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Help Me Sara: Should we consider spanking our child?

Boy hiding - help me sara: should we consider spanking our child?My husband and I were raised by parents who spanked. When I
was 11, I started hitting back. Although we know that spanking is not the
ideal way to deal with difficult behaviour, we find that this is often the only
thing that works. We’ve tried reasoning with them, giving time-outs and
ignoring bad behaviour, but nothing works as well as a quick smack. Is
corporal punishment really so bad? Help me Sara!


The short answer is yes, it really is bad – for
many different reasons. You’re correct in noting
that a quick smack does bring about much more
immediate results. Typically, a child is stunned
into silence or compliance, which may be exactly
what your goal is at that very moment. However,
the greatest downside of this is the longer term
results. As you experienced, when children grow
older, they begin to retaliate – not just by lashing
back at parents, but at their younger siblings
and peers, too. Parents’ actions speak louder
than words and even without meaning to, your
children will model your behaviour.

In addition, they will find ways to get even
with you. They may disobey later the same
day when you request that they do something
for you. Or you may see passive aggressive
behaviour, which means that he might drag
his feet or do the bare minimum so as to avoid
further punishment. In the longrun,
if a child
is disciplined corporally, he’s most likely to
comply because he’s afraid of getting punished,
not because he cares about helping you. I’m
sure you’d agree that a relationship built on
a foundation of caring and cooperation is
preferable to one built on fear and intimidation.

There’s a lot to consider when disciplining
children. First, your shortand
expectations. And even more important, how
long do you think it should take for your child to do what you’re asking? There’s no doubt that
a smack will speed things up, and that the other
methods require more patience and thought, but
isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Discipline is often easier if you have a strategy
in mind and stay as consistent as possible.
Corporal punishment falls under the reward/
punishment umbrella. Often, punishments are
unrelated to the problem and perceived as unfair
by your child. This is why children often seek
revenge after they have been physically punished.

An alternate approach to discipline is to
consider consequences for inappropriate
behaviour. Sometimes consequences such as
hunger, after refusing to eat, occur naturally.
Other times, a logical consequence needs to be
put into effect. For example, when your child
refuses to stick within the boundaries of your
front lawn and keeps running onto the road, a
logical consequence would be to have her play in
the backyard only.

You mention timeouts.
These may be
presented as a logical consequence to hitting
a sibling, for example. In this case, your child
would be asked to spend some time apart
from his sibling. However, if the timeout
implemented because a child has refused to
comply, for example, then this would be a
punishment rather than a consequence.

You mention reasoning. This is more a form
of communication rather than discipline.
Depending on your child’s age, sometimes
talking less is more effective.

You also mention ignoring. This may be
chosen as a logical consequence for attentionseeking
behaviour but may be perceived as a
punishment if you have not advised your child
of your intention to ignore in advance. As you
can tell, discipline requires a lot of thought
and practise. You may want to consider taking
parenting courses and reading books such as
Nelsen and Lott’s Positive Discipline.

The bottom line: Fair discipline may be harder
and require more consistency to see the desired
results, but in the longrun,
you have more to
gain than to lose.

Sara Dimerman is a Psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.

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