Spare the Rod? Is Spanking a Child Harmful or Helpful? – Part 5 – Is appropriate spanking harmful to a child?

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Spare the Rod? Is Spanking a Child Harmful or Helpful? – Part 5 – Is appropriate spanking harmful to a child?

Opposition to parents spanking their children has been growing significantly in elite circles over the past few years. And, my blogs on spanking are among the most read of those I publish. 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. This is the fifth of a 12 part series.
Argument #4: Physical punishment is harmful to a child.
Any disciplinary measure, whether physical, verbal, or emotional, carried to an extreme can harm a child.
Excessive scolding and berating of a child by a parent is emotionally, relationally, and spiritually harmful. If chronic, it can lead to stress that can even be physically harmful.
Excessive use of isolation (time-out) for unreasonable periods of time can humiliate a child and ruin the measure’s effectiveness.
Obviously, any excessive or indiscriminate physical punishment, or punishment administered in anger, can be harmful and potentially abusive.
However, an appropriately-administered spanking of a forewarned disobedient child is not harmful when administered in a loving controlled manner.
Without the prudent use of spanking for the particularly defiant child, a parent runs the risk of being inconsistent and rationalizing the child’s behavior. This inconsistent manner of parenting is confusing and harmful to the child and is damaging to the parent-child relationship.
There is no evidence that proper disciplinary spanking is harmful to the child.

Here’s the entire series:

You can read more of my blogs on spanking here:

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.


  1. Perry Bulwer says:

    You wrote: “There is no evidence that proper disciplinary spanking is harmful to the child.”
    Really? No evidence? What about these studies? What kind of doctor promotes child abuse?
    Spanking Found To Have Negative Effects On Low-income Toddlers
    Children Who Are Spanked Have Lower IQs, New Research Finds

  2. Dr. Walt says:

    Thanks for the note.
    To answer your question, I don’t know of any physician who supports child abuse . . . certainly not me.
    However, you’ve neither read my posts nor the studies you quote. I’d suggest you be a bit more critical and careful.
    The studies you cite, as it turns out, are not about spanking — they are about corporal punishment, of which appropriate, loving spanking is only a small subset.
    Corporal punishment includes spanking along with many forms of training or discipline that are inappropriate — such as beating with sticks or injuring children in other ways.
    When studies that isolate mild spanking from abusive behaviors are analyzed, results have consistently proven repeatedly the practice is not harmful.
    I wonder why you didn’t mention any of these?
    The fact is that proper spanking is often a necessary tool in parenting. In fact, studies have shown an increase in child abuse in homes where appropriate spanking does not occur, as eliminating spanking takes away a strong, useful and suitable tool from a parent.
    Equating appropriate spanking with punishment that includes child abuse is inaccurate, unfair, and misleads parents who are striving to properly raise their children.
    Based upon the best evidence available, I support the many parents who believe in appropriate spanking, when necessary.
    But I also believe spanking must be administered wisely and only when appropriate. The evidence does not show that spanking is a disciplinary cure-all.
    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.
    Dr. Walt

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