March 3, 2024


Spanking is an act of violence, so ethically, it could be justified only if there was absolutely another way to improve the way kids act.” 
Ken Gallinger, Ethically Speaking, Toronto Star

 “Spanking does not teach inner conviction. It teaches fear, deviousness, lying and aggression.”
Dorothy Corkhill Briggs   

What is discipline? The key definition of discipline: if behavior decreases over time; it is discipline; if not parents are just fooled with the seduction of short term responses that seem like success.

Recently I read a note on the internet that made me cringe. The essence was “thanks for the spankings. See how well I turned out; isn’t that what we need more of today with all the problems we are having with kids.” Responses essentially agreed.  

This is a narrow and short sighted view. It may be possible to use spanking in a way that might be helpful. However, having worked with hundreds of parents, that had no success with spanking their kids, and being familiar with studies about spanking, I strongly disagree. I would add many of these same parents are less than satisfied with how they turned out, having also been spanked as youngsters.

Following are seven problems with the use of spanking as a mode of discipline:  

  1. Guilt — the parent often feels guilty spanking their child; the result is soon afterwards they hold them and talk gently to them. Essentially the child learns that misbehaving means getting pleasant attention and maybe the spanking will be “worth it”. Interestingly the guilt is useful at its foundation, namely feeling guilty for hitting makes sense.
  2. Inconsistency — the parent’s guilt results in overlooking inappropriate behavior. A parent feels bad about hitting their child and seeing them cry. Then   the parent dooesn’t want to spank again; thus may not follow through with any discipline the next time that behavior happens. There goes consistency.
  3. Anger — whose needs are being met with spanking? In most cases, the behavior has happened again and again. Eventually the parent gets angry. The Result? Spanking is done because of anger, not the child’s actions.  Done with anger, the parent’s adrenaline can increase and abuse may occur. We know from the human flight or fight response that when fueled by adrenaline and cortisol, rationale decreases, energy intensifies. Spankings may become beatings.
  4. Rewards — there appear to be short term rewards for the parents. They feel like they have done something and the behavior may immediately stop; the parent is relieved, feels it “worked.”  Frequently though the behavior is repeated the next day and the next. The broader sense of discipline needs to be what helps in the big picture — in the long run. There is risk of falling in to the trap of the parent doing the same thing over and over, but continuing to get the same ongoing non cooperative behavior from the child.   
  5. Aggression — spanking does not bring people closer. It does not contribute to a loving relationship. It may create more belligerent conduct.
  6. Role Model — hitting to solve problems is not the role model most parents want. It seems particularly ironic and self defeating to use spanking to punish kids for fighting. This point is further complicated when spanker will use a weapon such as a belt, metal ruler or switch apparently thinking more pain makes it more useful. There is, by the way, no evidence that pain enhances discipline.
  7. Instability — spanking as discipline often indicates unbalance in the home. What happens is one parent (let’s say mom) says “wait till the dad gets home.”  Dad then becomes one to be avoided, the parent to fear. Mom may become the confidant, who often over looks misbehavior or befriends the child. The waiting is a problem.  By the time the spanking happens, the child is often cooperating, sharing, doing homework, and has forgotten about what he did that resulted in spanking.  In that child’s mind, it can feel like being spanked for doing good behaviors. Being excited to see dad come home also goes out the window.  

It is often presented that spanking, time out or some piece of parenting “works.” There is no one thing that parents can do that “works” all the time. Being an effective parent, is a combination of loving them, being respectful of them, being firm, being as consistent as possible, being a good role model and remembering that you are the constant for your children.

Parenting is hard work. Spanking presents major problems. You can be a better role model, more effective parent, and never spank.

Being a parent is the most important work you can or will do.

“All children behave as well as they are treated.” Anonymous




  1. I suspect the Internet post and the subsequent responses meant to convey thanks to the parents for setting limits on their unacceptable behavior, rather than lauding the merits of spanking–at least I hope so. As you so ably point out in your blog, there are numerous, more effective, and preferable ways to encourage positive behavior and discourage the negative. Thank you for such an elucidating article on not merely spanking, but its implications.

    • Yes, I think you are right about the intention of the post and I assume that lots more went on that made the relationship apparently quite positive.