I made my husband agree he would never use physical discipline on our children before I would agree to marry him. It was a strange concept to him but he agreed. I had been working with children for a long time and he has always respected my parenting. I still tell people, if I had not made the decision to use positive parenting techniques before I had children, I probably would have spanked in the heat of the moment. It is a decision that needs to be made before our patience is being tested, not in the heat of the moment. The rules I’ve come to follow, to stick to positive parenting, are few and simple. The first is, say yes to everything you can because once you say no, you have to stick to it no matter how big the tantrum. You don’t want to find yourself sticking to an arbitrary decision to say no. Children have to know you mean what you say and won’t change your mind. Once a tantrum or other patience testing behavior ensues, remain absolutely calm. It isn’t a personal attack on you, it isn’t a battle to be won, it is a child working out their frustration while learning the rules. Once they know what the rules are, they will trust you to be fair and consistent and that is how you earn respect.

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