The debate over whether or not to spank one’s children has been raging for years. Violence and abuse has gotten out of hand and become unacceptable, almost to a point that it has become intolerable for parents to discipline their children using any form of physical violence. Some believe that it sets a bad example and the abuse may eventually get too out of hand. Many people protest this idea. They believe that, as parents, they should be allowed to raise their children in whatever way they choose, initiating the disciplinary actions they believe to be right for their kids. Many people also believe that it is unlikely that spanking would ever lead to irreversible physical violence against a child. While this is true to a point for most people, spanking simply is not answer when disciplining a child. It sends the wrong message to the child, can hurt the parent-child relationship, and does not allow the child to learn the correct behavior.
Many people believe that spanking is a good way to improve a child’s behavior; it shows them that what they are doing is wrong, and that they should stop. More to the point, it shows the child that their behavior should stop immediately. A child in the store, wailing over a toy they have been denied, may be spanked in order to correct the outburst. A boy who hits his younger sister because she has invaded his playtime may also be spanked because of his own physical outburst. It is true that spanking can be an effective method to show the child that what they are doing is wrong, but this is not the only message that spanking sends. Spanking is an act of violence, and can sometimes be traumatic for a child. Adults are large and while it may seem like a menial thing for an adult to yank a child off the floor and spank them, to the child this action can seem incredibly jarring. Rarely are words ever used during the act of spanking other than, “Stop it,” or, “Be quiet.” Because of this shortage in communication, coupled with the already jarring experience that comes with spanking, it can be difficult sometimes for the child to put the act into context.
They understand what they have done is wrong, but overtime they may only begin to interpret spanking as violence. Eventually, this message may become even more distorted, and begin to mean that violence is a way to get what one wants. As the child begins to realize that they are being spanked, and their parents glean the desired result from the action, the child will realize that they too can use force to get what they want. The result will likely be that they perpetrate violence upon those around them. Specifically in the example involving a small boy spanked for hitting his sister, this sends a message that violence is the answer to violence. Not only with the child learn the wrong message in situations such as this, but also they will likely learn it quicker because they have just acted out in violence themselves. Along with these negative messages, children learn that to be bigger and stronger, means to be better and more powerful. The message spanking sends is that if you are small, you are insignificant and weak. People who are bigger than you will break you down and beat you if they are given the chance or if you do not behave. While children do not have to be treated like adults, or as an adult is equal, they do not have to be shown they are inferior as humans just because they are smaller, as this is not their fault, but simply the act of growing up. In some cases, because spanking is an act of violence, and because the message that violence gets you what you want is what children learn, the child may continue to use violence as a tool. This can become a problem later in life, especially if the reason for spanking was never explained to the child. In extreme cases, the child may be abusive later in life, as an adult, and even toward their own children.
Aside from spanking sending several negative messages to the child, it also has the capacity to damage parent-child relationships. Sometimes these damages are irreversible. Krisha McCoy, MS, was quoted, saying that, “Discipline is a way of teaching children the restraint and values necessary to become competent and independent adults. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an effective discipline system contains three vital elements: A learning environment characterized by positive, supportive parent-child relationships, a strategy for teaching and reinforcing behaviors, and a strategy for decreasing and eliminating undesired behaviors.” None of the three aforementioned elements sounds as if they are conducive with spanking. Disciplined environments foster parent-child relationships while spanking, an act of violence, damages them. When a child acts out, there is often an underlying motivation behind it. Whether it is something significant, such as a bad headache or an unspoken fear, or something insignificant, like an annoying sibling, there is normally a reason. If a parent spanks the child, the parent is making it known that they have no interest in learning the underlying motivation that caused the child’s actions, but only to correct the child’s behavior. The child can begin to feel ignored, unheard, or invisible. Eventually the child will understand that their feelings, or the motivations behind their actions, do not matter.
The only things that will matter are the actions themselves. Instead of being an environment of safety, the home will become a place where the child knows they must be on guard. Instead of being a person that the child feels safe opening up to, the child will being to understand that a parent is only somebody to please. These scenarios are obviously extreme and suggest that spanking is the only method of discipline that is being used but the elements of discipline described by McCoy insist that parents instigate a learning environment that allows children to understand what is going on around them. This, in turn, allows parents to understand what is happening inside their children’s minds. This solution for a child’s behavior gives parents a chance to instigate disciplinary actions that are tailored to the child’s motivations, not their behaviors. A child may throw a tantrum, and if it is because they did not get their way then the child needs to be punished. However, if the child is throwing a tantrum because they are scared, or because they are confused by something, these feelings should be taken into consideration. If the child is simply spanked, they will begin to think that feeling scared or confused is bad. Furthermore, they will begin to believe that their parents are unconcerned with their feelings. This may prevent them from opening up in the future. For healthy psychological development, it is important that children feel safe expressing themselves and typically, the first people they open up to are parents and siblings. If they are unsuccessful in feeling comfortable enough to do this, it may stop them from opening up to others later, causing emotional blockage all because their parents spanked them instead of listened to them. Parent-child relationships should be full of respect; the child should respect the parent and should know when to behave. This fact does not mean, however, that the relationship cannot be loving and understanding. Adults can create a caring, loving atmosphere where children understand that they have acted out, and the parent must punish them in order to show them that what they have done is wrong. That punishment must include an explanation, not a smack on the bottom.
Perhaps the most damning of all the reasons that parents should not simply spank their children when they act out is that it does not allow the child to learn from their mistakes, nor does it allow the child to learn how to act properly in the future. Essentially, the child learns nothing other than the fact that the behavior in that moment was undesirable and now they have a sore bottom that they had better not cry about otherwise it would hurt even more. Rob Walters said, “When your child misbehaves or acts in ways that are defiant, inappropriate, or even dangerous, you want to show him that this behavior is unacceptable and needs to change. Spanking may seem like a direct and effective way to do that, but it also delivers other messages you don't want to be sent.” This is very true on several different levels. If a child acts out in a store because a parent will not buy them a piece of candy, a quick spanking may get them to be quiet so the parent and child can exit the store without embarrassment. However, too often parents do not explain to children why their behavior was wrong. In addition, even if they did, in most cases this procedure would be ineffective after the fact because children are most impacted by these discussions in the moment, not after a spanking and a public humiliation at the hands of their mother or father have traumatized them.
Whether the child throws a tantrum in a public place, disobeys, a command, or tries to jump in front of a train, spanking is never going to explain to a child why any of their actions were wrong, or what the appropriate action would be. Because of this, the child never learns how to behave, or why their behavior is undesirable, only that it is undesirable. The likelihood of the behavior repeating itself if the child does not understand why the behavior is wrong is very high. Subsequently, the likelihood that spanking will become more and more of a habit in the household is equally high. Because of these two things, spanking may even become ineffective, which can eventually result in harder spanking and, in some cases, relevant abuse. It is in this way that the act of spanking shows us that the child ultimately learns nothing, other than they have done something wrong. They may not even know what they have done wrong. It is always better to sit a child down and explain what they have done wrong, why it was wrong, and how they can act better. This conversation can follow a time-out, or be followed by a privilege being temporarily taken away. Many parents believe that talking is not a punishment, and it is not. However, spanking alone is not a punishment either; it is only a mechanism to control a child long enough for a parent to maintain their bearings. It teaches the child nothing, thus allowing the behavior to continue repeating itself. This in itself renders that act of spanking completely pointless.
In sum, while parents do have the right to discipline their children any way they see fit, within reason, spanking is not a long-term answer to behavior issues. Spanking can send the wrong message to a child. It is a violent act that lets the child know violence can get you what you want if you use it correctly. It also lets the child know that they are weak and inferior to those that are larger than they are.
This may teach the child to be fearful. Spanking can also damage parent-child relationships. Healthy disciplinary environments foster decent relationships between parents and adults that allow both parties to learn from one another. The parent is able to learn about the child’s motivations while the child is able to feel heard and validated. Healthy attachments are formed while proper disciplinary action can be taken according to the motivation. Spanking does not allow either of these things to happen. Finally, Spanking does not allow children to learn what they are doing wrong, or to learn how they should act in the future. Spanking acts as a temporary solution, quieting the child and letting them know they have acted badly. However, spanking does not explain what the child has done, why it was wrong, or what they should have done differently in order to appease the parents or those around them. Spanking is not a tool to teach children how to act in social situations, nor is it something that fosters growth in families. Talking to children and setting appropriate punishments based on what they have done is the only way to ensure that children will learn from their mistakes and behave properly as they age.