December 13
At my best, I try to be a voice for children. At my very best, I help them find their own voice. ************************************ We don't accomplish anything in this world alone...and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one's life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something. - Sandra Day O'Connor * ************************************


Mamoore's Links
Editor’s Pick
JANUARY 7, 2010 11:23AM

To Spank or Not To Spank: A Controversial Study Says "Maybe"

Rate: 54 Flag

           photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press


I was spanked as a child.  If you’re an adult of my generation, odds are that you were, too.  My memories of being spanked aren’t the 1950’s television version where the mother waits until the father comes home to report the offense, at which time the father sternly takes the child into his study and delivers the punishment while the child is bent over the father’s knee.  My memories are of me and my siblings running around the house,  the neighborhood, or the grocery store, trying to escape my mother and, when finally caught, being whacked on the backside while still standing.  There was no parental shame in public spanking, at least not in my upper middle class neighborhood, and no one called child protective services when it happened.


When I became a parent eleven years ago, I knew at a gut level that I didn’t want to spank my kids.  I never wanted my children to fear me. I visualized my husband and myself as the perfect modern parents. Our style of “discipline” would be called by the politically correct term, “behavior management”.  We would talk and educate our way through our child’s bad choices or accidental misbehaviors until they happened no more.  Ha! 

Within the span of six years, we had three children.  Each of them a beautiful little soul full of energy, curiosity, and free will.  It wasn’t long before my resolve to never make my children fear me began to break down.  Soon, I was employing the Mommy Vice Grip as I dragged our offending child, kicking and screaming, into their room for a time out.  Every once in awhile, to my horror, I would find myself giving them a quick smack on the bottom as I took them down the hallway.  It’s very hard for me to admit this because it feels so against what I believe in.  But, it’s true and I know it is a hidden truth I share with many parents.  

My children got older and I started noticing how they behaved when they were frustrated or angry with each other.  I was shocked to realize that they mirrored many of my own behaviors. I knew that if I was going to ask them to change their actions I would have to change my own.  Granted, I wasn’t what I would really classify as a spanker, but regardless, it took me a long time to learn not to touch my children in anger.  I had to learn how to do something I had never been exposed to as a child. I am still far from perfect. 

As I was driving my kids to the school bus the other morning, I heard a Michigan public radio news report about a recent study that suggests that spanking at an early age may be beneficial. I was shocked, indignant, and more than slightly curious. 

As soon as I returned home, I was googling the study by Marjorie Gunnoe, a psychology professor at Michigan's Calvin College.   The research was conducted by interviewing a sample of more than 2,600 people, including a core group of 179 teenagers.  The following is an excerpt from a Grand Rapids Press article about the findings. 

“While timeouts and other disciplinary methods work for some parents and is encouraged by some child psychologists, a Calvin College psychology professor says her research shows corporal punishment forms more well-adjusted people later in life. 

Marjorie Gunnoe says the study finds children who remember being spanked on the backside with an open hand do better in school, perform more volunteer work and are more optimistic than others who were not physically disciplined.” 

“The practice should be considered when lawmakers across the country consider banning spanking, Gunnoe said, noting 24 countries have barred the punishment. 

This is a red light for people who want to legally limit how parents choose to discipline their children," she said. "I don't promote spanking, but there's not the evidence to outlaw it." 

As much as I hate to admit it, I would actually say that I fit all of those behavior outcomes.  But, there is no way I am going to admit that my childhood spankings are what led to any of my own positive attributes. And there is no way, regardless of research, that I will feel comfortable spanking our children. On the other hand, I have friends who I know for a fact spank their kids on a regular basis.  I can’t say I don’t cringe when I hear them threaten a spanking but I don’t consider them bad parents.  I don’t consider their children as better or worse behaved than my own.  

I kept digging, maybe because I wanted to know if I should stop judging my parents so harshly for all those spankings.  It turns out there really isn’t a clear answer.

It does seem that Gunnoe’s study is not being widely accepted. In fact, while it has been nationally distributed, it has not been published in any professional journals and was rejected by the Journal of Family Psychology.  There were also some interesting aspects to the findings that weren’t covered in the news report I had heard.  Most importantly, Gunnoe believes spanking is only effective between the ages of two and six.  After that, the spanked children began to score worse on negative behaviors than the non-spanked children, meaning that they were more prone to anti-social or violent behaviors. 

Gabe Griffin, a Pediatric Psychologist, said the following after reviewing the research. "It can very easily cross over from a discipline in a calm, measured way to an out of control moment. Parents always think it’s in a controlled manner, but clearly it's not.  Obviously it's not going to harm every kid, but the potential is there and it isn't worth the risk." 

Dr. Diane Sacks, former president of the Canadian Pediatric Society, believes that research has proven that spanking, whether short or long term, leads to “bad physical behavior.” She goes on to state, "Many studies show that when children are spanked in order to teach, they don't learn. When afraid, children learn poorly. Fear is a very bad teacher."

I guess I found what I was looking for.  Well respected authorities that are saying what I want to hear, reinforcing what my gut was feeling. Spanking doesn't work.

Still, I couldn’t shake the lingering echo of Dr. Gunnoe saying that for some kids, spanking is what works.  I have a dear friend, a liberal, socially active, teaching credential friend, who confided to me, when our firstborns were toddlers, that they spank their son.  Her husband, another very liberal soul, was spanked as a child and believed it did him good, insisted that they pass on the tradition.  I will never forget the whispered voice my friend used when she told me, or the tentative look in her eyes as she waited for my reaction. It was something she felt she had to hide because it went so against all of our modern parenting bibles. Today, her four children are all healthy, well-adjusted, socially appropriate, and thriving in school.   

I have two purposes for writing this post.   

First, I’m interested in the discussion that might evolve from this study and your own personal experiences.  So many questions raced through my mind when I learned about this research and I am curious as to the response others will have. 

Second, I want to make those parents who are struggling to find alternatives to spanking aware of a book that has changed my life.  The book is called Giving the Love That Heals, by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt.  I’ll admit that it may be not be everyone’s cup of tea but, for me, it helped me reconcile the lessons I was taught as a child with the lessons I want to teach my own children.




photo courtesy of the Grand Rapids Press/

myspace live counter

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I was spanked, but not often, and it was with a paddle that was reserved especially for that purpose. I have mixed feelings about it, frankly, and feel like discipline is appropriate, and necessary, but the line between that and abuse can be very fine indeed at times.
I thought this was an interesting take on this :
What an incredible post.

My reaction is a gut one - an absolute 'no' to spanking. I was spanked as a child and I concentrate on how it made me feel rather than what it made me do. I never felt loved or affirmed or taught anything, I felt afraid. I complied; I wasn't taught. I believe many children, especially unruly ones, will fall into this category when nothing else works. My husband also was spanked and has come out feeling the same way. He was even spanked by the principal (in Texas) as a freshman for doing nothing more than speaking up in class and the teacher not liking it. Needless to say, we both examined our experiences fully.

I, like you, did not want to spank my child. At a very testy period, when she was 3, I was at my wits end and caved. For one week I tried and felt horribly guilty after each spanking. After speaking with a friend, I stopped. About six months later we put her in counseling. One year after that, we found out she had been abused.

The spanking was more about my frustration to not meet my child's needs than it was about her. I could tell something was wrong and I couldn't fix it and I was desperate. Hitting someone else, or another being for that matter, has never seemed like a reasonable resolution to me. It didn't work for us and I believe love, patience, tolerance and kindness truly are the things which bring healing and peace.
I used to be a proponent of spanking. I was spanked as a kid growing up. But, as I've gotten older and so have the kids, I find it unnecessary and counter productive. Did the threat of a spanking ever stop me from doing something wrong? No. So why do I think it will be a preventive measure for my kids? I don't.
"If you got angry at another adult, you would not hit them to make your point, why do you hit your child?"

OMFG, Stellaa! Not only do I love you, I love your dad!

Neither Amy or I have EVER touched our children in anger or as punishment. We decided to be that way before they were born because we didn't want them to ever think "might makes right" or that parental physical contact should ever be construed as punishment.

This has worked splendidly. We sit down as a family every evening and ALWAYS discuss our day over dinner. We discuss what each of us did good and what each of us did bad. A "I'm disappointed that you did that" from their Poppi can generate instant tears and remorse.

*Snerk* not so much from me cuz I'm usually hearing the same thing from her... ;)
Oh, you are talking about this.

I had a different take on your title.

Well...back to gutter for me.
Kathy - Crossing that fine line seems to be one of the major things many of the experts were worried about and what my first concern was on hearing the report.

WalkAway - Thanks for being open, I wasn't sure how people would respond to this post and I appreciate that you added your voice. I am interested to read more about how this makes you feel - as I said, I have friends who are in the same place.

Stellaa- Thanks. If you feel like doing some googling, there are some interesting theories about why this research got distributed. I didn't include them because I couldn't find evidence that they were true. I love the idea of sitting down and holding hands, though I couldn't be assured my kids wouldn't try to spend the whole time continuing to argue their case, they were born lawyers!

Al - I'll check it out. thanks.

Sparking - I really appreciate your perspective. I also felt like my reactions were an expression of my own frustration and not an appropriate response to the situation which is why I knew I had to find a different route.

smalltown - I agree. Spanking never stopped me from knowingly doing things I knew my parents wouldn't approve of.
A parent needs a toolbox with a lot of different tools in order to shape the behavior of their children. Spanking is one tool that works for some kids and some parents. Timeouts is another. Praise and reinforcing good behavior another. A parent that only uses one method can't be effective. I spank my boys, but extremely rarely. It was great to get the attention of toddlers, etc., but not as needed for 9 and 11 yr old boys. Now it's reserved for major things that harm others. For the most part, expression of disappointment, and the taking away of privileges works to punish bad behavior. Praise works for encouraging good behavior. Seems to work fairly well. I just think that for many kids, spanking at younger ages is a good way to get their attention.
I really love stellaa's dad's take on it and the sitting and holding hands idea seems pretty brilliant, too. If spanking is going to be effective, it seems right to me that between ages 2 and 6 is about the size of the window.

There's a big difference, too, between spanking and beating. In the end I come down in favor of non-violence, but it takes an incredibly disciplined parent to make that choice consistently.
""Pick a belt" was heard often in my house. One time I thought I was being really smart and picked the skinniest one I could find. My dad took me to my room, shut the door and made me swear to scream while he hit the bed with it dying of laughter. I got swatted a few times, but after a couple the mere question of "Do you want a spanking" usually corrected my behavior. (Which I'm sure was perfectly acceptable anyway)

We also had corporal punishment in my school system. Paddles. Watch out for the one with holes in it so the air can rush through faster! Ouch! I got pops once - with that paddle - for pantsing my friend in front of a lot of people and other schools. We had gone to watch our drill team captains at a camp and as we were sitting in a packed auditorium, she stood up - I mean, what was I supposed to do? Let the opportunity pass? Evidently, the stupid cheerleaders set some sort of example - pfft. Now, I'm not exactly sure if the pops were for that or he merely upgraded the paddle because as we were sitting there, my friend asked him who he was looking at. Problem was, he had a glass eye.
mamoore, I can't tell you how much I respect this post. You deliver important new information neutrally and make it personal with your own uncertainty. I can say without qualification this is why I come to OS.

As far as my own opinion on the subject, I could have written much of this. Like you, I was spanked and felt humiliated and physically hurt by it. My father had a flashing rage that I'm afraid I might have inherited. I was scarred by it, truthfully, even as at the same time I suggest I'm a thoughtful and well adjusted person. Like you, though, I didn't want to use physical intimidation on my kids. I seriously struggled in some specific instances where I wanted to haul off and hit the little buggers but I was mostly successful in not. In fact, I'm not sure I ever once actually spanked anyone, although I'm shamefully familiar with the alternatives--the vice grip and the shove. Anyway, I too, am queasy with the idea of anyone supporting spanking in an official capacity but like you respect research and want to understand what's true, whether I like it or not.

I'll read the other comments and watch this thread with interest.
I never laid a hand in anger on either of my kids. I had suffered enough humiliation and pain of that kind as a child to last ten life times.

I have a very vivid memory of being spanked by a nun while in kindergarten. Why? Because I couldn't remember what letter came after "P" in the alphabet. Here I am, some 55 years later, and I can still vividly feel my anger and shame for such an unjust punishment.

Discipline at home was meted out by my mother. Spankings would have taken too long. It was easier to slap, punch, kick, pinch or bite....and believe me, those things were very effective. Especially, when again, they were delivered for misdemeanors not felonies. I swore I would never treat my children in that manner.

When my kids were about five and three, they got into some child worthy mischief for which I threatened to "kill" them. My son, the five year old, put his hands on his hips and stared at me defiantly. "Oh, no you won't," he said. "What makes you so sure," I replied with motherly sternness. "Because you love us," he replied. I never forgot that incident or the realization that love is the best teacher of all.
Most people hate their kids and so they beat them. We really need research for this?
Melissa, great post on a very interesting subject; I don't know any parents that aren't conflicted about, concerned with or interested in this one. It's very thought provoking.

I was spanked as a child. When I was younger, I remember waiting in shame for Daddy to get home, turn me over his knee and spank me with his open palm. As I got older, it increasingly became Mom using a standing on-the-move method with a branch from the mimosa tree - and it got increasingly less effective. I always swore I'd never spank, but ( though we've mostly relied on time out) we have spanked.

The two things we agreed were spanking-worthy were deliberately doing dangerous stuff and lying. We have only spanked our son twice - once when he ran across a street without looking while on a walk in direct contradiction of my cries to him to stop. The other time he told us a big 'ol lie, and then kept repeatedly lying as we discussed it. Both times spanking made a huge impression on him.

Now that he's old enough to rationally understand our discussions, we aren't considering spanking as an option. We're moving on to taking away privileges. Phineas and Ferb are great motivators, it turns out!
I have to admit that my first gut reaction was, "baloney" to the "professionals." Years ago they said not to spank and now they're saying maybe we should. I say do what seems best to you as a parent as long as it's within reason. I honestly don't believe one or two swats on the bottom is going to hurt them in anyway. Besides that, there are times when the swat is the only language a child will relate to....especially if swatting isn't a regular occurrence. Love is the most important ingredient and the most effective tool when raising kids....even when love is being expressed through a spanking. If your kids know that you love them, they will do fine even with our imperfections.
Stellaa, I have always had the same view as your father. There is something barbaric about hitting. I don't hit people. Especially not small children.
This was a really great post, by the way. I happen to have a strong opinion about spanking.
I'll be interested to see the discussion as well. If I have time, I'll be back with some thoughts on the matter.
They want to ban spanking but it's okay for everyone to own a gun?

This is convoluted logic and if I briefly extend it, you can't spank a kid, but you can shoot one.
My father had a philosophy. "Kids deserve a pat on the back, hard enough, low enough and ofter enough."

I disagree with that philosophy.
I was spanked, but not very often. And it was necessary for me to be spanked. I don't have anything against spanking, as long as it's used with caution.

My parents used a variety of punishments, with spanking as a sort of last resort. As I got older, that was replaced by grounding.

It depends, I think, on the age level and temperament of the child.
Thank you for this incredibly well written, informative, and challenging post. You were able to touch upon so many bases and yet gather everything together in such an excellent way.

One thing, to me at least, is clear. Any sort of discipline or correction bereft of love will never accomplish much more than external obedience.

Hearts are much harder to win than is external compliance. And sometimes parents must settle for obedience - outward or not.

But winning the heart of a child and knowing that your kid does what they do from the “want to” has to be one of the greatest rewards a parent can ever receive.

Rated and appreciated
If you've read my stories about me and my father, you'd know
I'd never be able to and never did spank my children. But that's because I feared my own temper.
Mamoore, thank you for such a great post and the subsequent commentary you have created. Julie, I love your "pick a belt" - for me it was "pick a slipper and bring it to your father" and it led to many memories. The clearest was one in which I figured I'd outsmart my brother (who got a Florsheim men shoe) and I brought him my new Mickey Mouse flip flops. I still remember that flip-flop in detail. Being in a swim team forever helped me, though, because my mother (typically a pincher) could not find enough flesh to pinch in my muscular biceps (yeah!).
I occasionally, but rarely, spanked my eldest child when he was a younger (within the time frame noted in your post) and one day, when he was very mad at me, he spanked me back. That was the ah-ha moment that made me realize spanking was not going to work. And, fortunately, I learned this before baby #2 (the hyper-sensitive one).
Taking away privileges, that's what works in our house. That an, occasionally, a menacing stare.
When people say "I was spanked and it did me good" they are talking about a point in their childhood which they remember, so they must have been at least about 4 years old. It's so insane to spank a child at that age because there are so many more (better) options. Time outs, loss of privileges/possessions, parental disappointment, not to mention simply talking about what the child is feeling and why are all things that 4 year olds comprehend quite well.

I do think, in rare cases, there may be room for spanking of very young children (ages 1 to 2, maybe) who simply don't respond to other methods and end up putting themselves in harm's way. My brother, for instance, was a holy terror. He had absolutely no fear of anything like heights, fire, etc. He was drawn like a moth to the gas stove and every time my mother would turn around he was trying to play with it. She'd pull him away, tell him no, redirect him, etc. and quick as a flash in the next unattended instant he would be back at the stove. Afraid that he would seriously hurt himself or burn the house down, my mother resorted to smacking him across the back of his legs. She hated doing it, and knew even back then (the late 60s) that it wasn't the "right" thing to do, but it was the only thing that seemed to get the message across and thereby keep him safe. By the time he was talking at age 2 my mother found better ways to communicate with him and stopped the spanking. I don't know if spanking "did him good", but it kept him alive.
This is an excellent post about an important issue.

I was never spanked as a child and never really spanked my kids. I think there is a big difference, though, between formal spankings where the parent sets the child across his lap and purposefully gives a specific amount of whacks, and heat-of-the-moment spanks on the butt. The traditional form of spanking seems harsh and a little creepy to me.

I have a lot of patience but there have been many times that I just blew up and grabbed one of my kids a little too tightly by their arm or gave a little smack to their bottoms. Sometimes those whines and wise-cracks just go too far and get me at a time of day when I am just drained.

But I don't think spanking in any formulaic kind of way is beneficial. What those studies can't take into account is what the rest of the child's family life is like. If a child is spanked and also lives in a household with emotionally abusive parents who are addicted to drugs, I doubt he is guaranteed to turn into a perfectly well-adjusted adult.
People: and would you spank your dog? Just saying. Try treats.
First my apologies. I just posted something and it looks like I stole part of your title - so sorry. Secondly - I'm going to read this and really think about it ... right now ... because they just announced that my kids are out of school again tomorrow because the wind chill here is -21 and it is too cold to go to school. I need to know .... to spank or not to spank ... gawwwwwwwd - I need to know. haha
And we hope for world peace when we hit children? Nope. No hitting. xox
Gosh, I remember that so well -- running around the house trying to avoid my mother, watching as she grew angrier in the chase. And here I thought I was the only one.
Great piece. Very informative. R
I was more than spanked as a child and often unfairly. I don't hit my pets and I don't hit children or adults. Spanking is another form of bullying.
I have long been a follower of John Rosemond who has always held that a timely swat across a backside can work wonders to get a recalcitrant kid's attention. He also believes that the old fashioned spanking--kid across knee, "this is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you"--is premeditated and should always be construed as tantamount to child abuse.
I must confess to the swat on the behind approach and to having done a few over the knee spankings for specific transgressions such as deliberate lying.
It's all a crapshoot. We all played it by ear. There should be no legislation banning spanking because it can never be specific enough to cover all contingencies and it introduces a new level of intrusiveness into the family--child abuse is one thing, a spanking is something else. When I was in school, we got spanked by teachers, principals and coaches--it was called the "board of education".
So, what's the answer? I wonder what other commenters are saying?
I just got back from work and am reading all of these comments and wondering how to respond. I didn't write this post because I am an expert on spanking or even parenting, I wrote it because I was interested in participating in just the kind of conversation that is happening here. So, I don't think I will answer everyone individually but will say thank you to all of you for your honesty in sharing your experiences and your viewpoints. Spanking is a loaded topic and, as I said above, a secret I think many parents hide out of uncertainty or shame.

As some have commented, there is a BIG difference between spanking and beating. One of my main concerns is just who defines that line and how can we ever be sure a parent won't cross it? I don't believe more laws are the answer. More parenting education and support, especially for teen parents? Yes. And to echo Dennis, our love for our children should always be at the center of our choices. It's not about what is right for us as parents, but what will benefit our children most in the long run.
I think it is important to know what it is you want to accomplish with a child. Do you want them only to behave when an adult is around? Or do you want them to be able to discipline themselves? Reactions out of anger aren't usually thoughtful. My rule of thumb is (ideally) to use discipline as instruction and guidance. I tried to never do anything that violated Abraham Maslowe's identified hierarchy of needs to become a self actualized human being. The difficulty was controlling myself under duress. I often gave myself and them a time out until I could calmly talk to them about what was going on. We who were spanked and feel we are "okay" cannot compare ourselves to where we could have been if we had been raised without fear and violence. Though I did not suffer hard core beatings as some did, it was always frightening when my father who was supposed to my protector went into a rage and lost control enough to hit. That brings fear. It resulted in the children being afraid to tell him and my mother things. Things that later required therapy.
I am not a parent, but suspect I would be a spanker if I were. I have not the patience nor the time to 'reason' with the little animals!
@ neilpaul

Many well intentioned parents fucked up their parent/child relationship unknowinly by spankiing the child, even 'reasonably.'

I'm not necessarily a proponent of corporal punishment, but this kind of blanket, anecdotal, unsupported statement doesn't really convince me of anything except that you feel strongly about this topic.
I absolutely adore how empathetic you are. As you leave room and invite all perspectives on your blogs as to invite conversation. Unfortunately, some commenters leave extremely judgemental viewpoints rather than simply throwing their opinions into the arena of ideas. It feels as much like bullying as the spanking that they are condemning.

I was spanked, a lot, and was angry about it for decades after. Sometimes I still am. I was scared of my parents and resentful for a lot of my life until I was old enough to speak with them about it. I understand them a bit more and they've apogized for not being more verbal with me. I swore that I would never subject my children to spanking.

Then my two-year-old son ran toward the busy street laughing as I screamed for him to stop. But he ran faster and laughed harder. I grabbed his arm in the middle of the street, carried him into the house, and spanked him. hard. The look on his face, of shock and undoubtedly pain, perhaps made this a solitary incident on his part. I have never second guessed my instinct.

Was I reverting to the behavior I learned growing up by mimicking my parents? Of course. Did it work for my child in this situation? Hell yes. He's five, he's alive.
I think people mistake "effectiveness" for "necessary." Yes, hitting someone when they do something negative will likely decrease the frequency of the behavior. It works for dogs and horses just as much as with kids. But is it necessary? With a horse, maybe. With a child, though, there are nonviolent methods which are at least as effective in the short term and much more effective long term in reducing the frequency of a negative behavior. If it is not necessary, why do it?
This is such an important thoughtful post. Thank you for it. Like you, I have a visceral reaction against spanking and yet have struggled at times to maintain my "no spanking vow" at home with my own two children. I have surprised and disappointed myself at how close I have come to giving in to the urge to resort to spanking - including a recent episode where I swatted on my almost three year old's hand when she tried to drop my laptop on the floor. The guilt that followed for me, as well as my daughter's look of total betrayal brought me straight back to where I wanted to be - a loving parent who guides and encourages and doesn't physically punish to made a point.

I was never spanked per say as a child - my mother supposedly didn't believe in it. So instead, she would shove me roughly on a few occasions and once kicked me. I remember each of those incidents and although I have grown into adulthood fairly adjusted and happy, I definitely do not think those episodes of physical discipline in any way helped me to get there.

Still, I think it is so important to acknowledge and give voice to the frustrations that arise in caring for small and often extremely irrational children and how hard it can be to live up to the expectations you set up for yourself as a mother and parent. Whatever route you choose on this issue, it is critical to remember that parenting is hard, and that most people try to do their best with child rearing.
So complicated. My parents spanked my brothers very occasionally. I don't really remember their spanking me but I was gooder than the boys:) I don't believe in spanking, but I occasionally swatted my first child, more challenging and spirited than the three others. When it happened, Emma acted as if she had won, because she knew I had violated my beliefs. When I tried time outs, I had to hold the door shut while she kicked it. I finally decided time outs was mommy in the toilet:) The others were so much easier, but then Emma was unique. By the time she was 24, her boss told me "I am absolutely confident she can handle anything that comes up anywhere in the world." Since she had traveled to about 50 countries, that is an amazing tribute. Childhood bored her, so she liked to create uproar.
I don't wanna read any further than the title, and then us my imagination. I don't wanna, but I will. I'll be back. Have some opinions on this topic (beyond my initial reaction to the title). I the only one who isn't totally against spanking?

I was spanked on the rare occasion as a child, as was my younger brother, and I can honestly say neither of us harbors any ill feelings about it or any resentment, fear, or anger about receiving this particular form of punishment from our parents. We had no behavioral issues or rebellion growing up and we have an excellent relationship with them to this day, not because we feared our parents, but because we both feel that they have always treated us with respect and fairness. I think there were quite a few factors involved, however, that kept their punishment appropriate and far from any sort of abuse or endangerment.

1. Spankings were never arbitrary - we knew in advance exactly which behaviors (on our part) would be punished by a spanking and it was reserved for only the most serious transgressions.
2. We were never spanked out of immediate anger or frustration - no matter when the actual transgression occured, the actual spanking was always postponed until much later in the day.
3. We were never spanked with anything other than a flat, bare hand and it was always done while we were fully clothed (so it wasn't hitting our bare skin). No belts, switches, paddles and no hitting anywhere except squarely on the padding of our rear ends.
4. Spankings were never actually physically painful - there was the initial shock, of course, but my father never actually used his strength against us. Any physical reaction from the spanking was gone in less than 5 minutes - no marks, bruises, redness, or anything of the like.
5. The spanking itself wasn't the real punishment - it was the shame, humiliation, and anticipation of the spanking that they used to correct our behavior. The "cooling off period" between the offense and the spanking was when we had to think about what we did wrong, explain all of this to our father when he got home (what I did wrong, why I knew it was wrong, why I chose to ignore the rules, and what I knew the consequences would be), and wait for him to actually deliver the spanking. Since spankings were extremely infrequent, this only made the anticipation that much more effective.
6. Once the punishment was delivered, we had learned our lesson and the issue was resolved. It wasn't brought back up again and we knew that we wouldn't get into any additional trouble for that same incident.

So, yes, I'd have to say that I agree that the limited and controlled use of spanking can be an effective form of punishment. I certainly don't think its appropriate punishment for a child that has already been abused in some way, nor do I think its acceptable for parents to cause actual physical harm to their children. When used appropriately, I think its most akin to a dog and her puppies - a little nip to provide course correction, but from a place of protection and concern, not anger or frustration.

Again, I really appreciate this post and the discussion which has ensued. I love what Stellaa's father said and I love what Dennis wrote as well. Winning the heart of a child is a life long endeavor.

After entering my daughter in therapy at 3.5, I discussed the spanking episode and my guilt around it with her therapist. The great thing about child therapy is it also helps with parenting. She assured me the thing every child will remember the most is what you do after you make a mistake - this is what will linger the longest. I formally apologized to my daughter for it and we have talked about it openly ever since when it comes up. When she hurt the dog out of anger, we had the discussion again then. She could connect the dots out of her own experience. At 5, she was able and ready to verbally express what happened to her at 2.5 when she could not physiologically do so. This study suggests a window, 2 to 6, which was the time my daughter was "acting out". She had emotions she could not verbalize and was very angry, hyper, and despondent. We had already been recommended to put her on ADHD medication by the preschool and principal because of the behavior; we choose therapy and a long evaluation period. Also, we volunteered, did therapy weekly, involved other parents, enlisted support of other teachers, etc. We do "feelings" work daily, even 3 years later, and she still is in therapy on a weekly basis. This is how devastating one singular encounter of abuse is to a child. If I had gone on spanking, I would hate to see what may have happened. I wonder how it might have encouraged her to repress those feelings further.

This is a hard story to share, and certainly isn't conclusive as we don't know for sure what would have happened specifically for my daughter had I taken actions to continue spanking. But, as her mother, who was also spanked and raised in an abusive household and went down the same path, I did repress all those feelings and had a much tougher go of it in early adulthood. It would be disingenuous of me to say much more, as I can't separate the spanking from the abuse completely. However, I can clearly say the feelings were the same, it was just a matter of degree.

I have not read the report (and I will) but I don't see how the correlation can be made between spanking and "well-adjustment" directly. I also agree no new "laws" are the answer - people end up resenting that (plus what OE Sheepdog said). Education is generally the best bet, it is certainly what helped my family to grow and heal. I don't purport to have all the answers and I know our situation was extreme - but as a result of that situation we learned a lot about children and their brain development, our own internal emotional reactions and whether they are helpful or harmful, and what will foster our main goal of nurturing her heart and spirit. Physically hitting my child, in whatever manner, for me, did nothing but allow me to vent my own internal feelings on my child rather than face them head on and after that, calmly and constructively deal with the necessary discipline.
A limited observation from a parent with 2 children.

We spanked our children. It was limited and for very specific reasons. I think between both children they were spanked maybe 3 or 4 times each over the course of growing up and I think the last spanking was around age 5.

Here were our rules for spanking. If the child was in danger and would not listen, as in running in the street or turning on the stove or some other life threatening event, if they defied the rule they received a spanking. The other cause for spanking was willful and open defiance. Children test their limits and in our house it was not acceptable to challenge the parental authority. Question sure, ask respectfully again acceptable, but willful rebellion was not allowed.

They were not spanked in anger, or because they were cranky or tired or whinny. They were not spanked for knocking over their milk or all the other things normal kids do while growing up. And we were mindful to not place them in a position that would force them to challenge our authority as parents with inconsistent or outlandish rules.

As a result our children were well behaved, never hit other children, or called adults names or smarted off. In High School they had part-time jobs, paid for their own cell phones and car insurance and by graduation had purchased their own cars in their own names. The oldest graduated from college with two degrees while working part and full time and now works for a top national non-profit company. Our youngest has a year to go and is on the dean's list while working a full time job. They are happy and productive adults. People enjoy being around them and they know they can count on them to be giving, loving and help their friends and family.

My personal observation is the children who received little or no discipline including non spanking were the most violent towards other children including ours. When I see a young parent in a restaurant allowing their child to go wild, or scream at adults and they give me that "what can you do" look. I say you're the parent do your job.

It may sound harsh or cruel, but the job of the parent is to protect and love their child not be their buddy. The objective is to raise children to become adults that can function and live productive lives. Spanking is not abuse, raising disrespectful and unruly children is the worst abuse a parent can do to their children. Sometimes the only reason a child will understand is a spanking, not a beating or slap, but a firm smack on the butt to let them know they have stepped over the line and that line has painful consequences.
I was spanked as a young child. I was not beaten, I was not abused, I was spanked.

That being said, I only remember two spankings, and those were the ones my father gave me. I'd done something very wrong in both cases, and he meted out the punishment with grim seriousness, not with anger. And he told me before and after the punishment that he loved me, and he made me recite for him why I was receiving the spanking. Then, three swats, then a hug, and it was done.

On the one hand, I don't think there's ever a reason to strike a child, especially not to strike a child in anger.

On the other hand, a swat on the hand when a child is reaching for a hot stove... a swat seems better than a burn. A short sting traded for a lasting injury.

I think it's good to note here, as you have, that spanking might be right for some children, but also that it is not right for every parent. My mother told my eldest sister when she had her first child and he was getting to be an ornery toddler, "never, ever strike your child in anger. if you are going to spank him, do it when you are not angry. go into the other room and count to ten if you have to. give him a time out so you can give yourself a time out." This is wise advice, for sure, and I think time-outs, for instance, are super effective when used properly and consistently, and can really eliminate the need for spanking. But a lot of parents aren't consistent - and it's not even really their fault, they just can't help it.

I think by wanting to give our children good self-esteem we've in some ways spoiled them. There's that study that was in the New York Times a couple of years ago, about how children who are told "you're so smart" perform worse than children who are told, "you worked really hard." Similarly, discipline speaks volumes to a child, as you learned, and taking the opportunity to learn to control ourselves and express ourselves with more wisdom makes us better people and better parents.
Great post and enjoyable comments. This is a longitudinal study; and, the data is correlational and that point needs to be stressed over and over. Her “findings” have been reported in literally hundreds of media outlets and brought a lot of attention to this issue; however, the fact that she has had her study rejected by refereed professional journals is problematic in many ways regarding the design of the study and/or the conclusions in most cases. If in fact this has been published in a refereed journal I would appreciate someone alerting me to it.

Dr. Gunnoe has excellent academic training and credentials, and currently teaches at a small college that describes itself on their website as “At Calvin, the Christian pursuit of psychology compels a belief in the uniqueness, the sanctity, and the moral responsibility of each individual person as God’s special creation.”

Spanking by parents (and the frequency and severity of it) is a real different issue than using corporal punishment in schools, day care centers, etc. I am against the use of corporal punishment as a general practice, and at the same time confess to having popped my children a few times on their butts when they were little and chronically bratty. The pre-meditated “come in here and get your whipping with a belt” stuff; however, is barbaric and ineffective in terms of helping children develop any real trust. Fear of authority? Yes. Trust? No.

Great post and discussion. Thanks.

@ Walter B – John Rosemond is truly a child psychologist who seems to dislike children. I have never understood why he has such a large following; but then, Dr. James Dobson does too (and he’s is a truly wacky angry type too).
I was spanked and I have spanked. And at the risk of sounding slightly arrogant, I like who I am...who I've become. If spanking caused me issues, then so did a lot of other things in my upbringing, divorce among them.

Like so many others who have written, I had higher expectations of myself. The typical idealistic young adult, I thought I could do better. And the rows and rows of self-help and parenting books prove we can...right? The problem is, I can't conveniently subtract the spanings, or the ugly divorce for that matter, and say they didn't play some part in the making of me.

Don't get me wrong. I do think we should always strive to be better. But we should make sure that the road we're going down really does lead there. I'm not sure that the right road is paved with self-help books. What if it's paved, instead, with those old trials and traditions that we were brought up with. Not everything our parents and grandparents did was misquided was it? Aren't we truly the arrogant generation if we think so?

I usually try to look back at my cultural heritage for answers to how to parent. I've been conflicted about the fact that traditional Cheyenne parents didn't spank. However, that's only half the story. When those children grew up and were too hardheated to obey orders on a war party or hunt, along with many other social transgressions, they were often publicly beaten for their offense.

I'm not a big believer that we can make a world better than the Creator. I don't judge the mother bear for giving a swat now and then to her cubs, anymore than I judge a parent that gives a swat to correct.

And after teaching this new generation of kids whose parents don't believe in spanking...I'm not so sure it's the right decision.
Like many people their age, my parents were big believers in spanking, and I can't say that it did me any harm. We have not smacked ours, mostly out of principle but also because a) we could have beat the eldest to death and it wouldn't have influenced his behavior, b) the rest of them never needed it, and c) obviously, hitting foster kids is prohibited.

But I will say this: I've parented a lot of kids, including some who were physically abused in ways that went far beyond spanking, but the ones who were the most damaged in ways that will never be fixed were those who were subjected to more psychological forms of inappropriate punishment. I can think of several who would have been far better off with a swat or even a broken bone than with what they got. My point is not to advocate corporal punishment — I do not — but to suggest that it's not enough just to be able to say, "I never spanked my kids." We need to go beyond that to, "I never hurt my kids."
Great post. Looks like most of your readers are "non-spankers" so we need to find some "spankers" to have a more lively discussion.

I've no idea how many times I got hand-smacked on the arse, lashed with a belt--sometimes belt-buckle, punched in the arm, etc. but it was pretty common. Thought nothing of it at the time aside from not liking it. The time-lag or waiting period between being told it was coming vs. the actual whacks were the worst. I didn't consider it abuse then and don't now though plenty of mental health professionals would disagree.

I don't remember spending much time reflecting on the spanking matter before my kids were born. I don't think either one ever got whacked by me (their mother did some whacking) simply because it wasn't necessary. I made sure they knew what would "get Daddy grumpy" and that seemed to be enough.

Their mother did some of the "wait till your father gets home". I'd let them know they were to behave for their mother just as they did for me. When asked why they never "misbehaved" around me but would around their mother their response was simply "Daddy, we know you are serious. It is something in your voice. If you tell us something we listen because your voice lets us know it's important and we'd be in "big trouble" if we didn't listen. Mommy doesn't have the same voice". Are you saying you are afraid Daddy would "child-abuse you ? "(laughing) No, Daddy--we just know you are serious and --well you don't have lots of rules so when you have one we just figure it's important to pay attention".

If I needed to get their attention I'd say their full names and ask them if they needed me to "knock them up side the head" in a firm but playful way. "Daddy-you can't "child abuse" us". Says who, I am the Daddy-the Boss-I can child abuse you super bad if I want-who is gonna stop me. "Daaaadddddyyyy, you can't child abuse us the police could come to stop you" No way, I'll child abuse the police men too. "(laughing) Oh Daddy you are silly-you aren't going to child abuse the police mens". Are you saying you think the police men are stronger than me ? "Daaaadddddyyyyy--no, we know you are stronger than them but we know you would never beat them up". Okay, gus go do what you were doing. If Mommy tells me you aren't listening to her I will child abuse both of you and the police and the Army men too---got it? "Yes daddy.....but you would never child abuse Army men......"
Spanking is no fun. It's way more fun to get them laughing as they are learning and they always loved it when I said the most outrageous things. So, why spank when there is fun to be had ?
More great comments, thanks everyone for participating in the discussion.

@Grif- One of the online articles I read (I believe it was from a Canadian outlet) suggested that the conservative Christian foundation of Calvin College had a lot to do with the focus of the research. I'm not sure if that is valid but it does make sense to me.

@ Neilpaul - I look forward to reading your post and would encourage others to write one as well if they feel strongly about the issue.
I really, really appreciate your honesty about your own behavior as a parent. Most of us have raised a hand to a kid. I'm not condoning it--and I trust the majority research that says it's ineffective. I'm just saying.
Good post...I suppose I have a history with spanking. I was spanked as a child. Although, I don't remember ever being spanked as a pre-teen or a teenager. But, when I was spanked, it was a doozie...I mean it was something I remembered and did not relish happening again.

I had a serious 'fear' of my father. However, it was one born out of respect. The man was my idol. He taught me a healthy respect for doing right and doing it his way. I was never afraid of my father, but I did fear him. As a result, I would never consider lying to him or disobeying him, and I certainly did not backtalk...which is something that I've noticed many young people today have no hesitancy to do.

I spanked my children. We had the same relationship that my father and I had. Today, they have children of their own. My boys are well adjusted, hardworking, honest people. They are very good parents. One of them is in law enforcement and has advanced significantly in rank.

I have a 60 year history of corporal punishment. I never questioned using it, however it was rarely done. But, when it was inflicted, it was done without reservation. I don't know where I stand in the psychological or ethical spectrum. It this makes me a bad person, and my children bad people, then something is wrong with this picture, for we all have the deepest love and respect for each other, and a respect for our neighbor.

Again, good question...I'll probably not change my position. It's taken me 62 years to get here.
Stellaa's dad was the wisest man of them all. Those Greeks! Great post, mamoore. Since I have no kids, I spank myself.
This is such an interesting discussion.

I was spanked as a child, but rarely because making adults happy motivated my actions. My brothers, on the other hand, were constantly fighting and getting into trouble. They got spanked pretty much every day and it never helped them make the right decisions.

But I don't like being around children of very liberal parents who don't discipline their children at all. They are bratty, self-absorbed, and frustrating. These kids scream at their parents in public, refuse to sit still in church, and think that they rule the world.

So, how do we instill respect in our children without spanking? Is there other forms of punishment that work better? I'm actually not sure.
I'm finding this thread very measured and respectful, which is a testament to you, mamoore. Usually such controversial topics devolve almost immediately into flame wars.

I wanted to add a couple of things, if that's OK.
In no particular order:
1. My mother hit me with a brush once, really hard. You could see the marks on my leg for days. But you know what? What I'll always remember is her guilt about it. Of my parents, she is the gentler one, not typically the one to have done something like that. She had 8 kids close together and I was sandwiched in the middle somewhere, so it's remarkable, really, that she was so kind most of the time. Anyway, she felt guilty immediately after the brush incident, so much so that I think I knew to hide the marks. But she saw them and about cried. I think that guilt shaped me a lot more than the original punishment.

2. M Todd, you say: My personal observation is the children who received little or no discipline including non spanking were the most violent towards other children including ours. I'd like to challenge you on that. I don't have links, but it's my understanding that spanked children in fact demonstrate more violence than their nonspanked peers. As a teacher in many classrooms over the years, it's clear to me that the children with the most behavior problems are also the ones who are terrified of their parents and of getting spanked. I'm not making the assumption that one causes the other and understand that impulsive children can attract both spankings at home and consequences at school, but it doesn't seem fair that you should make any conclusions the other way either.

You also say When I see a young parent in a restaurant allowing their child to go wild, or scream at adults...

I just wanted to point out that it's reductive to suggest that parents who take a stand against spanking automatically also take a stand against any form of behavior management for their children. I know what you mean about that look of helplessness in the face of misbehaving children, but one can agree with you on that without endorsing spanking. They are separate issues.

3. Walter, I agree with grif about John Rosemond. I think he demonstrates such a lack of warmth for children that it's astounding. I seem to remember reading in one of his columns once that he and his own parents don't get along. Anyway, just wanted to weigh in on him. I find him too authoritative for my tastes.

4. And finally, I wonder if there's a cultural difference between urban and or/black families and suburban and or/white families regarding spanking. Does anyone know anything about this? I bring it up b/c I've discovered it anecdotally through my work teaching. I was going to say "It's clear that inner city black children are spanked more often," but even as I write this, I'm wondering if the connection isn't socioeconomic rather than racial. I think the kids in the poorer schools are spanked more. Not sure if I can tease out the race aspect.
I hated being spanked as a child. When I was older, it was a slap in the face. It was never for something I'd been warned about, but always for saying things my father did not want to hear or for refusing to say what my mother wanted to hear. I agree spanking should not be about anger. I was not going to use spanking, but my two-year-old daughter convinced me otherwise. I would warn her -- do not put your feet in the street. My daughter was a legalistic type. I had to amend that to do not touch the street with any part of either foot. She would go to the curb and slowly lower one foot towards the pavement. As soon as a toe touched, I picked her up and carried her back to the sand box. It was a matter of seconds until she was back at the curb, lowering her foot. I'm a slow learner. But when I figured out that as soon as that toe touched the pavement, if I swatted her on the bottom and then put her in the sand box, she stayed put longer.
"So, how do we instill respect in our children without spanking? Is there other forms of punishment that work better? I'm actually not sure."

You, like a few others on this thread, are confusing discipline with punishment. Respect is insilled through discipline, which may (or may not) include punishment.

Discipline is actually more like teaching. When you sit down to a formal dinner with the proper place settings, napkins in laps and elbows off the table, you are disciplining. When you assist a child with homework in a way that doesn't give the answers but encourages the child to find the answer for herself, you are disciplining. When you encourage your child to find his interests in arts, sports, etc., you are disciplining.

Certainly discipline includes consequences for when expectations are not met, which is where punishment comes in. But the punishment should always be part of the teaching. Respect is understanding (and caring) how your behavior affects other people. Simply getting swatted, smacked or beaten for misbehavior does not communicate how that behavior affected other people. It is a form of discipline (teaching), but what exactly is being taught?
You have to remember that kids are very different and arouse different responses in their parents. With each child, I got less judgmental. Raising an eyebrow with my third child was more effective than any nonviolent discipline technique I could find in a book with my first. She was a precocious reader, who apparently was reading Haim Ginottt to see what I would come up with next. At 7 she shouted, "don't try any of that active listening crap with me."

That's my Emma the Bold. She is the woman I most admire. When she was born, I looked into her incredible eyes and panicked, "No one warned me it would be you." She should have been born with a printout, "You will win exactly 5 battles with this child. Choose them carefully."
In my upbringing disciplining included spanking, and mom believed that making an example of the oldest would take care of disciplining the other siblings. Some of my disciplining was far worse and psychological than spanking. Excellent post.
What I've never understood is why it can be called "helpful" or "good" -- or be legal -- to do to a dependent, weaker-than-you child what you'd be jailed for doing to adults who could defend themselves. Bullying and abuse aren't good for the parents inflicting them or the child victims.
There is a danger in expecting pain to produce a result with a child. This also means that the child you are punishing is capable of experiencing physical pain.

Both my children and I have very wide thresholds for pain, and my kids have been diagnosed with Sensory Integration Disorder in that they can really hurt themselves seriously before feeling the pain trigger that is supposed to say stop. We have endured severe ear infections and even a broken foot from jumping off a wall that was not noticed until he went to put his shoes on the next day.

Sensory integration disorder is common in children with Autism Spectrum disorders and I would dare correlate that this explains why so many children with Autism are physically abused even to the point of death by caregivers because they keep waiting for the message of pain to get through. By time there is pain - it could be far too late .
I've heard spanking can make you go blind. On a serious note, I never got spanked, it was a slap in the face, so a mild whack on the ass would have been nothing compared to something that makes you face red. They talk about the greatest generation, but I don't know. Belts, toolsheds and smacks hard enough to make you see stars. Somethings do improve, like parenting skills. There should be something between total lack of discipline and beating your kids, but who knows whats right. I just know whats wrong.
I did get spanked as a child and I did spank my four wonderful kids. None of them can ever remember getting spanked, which I think is key.
Our oldest child at age 4 ran into the street, and my wife grabbed him off and "reasoned" with him.
A week later it happened again.
We decided that reasoning with a 4 year old was not working, and that his not listeneing could be fatal for him if he got hit by a car, so on that second time, I told him that going into the street got him spankings, and spanked him.
Not hard, and not in anger.
By the time he got older, you could reason with him more and explain cause/effect, and all was well.

In short, when what they were doing could hurt themselves, and they were to young to reason with, we spanked. By the time they hit second grade, it was no longer necessary.

Anyone ,

who has been ASSAULTED by someone approximately ten times their size, knows that spanking of any kind, is very wrong.
I forgot to mention:

no, it is not complicated. It is simple, and obvious.

Assaulting a child is wrong.
I do not spank. I do; however, give great little speeches. Not to long for them to start daydreaming and full of real world examples. I do social-skills role-play with them. One is hyper and can be insolent and rude. He is also the most gifted and creative child I know. I once started to strike him and he said, "wait... you don't have to hit me." He was right, in my opinion.

That being said...

I was spanked as a child and think myself great! So, I'm not sure of the lasting harm of it either, lol
"If the practice IS NOT clearly NEEDED and if it IS RISKY then it should be AVOIDED....Sorry for all-caps, but it does start to exercise me to see people advocating a possibly damaging practice based on the fact that they were not harmed by the practice...Will someone please distinguish my car seat example? Please?"

neilpaul, I'll take you up on your request regarding the carseat example, although I may have to present a different scenario to appropriately clarify. Every childhood vaccine comes with the risk of complications, including death. So to prevent the child from being hurt in the long run, there's the potential risk of being hurt in the short term first. There's obviously a huge benefit to avoiding diseases, but that doesn't come without a potential cost. When is that risk too much to bear? Can that be quantified? Can it even be qualified? This is the best example I could think of to explain why the potential risks of spanking might not be so great as to fully preclude its use. I agree that spanking should be avoided if possible - no one should WANT to spank their child and parents should actively work to find appropriate disciplinary measures to meet their child's needs. But what if spanking prevents an even worse outcome? What if you're not sure that the alternatives are going to work?

The last time my brother received a spanking was when he deliberately disobeyed a rule about climbing on my dad's massive toolbox in the garage. The toolbox fell over on top of him and he only barely escaped being crushed to death because a drawer caught on the toolbench, suspending the box over his head before it could fall completely. Sure, my parents could have tried to reason with him again, or give him a timeout, or take away his videogames. But they obviously felt the risk of long-term resentment or psychic injury over a spanking was worth the risk when compared to the potential consequences of NOT reinforcing the rules in a more dramatic way. Sure, maybe he learned his lesson when he was scared by the falling toolbox. But my parents obviously weren't willing to find out the hard way. They made a judgement call.

Parenting, by its very nature, is a guessing game. A never-ending process of trial and error, never knowing exactly what the consequences of your actions will be. If outcomes were so utterly predictable, there wouldn't be debates like this - but the reality is that we simply don't know how certain disciplines or approaches are going to work on any single child. So yes, there is a risk in spanking a child. Just like there's a risk that Time Out won't work, or that positive reinforcement could lead down the wrong road. There's no fool-proof way to prevent your children from making the wrong choices in life, or to ensure that your words/actions never inflict physical or psychic wounds. I can tell you that careless words and jokes - without any negative intention - have wounded me far more than any spanking I ever received. People simply aren't capable of understanding the full implications of their actions, so every decision and reaction we make is fraught with risk. All we can hope for is that people make informed decisions, learn from their errors, and simply do the best they can. Parents are no different in this regard - and while I know the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the alternative route could use some better signage!
Hmmm ... in two minds about this, actually. My thoughts - in no particular order of importance:

From what I remember as a child who was spanked - it wasn't the spanking, it was the fact that it was a ritual punishment, for an offense against clearly established rules. It was never the actual physical thing - it was the ritual which was the punishment. (and I do not recall ever being spanked after the age of about 7 or so)

Nevernevernever - strike a child in anger. Never. And never with anything - when the transgression is of such severity as demands it - but bare hand on bare buttocks.

The concept of rules, rewards and punishment - always make it crystal clear what the rules are. And what the punishment is for disobeying them. And what the reward is for obeying them. Always (and this is the important part!) deliver on the punishment, or the rewards. With out fail or variance.

Practically - after a certain point (about the age of 3 1/2 to 4, in my experience), and having made the above reward/punishment thing absolutely clear to a child, there may be very little need of physical punishment such as spanking. Other, and more sneakily creative methods of punishment may then be more effective.

Mileage may vary on this - there are some children who might need another couple of years to make the connection. Creative adults who know their child very well can come up with much more effective punishments than spanking.

Until I actually had a child - I was OK with students being spanked at school. At that point - ummm, no. Using corporal punishment on my child is a privilege I reserve to myself. If my child has been naughty at school, tell me - and I'll do the honors.
Like you, I got the occasional slap on the butt when I was a child. It was the norm. I didn't feel traumatized or afraid of my parents. I knew they'd never do anything that would cause me real harm. As I got older, I realized that I'd preferred those spankings (where the pain was brief and not too severe) to the "lectures" I'd get as an adolescent. The lectures were torture sessions, during which my mother could spend an hour or more, telling me what a horrible, spoiled, selfish, miserable excuse for a human being I was.
My father came from a generation that didn't question spanking. It was done, and that was it. There was nothing better than spanking and spanking worked.
Yes, I got spanked. Once. It was utterly inappropriate. I wasn't being willfully naughty in the strict sense of the meaning. I can see it used if a child is out of control, but I don't even think that works.
Children are tough little crazies sometimes. If they are merely punished they project their badness onto the punisher. Spanking carries personal shame and rearranges the personality—not for the better.
I don't think there's a solution here. Pray to have children who you love and love you back. Some parent/child personalities don't mesh. And it is too soon too apparent. I don't believe children are tabula rasas that get their personalities totally from their parents. I know they come in with a lot of their own unique stuff from the get-go. Best to like your kids. Best for you, best for them.
I chase my dogs around with a shoe (it's a croc rip off, so hardly even felt) yelling and swatting when they misbehave. God I hope I wouldn't be so psycho with my kids, but I probably would.
My father was spanked by his mother daily and by his father on special occasions. He became a model citizen. My mother went to a school where the honor code was so internalized that being placed at a separate table for lunch was sufficient punishment. I'm not a pediatrician, but I think children who are disciplined -- by any means -- do better than children who are not. For the study to be valid, the two groups -- spanking and non-spanking -- must be similar in all other respects. If the spanking group has more disciplinarians than the non-spanking group, then it's possible that what's being measured is the effect of discipline, not spanking. Great post!
I've lost track of who said what at this point, but I think it's a little disingenuous to focus on life-threatening situations like running into the street or falling toolboxes as rationales for spanking. I'm not saying that if there were legitimate reasons for spanking those wouldn't be them; I'm saying that we all know that's not when spanking happens. Spanking happens when parents get really angry that their kid dares to disobey them. It's a control thing. I'm not excluding myself from this dynamic. I've used my body in anger against my young children--grabbing, pulling, shoving, gripping--and it was almost always with outrage at their lack of compliance. For the record, I think it's shameful.
"I'm saying that we all know that's not when spanking happens. Spanking happens when parents get really angry that their kid dares to disobey them."
Beg to differ, most strenuously. It's a discipline tool, to apply a small yet significant degree of pain and/or humiliation in the interests of teaching a significant and possibly life-preserving lesson - and only one of those tools in a thoughtful and far-thinking's parents' arsenal of kid-raising tools.
Again - one of my own parents' most hide-bound rules - never strike in anger. And corporal punishment was only administered in the case of clear violation of established rules. That is what my understanding and child-raising practice involved - not anger and pique about being disobeyed.
Thanks again to all of you for continuing this discussion, especially in such a civil and though provoking manner. I appreciate those of you who have responded based on your professional experience and those of you who have been brave enough to step up and share your own opinions and parenting stories.

I'm not sure if all of you made it to the end of the post so I will mention again the book, Giving the Love That Heals. For anyone who struggles as a parent and is looking for an alternative way to communicate and work with your children on behavior issues, it can be an amazing resource.
I am a parent of 3 kids, now ages 9-12. I was very infrequently spanked as a child, with whatever was in my mother's reach (a shoe, hairbrush, etc.). I never deserved it when I was spanked, but since I was well aware that I got away with a lot more dastardly deeds than I was spanked for, no resentment exists.

I spanked, and occasionally still do if behavior warrants. Time outs were also used, and were not particularly effective, so not often. I use time outs mostly when I'm really pissed off and feel that spanking in that mood would be counterproductive; they sometimes still get spanked, but after we have both had a cooling off period. And I use suspension of priveleges, and more creative, offense-tailored punishments (writing apologies, doing something nice for the person you were mean to, etc.).

Every punishment in our house is accompanied by an explanation. I ask why they did what they did, and explain why they were punished, e.g. "When you make fun of your brother's reading skills, it makes him feel bad. We don't point out other people's differences because it's rude and it can make them sad. Would you want people to make fun of you for something you can't help? Why not? Okay, then please don't do that to anyone else. Remember Thumper ("If you can't say something nice...don't say anything at all.") and our Bible verse ("Be kind one to another.")." No child is punished and left to wonder why; kids do weird things, you can't take it for granted that they know which misdeed garnered the punishment.

I sometimes give the kids the option of selecting their own punishment based on what they believe the offense deserves. Often, they will choose spanking, thinking worse of their own offense than I do, or choosing a longer period of time for a punishment to last.

I also find that the kids behave better when they have a clear understanding of what's acceptable. More specifics lead to less waffling ("But you said we can't do that, not this!"). Consistency is also a big help; if you punish for a certain offense, punish the next time as well. Otherwise, the kids learn that sometimes they can get away with it, and therefore, keep trying to (this proves to be rather difficult in practice).

Spanking offenses run the gamut. Doing something dangerous to themselves or someone else is almost always going to result in a spanking. I want to get their attention right away in a way that will ensure that the particular offense will not happen again. For example, going in the road, attempting to climb onto the hot oven door and throwing rocks into the air directly above where people are standing. All of these behaviors resulted in a spanking and never happened again. In fact, if one of my kids sees another child attempting one of these, they will take the initiative (even the youngest) by explaining the argument for not doing it, and preventing them from doing it if possible, and telling me if it's not.

I honestly feel that in general, kids today are not as well behaved as kids a generation or more ago. I see a lot of kids at the store who could most definitely use a whack on the rump. Something at least. I always wonder if these people are afraid to punish their child in public for fear of what someone may say.

I don't think spanking is for everyone, but neither do I believe that it's okay to take the option away for everyone. I also don't believe in giving teachers, policemen, etc. the right to spank kids; whether or not to spank, and who is allowed to spank is a decision that should rest with the parents. None of the spanking studies that have been done are particularly accurate, as the ones I am aware of are all based on what people say (people lie). Also, the size of the studies are too small, and cannot effectively take into account all the other environmental factors in the lives of children.
To spank or not to spank that is the question by whom? In todays modern times it is sad to say it is not the parents choice no longer. If child protective agencys take the charges of child endangerment which by todays standards can be looking at a child the wrong way, then it is too far in the left field. Child Protective Agencys have way too much power, it is pathetic that Child Protective Agencys have as many rights as they have. It is one thing to protect a child that is in danger, but in my humbel opinion why would a reasonable parent want to cause serious harm to their child?
It dosen't set right in my brain, I belive that at times it is tough to parent. It is not always a perfect picture, there are times kids do things that are dangerous, touching a hot stove, not listening, trying to cross a street, going into a refrigerator, making messes, breaking stuff, whether toys or other household items. Granted, when we have kids we become familiar with child proffing our homes, if something is meaningfull to you, you are supposed to put it away or put out of reach. Then you also need to address kids that are tired while you try to shop, recently I was in a store and a child was screaming it's head off, people were looking as though what might have happened. The father of the child, kept asking the child to please stop making noise. The child could have been no more than 3 years of age. Tired children are not great coampany in a store, I had went to Child Education Classes, and it was suggested to bring small snacks that will keep children occupied while you shop. There are so many instances when helping a child understand right from wrong are very different than disciplining and or going over the line, as in 1, 2 or 3 smacks limit, for truly aggressive behavior or behavior that is simply unacceptable. Then at that point it might be better to bring the child to a family doctor to discuss the problems.
I spanked my children, albeit infrequently. Always the same, three swats on the bottom, bare hand. No more, no less. (In fact once when my son heard me spanking our daughter, he called out, "One more, mom.")

Arrrggggh.....brothers, eh?

Both kids are grown and healthy and happy and in wonderful loving and healthy relationships.

In reading your post, I thought about it and realized that they were between 2 and 6. Interesting.
Oh and I forgot to add: For my kids it wasn't about the pain of being spanked, because I doubt that I ever really hurt them, nor would I, no matter how pissed I was. It was about letting them know in absolute terms that they had disappointed me, had broken CLEAR rules, and waiting for the spanking was always way worse than the act itself.

Again, for me, it was only a few times each, but boy howdy was it effective. They were, and are, terrific, balanced kids.
Sorry for the double post.

I would just like to say, for those (few) holier-than-thou parents here: please don't assume that because the only time you spank(ed) your kids is when you lose control that this is true of everyone else as well. It's not. And if your discipline is so much more effective than spanking, why would you lose control in the first place? Chew on that for a bit.
I was chased around with a belt, a hairbrush, a ruler, a fly swatter, a wooden spoon -- whatever my mother had handy. Sometimes she would enlist my brother to help beat me up, or at least hold me down. I don't ever remember being hit in the face or stomach, but I do remember frequent bruised arms and legs. My mother had a volatile temper. She could be calm one minute and enraged the next. Five minutes after pounding me -- that was one of her favourite expressions, "I'm going to pound you" -- she'd be friendly and act as though nothing had happened. I'm not sure that it did me any lasting harm. I was a pretty rebellious and surprise, surprise, argumentative child, and the physical punishment stopped when I was in my early teens.

Corporal punishment was a fact of life when and where I grew up. My mother was doubtless doling out what she received as a child. My paternal grandfather used to bang heads together, a particularly brutal form of punishment that I managed to avoid. I never had any children of my own, but have observed many of my friends give their young children an open-handed swat on the behind when time outs and other forms of reasoning failed. They all seem to be perfectly normal, well-adjusted people. In an ideal world, no one would ever have to discipline their children, much less physically. But we don't live in such a world.
It was the worst--absolute worst, most shaming experience--of of my childhood.

Don't do it. We do remember.
It's my genuine belief that most spanking occurs when a parent is too angry to take a more measured approach. I agree with Sgt. Mom and others who say that is precisely when spanking should not occur if it's in the discipline plan.

I apologize if I sounded holier-than-thou; I couldn't feel less so in talking about it and the way I have not lived up to my own expectations (as seems true of most of the commenters, I might add). I should make clear, though, that I base this belief mostly on my observations of others, not on my own lack of control.

Interestingly, I find it almost more unacceptable or at least less understandable, when people approach spanking in the kind of deliberative manner that's suggested by some commenters here. I can't fathom, sickofstupid, why, after such a thorough and excellent explanation about hurting a brother's feelings for mocking his reading skills (or whatever), that you'd then proceed to hit the child. Why would the explanation not be enough? I have found that empathy genuinely works in reducing mean behavior. Looking for a lens through which to show one child how another feels is exactly the kind of thing that makes them feel solicitous toward one another. A spanking in that case seems to me unnecessary and cruel.
I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all parenting anymore. (I used to before I had my second child.) Using time-outs and saying "I'm disappointed that you did that” – I would only have to do that ONCE to get compliance from one of my children, but the other child, eh, not so much… I had to rack my brain coming up with effective discipline for the second one. It took a lot of books, discussions, and trial and error to come up with something that worked, and no, it wasn’t spanking, but…
I don’t think one open-handed swat, given after a warning and only on rare occasions, is a huge deal, certainly not on par with “beating” your children.
Lainey: As I said from a limited perspective I have seen children who received no spanking were far more aggressive and violent towards my children. The Key is discipline which can include spanking. There is no one blanket cure or means for undisciplined children.

You do not have to teach children to lie, to be selfish or aggressive towards other people. They will learn that on their own by just following their own nature. What a parent has to do is teach them not to be those things. Sure there are acceptations to the rule, but they are acceptations.

Discipline is not abuse which is something totally different. Children that are abused become abusers, but children that are disciplined in love and taught the correct social behavior that respects others and their property not only have less problems in the world as adults, but are happier and able to build meaningful relationships. That is what parents want for their children.

Any discipline has to be fair even handed and done out of love. Striking a child because a parent is angry, tired or frustrated with your boss is abuse. Yelling at your child in the mall because they are whinny and tired from hours of shopping is wrong. That is not what I am talking about. It is not punishment for punishment's sake.

I know a lot of parents who justify spanking site "Spare the rod and spoil the child" but the same Bible also says "Children respect your parents and parents do not provoke your children to anger." It is a two way street with the main responsibility placed on the parents.

NeilPaul: I can't speak for other parents, but spanking was not a cop out for us. It was conscience decision to include corporal punishment in the raising of our children under controlled and specific reasons. It was not an easy discussion and not taken lightly. But, after reading and researching all the options for disciplining a child it was included.
Steve and grif made some great comments specifically about Gunnoe's study which reminded me of one of the things that she said in the initial radio report I heard. I can't find a transcript but, to paraphrase, she said that her study couldn't have been done with earlier generations because there wasn't a big enough sample size of children who had not been spanked.

I think I tend to believe, as Steve suggested, that there are most likely other attributes besides being spanked that led to the positive outcomes of these children. Children thrive when there is structure, logical rules that are consistantly enforced, a feeling that they are safe, respected and loved. There are a lot of researched assets that feed into the resilience and success of our kids, I wonder if these were taken into account in the study.

Another piece of info on the researcher. She is a mother of two and says that she spanked one child and not the other.
After Sweden banned spanking, incidents of child on child, child on adult and true child abuse increased. During that same time period in the U.S. those same things decreased. Humans respond to physical things, hence physical punishment is sometimes necessary. People are basically animals. Animal parents (well, the ones that take care of their offspring) use physical means to change the behavior of their offspring. It is natural to do so.
Caveat: I was hit - a lot - as a child, or at least that's the way I remember it. My mother did most of the hitting, and our relationship never recovered. I still can't bear to touch her or be touched by her. This experience frames my response.

It's not often that I am provoked to outright anger, but this does it for me.

This is unutterable bullshit.

Spanking, of any kind, is never necessary and is always wrong.

Granted, we have a pain reflex that teaches us not to do things like touch hot metal or lick freezing cold lamp poles....but that's a reptilian-brain function, the training of autonomic reflexes. Using it to embed behavioral responses reduces children to Pavlovian experiment subjects doomed to stimulus response reactivity.

I hit my son twice during his childhood and adolescence. The first time, he agrees, he richly deserved it. The second time was completely wrong, and I agree with him about it. It never happened again. Today, of course, he could beat the shit out of me, so the option no longer arises.

Some years ago, I asked him why he never acted out again after that first episode. He said, "Well, once you proved to me that you could do it, I realized that when you said no, it really meant something."

What about the second time?

He shrugged. "Nobody's perfect."

Corporeal punishment interferes with higher level non-verbal communications between children and their parents. If you have young children, try this: When they do something that really pisses you off, TELL THEM that you are really pissed off, and why, and adopt a facial expression that matches your emotions. In other words, become congruent with your emotions, and demonstrate this to your children.

You can thank me later.

Stellaa's comment was prescient. Loved it.
I'm late.

I agree with those who said something like don't hit anyone who can't hit you back. I was hit once or twice by my parents, and so were my siblings. After that, they apologized. I learned that they were human.

It was another story at the Catholic school that I attended. The nuns not only beat the children, they tortured them both physically and psychologically (does anyone know what "Playing Moses" means?), frequently for a crime such as not knowing the correct answer to a question, or whispering in class. While most of the kids got past it, I simply lost my power of speech for almost a year.

Caveat: I don't have children of my own, although I have often helped to raise them for weeks or months when they were sent to me because their parents were sick, exhausted, or over-the-top aggravated. I haven't hit a child yet, and I hope I never do.
The problem with studies like this is that every one of us has a different definition of "spank" There is swat, smack, spank paddle whip, beat and many other words... none of which has any standard definition.

This looseness permits those who beat their children to justify it. ("See? I tol' you it was ok to spank yer' child! My daddy spanked me and I turned out jus' fine!")

The type of spank described by Dr. Gunnoe is a physical gesture designed to get the child's attention. Swat or light smack on the behind with diapers and clothes on... is probably closest to her definition.

The worst of corporal punishment includes a variety of rituals. "Wait until your father gets home..." is specifically designed to cause the child to be preoccupied with the pending punishment, to cultivate fear in the child. This is not effective and can be very destructive. The ritual of baring bottom for the spanking is designed to dominate and humiliate, particularly in a child whose developmental stage requires modesty. It has sexual undertones when the child is embarassed about his or her nakedness, i.e. age 5 1/2 or older or so...

I am in the camp that there is no reason to spank, swat, smack or any other corporal punishment. There is always another way to get the child's attention. It might be more inconvenient for the adult, but as the grown up we are the ones required to bear that...
Dr Julie,

I think most reasonable people know the difference between spanking and beating. Spanking is no more beating than verbal reprimanding is mental abuse.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but the plan truth is the idea that corporal punishment produces abusers is a fantasy not reality. If this was the case past generations would be full of abuse and violence when the exact opposite is true. Today's child and teen is more aggressive, violent, and self-centered than any previous generation.
I went to grade school in the 70's and 80's in Oklahoma and every teacher and the principal had a paddle. The principal carried his around on the playground during recess. I reject the whole notion, having grown up in an abusive home. However, I don't think that every parent who spanks their kids is abusive, not at all. I'm looking forward to the day when it's phased out, like how those paddles have been phased out of the classroom.
I was spanked as a child and do not see any harm in it ...there were many occassions i found myself over one of my parents knees when i was a young child and as they years went on I my spankings became less although if my father or mother thought a sppanking was in order you got one regardless of where we where or what we were doing ... i can remeber my firts day in playskool and there was a slide in the corner of the room and there was one boy in particular being mean so i pulled him from the ladder and he ran cry to the nun sister marie , she came over looked at me and led me to the corner swatting my backside once .when she returned she asked me to apologize and i refused to do so ...she pulled out a chair and sat down and she pulled me over her knee up my skirt and down my pants and she spanked me a few times until my bottom was red then she stood me in the corner and i was crying and to this day i still remember her doing this ...i decided to fix myself as i stood in the corner and she yelled at to lower your pants back down and leave your backside on display maybe then you might know not to cause trouble ..i was so embarrased then when it was home time she called my mother in and told her what happened and my mom just gave me an evil look and I knew she was not going to let it go and yes i got a long hard spanking when I got home .

as the years move on my parents used differnts implements at diffent stages ...such as my moms slipper a paddle ,,,I got spanked on averasge about three times a week until I was about 11, my parents always believed in what they did and I have to say it worked on all my family except me my brothers and sisters did not act out as much as me or maybe they did , but they were not busted ...I clearly rember my last spanking form my dad ,,,my report card had gone home my grades were really bad and I had also been in trouble in school ,,, that afternoon a boy I liked was coming home with me to watch a movie dad came into the den and turn the tv off and in front of my friend began to give out to me I think I was more shocked that he had done this in front of my friend than what he did after ..he pulled me up and brought into the study next door to the den and bent me over his knee and began to spank me he then told me to lwer my pants and he continue to spank me ..then he took the hairbrush and gave me a good few licks of that thenhe stood me up and led me to his desk bent me over that and gave me whooping with his belt backside was a s soar ...he led me through the den and up the stairs all the while swatting my backside needless to say i was grounded for two weeks my friend never came to visit again ..i was about 14-15 then after that my mom would threaten a spanking but would ground me ...but if i look back i would say I am gratefull for the spankings i recieved at home and school and yes thay hurt me but they also taught me .

Would I spank my own children ...I do not think so as I think that times have changed and it is not as acceptable as it was back when i was being brought up...I would probably opt for other options like confiscation , timeouts and grounding but if I taught a good old fashined spanking was needed i would deliver just that but some how I do not thnk I will find myself in that situation so far so good with my children