How can I explain the negative effects of spanking to someone who isn't a philosopher, behavior specialist etc.?

I know how to cite various studies, but when spanking comes up as a casual topic, I'd like to know the basic, simplified reasoning behind warning against spanking.

  • 4
    I am confident that there are studies that show it can harm kids. I am also confident that people have been spanking, and worse, for thousands of years and people have generally managed to get by. Whether it's a net positive or not, I certainly don't claim to know; but I'd be very cautious about research that would make a claim on that count. What is right for your kid today might well be spanking, even if for many kids on many days that is not the right approach. Simply telling the dad that studies raise concerns over spanking should be pretty easy. Getting the dad to change his parenting...
    – Patrick87
    Sep 22, 2015 at 19:57
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    possible duplicate of Are there any reputable studies on spanking?
    – Joe
    Sep 22, 2015 at 20:30
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    The first half of that is a duplicate of the linked question above. The second half is covered in several questions here; it's hard to say without more specifics of the person, though. Some would be convinced by data. Some by public opinion. Some would not be convinced by any of the above.
    – Joe
    Sep 22, 2015 at 20:31
  • @Joe edited my question
    – J.Todd
    Sep 22, 2015 at 21:12
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    @DanBeale Sorry if the comment is unclear. My point is that Random Guy should consider that the difficulty might not be in explaining the negative effects, but in that some others may have genuinely different beliefs which are not going to be easily changed. For instance, I can explain the negative effects of drinking Coke to my friend, but that doesn't mean my friend needs to stop drinking Coke, or even drink less of it - if my motivation is to get him to stop drinking Coke, more might be required.
    – Patrick87
    Sep 23, 2015 at 18:24

2 Answers 2


I'm neither a philosopher nor a behaviour specialist, but my reasoning goes along these lines (and doesn't come with any warranty): Young kids learn to deal with everyday life by copying/imitating whatever their parents do. Until a certain age they consider that anything that parent does is the right thing to do. What they don't understand at 2 or 3 is why rules need to be followed. So, when you get angry with them and spank them they realise something like

Daddy is spanking me because he doesn't like when I do 'X'

and not

Daddy is spanking because doing 'X' was wrong.

Therefore, when they are spanked, they learn that

it is OK to spank/hit people who do things that make me angry.

  • 4
    This is practically assuming that spanking is a product of anger, and it ignores the possibility that a parent might communicate, along with the spanking, the reason for it.
    – user16557
    Sep 24, 2015 at 17:58
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    What you said doesn't change the logic of my answer. It does make the final conclusion somewhat different, though. The conclusion would then be something like: "it is ok to spank/hit people who do things I consider bad as long as I communicate the reason for it". P.S. Good luck getting a typical 2 or 3 year old to properly understand why some things should not be done.
    – DadOfTwo
    Sep 24, 2015 at 20:21
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    No need for luck, I have four kids. The first is now in her second year in college and doing awesome. The second is being courted by MIT and Caltech. All four are straight A students, happy, and my son recently told me I was his best friend. I recall having to spank one of my kids at 2.5. When i asked, she not only understood the specifics but explained the general principle to me without any prompting. I only had to do it rarely, with her - maybe 5 times in her life, if that - but never in anger and always with a clear understanding of why. Never had a problem with them hitting others.
    – user16557
    Sep 25, 2015 at 13:05

I took a sociology course in college and one of the main topics was spanking and how it is harmful. The professor taught us many reasons, such as the adult is showing the child that physical harm is an acceptable means of control, that the child cannot trust the adult, that since spanking is rarely a consistent behavior (especially because the parent is not around the child most of the time) this does not consistently reinforce the change of behavior, and the child learns that the appropriate first response to poor behavior is anger and causing physical pain.

From Research on Spanking: It’s Bad for ALL Kids:

It undermines trust. Children trust their parents just a little less. They are more likely to step back from the relationship and build a self-protective shield around themselves in terms of relationships generally. Children can learn to mistrust the motives of others and become more threat reactive in social situations. It can lead to aggressive expectations—they are ready to aggress first before they are aggressed against.

Spanking does not convey positive guidance on how to behave in a particular situation, only how not to behave if a threat of punishment is at hand. Children learn positive behaviors from practicing actions that work, ones that lead to a sense of belonging and competence. They internalize what they practice and what their family practices. They learn reasons for their actions from what they hear and are told, but active practice has the deepest impact.

Also see 10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child from Dr. Sears, a well respected pediatrician.

You can put your reasoning is layman terms fairly easily once you learn the basic concepts. Try to think about what kind of explanation you would find helpful if you were being told the reasons. Think more about the most obvious reasons first, like hitting shows the child that hitting is ok and that it is traumatic to be physically punished. Then try to make the more scientific concepts simplified, such as how it has been demonstrated that this method of behavioral modification is ineffective, by saying something like how researchers have examined the problems with spanking and have proved that spanking over time doesn't not make things better. You can direct people to particular sites that have simpler explanations, rather than showing them direct studies. So essentially my suggestion is that you do extensive research yourself and once you have a fuller understanding of the many reasons why spanking is a bad choice then you will be able to easily take that knowledge and break it down for people who need it simplified. Hope that helps.

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