Angry father hitting her little baby daughter


April 16th, 2013

Spanking is a hot, complicated topic.  Different cultures have different guidelines regarding physically disciplining children. I have feelings about spanking from both a personal and a professional standpoint.

Personally, I remember being spanked as a child. My pride was hurt. I felt humiliated. What I felt was intense anger at my father or my mother. What I learned was to be more secretive and not to trust my parents to understand me or help me. I didn’t learn any of the lessons that they tried to teach me by spanking me.

What I can say about spanking or hitting professionally is on another level.

First of all, when your goal for your child is for them to put their angry feelings into words, then it is hard to justify we adults putting our angry feelings into hits or slaps. If a parent is still working on impulse control, then how can we expect more impulse control from a child?  The ancient Chinese proverb “One parent is worth a thousand teachers” speaks to the power of modeling: what we do as parents is far more powerful than what we say. If we want children who don’t hit, then we need to be parents who don’t hit. If we want children who follow the important rule that Everyone is Gentle with Everyone’s Bodies,” then we need to follow that rule as well.

Secondly, my concern is empirical. When I work with families, if a child has been hit or spanked by a parent, then within the next day or so that child will often hit either a peer, a sibling, a parent, or a teacher. In my experience, without judgment but with much observation, if a child is hit, then that child will hit soon after. (Important note: I am definitely not saying the opposite– that every child who hits has been hit. I am saying that a child who hits will very likely then hit. There is a definite distinction here.)

Most discipline challenges with children concern impulse control. It is extremely important that we adults model impulse control and that we model putting challenging feelings into words and not into hits.

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