Help Me Understand: Why Do You Spank Your Children?

Help Me Understand: Why Do You Spank Your Children? August 26, 2011

[photo: Jeremy Brooks]

In an on-going attempt to get create some space for spirited, yet respectful, dialogue to take place about issues important to many of us, in this installment of “Help Me Understand” I am taking on an issue that I know many parents confront as they decide how to raise their children: spanking. As a father of three children living in a bold, know-it-all city such as San Francisco, I acknowledge that any assessment of another’s parenting style is much easier to give than to receive. In many ways, when we question one another’s methods and approaches to parenting, we are questioning the very nature of our relationship with God and the integrity with which we are raising our children.

And even worse than generic parenting advice, unsolicited parenting advice  . . . don’t even get me started.

That said, I do have friends and family who spank their kids and I have always wondered why. I have friends who were spanked and, as I have shared in a previous post, I was a little more than spanked as a child, but we are not a spanking household. My children are often playfully threatened with a good beating, but they all know that it will never happen. We have chosen instead to instill the idea that disappointing one’s parents, family, community and self is punishment enough. Some might think that non-spanking is just a symptom of a spoiled America, others would say that under no circumstances do we strike a child and some simply think it’s a parenting choice.  Wherever one is on the spectrum, I do know that there are great opinions about the topic.

Like I said, I know plenty of people who spank their kids as well as were spanked themselves and many turn out just fine. But to be completely honest, I still do not get it. We are not about to start spanking our kids – new high school not withstanding – but I really want to understand. For those of you who have chosen spanking as a discipline method, how did you get there, has it worked, are there regrets and/or is there anything you want to put out there about spanking in general? And for those who have chosen other methods, why not spanking?


Browse Our Archives

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

17 responses to “Help Me Understand: Why Do You Spank Your Children?”

  1. I’d have to agree with Gary Davis.  Until the cognitive thought patterns move from concrete to abstract, it is hard to communicate on anything less the a binary level – yes / no; right / wrong.  Since my children are welcome everywhere we go and friends ask what we did right to raise well behaved kids.  I used to jokingly answer that “we beat them periodically and with no reason just to keep them on their toes” but a school psychologist got made at me.  Truth is a pop now and again when they were younger; moved to deprivation of something of value (toy, outing).  We instilled the value of commitment by not allowing a choice between a commitment (say, weekly youth group) and hanging out at the mall.  If the expected behavior didn’t live up to the expectation, the reward was not allowed.  The psychologist mentioned above read me the riot act because my daughter was not allowed to attend her son’s birthday party because she failed to accomplish the tasks required.  I even drove her over there to drop off a gift.  To say that Sarah was upset with my chosen punishment would understate the moment.  Interestingly, all of our children seem to have turned out OK (mine are 22 and 11 – yeah, yeah, I know).

    My favorite is the grocery store.  All you seminary types can probably quote the scripture reference – “Let your yes be yes and your no be no”  I see more fights over the candy rack than anywhere.  When my son hears “no”, that’s the end of the discussion.  We aren’t cruel and deprive our children of treats, just not every time we go to the market.  An unplanned trip to Yogurt Mountain goes a long way in our family.

    By the way, both my wife and I grew up in similar households for discipline, though I in Rhode Island and she in South Carolina.  We both cringe when the silverware drawer is yanked open because that 1/2 oz. wooden spoon would soon meet our backsides – smarts but no cruel torture.

    And speaking of torture, I now have to go force my son to eat brussel sprouts.  Just one of the perks of being a dad.

    Grace and Peace

  2. I didn’t, because my father tried to rule by fear, and it was a disaster. My stepdaughters were far more mature than European kids of the same age; Mina was five, put herself in charge of the housework, banned me from doing the washing up, and we didn’t have to worry about any of it. She did a brilliant job. Her sister was a bit of a handful at first, but she’d been in the fighting, and was sufficiently badly traumatised to have fits and hallucinations. You can’t punish a kid for being affected by stuff like that.

  3. Hey Bruce,
    I am betting most peoples parenting styles come from their own parents stlye of parenting. We tend to do what we are taught. I was spanked on more than one occasion by a father with a temper. I would like to think it taught me a healthy respect for authority which is quite lacking in the public schools today.
    However I have tried to avoid it as much as possible with my children except for the occasional pop on the bottom when they were little. I do think there are better ways to teach the benefits of discipline and a healthy respect for authority than the use of physical violence, which spanking is a form of.
    Unfortunately children today are experiencing a lot worse abuse than the occasional spanking. But that is another topic.
    Hope this helps in your quest for understanding.

  4. Thanks. Some of the other threads were getting to the same thing. Gotta know your kid and yourself in order to find the best parenting world for everyone.

    Yeah, the circumcision one would be a doozy. With three girls, i can only speak in the hypothetical world 😉

  5. (Procrastinating…) We spank when a second offense would get him kicked out of school or imprisoned or have other very unpleasant consequences. Leaving his pants open isn’t going to get him in big trouble anywhere (He likes long shirts.) so it’s not a spanking-level offense. But mooning people is illegal. Threatening to kill people, cursing at authority, hitting a peer–these are things that adults go to jail for. We spank because there are some things that he absolutely may not do a second time, and he MUST remember it.

  6. first, kids are different. frankly, some parents have easier kids than others. So no one should assume that everyone is operating in the same context as the other.
    All discipline involves pain. Instilling shame over disappointing others is a form of pain. Time-outs, losing toys or other privileges are all forms of inflicting pain. I don’t think Bruce is suggesting that you can raise a child completely protected from pain or without inflicting a form of pain. Physical pain is a protective tool we have to tell us …hey if you keep your hand in the fire much longer you may lose the hand… kind of thing.I find that navigating parenthood is an act of providing that kind of warning for social and relational development and to lovingly inflict some sort of pain to say..hey, if you keep acting like that then you may lose your freedom, friends, etc.

    I have a very strong willed kid and he’s done some stuff that have made me very angry. I’ve wanted to smack him. We have spanked him a few times when he has been completely defiant or willfully inflicted pain to another and when we reached our own limits. Spanking was the easiest and quickest method of doling out pain. But I’m not proud of it and they were moments of weakness and desperation for me. However, I don’t think they scarred our child for life.
    The reason we don’t spank any longer is because it is not a natural consequence.
    I’m training this kid to be an adult eventually. When he is 18 the institutions will not dole out discipline with love and they will not spank him. They will take away his freedom and/or property. They will not tell him that they love him.
    I find it interesting that many parents have an easier time spanking than taking away toys or freedom. 
    We have taken away toys, and I mean taken them to Goodwill never to be seen or played with again.  He breaks the rules he pays. It’s painful but it is closer to the consequences that he will face as he gets older. We lose money and pay fines for speeding, our child loses toys for not cleaning up. They don’t spank in schools or in correctional facilities. Why do we want to use a form of discipline not used anywhere else? How does that teach them about the real world?
    We don’t reason with him either. The part of the brain for reason and logic doesn’t fully develop until they are 25. But you explain what you are doing and why and then don’t engage in arguing about it. “I love you to much to argue.” Is a phrase we use.
    Love and Logic is a great parenting resource that’s given us tools to use so I don’t end up desperate and taking the easy way out.
    frankly, I think some parents have an easier time spanking than taking things away or freedom away from their child. It’s not easy! But it works a whole lot better than spanking if you are consistent and unwavering about it. And he is learning the real consequences of his actions that more closely resemble what society will impose on him.

    Great question Bruce.   Seeing how some in San Francisco want to ban circumcision. Maybe you can ask that next. As a father of 2 boys we had to face that question and chose not to as there really was only weak medical reasons to do so.  Why Circumcise?  That’ll probably get some good discussion too.

  7. Yes! Exactly! Good parenting is finding the sweet spot where what they need and what I can tolerate overlap!

    My autistic 10 y.o. mooned me the other day. I’d told him to go put his laundry away, and as he carried it out, he dropped his shorts and poked his little rear out toward me. No, it wasn’t too much laundry; it wasn’t the 53rd chore I’d asked him to do; I wasn’t screaming or cursing at him. It was a regular parental-type directive. My son knew that it was inappropriate: he even looked over his shoulder to make sure I saw him.

    He is autistic; despite our best efforts, family/community pressure doesn’t phase him. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s nice, in that peer pressure is *never* an issue, but it’s a problem, in that he can’t be “guilted” into anything, including, for instance, buttoning his jeans. He just has to learn all the rules, one at a time, the hard way. (“You absolutely will not leave this house until your pants are entirely closed.”) We are very strict about these things. Pants are closed, do your homework, respect your elders.

    Of course he can disagree with us. I can talk with him about watching TV after he’s done a little housework. But MOONING an authority figure is never, under any circumstances, an appropriate response. Ever. And since, “Son, that isn’t appropriate.” doesn’t ever phase him, he got spanked. I wasn’t angry, and he argued with me about it some, but he knew he had it coming.

    I have a lunch appt– I gotta go. But thank you for the chance to talk about it! God bless you and your work!

  8. Mike, this is VERY helpful and I thinks gives some bounds for how folks may want to frame their choices both in thinking and in action . . . and yes, truthful is a better than the alternative 9 out of 10 times 😉

  9. If you want a truthful response:  we spanked to get their attention; primarily. 
    we tried to be enlightened enough to realize that if we spanked (swatted – whathaveyou) out of our own frustration or anger – it ceased to be a spanking and encroached on the realm of abuse. 
    re had limits:  3 pops was sufficient:  why three?  ikd – trinitarian??
    when child wasn’t listening= counted to 3- audibly.  Child knew – if we made it to 3 – he/she would get a swat. Between 2 & 3 we got up – if our getting up cause child to stop said action (or begin desired action) they still got a swat: they learned not to play that game.
    this was really limited to the diaper ages:  by the time they were finished – 1) the padding protection was gone and 2) they were in the habit of listening better. 
    swatting/spanking was never about inflicting pain, was about getting their attention. in those odd times where we missed the targetted diaper  and got leg – we felt like the worst parents in the world. 
    After the diaper age (and actually before that – we found a more effective means of discipline was the ‘time out’  – – they messed up – we put their toys/activities in time-out.  (was much more effective than putting THEM in timeout).   

  10. Thanks for staying in the conversation. I think one of the things that I am trying to get out is that there is not just one way of parenting, so while I have made my choices, I will respect the choices of other parents, with some bounds of course.  I also know that many kids have dealt with a variety of discipline methods and have both turned out as well-adjust folks and others have major emotional issues.

    For us, like co-sleeping or breast-feeding, I think our style may be just as much about the parent’s comfort and response as it is the kids. While we must allow ourselves to be challenged as parents, we must also do what we think is the best for our children’s unique nature.  I would hazard a guess that the “best” parenting happens when these two places converge.

    While shame can be taken too far, my kids are turning out pretty well because we have been able to find that sweet space of our style and their needs more than not. At least that’s what we are trying to do.

  11. Y’all are right, and I am wrong to be nasty about it. At the same time, I thought it needed saying.

    People presume, without even being aware of it, that pain is evil and should always be avoided at all costs, and that a person who inflicts pain on someone must, at some level, wish to inflict evil upon them. (Many Americans, I think, are even clinically phobic about pain.) But pain is not evil–it is unpleasant. Inflicting pain as part of parenting is not mean, it is using one of the myriad tools God gave us to teach our children how to live in the world.

    I would ask, then, why do non-spankers think that inflicting shame on a child to correct their behavior is better than inflicting physical discomfort? Arguably, the physical discomfort can be just as effective, though less painful in the long run. Arguably, both tools can be used wisely and used foolishly. What, for you, makes shame a better tool than sharp pain?

  12. While I would share your concern about that kind of reply, I would encourage you to at least try to articulate a response, rather than just concede the ground to those with whom you (seem to) disagree. Even if it seems unlikely that any minds can be changed, there can be no hope at all of helping them understand if you don’t at least try.

  13. Thanks for sharing.  Maybe some is also cultural, and I do not mean race/ethnicity, but in the very way families handle conflict. Some express, some hold it in, some are talkers and some throwers.  I will say that I do not argue that there is ONE way of parenting that is best, only what we have chosen and a genuine interest in why other choose differently.

    To your argument. Our kids are turning out just fine without me ever lifting a hand to them, though maybe it would have been also helpful that stern words are also used. We rarely yell in our house, just not our style.

  14. Really. While I am sure there are many who would hold to your views, did you not read that I have friends and family that so spank their kids?  I have never looked down upon them nor do I say or do i imply any of what you have said.  If you not interested in genuine interaction that is fine, but I do think starting with agression certainly does not invite it.

  15. Wow. You’re kidding, right? You think I’d get a non-judgmental and unbiased hearing in this forum? Whenever a left-leaning, educated person asks that question, what I hear them saying is, “You spank your children? You are apparently missed the class where we all became enlightened, and learned that causing pain is always evil. How can you stand being so evil to your children?”

  16. “We have chosen instead to instill the idea that disappointing one’s parents, family, community and self is punishment enough.”

    But, Bruce, do you really think that idea can be comprehended by a youngster who’s brain is only in the infancy of its development? I can swat the hand of my persistent three year old daughter when she continues to reach for a hot burner on a stove. Or I can philosophize with her until she sustains a third degree burn.  If I take the “You don’t want to disappoint Daddy” approach, you can bet she’ll get burned. She’s only three years old.

    Until kids get old enough to understand what disappointing their parents means (including punishments like being grounded), I’ll continue to spank. But I do agree that too many parents persist in spanking when their child’s development reaches a stage of some maturity. At that point, the spanking has to stop.

    In my own case, when I reached the age of 13 one day I had to assume a fighting pose to persuade my father that whacking me was no longer the way for him to express his disappointment in me. We didn’t come to blows. He got the point. And so did I.