I hope most people would agree that hitting a child is wrong. Yet, surveys show that over 65% of adults approve of spanking, specifically a “good hard spanking,” at times. To be clear, spanking is a synonym for hitting. Spanking your child is hitting your child and hitting your child is wrong.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has strengthened its stance against spanking, there are no reported benefits of this type of punishment, and hitting a child is abusive. Disciplining our kids with physical violence is a terrible idea, but more parents than not still think it’s acceptable.
Some states think it’s okay to let schools spank too. According to the New York Times, there are 19 states in America where it is legal for a child to be subjected to corporal punishment by the hands of teachers and school administrators. Spanking is a form of corporal punishment. Most of the 14% of schools who report using corporal punishment as part of their discipline are in the southeastern part of the country.
The U.S. Department of Education suggests other, more appropriate, approaches to discipline that are based in positive interventions and social-emotional learning. Unlike hitting students, these methods have reduced problematic behavior and increased the quality of a student’s learning space.
Researchers and therapists have proved the negative impacts of corporal punishment, which—to be very clear—is the use of painful physical force or the fear of pain to change a child’s behavior.
If you don’t believe that spanking is physical violence, then you need to hear this the most: Spanking increases a child’s aggression, erodes trust in their caregiver, and reduces their ability to self-regulate. Fear, shame, or pain may temporarily stop a behavior that a parent or teacher wants to change, but spanking will not provide long-term improvements in behavior. The stress of spanking or the anticipation of it increases the stress hormones in a child’s brain. This can cause the brain to rewire enough to create mental health problems in tweens and teenagers. These problems bleed into adulthood.
Hitting a child doesn’t earn your child’s respect or trust. Spanking a child doesn’t teach them a lesson. Corporal punishment doesn’t make a child a better listener or rule-follower. It doesn’t do a child, especially an impulsive one, any good to tell them not to hit or kick someone or something by hitting them into submission. The report by the American Academy of Pediatrics which called for the end of spanking referenced a study that showed 73% of kids who had been spanked resumed the same behavior within ten minutes of the spanking.
Perhaps you are defending your or your partner’s use of spanking because you only do it once in a while. The AAP’s report also cited a study that showed at least two or more spankings a month resulted in more aggressive kids. Violence begets violence. Even with positive reinforcement and more gentle parenting approaches, the connection between “harsh discipline and adolescent conduct disorder and depression remained.”
Spanking a child is a reflection of a parent or guardian’s lack of emotional intelligence, patience, and self-control. It can also be a reflection of a parent’s own upbringing and history of trauma or mental health problems. Financial insecurity breeds stress, rage, a sense of inadequacy, and resentment based on a perceived lower social status. That stress is then taken out on children. The U.S. General Social Survey showed that parents in the middle brackets of earned household income were 25% more likely to support spanking.
Dr. Robert Sege of Tufts Medical Center in Boston was one of the doctors who contributed to the AAP report. He says a depressed parent will rely on corporal punishment more often than a parent who does not suffer from depression. He also added, “In addition, family economic challenges, mental health problems, intimate partner violence and substance abuse all are associated with increased reliance on corporal punishment,” Sege said.
This is not an excuse. Cycles of generational abuse can be broken. I was abused and do not abuse my kids. The stigma of mental health disorders does not need to be increased either by assuming a depressed or anxious person will resort to spanking their children. I navigate depression and anxiety and don’t hit my children as part of their discipline or punishment for their actions.
I understand the urge to want to hit my kids, though. There have been a couple of times where I lost control and have spanked my kids. I regretted each instance and have vowed to be more aware and in control of that impulse.
My need to regulate my child through hitting them was more about me than them. When my child was acting out with zero regard to my words, my own frustration, exhaustion, and anger overwhelmed me. I wanted my child’s behavior to stop so I could stop the rising anxiety and so I could feel better. I snapped and hit my child on the bottom. It stopped the behavior but not the anger, tears, or intensity of the situation. Spanking my child didn’t make either one of us feel better. I should have walked away.
I don’t want to repeat the patterns I experienced as a child. I deserved better, and so do my kids. While my experiences may be predispositions for spanking my kids, my desire to seek therapy and a better understanding of myself as a human separate me from excuses. It’s not easy to look at ourselves. Taking inventory of our actions and words means taking accountability and admitting that we are wrong … or at least not as right as we’d like to believe.
If you still believe spanking is fine and won’t hurt your child, you’re wrong. Your opinion that spanking is okay and assumption of authority over your child’s body doesn’t trump data, facts, science, and the lived experience of kids or adults who were spanked during childhood.
We have to know better to do better. And there are so many better ways to discipline our kids than with spanking.
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