Is Spanking Still Necessary?

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.


  1. says

    Good article. I think the kicker is never to spank out of anger or frustration. And also to always explain to your child what he did wrong, why it was wrong and then to tell him that is why he is getting a spanking. I have a friend who just gets so frustrated when her kid is doing something, she just grabs him and beats his butt. I personally equate that with mild abuse. No wonder her kid is a hitter himself because that’s what he see’s.
    I spank my daughter, but I try to never do it out of frustration and if I feel myself getting too frustrated, I relinquish over to my husband so as to never cross a line. She always knows why she is getting spanked and I’ve always had good results due to discipline.
    I have that book, but haven’t read it yet. I should do that tonight.
    Anyways, good article Daniel.

  2. says

    Additional point. “removing the undesired behavior” is not the only reason for spanking. If you train a child before they’ve reached the age where spanking becomes an option, then discipline reinforces the training you’ve already instilled.

    Perhaps more people have failed by spanking because they never trained their child, and the child just gets beat for doing things wrong. That’s not the same thing I’m promoting here at all. Entirely different worlds.

  3. Ashleigh says

    I really don’t know what to think about this. Reading the last section really raised some questions for me. I remember being spanked as a child, but not that often. I think the last time I was ever spanked is the most prevalent in my mind. I was acting out. I wanted to do something, and my dad wouldn’t let me, and I was screaming and crying, and he swatted my butt so hard I cried even more. Based on what the last paragraphs say, especially these parts, “Spanking is still necessary because a child has a conscience. A child violates his/her conscience and feels guilty. This child needs to be absolved of guilt and forgiven. Punishment/Discipline needs to be administered in such a way as to wipe the slate clean…Her heart is actually relieved by receiving a punishment that stings but allows her to start over, having paid for her mistake,” I don’t think spanking was “correctly” for me as a form of discipline. I have a huge guilt complex, and I do feel the need to perform for acceptance. I still struggle to accept the fact that if someone doesn’t like me for me then I don’t need them in my life. I feel like I need to be a different, possiby better, person for them. Very thought provoking. I’m sure my counselor and I will derive countless hours of fun from this one ;-)

  4. says

    @ashleigh I’m guessing there’s a word missing when you said “i don’t think spanking was ‘correctly’ for me…” I’d like to know what you intended to say before i respond.

  5. Michael Callaway says

    Every child is different, a friend of mine was never spanked as a child because if her parents told her to go to her room and think about what she did then she was upset enough at that. I would have just gone there and did nothing. As a kid, I needed to be spanked and I appreciate my parents for it.

  6. says

    I was the one always getting spanked. My sister was well behaved and never disciplined. She earned a reputation for being the “good kid”.

    The problem is, she just internalized things more than I did. She was shy and afraid to be rejected, not really a perfect child. We often base our judgments on an external view of external behavior. One child acts out. One shrinks away from conflict and disappointing her parents. In the end, both have sin in their heart and it takes a discerning parent who is paying close attention to notice the unique needs and circumstances of each child.

    But I think it’s unfair to assume that a kid who doesn’t need to be spanked to obey a command is developing as well or better than a kid who needs a spanking. You may find that the quiet and non-confrontational ones take longer to face their demons as adults.

  7. Zoltan says

    If you want to “clean the slate” don’t just spank your child. (don’t need to spank at all) Make her correct the mistakes she comitted!
    Then she can take an active role and earn forgiveness. Even if you’d forgive anyway (you probably would) it helps her feel that she became more of a good person, and teaches responsibility.
    Gettind spanked doesn’t do much good regarding that, and doesn’t teach responsibility either.
    It doesn’t teach her how to or when to forgive when she was wronged either.
    If anything it teaches a lot of things about how the world is unfair, but i think she will learn that without your “help”.
    You should focus on teaching her how to deal with it instead.

  8. Leon Valeur says

    Please allow me to correct a misunderstanding. In the original book about the child, that made Benjamin Spock famous, he wrote that a spanking could sometimes clear the air, and that this could be good for both parent and child. Later on, after both he and his wife had taken a psychological education, he became confused. Because the psychoquacks are mostly all like Alice Miller, who compared spanking with atomic war. Which means, that psychoquacks are totally superficial and indiffent about the truth. I prefer the Benjamin Spock, who, in a book about teenagers, wrote that he could smack some of the smart asses, and he also wrote that a teenager shouldn’t call his mother anything dirty. Spock’s wife worked in a factory and supported them all the time he studyed to be a doctor, so no doubt he would have spanked anyone who called her an idiot or something worse. Yours, Leon

  9. mmarcus says

    The ideas expressed in this article make me sick to my stomach. Adults who hit children are are committing assault, and should be prosecuted for assault. Only an idiot feels the need to hit children. The idea of someone “resetting his/her conscience” is moronic. The author of this article needs psychiatric help, and should be kept away from children at all costs. The author of this article is a bad person.

    • Pamela says

      I completely agree with you, Marcus. The author of this article, and all those who think hitting a child FOR ANY REASON needs help. Growing up is hard enough without taking away the trust and understanding of a loving parent. And blaming societies ills on NOT spanking? Please. Very weak. Next he’ll say he wrote this offending article because his parents didn’t spank him enough.

  10. says

    Those are strong comments, Marcus. You've stated an opinion, but haven't
    backed it up with a reasonable argument.

    There is a distinct difference between hitting a child in anger and spanking
    a child in calm love.

    Dr. Spock popularized the anti-spanking movement with his record-setting
    book, but then recanted his stance before he died.

    The anti-spanking generation has parented the most lawless, crime-ridden
    generation in the history of the United States.

    It has been my experience (though very limited, I admit) that people who are
    vehemently opposed to spanking are usually the historical victims or
    siblings of victims of abusive parents.

    Far too often we throw out the baby with the bath water in our over
    reactionary stances. If we or someone we love were beaten as children, our
    natural inclination is to oppose all forms of spanking because we do not
    trust an adult to apply this discipline in love. We typically do not trust
    until we've seen a healthy approach modeled in front of our very eyes.

  11. mmarcus says

    Your argument is absurd. There is no reason to hit a child. If you
    think you can't teach without the use of violence, then you have
    should stay away from children. I and my friends have raised well-
    behaved children without having hit them once. Our children are
    courteous, respectful of others, and fun to be around. We've used
    dialogue to help them come to an understanding that we should treat
    others as we would like to be treated. This is not a difficult lesson
    to teach, in fact it comes quite naturally to children. When they
    make mistakes, they are removed from the situation, spoken to, and
    given time to reflect on their behavior. They're intelligent enough
    to get the point. We teach by example. We treat them with the same
    respect we treat adults. It's not appropriate for me to hit you when
    you do something I don't think you should, and it's not appropriate
    for me to hit a child when he does something I don't think he should.

    You shouldn't hit women or children. You shouldn't hit men. You
    shouldn't hit anyone unless it's to defend yourself or others from

    Keep your hands to yourself. It's a shame no one took the time to
    teach you this.

    You should stop trying to justify violence against children.

    I continue this discussion out of curiosity, not in the hopes of
    changing anyone's mind. I get the feeling my curiosity will be
    satisfied shortly, as there doesn't seem to be a lot to the argument
    in favor of hitting children.

  12. says

    I'm curious what your conversations with a two year old would sound like and
    how long it takes them to learn obedience.

    You are correct in assuming that I don't hit people to get them to do what I
    want. I follow the Biblical principles of parenting insofar as I understand

    As for “giving children time to reflect on their behavior”, this is
    typically called “Time Out” and can have very negative effects
    psychologically on children.

    When a child is left to “reflect”, he/she is excluded from the happenings of
    the family. This isolation can teach a child to feel separated emotionally
    from family, as they learn that their negative behavior separates them from
    their primary caregivers.

    Some children do not learn from dialogue alone because the concepts are too
    complicated. They have to be protected from harmful choices before they are
    old enough to make rational decisions on their own. Even with 24/hr
    supervision, parents are human and liable to get distracted and miss a
    moment when a child grabs a steak knife or tiny piece of broken glass or any
    number of potentially disastrous opportunities.

    While my opinions may change, I am opposed to grounding and time outs
    because of the isolating factors. I don't want my children to feel separated
    from me at ANY time. That is why all discipline I give automatically comes
    with holding, hugging, words of love and affirmation, and other expressions
    that reassure her that she is and always will be loved and cherished.

    She knows Daddy loves her and she trusts me with everything. I see some
    parents who practice many separating actions (cry it out sleep methods, time
    outs, groundings) who are emotionally distant from their children. They love
    their kids, of course, but their hearts seem hardened and they only seem to
    care when they hear a certain type of cry.

    My daughter moves my heart with every cry, regardless of whether it's pain,
    desire, or whining. I hate that her heart hurts, and my whole being is
    focused on raising up a woman who knows her value and treats herself and
    others with the utmost dignity.

  13. john says

    I believe spanking is not necessary. It is bad. Maybe not bad as in evil, but you know what i mean.

    I have been spanked as a kid. I do not know if i deserved it or not…no one deserves to suffer. I have a lot of guilt because of the spankings that i got about 5 or 6 times by my mom….I learned something through spanking though….I learned to not trust anybody. If my mom spanked me…I wonder what everyone else will do. I barely have a few friends that i don’t really trust. They are scaring me too, just like everyone else does.

    I also learned to lie and pretend to be someone i am not because i really want to be liked by people….but still, i don’t really know if they like me or not…

    i also have depression and I always do things to satisfy everyone else, even though i hate it. my life is ruined…. don’t get me wrong…my mom would comfort me right after the spanking and she would do anything in her power to prove to me that she spanks me because she loves me….I don’t believe her however. I never did. But I don’t tell her that. I don’t want to make her feel bad….

    If anyone of you here is sensitive enough….stop the spanking….it is wrong….

  14. May says

    I was the good kid growing up. The one that never found herself in any type of trouble. However this was not a good thing for me, I held myself to standards that well exceeded what I should have. If anyone had to correct me in anyway I contained guilt for extended periods of time. Some even that I struggle with to this day. Also I was able to manipulate this good kid status in my adolescent years.
    Because of my personal experience with this as a child the ideas in this article make perfect sense to me. Had I felt I had paid for my behavior I would like to think that I would have moved past it rather than carried it for so long. It was only by the grace of God that I lived to tell through some of my adolescent desisions.
    I believe in spanking. However I believe it must be done calmly and consistently and when at all possible in private. I believe alot of children would benefit from this type of loving discipline.
    Unfortunately I do not believe there are many adults out there that can control their emotions. And it is those who damage children and give those that are against spanking good reason for their stance.

  15. TealRose says

    I am not allowed to hit my husband, my neighbour, the girl at the check out, the dog, or my granny – so why in the world .. would I WANT let alone be allowed to HIT / spank, beat, thrash, slipper, belt, cane, tawse, birch, switch, paddle etc etc a child ?? My parents spanked me – and from the first blow, they lost me. I learned fear, terror, hate, they alienated me and put a life long terror in my soul. Now I wasn’t ‘abused’ by your standards .. ‘just’ spanked by hand and leather slipper. As far as I was concerned they lied [they said they loved me !!] they were hypocrites [the told me never to hit!] and I learned too that height equalled might and that if you were bigger or older you could do anything and get away with it. I was a very quiet well mannered child already without the spanking thank you! The pain was terrifying. Not listening to me was terrifying too… and demeaning.

    I am a 56 year old granny – and I never spanked my children and they are polite, considerate adults! My high school had NO CP and we were all known to be the most polite and considerate pupils around! However – the other High school DID use CP and .. surprise surprise … their pupils were always in trouble, and were hooligans!

    Tradition is not the answer! Just because we beat children for the last several thousand years doesn’t make it right. No more than beating your wife, having a slave, or raping and buggering 7 year olds in Ancient Rome!!

    Have a heart .. teach your children in love and kindness and in peace and they WILL repay it.

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