I Quit Spanking

We stopped spanking a year ago this month. And I would never go back.

I had read the Christian parenting books like “To train up a Child” and “Raising Godly Tomatoes” and tried to the best of my ability to follow what they taught. I spanked consistently. I tried to stay cool calm and collected, and to not spank in anger. I used a wooden spoon so my kids would not associate my hands with pain, and I was careful to limit my swats and never leave a mark on my children.

It didn’t work. And looking back I can hardly believe that I fell for the reasoning for spanking when I grew up being spanked myself, and I remember how it made me feel. I can hardly believe the things that I used to consider spanking offences. I can hardly believe how much my parenting has changed. And I can hardly believe how well my children behave after being taught my whole life that it was impossible to teach children respect and boundaries without spanking them.

I could ramble on and on about why I prefer gentle discipline, but since I’ve already done that in the past, I think I will share some of what has changed in our house since that day last August.

Three ways my children are different:

1. My children trust me.
When we used spanking, my children would run away if they thought they were in trouble. They would lie automatically after doing something wrong. Not anymore. They will even come to me for help when something gets out of control. My 3 1/2 year old doesn’t cover her bottom when she sees me coming towards her. My kids know that I will not hurt them, they know they don’t have to be afraid of me.

2. My children are less violent and more sympathetic.

Before we stopped spanking, my children would hit each other when they were arguing. Not anymore, we still have a few shoves here and there when competing for a toy, but for the most part violence is gone. We haven’t had a biting incident in a year. Before we stopped spanking, my kids didn’t care when someone else was hurt, usually because they had caused it! Now, (to my joy!) my kids offer hugs and kisses when someone is crying or sad. It is so heart-warming to have your baby run up to you and ask what is wrong and if you are OK?

3. My children are better at communicating because they know I care about how they feel.

When we used spankings for discipline my kids didn’t even try to talk about what was wrong. Tantrums abounded. If something went wrong it was the end of the world. Now both Ms Action and Ms Drama try to talk about their feelings. Even when they have a hard time explaining what is wrong, they know I am listening, they know they are heard.

3 ways I am different:

1. I am not as angry.

It was never my intention to be an angry parent, in fact I was in denial about my anger the whole time spanking was our discipline. But I was always fighting rage just under the surface. Why weren’t these brats listening to me? Why did I suck as a parent? Memories of being spanked as a kid were always lurking in my mind. I lived in fear of the day when just one spank would not be enough to deter my small children. Now I find I am a calmer, happier parent. I don’t yell as much as I used to (yes I’m still working on that one) I don’t see every little thing as a catastrophe anymore. Instead of exploding or leading my kid away for a spanking, I can deal with whatever mishaps that occur with my thinking skills and without fear and without the dread of having to hit my kid again.

2. I listen to my children

Before I stopped spanking, I didn’t care what my kids were saying. They were just trying to manipulate me anyways. I didn’t have time to delay discipline and listen, punishment had to be swift if it was going to be connected to the misdeed in their little minds. Now I have learned that my children really can tell me what happened, and since we use gentle discipline they aren’t trying to lie to me to avoid a spanking. I’ve also spared myself the many times where my children would have been spanked for “rebellion” by learning to listen to what is really wrong.

3. I have less regrets.

When I spanked I felt like a crappy mom. Every night in bed I wondered what would happen if I died, would my kids remember me as an angry mom that hit them? Or worse, what if one of my babies died in the night? Would I regret every time I “disciplined” them. Now I sleep peacefully. I no longer have those times where I make the same exact mistake that I punished my child for earlier that day. Or those horrible moments where I figured out later that it really wasn’t their fault.

I’ve shared some of the books that I’ve read on discipline since we quit spanking, and I expressed frustration on the lack of good information out there. Since then I have found so much more on gentle discipline! I’ve liked some of the books ordered from my library so much that I am hoping to buy them. I will be sharing those titles in a future post.

Another great resource that I’ve finally been able to tap into is the Internet. My first attempts were fruitless, but over the last year I have found more and more like-minded parents seeking to discipline their children gently. There are several websites that have really encouraged me as I struggled with whether or not we were making the right choice for our family, so I will be sharing some of those as well.

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Children of an Atheist talk about God
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Re-post: A Mama’s Journey
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15624828638731650677 suzannah {so much shouting, so much laughter}

    we don't spank (my oldest is 2 1/2), but i often feel without good practical tools. i, too, was spanked and feel it didn't work (and my mother would say the same). "i'm hitting you because i love you!" rings false, especially when i don't want my kids to hit.

    i can't wait to read all your links and am so glad you've experience such blessing in your family and home.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13240230832660127316 Michelle

    We've never used spanking necessarily as a discipline. And when I have struck my children (never hard, but still…) I have apologized almost immediately after and explained that is not the way to handle things when they don't go your way. Your mention of a child covering the bum when they see you coming is a very interesting one. And the issue of trust, too. I love your insight on this topic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06489369133555827520 Maurisa

    Congratulations! I don't think you'll ever regret not spanking your children. We never made a conscious decision to stop spanking, but have over the years grown in wisdom, experience, and holiness so that spanking ended up just fading into nonexistence. I actually feel bad for our older children who were the children of our youth and were spanked from rarely to frequently depending on the child.

    I read once that the phrase "spare the rod spoil the child" has always been misinterpreted to mean it is our duty to spank our children. In reality the rod is a staff used by shepherds to gently guide their flocks in the direction they wish for them to go. Rather makes sense, doesn't it?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Suzannah- I remember the "hitting because we love you" and "because God tells us to" it never made sense to me either. I've struggled with the practical tools as well, and just in the last 6 months have started to feel equipped!

    Michelle- I've had my slip-ups since our official stop date, and learning how to apologize to my children has been an amazing experience.

    Maurisa- I really believe that spanking is not necessary in raising children, it's great to hear from an experienced mom who confirms that.

  • Rebecca in CA

    Wonderful to read this! I just discovered your blog when someone linked to your excellent post on "excessive modesty", which I thought was excellent. So I wandered over here again today, and was thrilled to see your topic! I am a former spanker (and spankee) and quit spanking my oldest when she was three. Now I have four lovely girls. You have articulated so well the changes which happen when the spanking is dropped. I know I have a lot more to work on to be a good mother but I am able to see so much more clearly now without the distraction of a punitive mindset and the anger which accompanies that. Dr. Sears was a great influence on me, as was Dr. Popcak (have you read his essay on ten reasons not to spank?), and later I have read other very good authors such as Becky Bailey (Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline). I do not think Bailey is a Christian and she gets a little spacey at points but I find her invaluable in forcing myself to look *at myself* in situations. Refreshing, since most discipline books seem to be about Getting the Kid to Do What You Want, and seem always to assume that whatever I want is right. Dr. Gordon Neufeld (Hold on to Your Kids) is also an incredibly insightful author and speaker. Another recommendation is How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk; that's been around for awhile and very worth reading. Also Suzuki's books, esp. Nurtured by Love and Ability Development from Age Zero–this again is almost spiritual reading in forcing me to look carefully at myself in situations which come up with my children.

  • Anonymous

    I strongly-and respectfully- disagree.

    I've heard many a mom tell the same tale and the conclusion I've come to is the same one I had after reading this article: They become disillusioned with corporal punishment because they're spanking too much in the first place. They abolish it and think that the peaceful aftermath proves it was wrong in the first place. It never seems to occur they were doing it wrong. Too much spanking will make kids distrustful, lead to dishonesty and make them violent only if it's over- used. The message becomes "you're doing something I don't like so I hit you". This is not proper use of parental authority and the kid catches on quickly. They end up imitating out-of-control behavior.
    Another thing that seems wrong is your claim "it didn't work". If your oldest is now 3 and a half and you quit spanking a year ago I'm not sure the fruits can be accurately judged. You won't know what works for 18 years or so. : ) Trust in the authority God gave you and adhere to the principles. Avoid fads.

    Spanking isn't for every offense but I think it is sometimes necessary. When children are below the age of reason and can't understand grave dangers it may be necessary to do a little Pavlovian classic conditioning. I run into the street, I get a spank. Spankings hurt. I guess I won't run into the street. After the age of reason-which differs from kid to kid- spanking is needed much less, I think, but sometimes is still necessary. When older kids resort to infantile behavior-tantrums and so forth, I've discovered that a spanking-not just lashing out and smacking the kid but a formal spanking, e.g. "you've done something you know is wrong, stick your hand out"-jolts them back to their actual age and they get the message:If you act like a baby you will be punished like one.
    I have 8 kids. The first 6 are boys. They are not given to violence toward each other and they were spanked occassionally.
    There is another lesson to be learned from corporal punishment that I think you may be missing. Children don't come into the world knowing who's in charge. Mild punishment in the form of a spank lets them know. Animals will do this to keep their young in line for their own good. Remember why God made you bigger than your kids.
    I think your assessment of how you are no longer angry because you aren't spanking makes it clear that you were perhaps overly anxious from the get-go about your kids behaving and thought spanking was going to achieve the desired result right away. That will lead to frustration and irritability. Misbehavior is normal. It's not morally correct but for children it's normal. Inculcating virtue takes time and patience.
    I once heard noted Catholic family psychologist Dr. Ray Guarendi say some things that made an indelible mark on me. "Discipline without love is harsh but love without discipline is child abuse."
    " Too many parents think they're teaching violence by spanking. The real abuse is sparing them from consequences of their actions. When they're small kids aren't capable of understanding what their behavior can lead to. Judicious spankings when needed, administered in a loving environment by wise and in-control parents sets the stage for happy, well adjusted adulthood.

    But hey, every couple finds their way. It's on the job training and we can never be certain. We just do our best and trust in His Mercy and Love.

    Thanks for reading my two cents!


  • Anonymous

    Can you explain this passage?:

    Proverbs 23
    Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. (KJV)

    Do not withhold discipline from a child;
    if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. (NIV)

    Doesn't sound like a shepherd's staff.


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08863579550620358675 Jill

    Again…lovely. I continue to be so glad you're sharing this journey. It was so eye opening for me to learn the difference between discipline and punishment. Thanks for sharing the the changes in your children since you shifted from punishing to disciplining.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Rebecca- I know that my work to become the mother I want to be only continues from here, it's alot of work isn't it? I've enjoyed reading Dr Sears and Popcak too, thanks for the titles suggestions, I'm always interested in more reading!

    Margarat- I'm not really sure what you are disagreeing with, I didn't really try to argue for anything, I'm explaining what has happened in my own life and how it has influenced my parenting descisions. I grew up spanked, and I know many many children who grew up spanked, so I have seen the fruit of spanking as well, and it hasn't convinced me to spank my kids.
    I agree that I was spanking too much, (of course now I think that any spanking is to much) I was following the advice of widely published christian authors. In judging the fruits behavior wise, my children are just as well behaved now as they ever were. I am not interested in teaching my children that people bigger and stronger than them are "in charge" I want them to learn how to be "in charge" of themselves. If you are interested in how I came to the conclusion that eliminating spanking was the right choice for me and my children, you can read the posts that I have linked in this post, or click on the discipline label.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    Jill- Thanks! The difference between discipline and punishment has been so profound for me.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14586469381231517883 This Heavenly Life

    I love you for this (and your thoughtful replies to naysayers :)). Your journey has been so inspirational and honest, and the fruits are so apparent. Especiallly in the listening and communicating aspect. I mean, it's all important, but the listening jumps out at me as being vital to raising kids who can express and control themselves.

    As far as the comment about 'Spanking didn't work for you because you were doing it wrong,' that's exactly the point, isn't it? If it's so easy to go overboard and hit our kids because we don't know what else to do, why not take hitting out of the equation entirely?

    And even worse, in my opinion, is the notion that discipline without love is anything LESS than child abuse. To punish a child physically, with no love backing it up seems exactly that: abuse. Because hitting in general, even WITH love (oxymoronic, I think) seems abusive to me.

    A good friend once gave this example: Why are we allowed to hit our children, when the same action directed towards another adult would land us in jail?

    I'll stop now because while I could ramble forever about this, it would be just that — a ramble of emotional, incoherent thoughts :)

    Again, I can't wait to read what comes next!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06374573594800663980 Kacie

    I do appreciate this post. My husband and I don't know how we will do things yet… but I so appreciate hearing perspectives on what people have done and why, and how it's turned out.

    Most of all, I don't want my discipline to be driven by anger. I want my children to know discipline as love, no matter what form it takes.

  • Anonymous

    Young Mom:
    I wasn't suggesting that teaching kids that might makes right is a good idea. I'm talking about a parent establishing their authority in the minds of their children. Yes, parents are supposed to teach kids how to be in charge of themselves. They're not born knowing how and reason eludes them for the first few years of life. Children exhibit and use their free will long before reason kicks in. You can talk all you want and "time-out" them 'til the cows come home. That isn't going to work for every child and I suggest that it doesn't work with most.
    I think there is also a difference in the disciplining of boys and girls, in general. Girls are more likely to be offended and emotionally injured by a spanking and the lesson is lost. Boys typically respond to corporal punishment in a more positive way. I think the male psyche is formed in part by confronting pain and dealing with it. Typically men seek challenges that push the boundaries of their pain endurance. Men seem to feel most alive when they're engaged in such activities. This is why they can leave the comforts of wife and home and set off to war willingly. They keep trying at a sport or any physical endeavor even when it hurts. Women have a hard time understanding this. Our lives come with all sorts of built-in pain. We don't define ourselves by how much of it we can endure. We look for refuge from pain.
    Our fourth child is the first one that sent me to reading every child rearing book I could find. He was not naturally accepting of authority as the others were and challenged everything. Some things were good, a lot of it was tripe written by people with few or no children. What jumped out at me was a phrase from James Dobson's book, "The strong willed child": Strong willed children are not "bad", they just don't accept authority naturally. They are testing to see whether you are worthy of their allegiance. That bit of wisdom called to mind many men I know who have tremendous wills and might be called stubborn. I looked at those who seemed in command of themselves and those who didn't. I asked about their upbringings and talked to a few of their parents. There was a common theme: corporal punishment and the absence of it.


  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14388641330183617616 Brooke

    After reading all these comments I see you have started quite the conversation…As I read your post I was happy for that you found something that worked you and your family. I am somewhere inbetween. I do spank, but not often, I do feel the occasional quick spat gets their attention and opens their listening ears. However, the fact that you quit spanking isn't what really matters here, in MY opinion. I think what matters is ,as you have stated, you are listening to your kids now and they trust you. Often those who spank get caught up in the quick fix and spank without discussion and listening. As long as your children are turning into respectful,kind, diciplined people, your personal choice is your personal choice, thanks for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    Can't wait for the post on sources. Thanks for sharing.
    Leigh Ann

  • http://blog.earthlingshandbook.org ‘Becca

    Congratulations on completing a full year of gentle discipline! Sounds like you're really on the right path for your family.

    Margaret wrote:
    When children are below the age of reason and can't understand grave dangers it may be necessary to do a little Pavlovian classic conditioning. I run into the street, I get a spank. Spankings hurt. I guess I won't run into the street.

    I think it's really weird how running into the street is by far the most common example people choose for a situation in which they believe spanking is justified. I wrote about this two years ago after I had dealt with it, successfully, a better way. My goal is to teach my child to protect himself from danger. If I do it by classical conditioning, I take on the massive responsibility of conditioning the correct behavior for every possible risky situation he may encounter, because his behavior is based on a learned response to something that's actually happened (and it needs to happen multiple times, exactly the same way, for classical conditioning to be fully effective) rather than on UNDERSTANDING what he needs to do. I won't be able to teach my child using this approach unless I let him get into each dangerous situation so that I can rescue and punish him.

    I've taught my child to fear CARS rather than to fear ME and the pain I could inflict on him. This is more direct and informative, making it more likely that he'll follow safety rules when I am not there to punish him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13674332089949439989 Young Mom

    'Becca- Thank you for explaining that, I feel the same way. I also don't buy the "boys NEED corporal punishment", they need our love and compassion as parents just as much as girls. Growing up I found that more active or "stubborn" children in my family were spanked more, and it didn't make them more "submissive" or teach them how to self-discipline.

  • Anonymous

    We tried to correctly spank our very strong-willed daughter. Her response to our spanking was enragement and total loss of control. All pain does this to her. Shots are tramatic. She does not connect pain to her wrongdoing. She connects pain to pain and she fights against it. Fright-flight response and all that. In reading of the popular Christian childrearing books in the fundy circles, the answer to our situation would be spank more consistently and harder, but I can't see that as being the answer. She has responded better to being sent to her room away from the fun, and sometimes while she is there, she falls asleep, which might be all she needs, though she doesn't act sleepy. She has also responded to us talking to her about her place and role in the family, working together to make a happy family life.
    Leigh Ann

  • http://prettyinorange.com Angela

    You are so right on that kids are taught to lie at an early age, as they are too scared of the consequences of the truth. Now, I think a little fear in kids is okay – my dad just had to say my full name and I straightened up right away. But to make them feel as though they need to lie is not doing anyone any good.

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  • David

    Thank you so much for writing about your experiences, that is so important to counter the idea that hitting children would do them any good. I am from Europe and in most European countries any physical punishment of children is banned, since it is against basic human rights. People like you are very important. Also since you say that Christian parenting books told you that spanking is good, I think it is important to consider that they are not written by Jesus himself. Spanking people is very much against any Christian belief and many Bible quotes that seemingly teach to hit children are either out of context or delivered in a wrong way. Matthew sais: “So in everything do to others, what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Many of the Biblical verses have been mistranslated and used out of the true context. Please also the available knowledge (you can easily research it) about this and spread it in your community.