Spare the Rod? Is Spanking a Child Harmful or Helpful? – Part 1 – Introduction

My blogs on spanking are among the most read of those I publish. This may be due to the fact that opposition to parents spanking their children has been growing significantly in elite circles over the past few years. Therefore, I’ve decided to, with the help of the research of my friends Den Trumbull, MD, S. DuBose Ravenel, MD, to look a the arguments used against spanking, to see if they hold any water. First, some introductory comments to begin this 12 part series.

Drs. Trumbull and Ravenel write:

No doubt much of this opposition springs from a sincere concern for the well-being of children. Child abuse is a reality, and stories of child abuse are horrifying.

But while loving and effective discipline is quite definitely not harsh and abusive, neither is it weak and ineffectual. Indeed, disciplinary spanking can fall well within the boundaries of loving discipline and need not be labeled abusive violence.

Critics, however, claim that spanking a child is abusive and contributes to adult dysfunction.

In fact, most of these allegations arise from studies that fail to distinguish what I will define as “appropriate spanking” from other forms of punishment, including forms discipline that are child abusive.

It’s shocking for most parents to learn that studies commonly include abusive forms of physical punishment (such as kicking, punching, and beating) under the umbrella of “corporal punishment,” of which mild or appropriate spanking is a subset.

Trumbull and Ravenel point out, “Furthermore, the studies usually include, and even emphasize, corporal punishment of adolescents, rather than focusing on preschool children, where spanking is more effective.”

This blurring of distinctions between spanking and physical abuse, and between children of different ages, gives critics the illusion of having data sufficient for condemning all disciplinary spanking.

Is it any surprise to anyone that child abuse and severe punishment would be associated with negative outcomes? Of course not! Any civilized parent would be shocked by these types of abuse.

But this is a far cry from judiciously used mild spanking employed by many, if not most, loving parents. The excessive punishment of some misguided, angry or cruel parents should not become an argument to not discipline at all.

The real issue, then, for the vast majority of loving, caring parents is not whether they should spank, but how they spank.

So, what is appropriate or mild spanking?

An important scientific conference defined appropriate or mild spanking as:

  • physically non injurious,
  • intended to modify behavior, and
  • administered to the extremities or buttocks.

I would add that such discipline is never administered in anger, and should be used with children from about 18 months to six years of age.

To my knowledge, this form of spanking has been shown to be effective, especially when used in conjunction with other forms of discipline, such as time outs, reasoning, and other disciplinary tools. Furthermore, it has NEVER been shown to be harmful to children.

In fact, studies have shown an INCREASE in child abuse in homes where appropriate spanking does NOT occur. Why? Eliminating mild or appropriate spanking takes away a strong, useful, effective, and suitable tool from a parent.

Not all children need to be spanked, and not all parents should spank their children — especially parents prone to anger, hostility, abuse, or outbursts. However, a parent that does not teach that there are consequences to behaviors will leave it to the police and others to do that later in the child’s life.

Parents, for millennia, in virtually every recorded culture, have spanked their young children, when necessary, to teach them and to shape and mold their character to ultimately benefit their children.

Now, unfortunately, parents are being fed confusing information by anti-spanking advocates. Perhaps some discipline is in order for those guilty of fictionalized reporting.

Anyway, there are several arguments commonly leveled against disciplinary spanking that we will examine in this series.

Of these arguments, Trumbull and Ravenel say, “Interestingly, most of these arguments can be used against other forms of discipline. Any form of discipline (time-out, restriction, etc.), when used inappropriately and in anger, can result in distorting a child’s perception of justice and harming his emotional development.”

So, starting next week, we’ll examine these topics:

By the way, an introduction is in order. Den A. Trumbull, MD is a board-certified pediatrician in private practice in Montgomery, Alabama. He is Vice President of the American College of Pediatricians. S. DuBose Ravenel, MD is a board-certified pediatrician in private practice in High Point, North Carolina. He served for 11 years on the pediatric faculty of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine prior to entering private practice.

You can read more of my blogs on spanking here:

3 thoughts on “Spare the Rod? Is Spanking a Child Harmful or Helpful? – Part 1 – Introduction

  • PDeverit

    Child buttock-battering for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit. Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit. There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping is unhealthy . . . The vast majority of research has come to a consensus that child bottom-slapping isn’t healthy.

  • Child battering and hitting is not only never appropriate, it is child abuse . . . and, it is illegal.

    As I said above, the research showing “harm” from corporal punishment includes in the definition forms of punishment that are violent and abusive.

    And, studies have shown an INCREASE in child abuse in homes where appropriate spanking does NOT occur.

    Why? Eliminating mild or appropriate spanking takes away a strong, useful, effective, and suitable tool from a parent.

  • Gail

    A spanking is not a beating. It is a few swats on the behind when all else has failed. It usually works better if the child is still in diapers and able to walk and understand what your are trying to tell them. The noise scares the child more than the spanking does and it is a fear of the spanking that works – not the spanking. Spankings will turn into child abuse if the child does not learn discipline when young. I may have repeated some of the above article as I have a grandchild here who could probably use a good spanking right now but since he is 22 – think I will pass.
    Children learn very young that they can call chilrens services and parents are afraid to teach their children right from wrong. This sounds like an old lady opinion but since they took the prayer out of school and letting children services how we can raise our children the crime rate has went up and the crimes are worse because they have no respect or fear of authority.

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