Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's the Bottom Line on Sanking?

My dad spanked me. Once. I was five and had given my toddler brother a swift kick between the legs. By god if that day didn’t put the fear in me. For the next several years, all it took was the threat of being spanked again to zip me back into line. My Spank Bank was full. (Daddy Dearest did tell me that if he caught me smoking cigarettes at any age that would be cause for a repeat performance.)

But I doubt there are many kids out there that have only been spanked once. According to a recent study, 74 percent of parents think spanking is an effective way to discipline children. These are probably the same ones you see screeching, “We don’t hit!” as they are swatting their kids to punctuate each word.

Spanking is undoubtedly one of the most controversial parenting issues and one to quickly make everyone uncomfortable. It isn’t something parents sit around and proudly admit to. It isn’t something children credit with getting them far in life, either.

“I never would have gotten into Harvard where it not for those nightly beatings. Pass the caviar won’t you, dahling?”

Even researching this piece and imagining all the little bottoms that are red and sore at this very moment makes me incredibly sad.

Earlier this week, researchers at Tulane University provided the strongest evidence yet against the use of spanking: of the nearly 2,500 youngsters in the study, those who were spanked more frequently at age three were more 50 percent more likely to display aggressive and violent behavior by age five.

This study piggybacks an earlier Duke University study that cited infants who were spanked at 12 months scored lower on cognitive tests at age 3.

First of all, what could a one-year old possibly be doing so wrong that they deserve to be hit? Are they stealing cars? Smoking pot? Spanking babies for exploring the world around them or communicating in the only way they know how (crying) is revolting. They will learn that questioning and observing is bad and will become untrusting of their parents and the world.

Corporal punishment only shows kids that A) their parent is stronger than they are and B) physical violence is an appropriate way to solve problems.

If you spank a kid for throwing a tantrum in the store, he may stop, but he isn’t realizing why his behavior is socially inappropriate. He isn’t realizing that you want to help him work through his frustrations and that you do understand why it sucks that she can’t eat frosting for lunch.

I admit there have been a few times I have felt myself, pushed by exhaustion, stress, embarrassment, whatever, reach the level where I COULD have used force — but I quickly realized it wasn’t Baby Boy I was mad at, it was myself for losing control of a situation. (Or because of that horrible woman who was glaring at me in Aisle 2.) But it makes me think how many parents, when pushed to this scary edge (you are lying if you say you haven’t been there), do resort to taking their stress physically out on their kids.

Though I am against spanking, I stand by that discipline is a vital aspect of parenting. Children crave and need boundaries in order to succeed. Time-outs, praising good behavior and taking away privileges are effective strategies. Any discipline strategy need to be used early and consistently. I think parents often try a tactic a few times, say it doesn’t work and revert to physical punishment.

A child’s job is to push boundaries and buttons to see how far they can get. A parent’s job is to keep the kids within safe zones until they are 18. Or if you have a Boomerang Baby, 34.

For great support and advice on how to constructively discipline and stop tantrums, read Dr. Harvey Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block — it is a parenting bible (he even has it in DVD form for those of us that are too tired at the end of the day to read a non-Maisy book). The American Academy of Pediatric’s website also has solid tips.

Parenting can be as hard, stressful, challenging and exhausting as it is wonderful, lovely and magical. But spanking our children is never an acceptable form of discipline. Hands are for loving, not hitting, bottom line.


  1. I think this is a hugely important topic to discuss. As a non-parent but a child of the "spanking age," I'm a lot of the times torn between whether to spank or not to spank. At times I feel like had I not been spanked I'd have been WAY more rebellious in my youth. However, I KNOW that I could never bring myself to hit a child of mine (or any child for that matter) because I remember how terrified of my father I was for my ENTIRE childhood and how I crave a father/daughter relationship that will never be. By spanking me, he definitely broke that trust and connection that is meant to be between parent and child. In my opinion, the cons far out-weigh the pros and discipline, albeit necessary, does not have to be violent. Thanks for writing about this my dear! :)

  2. What's the fuss? 'Sanking' is always fun! You take your Sanka and you drink, drink, away! :)