Three Flaws of Spanking

A little boy is spanking his teddy bear, which is turned over his knee.

Why Spanking Does Not Teach What You Think it Does

This article is part of a series on Positive Guidance that will be published in the coming weeks. 

Spanking has been a common form of punishment for probably as long as there have been children. Though its popularity comes and goes, it still continues to be used by many parents today who want to raise well-behaved children. Because most people have never had any training in parenting methods, they go with the default—how they were raised. For many, that means spanking their child.

It is good that these parents want to make an effort with their children. However, spanking is not the best method. It has several flaws that make it an inefficient and ineffective way of teaching correct behavior. Parents believe they are teaching one thing, but may, in fact, be teaching something completely opposite. And they are actually making more work for themselves in the long run.

Here are three reasons why spanking doesn’t really work the way you may think it does:

Spanking Takes Control Away from Children

Many will look at this heading and wonder why this is a problem. Don’t we want the parent to be in charge? Won’t children just run amok if not controlled by their parents?

No, and no. Parenting that teaches the child to be in charge of his own behavior is actually more effective, less time consuming, and serves the child for a longer period.

Let me explain. Lawrence Kohlberg was a world-renowned psychologist who specialized in child development. His theory of moral development is one that is used widely by behaviorists, teachers, parenting coaches, and others who work with children. In his theory, Kohler said that children go through three stages of development when learning moral behavior:

3 Stages of Moral Development

  1. Avoiding Punishment—In this stage, children avoid doing wrong so that they won’t get in trouble. Example: “I don’t steal the candy bar, because my dad will whip my butt if I do!”
  2. Following Rules/Good vs. Bad—As children progress, they see behavior as very black and white. They do what is right because it’s the rule. They see people as “good” or “bad” based on their behavior. Example: “I don’t steal the candy bar, because stealing is bad and against the law.”
  3. Personal Values and Standards—People who have reached this stage have determined what their own core values and standards are and behave accordingly. Example: “I don’t steal the candy bar, because it will hurt the store owner. And I would never want to hurt another person through my own selfishness.” Or simply, “I am not a thief.”

The goal of good parenting is to guide our children to eventually reach the third stage. For a child who has learned to make good choices on their own, this will usually happen by the late teens. But sadly, for many people in the world, they never get that far. In fact, many people live their whole lives in stage one! Think about it—we have law enforcement and jails for a reason!

The problem with spanking is that it promotes thinking at the first level only. It teaches kids that when they do something wrong, they get a punishment…IF the grown-up was around to catch it. It doesn’t teach children what was wrong about the behavior or why they shouldn’t do it, even when no one is watching. Parents can’t be with their children 24/7, so what will children do when not in their parents’ control? Or how will the child know to behave when in the care of a teacher or other caregiver who cannot use this type of discipline?

This also makes more work for the parent, because they always have to be watching for and correcting bad behaviors. And because a spanking for one behavior doesn’t translate to another behavior, parents have to be vigilant about every little thing.

Spanking Limits the Teaching Experience

Along with avoiding bad behaviors, children need to learn to perform good behaviors. Spanking does not teach this. It only teaches the child what NOT TO DO. There is no component of this method to teach what TO DO instead. This often leaves children confused and unsure about new situations. The child may freeze up, be unable to make a decision on his own, or become afraid to make mistakes.

Spanking teaches by trial and error—the child has to learn if something is wrong based on the parent’s reaction—which is an extremely inefficient way to learn. And because this doesn’t teach thinking skills, but only reacting skills, it limits learning on many levels and in all situations.

Spanking Does NOT Teach Respect

Many times, parents say their child will learn respect by being spanked. This could not be further from the truth. I don’t know any human or animal that would respect someone who hits them. They may learn to behave appropriately in front of that person, and they may learn the correct words to say when speaking to that person. But that is not respect. That is an act, and it teaches children to be counterfeit in their behavior towards others.

What spanking does teach is that hitting or hurting another person is okay, as long as the person doing the hitting feels there is a reason for it. While the parent understands that this is a discipline method, the child may not understand that. They may only see the parent as angry or upset with them and hitting them as a result. Therefore, it must be okay to treat another person this way when we feel justified to do so.

Children may even learn to resent all people in positions of authority, which may cause them problems throughout life. They may have relationship difficulties because they only know how to function when controlling or being controlled by another person. They may also find it difficult to follow their dreams or branch out and try something new for fear of failure or disappointing their parent or others.

Spanking and Spoiling are Not the Only Options

Some will say they have to spank, because they’re not going to just sit by and watch their kids misbehave. But spanking and letting kids do whatever they will are not the only two options. They are just opposite methods that both require very little training and offer less than desirable results. The good news is, there are many wonderful positive guidance methods that firmly and clearly teach children in a loving and empathetic way.

The next few articles in this series will address easy and fail-proof techniques parents can use to teach their children. Topics will include Natural and Logical Consequences, Dealing with Power Struggles and Temper Tantrums, and Positive and Negative Reinforcement. These techniques have been proven time and time again to successfully teach children to think for themselves and be in control of their own behavior. 

If you give these methods a try, you will find your child’s behavior significantly improving, and parenting will become a simpler and much more enjoyable experience!

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