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I believe corporal punishment to be a useful tool in the tool-shed when it comes to lovingly training my beautiful 3 year old boy.[1]

For the purposes of this question, I'll just say that my style of corporal punishment is to stop what my child is doing, calmly tell them why I'm going to spank them, and then give them a strike on the rear or hand that is just light enough to be uncomfortable, then reiterate my expectation and give them a hug and a kiss.[2]

This method has been phenomenally effective for my wife and me and we have no qualms with doing it at home or in front of friends/family that we know implement the same style of parenting. I do not, however, ever spank my kid in public or in front of strangers.[3] Not even a flick on the hand. I don't want to embarrass him, but even more-so I'm petrified of having someone call Child Protective Services (CPS) on me because they may believe that all physical punishment points to heinous abuse back at home. I'm not ignorant to the fact that spanking has (for whatever reason) gained a bad reputation in the last decade, but I'm also not ignorant to the fact that many (most?) parents spank their kids too.

I live in a state that allows physical punishment so legally I should have no concerns, but I still find myself stuck when my child disobeys in public and I feel forced to do nothing about it until we get home (which by then it would be too late for them to associate their bad behavior with the spanking anyway). Is there a way to execute corporal punishment in public without triggering unknowing and irrational fears in strangers?


[1] This is not an invitation to debate as to whether or not you agree with spanking. This is asking for a best-practice guide on spanking in public. I started my question with "I believe corporal punishment to be a useful tool..." to set the precedent for any expected answers (unlike this question) :)

[2] Note that he initiates 90% of these hugs, and I never force affection on him. The whole "spank then hug" thing was not a planned out disciplining strategy. It just sort of happened once and now it's routine. He expects it and I think it helps him to know that the issue is over and done and daddy isn't mad anymore.

[3] When I say "in public" I don't mean I hop on a table and shout "TIME FOR YUR SPANKIN!!1" and then whoop on him. I would still be as subtle and discreet as possible.

  • Please take discussion on this question's premise to Parenting Chat. – Karl Bielefeldt Mar 26 '15 at 13:15
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    Apparently one can't even discuss online about spanking without everyone assuming you're a child abuser. – LCIII Dec 17 '15 at 14:08
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    @LCIII That answers your question, right? Ethics and effectiveness aside, you probably need to be very circumspect in public. There will be those people who are shocked_and_horrified by spanking, and they can potentially cause terrible harm to you and your family. – kbelder Apr 30 '18 at 22:18
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I will echo the sentiments of anongoodnurse and Brian Robbins:
The best way to use corporal punishment in public is to not use corporal punishment in public. Without taking a stance on the practice itself, it's clear that it's not typically acceptable behavior for public places.

Public places almost always have private places you can remove yourself to.


In the many parts of the United States, the local Department of Human Services (or equivalent agency) or Child Protection Services are required to follow up in some way on every report.

Now, imagine someone actually feels the need to call such an agency to report you. Do you believe they will accurately portray events? How do you think you'll be described to a social worker?

What if that social worker is required to give you a phone call or perform an on-site follow up? Now, what if word gets out that they had to contact you? In some of the small towns I lived in, if DHS or CPS had to contact someone (even by phone), then it wasn't long until the whole town knew. Are you prepared to handle that?

Take government agency out of the picture, and just think about gossip. Anyone who tells someone else about the events that transpired is likely going to make you look worse than reality. Eventually, gossip and rumor could get back to your local community, or even your workplace.

Treat this as any other private family event, and don't involve strangers. Since that's what you're already doing, then keep on doing that. Unfortunately, I don't think you're going to find a way to do it in public. Since you believe that peoples fears will be unknown or even irrational, there's no way to reasonably handle that. That's why it's called irrational.

I'd also recommend doing some research by reading actual studies (and not just articles) on the efficacy of corporal punishment on children, especially as it relates to learning outcomes and behavior. There's a reason you fear the public would respond negatively to such punishment (although different areas, even within the US, will have wildly different levels of tolerance).

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Is there a way to execute corporal punishment in public without triggering unknowing and irrational fears in strangers?

No, not in this day and age. I would not spank in public, but that doesn't mean I would do nothing. Removing a child to a private place for a little sit-down or a time out would be my choice. Removing them to a private place for a swat on the rear is also better than doing so publicly.

You didn't ask for what follows, but, well, you posted it, so that makes it fair game on a parenting site.

You say, "...stop what my child is doing, calmly tell them why I'm going to spank them, and give then give them a strike on the rear or hand that is just light enough to be uncomfortable, then reiterate my expectation and give them a hug and a kiss."

Hitting/slapping/spanking are "bad" touches. To follow them so closely temporally with loving (good) touches feels psychologically abusive to me; I'm not sure I can say why, except that the seeming hypocrisy of it it makes my skin crawl.

Why do you think a child who has just experienced a humiliating or uncomfortable/painful (psychologically and possibly physically - I mean, that's why kids develop the desired avoidant behavior, right?) experience wants you to hug him? Can they not be angry at you for violating them, even a little bit? If they are angry, do you believe you are teaching them anything good by disregarding their legitimate feelings (just as you have legitimate reasons for not wanting them to do hurtful things) by hugging them? This makes no sense to me. Respecting feelings is a foundational element of building trusting relationships with others. You are likely disrespecting a child's feelings by imposing yourself on them physically so soon after hurting them.

I am not accusing you of child abuse. But I am asking you to consider how you would feel if the most important person in your life (say, your wife) told you you were wrong to do something, informed you that she was going to hit you for it, proceeded to hit you, told you how she expected you to behave from now on, then gave you a big hug and a kiss, expecting you to remain loving and obeisant the whole while.

In all honesty, humans aren't built like that. You would be fuming! That's not a proper way to behave. If an adult did this to their spouse, it would be considered abusive behavior, because it is abusive behavior.

Children are not miniature adults; they are infinitely more dependent on you as their parent and protector than your spouse is. It is a sacred trust, and a sacred duty.

Please think about your approach. If you must physically punish a child, please don't add insult to injury by expecting them to be grateful for a hug immediately after. If you need to 'repair a rift' with a hug or kiss, don't create one to begin with.

To Train Up a Child by Michael and Debi Pearl advocates "a specific program of even-tempered, non-injurious corporal punishment, or 'chastisement', designed to bring about total obedience" which advocates very much the same approach. It was (and is) an influential book - I saw many of my friends using the technique with their children - responsible for innumerable incidents of serious child abuse, including death.

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    I couldn't agree more. The "slapping then hugging" gives me the creeps. – Stephie Mar 25 '15 at 22:14
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    Yes, it equates love and violence. – Lizbeth Mar 26 '15 at 1:48
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    +1, because you could put words to WHY this felt creepy to me, too (even more than just the thought that someone I deeply care for calmly explains to me that he is going to hurt me now... schudders at that alone). – Layna Mar 26 '15 at 6:52
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    I'd be glad to chat about this. – LCIII Mar 26 '15 at 14:58
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    Wish I could +100 this. To me, this resembles some nasty abusive relationship. Imagine a person doing this to their romantic partner. – krugmeister65 Mar 30 '15 at 18:22
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I stick by the old adage "Praise in public, discipline in private." My parents had no qualms about taking me outside if we were in a restaraunt, or back to the car if we were at a park or something similar.

Since disciplining your child is your business and no one else's, I would take your child to the restroom or back to the car. A restroom works especially well if there's a stall you can use to be out of sight.

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    That can backfire too! My aunt tells a story about attempting to take her oldest daughter to the restroom for discipline when she was 3 or 4 and misbehaving at a restaurant. My cousin said loud enough for everyone nearby to hear, "Please don't take to to the restroom and beat me! I promise I'll be good!" – Aravis Apr 1 '15 at 17:08
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You can't avoid getting judged for your parenting decisions. Just look at the responses on this page. If you didn't spank, other people would judge you for trying to logically reason with a three year-old throwing a tantrum, thereby dragging out the child's misery, not to mention annoying everyone in earshot. Here's some things to keep in mind, though:

  • Don't lose your temper. Discipline of any form should be about directing the child's behavior, not making yourself feel better.
  • Make sure it actually works quickly. I only spanked one of my kids, because it helped him quickly snap out of mental states that would otherwise literally last for hours. If spanking just makes a child cry harder, there's no point.
  • Make sure the misbehavior isn't your fault. If your child's obviously exhausted because you just made him walk a mile during his naptime, then punishing him further isn't really in order. Adults control their temper by controlling their environment, and kids don't usually have that privilege.
  • Take the opportunity to try out other ideas. Spanking really only works effectively from about age 2 to 6, so you're going to have to figure something else out soon anyway. Being out in public has lots of opportunities for rare treats or activities to be lost, that aren't an option at home.

People have really overused the term "abuse." I don't know where people get their ideas about how abusers behave in public, but those ideas are usually wrong. Abuse is almost always done in private, and hidden in public. If you want to spot an abuser in public, don't look for the parent who doesn't care who sees them spanking their kids, look for the child who immediately stops and looks terrified at a completely innocuous and lighthearted verbal correction from their parent.

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    People have really overused the term "abuse." I don't think corporal punishment is necessarily abusive. However, I also don't think it's necessary. As to labels, abusers rarely recognize themselves, in public or in private. To get people without healthy boundaries to recognize emotional abuse especially is hard. Many victims of emotional abuse blame themselves, when nothing could be further than the truth. There are many more abused people than there are people who use the word "abuse" flippantly. – anongoodnurse Mar 26 '15 at 17:21
  • Ah, I just remembered a woman and her two children; she had brought the baby into the ER to be seen. The entire time I spoke with her about the infant, about every 30 seconds she would get mad at her ~3.5 year old for one thing or another, and hit him with the long, looped leather strap of her purse. If he interrupted her, she'd say, "Shut up, I'm talking!" then thwack! If he hopped on one foot: thwack! Climbed into her lap: thwack! Opened a drawer in the bedside table: thwack! Not hard enough to leave welts, but not gentle little reminders, either. – anongoodnurse Mar 27 '15 at 5:23
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    Yeah, don't really blame you there. That's why I have the "make sure it works" rule. At that point you're just taking out your own frustrations. – Karl Bielefeldt Mar 27 '15 at 11:57
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    Also, not all CPS referrals result in some sort of action. I'm pretty sure we were covertly investigated in the hospital after our daughter accidentally drove her wheelchair down the stairs. We were introduced to two "nursing students" who curiously had no mentor and spent several hours observing no one else but us, and only asking questions that made them sound more like cops than nurses. (She's not allowed upstairs anymore, by the way. Ever. We sold the lift.) – Karl Bielefeldt Mar 27 '15 at 12:22
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    You also might be surprised what they teach in those parenting classes. When we took them to become foster parents, our teacher was in general a strong advocate of spanking one's permanent children, although for foster children it's illegal in our state and otherwise a bad idea because of their previous trauma. I'm sure that varies depending on where you go, though. – Karl Bielefeldt Mar 27 '15 at 12:29
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A great lesson I heard my dad give was:

"Home is where the kind of self-discipline that is remembered, is taught".

A great lesson I heard from a pastor was:

"Never hit your children in anger, it is never spanking or discipline".

And my honest perspective is:

"Discipline is only as effective as the patient self-discipline of the parent; everything takes time to learn".

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