Over the past few decades, spanking as a method of training and discipline has fluctuated in popularity among American parents. Dr. Spock’s book was a major influence upon the methodology of my parents’ generation. That generation also raised children responsible for the most dramatic increase in divorce, crime, and teen suicide in American History (not counting the Great Depression). We’re not laying the responsibility of the country at one man’s feet, but new trends affect societies. It’s an unavoidable truth. And Dr. Spock said we shouldn’t spank our children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ official policy says:
“Despite its common acceptance, spanking is a less effective strategy than timeout or removal of privileges for reducing undesired behavior in children. Although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use. The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse. Thus, at best, spanking is only effective when used in selective infrequent situations.”
Though he acknowledges that many well-adjusted adults were spanked as children, Dr. Spock agrees with the AAP and offers several reasons why he discourages the use of spanking:
1. Spanking as a replacement for instruction leads to resentment and the desire to avoid being caught.
2. Spanking teaches a child that the bigger, stronger person has the power to get his/her way.
3. Children react better to praise and high expectations.
Refuting Spock’s Statements
Responding to Dr. Spock isn’t the goal here, but let’s briefly answer these statements so we can continue moving forward.
1. Spanking doesn’t have to be a replacement for instruction. To refute spanking on those grounds is to address a non-issue. Perhaps some parents ignore teaching and instructing their children. That, however, does NOT make spanking responsible for this decision. Baby and bathwater, people. Stick to the issue. What about instructing your children AND spanking when necessary?
2. Spanking can have this affect on a child if the child’s heart is not tended. Cruel punishment of any kind will breed resentment, and a rebellious heart WILL look forward to the future when he/she has grown large enough to defend himself/herself. Again, this is an argument against the abuse of spanking, not the correct use.
3. Children do in fact react well to praise and high expectations. The missing element in both Spock’s and the AAP’s positions is that of training. If you train your child as a baby to obey and focus on disciplining a child toward good behavior rather than only punishing bad behavior, you are much more likely to produce a well-balanced person.
So Is Spanking Still Necessary?
UPDATED 2015: When I first wrote this post, back in 2008, I was confident that the answer was, is and always will be “yes”. At that time, I had a one year old child and no experience disciplining a child of my own. My opinions reflected my interpretation of my own childhood. I saw positive results from spanking in my own life, and assumed that this is the best path for all parents regardless of time or placement in history.
I have historically been more geared toward truth than love, which predisposed me to prefer “setting a child straight” over acting in kindness. But before we quote Scriptures about sparing the rod to justify spanking, let’s also acknowledge that it says “it is His KINDNESS that leads us to repentance.” Not His wrath. Not His firm hand. Kindness leads people to repentance because it wins us over. We can be LOVED into change.
I regret that I ever endorsed To Train Up A Child, and I no longer do so. Of all the parenting models I have encountered, I am much more prone toward Positive Parenting, which enables us to speak into a child’s identity and worth and place of importance and belonging.
It is my mission to edify my children and build them up as people, giving them clear-cut opportunities to contribute to the family. And to highlight clearly how each child is a valuable and irreplaceable person in our social community.
Properly applied, spanking relieves the child’s conscience and resets the clock. Explain to your child what is right and how what they did was wrong. Tell her that you love her and that your love for her never changes. After instructing and reaffirming your child, a spanking is payment. It teaches the child about sowing and reaping. It teaches the child that decisions have consequences. And by loving your child before and after, you can guard your child’s heart against fearing a loss of acceptance based on behavior. No one really wants a child who feels the need to perform for acceptance.
Spanking is guarding your child’s heart from permanent guilt and shame. Without proper punishment, a child knows she has gotten away with wrongdoing. It eats at her little heart. If unchecked over time, a child will learn to believe that she is a bad person and that there are no consequences. She wants in her heart to be a good person, but doesn’t know how on her own to achieve this. Her heart is actually relieved by receiving a punishment that stings but allows her to start over, having paid for her mistake.
Whether you read the Bible or not, there is a reason why it says, “He that spareth the rod hateth his son.” Your choices as the parent make declarative statements over who your child will be. Don’t spare your child the ability to reset his or her conscience. Don’t rob your child of a clean conscience. Offer your child the opportunity to live free from guilt and shame. Only without a lifetime of suppressed guilt and shame will your precious child ever live to be a well-balanced, fully functioning adult.
© 2008 – 2015, Daniel Dessinger. All rights reserved.