Saturday, April 3, 2010

"I Was Spanked And I'm Fine!"

(by Jan Hunt, M.Sc)

We hear it all the time, when spanking is mentioned. Someone steps forward and says something like this:

"Well, I don't see what all the fuss is about. I was spanked, and I'm fine. We all know that sometimes spanking is necessary for solving problems with kids. And since it's both necessary and harmless, it should be allowed and even encouraged."

At face value, this seems to be an airtight case; a perfectly logical justification of spanking as part of the necessary discipline of children. And a lot of people see it that way. But is it really so logical? Is spanking necessary? And is it as harmless as so many believe it to be?
Let's examine the argument:
  • "I was spanked." (fact)
  • "I'm fine." (opinion)
  • "Sometimes spanking is necessary for solving problems with kids." (false assumption)
  • "Since it's both necessary and harmless, it should be allowed and even encouraged." (illogical conclusion)
Now let's consider a similar argument that seems to justify smoking:
  • "George Burns smoked all his life from his teenage years on." (fact)
  • "He was in reasonably good health all his life and lived to be 100." (fact)
  • "Sometimes smoking is necessary for coping with life's problems." (false assumption)
  • "It should be allowed and even encouraged." (illogical conclusion)
This analogy should help to make it clear that the spanking argument, like the one on smoking, is based on false assumptions and leads to illogical conclusions. Some children, like some smokers, are less affected than others because of a natural emotional resiliency, just as Mr. Burns must have had physical resilience. Some children, like some smokers, are less harmed than others because of mitigating factors, such as the presence of other adults who treat them with love and care. To the extent that a spanked child is really "fine", it is in spite of, not because of, the punishments they have received. Mr. Burns must have had mitigating factors too. Perhaps his strict regimen of daily exercise helped him to fare better than other smokers, or perhaps he inherited a strong constitution. And research shows that laughter can be an important healer, and that many professional comedians live long lives.

For many reasons, George Burns was one of the survivors among frequent smokers. And for many reasons, there are also "survivors" of spanking. But we can never know just how much happier and more fulfilled they might have been had they been gently guided instead of being punished - any more than we can know just how much healthier Mr. Burns might have been had he never smoked a cigarette or a cigar. Would he have lived even longer, entertaining more people and writing more of his delightful books? Would he have brought joy, laughter, charm and wisdom to yet another generation? Sadly, we will never know.
Like smoking, spanking is not only harmful, it is entirely unnecessary, because there are far more effective and emotionally healthy alternatives. And these alternatives work in the long-term (which spanking does not) because they establish a pattern of good behavior that is motivated by the simple, genuine desire to reciprocate love. As Dr. Elliott Barker has written, "Kids who have their needs met early by loving parents ... are subjected totally and thoroughly to the most effective form of 'discipline' conceivable:they don't do what you don't want them to do because they love you so much!"

Behavior that is based on fear can last only until the child is old enough not to fear defying the parent. Punishment builds anger and resentment within the child that will inevitably be expressed at a future time (angry teenagers do not fall from the sky). In contrast, behavior that is based on mutual love and trust will last through all the years of a child's life, and through the entire length of the parent-child relationship. There is little that is more rewarding for a parent than the enjoyment of an enduring, loving and close tie with their child over many years.

Given all of this, let's revise the spanking argument:
  • I was spanked.
  • I'm fine, but I wish I were happier and more productive, and better able to love and trust others.
  • Since spanking is both unnecessary and harmful, it should never be allowed. Our government, like those in many European nations, should actively and strongly discourage it.
Spanking, like all other forms of punishment, such as time-out and consequences, can only bring about temporary and superficially "good" behavior based on threats and fear. As John Holt reminded us years ago, "When we make a child afraid, we stop learning dead in its tracks."
Gentle, loving, and respectful guidance is the only truly effective way to help a child to grow and develop to his full potential as a loving and trusting adult. Spanking is unnecessary, harmful, disrespectful, and unfair. Let's stop doing it!

Reprinted with permission from the Natural Child Project. Jan Hunt is the author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart (2001) and A Gift for Baby (2006); and the co-editor of the new book TheUnschooling Unmanual. Jan offers telephone counseling on attachment parenting and unschooling. To request counseling, order her books, or for other information, leave a message toll-free at 877-593-1547 or visit her website at

If you believe in what the Natural Child Project stands for, and appreciate all their amazing resources, consider visiting their site and making a donation!
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Sherwood said...

I will never spank my daughter, because looking back, I see my parents' spanking me as a symptom of their own inability to handle challenges in an adult way. My mom actually tried to spank me when I was 16 I laughed in her face and left. She had no control over me by the time she could no longer physically over-power me; around the age when parents actually need to be able to manage behavior.

Hurting people who one has authority over breeds hate and is a sign of weakness IMO.

whatUneverknew said...

Thank you! That was great. I always want to let spanking parents know that they don't have to feel judged and this article does that well. Any memory I have from being spanked is accompanied with resentment and indignance and I do not remember what it was supposed to be teaching me. My biggest problem with spanking isn't that kids will grow up to violent people, most are "just fine"; but that spanking is a conradiction (as is circumcision) to the goal we all have of freedom and autonomy. Your body doesn't belong to you if whoever has authority can grab you and cause pain until you yield your will. If we want to change our society, we have to CHANGE the way we treat our children.

Restoring Tally said...

Spanking typically happens because the parent no longer has control over themselves. It is far easier to deal with a situation by striking a helpless person and instilling fear into them to obtain desired behavior than it is to actually parent the child.

I only hope that one day we will act as civilized as many think they are.

AccidentallyMommy said...

First off the bat: This is a very literal question. It is not intended to incur snark or judgement. I am asking for help.

Now... I have spanked in the past. I can absolutely see myself spanking in the future. The qualifier is that my daughter "earned" these spankings because she was determined and curious, and did things that directly placed her in danger in spite of my best efforts (that have worked like a dream in every other situation,) to keep her from doing it.

I can name off the times she's been spanked. Incident number one - She was told in a parkinglot that she MUST hold my hand, cars could not necessarily stop fast enough to avoid hitting her. She then pulled out of my hand (Despite my near deathgrip once she started to pull away) and RAN into traffic to prove her point to me. She caused a three-car pile-up. She got a spanking for that.

Time number two: She was told that she mustn't climb the 7' bookcase, because while it was anchored to the wall, anchors can come loose and toppling from the top of it could cause serious injury, whether it be from crush injury or from landing on the marble tile floor. Her response was to climb to the top and launch herself off of it. She came out of it relatively unscathed, but I did not hesitate to spank.

I have three other examples, but they all follow the same formula. Explain the dangers of the potentially life-threatening situation, she refuses to believe it and must test it, and disaster is either barely averted, or the collateral damage is severe.

None of the spankings were done in anger, and with nothing other than a bare hand. After the spankings, I apologized to her for having done them, but explained that she must suffer some negative consequence for her dangerous actions.

IS there another way to deal with something like this? Shy of letting her get hit by the car, crushed by the bookcase, burned by the water, allowing her to smother her brother, etc.

Like I said - the child isn't malicious, she's CURIOUS.

Maegan said...

While I agree with the theory behind this...the reasoning just isn't quite "there" for me. "I could be happier.." Really? How do you know? How do you know this isn't the happiest you will EVER BE? I know adults that weren't spanked as children who are unhappy PLENTY. I was spanked, I don't feel unhappy! I know there are consequences & limits. Could I have learned this a different way? Possibly. Did I? No. Am I less happy than my non-spanked counterparts? I don't think so! I spose there's the whole "walking a mile" thing...Maybe I'm totally miserable and don't know it. I wasn't spanked often. But I also wasn't a kid who misbehaved often. If I was going to act up, I usually went to an extreme and spanking wasn't going to cut it as a punishment anyway. I lived on an mom's biggest punishment was to make me rake the whole thing. I didn't really start acting up until I was a little older...maybe around the tween age.

Korina said...

While I agree with absolutely everything else here I have to comment on the quote "they don't do what you don't want them to do because they love you so much!"

OMG I have never heard a bigger bunch of rubbish in my play up because they are kids and they are not naughty because we don't love them, they are naughty because they want to see what happens when they (for example) hit their brother or empty the flour on the floor ..... what kids do is nothing to do with if they love us or not.

But it all has something to do with if we love our kids.... how we react to their totally normal misbehaviour comes down to how we parent them.... i.e.. not spanking them.

OK I've got that off my chest! lol

Anonymous said...

Spanking is one of those hard subjects, because what 'spanking' may mean to one person is different than what happened to another. Spanking and a beating is different too, sometimes spanking was done with a hand in one household, in another it was done with a wooden spatula, or a clothes hanger and people thought that was 'spanking'. Plus some parents were way stronger than others, our mother was not strong, so the spankings weren't as bad as the ones our neighbors kids got (they got 'spanked' with wooden spoons, coat hangers, etc). We got punished in other ways, but back then it was normal to spank kids.

I try to use my own creativity to come with alternatives, such as when my kid was really little, if he started getting mad, I would tickle him a lot and he would immediately stop what he was doing and start screaming with laughter. Then he'd forget what he was doing to begin with.

I can remember that we were spanked when we were very small, and kids just don't 'get' it when they are that little, they don't know why they are being spanked (I was spanked when I was 18 months old because my mom said I started 'hitting my head against the wall' when she told me no). I don't even remember anything about it. I'd rather not spank my kid unless it was something really bad, like the one poster said they were engaging in life threatening behaviors like running in front of cars or something. Usually if my kid is doing something really bad just yelling at him will stop him from doing it. I also try to use my head, he will run away from me (in the yard), and if he doesn't come back when I call him, I say 'bye bye' and run away, and he always comes running after me. I used to hide and watch him to see what he'd do, he got the point that I would disappear when I said bye bye pretty quick.

Most parents spank because they are angry, which is not good because when you are angry you are less likely to control the force of the spankings, and they can turn into worse behavior. The biggest mistake parents make IMO about raising a kid that turns into a brat is not that they don't spank their kids, it's that they don't PARENT their kids, they don't really pay attention to them, just give them whatever they want to make them quiet so they'll 'go away' and leave the parents alone. It can also be misguided 'love', instead of giving the kid time and attention, they just give them material things instead of love.

Karrie said...

I was spanked and I'm NOT fine. I have no relationship with my father and very little relationship with my mother. I am, however, very close to my step-father who never hit me and always treated me with respect.

Cindy Collins said...

I have to disagree with this article and some of the PP.

I practice extended nursing, I co-sleep, I birth naturally out of hospital, I baby/toddler wear, I made my own baby food, I cloth diaper, I use herbal/holistic medicine, I have not ever CIO and I spank.

I'm very patient, loving and not an angry person at all. I was spanked too as a child and I am fine. I'm a very very happy individual.

The thing is every parent and child are unique individuals. While one form of *DISCIPLINE* may work with one child it may not with another child. Even if it may work with one child when "X" occurs, it may not work again if the same situation happens again. Only we know our children and what form of discipline is most effective for our children.

There is a difference between discipline and punishment. I never punish my children. I discipline them with love and kindness. If and when I do spank I'm not angry. If I am angry I will not spank at that time. After they are disciplined with a spanking they are told how much they are loved and we dont like to spank them. Before the spanking we talk to them and tell them why they are getting a spanking.

Spanking is not our only tool we use for discipline, they are many tools that can be utilized.

At some point children "out grow" spankings when they reach a certain age and they are no longer an effective tool of discipline. My mother tried to spank me when I was pre-teen and I laughed at her too. I honestly cant imagine spanking a child older than 7yrs of age.

I dont take any offense to this article at all. I and my husband are confident in our parenting style and how we discipline our children :O)

Amberlee said...

I was spanked, beaten, threatened, coerced, etc etc. I grew up in a verbally and physically abusive home. I swore if I ever had a family and children I would NOT be that way with them. Traditional parenting is not about respect or love it is about control. I am thankful that I found others who could help me, and continue to help me, get through the pain in my past so I don't pass it on to my three wonderful children. I discuss feelings with them, we talk, we unschool and we work together as a family. We love unconditionally and we treat each other as individuals that can make choices Yes or No. Will children do the opposite of what you tell them they "have to" or "must" do? Wouldn't you? If your spouse, significant other, someone you respect came to your home and said "you can't" "or you better" wouldn't you get pissed off? "You better get in there and do those dishes right now"...yeah right. If my kids wish to help with dishes or laundry or cleaning up, great--I can use the help. If they are busy or in the middle of something or not feeling well or just don't want to right now, they have that choice. If we don't give them real choices (you can do the or you can do them later is not a real choice) they don't learn for themselves....

AccidentallyMommy, I know how difficult it can be with a child that is soooo curious. I would go to Unschooling or Sandra Dodd's website and read everything there. You will be amazed at what is written and how much better the relationship with your child will be. Start with saying yes more and finding ways for her to make choices for herself. I don't mean letting her run in the street to get hurt. There are ways to deal with that that don't include such power struggles. She wanted to do what you didn't want her to because she didn't get a choice in the matter. Her only choice was your choice. She will always choose the opposite thing to keep your attention. Children don't care if the attention is negative or positive, they just want it and if negative is all there is they will take it.

You want to have a good relationship with your child. I am sure you don't want her to grow up and never speak to you again when she realizes you have no power over her. I have had to take myself and my family out of my family of origin all together because they are still the same and would force their behavior on my children. I won't have that.

Spanking is NEVER EVER needed. Never. For the Christians out there, Jesus said never harm a hair on the child's head. I am sure he wouldn't want you swatting them on the butt either. He chastised anyone who spoke harshly to a child or treated them with disrespect. He asked adults to be as little children. Most people don't get that. They want to force others to believe or be they way the adult wants them to be. Jesus never forced anyone, he let them choose. Some chose to follow others did not.

Life is a choice. Relationships are a choice. Spanking is violent and leads to anger and other problems in children who grow up to continue the cycle. It really isn't necessary. My children are not spanked. They are polite, sweet, wonderful kids--that is what everyone says. They are honest sometimes to a fault, but they are truly themselves as well. I don't need a bunch of little Me's running around. lol They need someone to be there to guide and to encourage. The more yes's and less no's the better. The more discussion and LISTENING and being there when they need you, the less power struggles, the less fear, anger and need to "discipline". Sandra Dodd, Pam, John Holt and Jesus get this. I wish more people would.

Charis Kelly said...

Well well well, you wouldn't believe it, I just wrote a post today about my own spanking (smacking as its known in Australia)experience. And I pretty much wrote the same sentence in my blog body "I was smacked and I'm fine" I would love for you to read over it and tell me what you think. Its actually my view as a child who got smacked and as a parent who also gave a few smacks, shame huh :(

Heather said...

To clarify:
I do NOT mean what the Pearls call spanking. Their methods definitely cross the line into child abuse. However, a swat on the well-padded, cloth-diapered heiny of an 18-month-old will get his attention, without inflicting major pain. MUCH better than allowing him to stick metal object into outlet (I HAD outlet covers. When I put them in, the then-14-month old spent the next day figuring out how to remove them & the day after that working out re-insertion. So much for outlet covers. Luckily, one swat & appropriate explanation seems to have been effective. Now, he plugs plugs in, but doesn't try to put anything in outlets that doesn't belong there)
The purpose of ANY punishment that is not simply allowing the child the feel the natural consequences of his actions should be to get his attention so that he will focus while you explain why his behavior is inappropriate (yes, even the parking lot-dasher). Time out can be misused & abused just as surely and easily as spanking.

Heather said...

BS, largely. On the whole, Cindy Collins wrote much of what I would say. There are times when spankinng is useful. Also, all children are different. Some are fine with being "lovingly led". Some are going to UTTERLY ignore that. For some, time-out is the most horrible consequence anyone could ever give them--it impacts them more than revoking privileges, spanking, etc. Other kids are more likely to sit up and take notice if treats or privileges are revoked. And, with some kids, a spanking is the most effective way to modify behavior, especially in an emergency situation. For my own daughter (almost 3), about the most serious consequence you can hand her is to require a few minutes of silence--she's a devout chatterbox.
On the whole, I try for the natural and logical consequences way of parenting.

I worked in the child care industry, in several different capacities, for well over 10 years. I have experience with all sorts of kids, from gifted to very small, to teens, to abused kids, disabled kids, and even normal kids. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who prescribes one method for all kids lacks sufficient experience with REAL children.

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