"Hot saucing", a technique where a small quantity of hot sauce is introduced a kid's mouth as disciplinary action, is considered bad parenting.

Though I have not done hot saucing (possibly because my nine year old loves spicy food) I have used a similar technique as a form of control. Call me a prude, or over the hill, but the first time my son swore (he was four then), I washed his tongue with soap. Done once, it has been effective so far. He associates bad words to disgusting taste in his mouth. I think it works a subconscious level.

Has anyone else tried similar ideas? Were they effective? I understand that one technique cannot solve all problems, but what are the major pitfalls of such techniques?

  • 6
    If your kid likes spicy food, it seems unlikely to be effective ...
    – tomjedrz
    Oct 2, 2011 at 5:57
  • 3
    Any punishment you hope to have work on a subconscious level seems a bit oppressive.
    – DA01
    Oct 17, 2011 at 4:35

4 Answers 4


I consider washing the mouth out with soap to be cruel. A four year old doesn't understand why you are putting soap in their mouth. I can tell you that it is not at all effective, as I was a child who received this particular punishment. Instead of teaching me to not do a certain behavior, it taught me to fear getting in trouble. I learned to be somewhat sneaky as a child and hid what I was doing. It just doesn't work.

Edited to add: Where did your son learn to swear? If you're punishing him for something he learned from you, that seems even more twisted.

  • 7
    @ClarkGable I was rarely punished as a child; it was a last recourse when explaining the rules and talking failed. As a result, I understood why I was expected to behave a certain way, would request changes to things I felt were unreasonable, and would follow the rules without enforcement/monitoring about 95% of the time. Tell your kids why you don't want them to swear, listen if they have objections, and either relax the requirement or help them understand your point of view more and respectfully ask them to follow even if they don't agree. Oct 1, 2011 at 21:25
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    @christine if a 4yo drops an s-word, and you slap a bar on their tongue, you are correct in saying they won't get it. However, the parent must actually interact with the kid and explain rules and consequences, something my parents were never good at but i learned over time as a parent. and yes, kids DO get a different set of rules than adults. and if a 4yo doesn't think that's fair, it's up to the parent not to make it fair, but to be the parent and enforce all kinds of rules to do what? keep the child safe and help them grow into honorable and productive members of society. Communication.
    – monsto
    Oct 2, 2011 at 17:26
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    @Christine I've got a 4 year old next to me. I haven't washed his mouth out with soap, but when we punish him, he definitely understands why. I think you're wrong in saying a 4 year old "doesn't understand".
    – a_hardin
    Oct 5, 2011 at 21:32
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    Each of my kids at four and even three years old understood what they were being punished for and why. My two year old understands the reward-punishment cycle. The assertion that a four year old can't understand the soap or hot sauce punishment relies on either a four year old with learning disabilities, or poor communication skills on the part of the parents.
    – Adam Davis
    Oct 5, 2011 at 22:21
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    @a_hardin and Adam Davis, I completely agree with you. Developmentally, four year olds can understand simple cause and effect. Children can understand that at far younger ages, and it is incorrect to assume that even a child with "lazy parents" doesn't understand cause and effect.
    – Kate
    Oct 6, 2011 at 17:26

This is a form of physical discipline akin to spanking, which is only appropriate after escalating beyond normal, non-physical discipline -- and even then only in strict moderation and only when the child is young.

See my answer, with research citations, at Is punishment necessary?

As children grow older, physical discipline becomes less developmentally appropriate. However, when parents' use of physical discipline continues through childhood, by the time their children are teens, they're more likely to have behavior problems.

A smack is one thing, but I would argue that putting hot sauce in a child's mouth is tending towards the cruel and unusual side of punishments. See http://www.livestrong.com/article/539417-how-does-hot-sauce-affect-toddlers/

Some parents use hot sauce as a form of discipline, but most child safety and psychology experts consider this a dangerous form of abuse. Psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff advises that physical punishment has severe negative effects on children and is largely ineffective. Pediatrician William Sears advises using a combination of natural consequences, time-outs and reward-based methods instead. Toddlers are developmentally unable to understand concepts like right and wrong, and don't typically understand punishments, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • 4
    Spanking is just as bad as hot saucing or soaping because there is still does not explain to the child why they are being punished. You say that it is only appropriate when a child is small, which makes no sense. How could a small child benefit from being hit? Spanking, like hot saucing and soaping, will breed fear. That is not the goal when punishing a child.
    – Christine
    Oct 2, 2011 at 15:18
  • 5
    usually physical punishments are at the end of a series of escalations in lesser forms of punishment -- a stern talking to, removing something the child likes, etc etc. Presumably the reasons were discussed as part of the earlier, lesser punishments. Oct 2, 2011 at 15:47
  • To add to Jeff's comment, a spanking is just plain violence if it is without clear rules leading up to the spanking or clear explanation of consequence after the spanking. A spanking should not be about the spanking, it should be about how the kid's actions fit within the context of rules and consequences.
    – monsto
    Oct 2, 2011 at 17:15
  • +1 for your last paragraph about hot-saucing being on the cruel and unusual end. I wish you'd avoided mention of spanking though.
    – DanBeale
    Oct 3, 2011 at 11:22
  • 3
    I think spanking can be appropriate in certain situations. The only one I can think of is where despite being told not to run out into the road a child does so and luckily isn't killed by a car. A sharp reminder here followed by "if a car hits you it will hurt MUCH more than that" proved effective used once with each of my eldest two. My youngest has much more sense - after seeing it happen to the others she waits and holds my hand to cross. Smart girl:-)
    – Rory Alsop
    Oct 5, 2011 at 11:44

Using physical discipline for negative reinforcement is, in my book, bad parenting, and this is what "hot saucing" amounts to. Not to mention, it is cruel. Imagine if I told you about a husband who did this to his wife - that if she said something he disapproved of he held open her mouth and put a drop or two of hot sauce on her tongue - what would be your reaction then? I know that children are not adults, but they are human beings and as human beings they deserve to be treated fairly and humanely.

Given a child swearing, say, I think a much better approach would be to:

  1. Calmly explain to the child that the word they used is an impolite word and should not be spoken, that saying that word makes other people upset and uncomfortable.

  2. If the child continues to use the swear word, explain that there are consequences for using such language. Use your judgment here, but maybe explain that if the child swears he cannot play with his favorite toy or he has to go to bed early, etc.

  3. If the child swears again make sure to follow through with the consequences laid out. If the consequences don't seem to deter the child, try new ones until you find ones that work.

Using the above accomplishes the ultimate goal - teaching the child that swearing is inappropriate and that there are consequences for inappropriate behavior - while maintaining his dignity and his human rights.

  • 3
    +1. To answer your question, if I hot sauce my wife, I will lose a limb: if I am lucky. You make a very pertinent point, punishing young ones, because one can, is bad. Thanks! Nov 11, 2011 at 15:31

From a psychological perspective, use of punishment is, in most instances, less successful than use of reward to shape a behaviour. However, punishment is often misused by parents. We know that many are too rough, but the reason why we have so many parents frazzled by undisciplined children is that most of us are not using strong enough punishment. It is hard to use strong positive punishments (punishing by adding something, like pain for example), like corporal punishment, in the intensity (or in a timeframe that is close, or contingent, enough) necessary. Negative punishment (punishment by taking something away) can be more effective, and is easier to administer. Take away his freedoms, his toys. You will still need to be careful to administer punishment in the correct intensity. For example, negative punishment for speeding (fines) is not a strong enough punishment or deterrent to be effective. If a 3 year jail sentence was handed out for exceeding 5km/h above the limit (obviously excessive), I don't think it would be a problem.

In the case of hot saucing, it is a positive punishment intended to cause pain, and can be treated like other corporal punishments. That is, I wouldn't recommend it, unless you have a very high degree of expertise in behavioural shaping. In my opinion, though, it is still a notch above spanking/hitting, as there is no potential for real physical harm. Sticking to rewards and strong enough (salient) negative punishment, reserving positive punishments for few, occasional cases. Keep in mind that positive punishment does not necessarily mean corporal punishment.


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