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In what instances do you feel that striking your child is the most appropriate course of action?

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closed as not constructive by Zsub, Torben Gundtofte-Bruun, Jeff Atwood Apr 8 '11 at 8:44

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This is a good question. Due to its controversy, I don't think people will answer it honestly. It is not publicly acceptable to support spanking your child, yet people still do. I'd leave it here. If people think it is not appropriate for the site, they can down-vote it. It won't get the same exposure on meta. – nGinius Apr 3 '11 at 5:28
No, it shouldn't be closed. Just because some parents are against spanking does not mean the issue should not be allowed to be discussed. Not every parent agrees with sleeping with your child, does that mean we should never discuss it? If we cannot have an adult discussion about something we disagree with then we have some bigger issues to work out. – MasterZ Apr 3 '11 at 19:23
@Jay: I disagree. This question should not be closed. If you're going to close one controversial question because it is subjective, then the whole site should be closed. There are (virtually) no YES/NO answers in parenting. All questions are subjective and argumentative. – John Dibling Apr 9 '11 at 16:18
Somehow I had to vote to reopen again. Pft. :-) – Lennart Regebro May 30 '11 at 8:42
This is a central question in parenting nowadays. Closing it as "not constructive" is ludicrous, and pretty ironic, if you think about it. Improving it and adding good answers would be the right thing to do. – static_rtti Aug 24 '11 at 7:30

12 Answers 12

I'm trying to think of a case, and I can't. So: Never?

Update: I think my answer is less helpful than some that got less votes so I'm updating it to be more helpful and also to show that the question may not be subjective, and that it shouldn't necessarily be closed, but that it should be fixed. Here goes.

It is a well established fact that hitting your kids is a bad idea and may make your kids more aggressive.

Corporal punishment doesn't make your kids more well behaved, they tend to make them less well behaved. And if you want more links, I refer you to philosodads answer.

Since this is well established and uncontroversial, the question can reasonably be interpreted as asking when it is appropriate with physical punishment with the basic standpoint that it in general is not appropriate. In that way, the question is about if it ever is appropriate, but badly formulated. This is how I first interpreted it. This probably shows a naivety on my side with respect to the average level of ignorance on these issues, which I started noticing from an answer here that actually advocates corporal punishment for discipline and instilling respect for adults.

In this interpretation, the question is indeed subjective.

But the debate, I think, has clearly shown that this is not how the question in general is interpreted. Instead it has generally been interpreted to ask how and when to use corporal punishment for discipline. I don't know if that was the OP's intention, but that is clearly how may others have interpreted it. And in that case the question is not subjective. In that case there is a clear and objective answer, and it is: It is not appropriate with corporal punishment. The links above and in philosodads answer shows this with little doubt.

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I used to work with someone who was a huge proponent of spanking. His claim was that without spanking, his kids would be out of control, disrespectful, and so forth. Corporal punishment, he claimed, worked.

Among the things that he had to discipline his kids for? Disrespect for authority figures. Destruction of property. Lying. Hitting each other. Hitting other kids. My personal favorite was the time they pushed a $5000 sewing machine down the stairs because they wanted to see what would happen.

Still, despite having to mete out spankings on a regular basis, he was convinced that spanking worked.

But the truth is that the scientific evidence tends towards the opposite conclusion. (see 1,2,3,4) Spanking is ineffective as a form of discipline, and may have many negative effects on children. There's just no reason to think that spanking--or indeed, punishment in general--is an effective means of long term behavior modification. (see 5,6,7)

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links to said scientific findings would be an awesome addition to this answer, certainly worth a few +1 votes I'm sure you'll get in addition to mine. ;) – cabbey Apr 5 '11 at 5:49
I'd like to know who downvoted this answer, and why. – philosodad Apr 5 '11 at 21:13
@cabbey- I think you were overly optimistic about the perceived value of strong references among parenting.stackexchange users. – philosodad Apr 6 '11 at 5:21
I'd like to know why the second down vote! Look guys, @cabbey asked for more cites and got 7, so if you've got an issue let me know and I'll see if I can address it. – philosodad Apr 7 '11 at 21:18
@Jeff Atwood♦ I agree with the comparison to MAD, I do not agree with the need. Your children are not Soviet Russia and you don't want to be in an arms race with them. You will always get further by modeling correct behavior first, followed by a stern but fair "No", then if necessary letting them cool down on their own. I have no discipline problems that last more than 15 min and I have never threatened or stuck my son, for that matter having a quiet cool down is not a punishment but a way to keep him safe from himself and others. I give him a hug when he calms down and we go on. – kleineg Jun 17 '14 at 14:14

I can't think of any situation where it might be appropriate or constructive in any way. I got slapped on the cheek sometimes when I was a kid, but I never felt it was helpful in any way. I think it was a combination of parents' exasperation and not thinking fast enough to realize the ineffectiveness and stop themselves.

What did work very well though was my father's way of grabbing me tightly by my upper arms and holding me there, while very obviously fighting his temper and just telling me what's right and wrong. That made a much stronger impression on me than any face slaps ever did.
Bonus: it was totally harmless, physically.

I find myself sometimes grabbing my toddler that way too; just holding him so he can't move much, or lifting him away from harm's way. I hope it's not a bad thing!

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+1 It seems to me like parents go for physical punishment because it's easy to get results from very young children that way. What they don't realize is that there are more effective long-term solutions. Spanking doesn't suck because it's "mean" as some would suggest, it sucks because it is comparatively ineffective. It teaches a lot of the wrong things, and at a certain age loses the potential to teach any of the right ones. – HedgeMage Apr 4 '11 at 15:52
Yes, there's a huge difference in causing hurt intentionally, and physically preventing the child to move during a tantrum or such, even if it causes a bit hurt. One big difference is that in the second case, the child directly causes any of the hurt. Another is the second case I've understood to be (a bit counter-intuitively to me) actually emotionally comforting, though it may not seem like that directly. I'd be happy to find links to studies about that, though. – Ilari Kajaste Apr 6 '11 at 8:08

When physical punishment is appropriate varies greatly from one child to another. I know that many think it is horrible to ever spank your child but it is a very effective form of discipline if not abused. In my experience, many (not all) children who are never spanked are extremely disrespectful to authority figures and their own parents. They tend to be the ones who like to push the limits of what is allowed.

My son does not understand talking with him or time out, but slapping him on the hand he understands (I have always been against any form of slapping on the face). He rarely gets spanked on the behind unless he is doing something that is dangerous or just being stubbornly disobedient. Most of the time just telling him to stop something or saying "NO" is all that is needed.

But every child is different. The guy I work with has 2 sons, one spanking was very effective, the other it was not effective at all.

But if you do spank, make sure you do it out of discipline, and not anger or embarrassment.

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Well, mine, which I just added was for "In my experience, children who are never spanked are extremely disrespectful to authority figures and their own parents". I've never been spanked, neither had any of my siblings. The type of disciplinary spankings on the behind you mention has been illegal in Sweden for 30 years, and you make that sounds like Sweden now should be in full-blown anarchy with nobody respecting each other. Various sentences referring to the waste of bovines come to mind. :-) – Lennart Regebro Apr 4 '11 at 12:35
One thing you should consider is confirmation bias. When we believe something to be true, we tend to notice the confirming evidence more than the disconfirming evidence. In this case, that might equate to noting disrespectful behavior from children if you know they are not spanked, and failing to note it in children who are. – philosodad Apr 5 '11 at 21:23
-1 for "In my experience..." Anecdotal. Probably confirmation bias. Sorry, you're just completely wrong with what you imply by that statement. There's no studies showing any such relationship, and I have opposite (just as anectodal) evidence to counter yours. Plus, there are areas of the world where physical punishment isn't very popular, and kids there don't disrespect their parents any more. Disrespect of authority figures - that I have no idea about, but then again I consider a disrespect of societal authority that just authority for authority's sake to be pretty healthy... – Ilari Kajaste Apr 6 '11 at 8:00
No it is not a null argument. Yes, spanking change the outcome. That's the whole point. Not when it comes to respect, but other things. Physical punishment is bad for your kids. Have you even read any of the other answers here? The whole point is that physical punishment makes your kids aggressive and disobedient. In fact, it doesn't teach respect, it teaches fear, which is often thought to be the same thing but is quite opposite. – Lennart Regebro Apr 10 '11 at 16:26
-1 for claiming that spanking is "very effective" if not abused without citing references (especially as numerous references showing the opposite have been cited elsewhere), plus the comment about many children who have never been spanked being disrespectful. – Beofett May 24 '11 at 16:39

In my childhood I had one parent who used physical punishment more frequently and one that used it rarely. I cannot remember most of the reasons for the punishment from my father, but I still remember what I had done to warrant the discipline from my mother. I had done something that was very unsafe and I had been asked not to do it and been told what the consequence would be- when I disobeyed she fdoollowed through. This was followed by a hug and she talked to me about what I had done and why I received the spanking. Her discipline method got my attention, stopped the behavior, and she taught me something.

Our older child has been spanked, but I try to follow my mother's model and teach him something in the process. We try to use other methods of discipline before spanking such as allowing him to take some space, talking about things, etc. Usually something else will work, but if he is doing something unsafe and has been warned, one spanking will get his attention. I never want my children to fear me or behave out of fear of punishment. My job is to guide them and teach them, but sometimes my teaching is better heard when I have his attention.

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Never. Never ever. Ever.

I'm sorry to be blunt, yes, but that's just the way it is.

Note that I'm not saying "hand's off your child". Sure, it may be required to get physical with the child to prevent them from doing something. Even to a point where it hurts them. It may be required to hold them down, roughly even. Sure. But that's a lot different from physical punishment.

Physical punishment is about deliberately hurting your child for the sake of hurting. (I mean that the hurting is what is used there cause the effect, it's essential to the punishment.) Some may try to sugar-coat it by saying that you don't really "want" to hurt the child and but that it's good for them. Well, guess what, it isn't good for them.

Is physical punishment an immediately effective means of teaching the child what they shouldn't do? Sure. It's an easy way out, for the parent. But you have a huge risk of teaching the child to be violent and making them emotionally insecure. (I will try to link this to some studies later, when I have more time.)

There's always an alternative. Maybe an alternative method of punishment (tips: unforced seclusion and inattention are good ones). Many times, you don't even need to go as far as punishment, just teaching the child it was wrong (and why it was wrong) will do.

I can think of only one situation where physical punishment would be ok. Wait... No, I really can't, unless I want to go absurd. If you, the reader, are using physical punishment, I'm sure you just didn't have enough information. So stop it right now. There's nothing wrong in having being wrong, there is a lot wrong in continuing to be wrong.

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Well, unless your goal is to make the child emotionally insecure and prone to violence... Towards that goal physical punishment is very appropriate. :) – Ilari Kajaste Apr 6 '11 at 7:50
I agree that physical punishment is never justified. And I agree with the distinction of removing your child from a dangerous situation, even if they put themselves there. I would not use inattention as a punishment, and having a cool down time (unforced seclusion) is not a punishment at all in my book. I make very sure of my wording with my son because I want him to use the cool down period on his own rather than feeling like it is forced on him. – kleineg Jun 17 '14 at 14:45

As others have pointed out, if you've reached the point of physical punishment, you've already lost the battle. Fear can be a great motivator and is often confused with respect. It also only works for a while. Really all you are teaching is that violence is a way to solve your problems.

Countless studies have shown that negative reinforcement doesn't work nearly as well as positive. In most cases, you're teaching the child to avoid the punishment not change their behavior.

I find that walking over and gently touching my 4-year-old works better even than yelling from across the room. (when he's pretending not to hear me)

I'm also working on the concept of the "micro timeout". If he sasses me or makes a rude noise I make him stand in the middle of the room and count to 15. It has the advantage of immediacy and also breaking up the "dance" that parents and kids can get into. Sometimes his response leads to a full-on timeout, but I think this technique shows some promise...

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You can also invite the child to take a timeout to cool down. Though the term "timeout" is so loaded I don't use it. They can color, listen to music, lie down, whatever. And the finish when they are ready. It teaches self-regulation so that they can do it later in life when you are not there! And, more than just teaching him why it was wrong, teach him what to do instead. "My ears hurt when you scream. What would help me hear you better?" – Christine Gordon Nov 15 '12 at 19:33

First, I think it is important to differentiate between "striking" a child, which I am interpreting to mean purposeful physical contact in anger and without consideration, and "spanking" a child, which I am interpreting to mean a calm and considered open hand hitting the bum/backside/buttocks.

Second, it is important to distinguish between the impetus behind the action. "Striking" a child is abusive. "Spanking" a child indicates lack of skill as a parent. In my opinion, "spanking" is better than no discipline at all, which may well be the cause of MasterZ's comment about "children who are never spanked (being) extremely disrespectful". Children must have limits.

I would consider spanking a child in order to produce an emotional response to a violent disciplinary issue (biting, hitting, scratching, etc.) that has not previously been possible to elicit through other means. This is the absolute last resort in asserting authority over a child who is not complying on a critical issue that MUST stop for their own well-being and those around them.

That being said, I do not advocate spanking. In my experience, cold showers are more effective and less humiliating. But again, children must behave within limits. Sometimes it is critical that these limits be imposed. Here is a link to another post that refers to research on physical punishment.

If you down-vote this answer, please leave a comment to explain why. I understand that this is an unpopular/dissuaded stance and am writing the post to provide a counter-arguement, with parameters, firmly placing the responsibility on the parents for being ineffective but recognizing that they are not avoiding their duty by making this decision.

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>*spanking* is better than no discipline at all" - assumes that physical violence against a child is an effective form of discipline. It is possible to discipline a child without resorting to physical violence. – BryanH Apr 5 '11 at 22:26
@BryanH I absolutely agree with all of the things stated: 1. spanking is better than no discipline at all, 2. physical violence is an effective form of discipline (as supported by the link in my post), and 3. it is possible (and preferable! and MORE effective!) to discipline without resorting to physical violence. – nGinius Apr 6 '11 at 2:19
If you are going to downvote, at least offer a comment. This is a contentious issue. Contribute to the discussion. – nGinius Apr 12 '11 at 21:26
I know this question has been closed, but I just wanted to say that I love your answer. I generally use the "natural consequences" method for most things (touch a hot stove = get burnt = don't touch it anymore), but I think that spanking does have its place as a means of last resort (child tries to put fingers in outlet, redirection/reasoning/etc doesn't work, child gets spanked as a method of swift and not potentially lethal means of getting the point across that an action is dangerous). – Shauna Jun 20 '11 at 13:45
cold showers wtf? – DanBeale Aug 12 '11 at 21:22

The only thing that hitting a kid teaches them that can't be taught through other means is that being hit by a parent sucks.

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So you're saying that it's appropriate to spank when you want to teach your kid that it sucks to get spanked? ;) Sorry but I didn't find any other useful statement in your answer. Abort/Rephrase/Ignore? – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Apr 5 '11 at 7:04
-1 Sorry, I don't see any useful content in this "answer". – Beofett May 24 '11 at 16:47

Spanking (since striking is rightfully illegal in most countries) is in some cases can be somewhat beneficial.

But there are problems with it:

  1. You can fail to be clear about why you spanked, so kid can treat your spanking as an outburst of violence;
  2. You can spank your kid too often;
  3. It is easy to make physical pain, since you are much stronger than kid;

While establishing limits is an essential task in bringing up a child, using spanking as the most common tool for that is outright wrong.

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What I feel is in line with the opinions already given. But that's only half of the question.

Apparently, it does make sense, but only with younger kids. And that means up to 3 years of age, roughly. In particular, it only makes sense with kids whose verbal skills aren't well-developed enough to understand a stern lecture.

Even then, there are obvious restrictions. The first is, it's only used in the most extreme cases, where your kid risked his life and somebody needed to save him. If that was traumatic enough by itself, you don't need to reinforce that. Otherwise, the punishment should be quick. Such young kids wouldn't be able to link a delayed punishment to the offense, while the intent is to make a direct connection between the life-threatening act and the very negative consequences. The next time, there might not be an adult around to save your kid.

As you can see, this is really an exceptional corner case. Most parents will never encounter such a horrible scenario, and that's a good thing. I'm having some problems finding my sources for this, though.

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Children under 3 CANNOT understand why their parent is hurting them! And by your own requirements they do not have the verbal skills to communicate to you that they want you to stop! You will not teach them anything this way, other than they cannot trust you... and I do not blame them because I do not trust you either. – kleineg Jun 17 '14 at 14:48
I am going to go answer a couple questions so I can get then last 20 points I need to downvote your answer. Please please please reconsider your stance before I do. – kleineg Jun 17 '14 at 14:50

I feel that striking your child is the most appropriate course of action for instances when you want to teach it that it cannot trust you or that hitting in general is an appropriate response.

(I hope that no one here wants to teach a child these things.)

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Could somebody comment on their downvote, please? – DerMike Apr 12 '11 at 13:27
My down vote was because your answer was a rather broad, categorical opinion with no supporting evidence (or even reasoned arguments), and doesn't really answer the question. – Beofett May 24 '11 at 16:49
I agree with your stance, but you need more. – kleineg Jun 17 '14 at 14:51

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