Monday, May 4, 2009

Our View on Spanking Reflects So Much about Us

The online article Spanking is NOT an Effective Parenting Tool ( offers alternatives to corporal punishment as well as resources for parents. The comments from readers reveal that the debate about spanking continues – over six decades after Dr. Spock advised that spanking was counter-productive and that cooperation could be gained through peaceful means.

One reader commented that we should not spank when we are angry but that spanking was sometimes necessary. A furious, out-of-control parent who spanks a child is certainly terrifying. The calm parent who chooses to spank may have a heart-felt desire for his child to learn a lesson; however, the child will not see his parent’s compassion. Instead, he will see the most significant person in his life, a person who claims to love him, consciously choose to hurt him.

Another reader stated that “consistent discipline, including spanking, in the early years of childhood sets the foundation for respectful and pleasant tweens and teens.” Children who are spanked may act respectful out of fear. That child may become compliant or may become a resentful teen who learns to hide his mistakes. Those years may then seem more pleasant for the parent, but at a steep cost for the child and for the relationship.

A third parent commented that spanking should only be used as a last resort, and this view seems to be the trend. I have never met a parent who enjoyed spanking, only parents who did not know what else to do.

Our view on spanking reflects our basic belief about how we as people learn. Does a child need to feel bad in order to learn? Is a child bad for making a mistake and does he deserve to be punished? Are others the cause of the hurt or pain that we feel and do they deserve to be punished for causing this pain? For proponents of spanking, making a change to more peaceful parenting means stepping into a different world view about misbehavior, learning and making mistakes. It means stepping into compassion.

In Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life, Marshall Rosenberg suggests that we ask ourselves two questions. First, “What do I want this person to do that’s different from what he or she is currently doing?” The second question is often not asked. “What do I want this person’s reasons to be for doing what I’m asking?” The answer to that question is crucial. As Rosenberg states, “When we submit to doing something solely for the purpose of avoiding punishment [or gaining reward], our attention is distracted from the value of the action itself.” In other words, do we want our child to do his homework out a love of learning or because he is afraid he will be punished?

Spanking comes at a high cost – in a parent’s relationship with his child, in the family and in the world. Children who are spanked do not see their parent’s compassion. Instead, they become a part of our culture of violence. Over six decades ago, Dr. Spock attributed “the American tradition of spanking” as a factor in the high rate of violence in the United States. Six decades later we know so much more, and yet the answer remains the same : There are other ways to teach our children.