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

  • Question - should this question (these types of questions) be closed? Is this an important discussion to bring to meta? Commented Apr 2, 2011 at 23:08
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    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
    Commented Apr 3, 2011 at 5:28
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    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.
    – JLZenor
    Commented Apr 3, 2011 at 19:23
  • @Orbit: I'd give this question a +1 if you rephrased it so it doesn't assume that is is appropriate. as it is now it assumes that it is, at least sometimes. Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:26
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    I suggest you rephrase the question to say "spanking". "Striking" a child implies anger and lack of thought, which in my opinion is absolutely wrong.
    – nGinius
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 23:47

16 Answers 16


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.


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)

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Commented May 9, 2022 at 13:07

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
    Commented Apr 4, 2011 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. Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 8:08

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.


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. :) Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 7:50
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    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
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 14:45

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.

  • 18
    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. :-) Commented Apr 4, 2011 at 12:35
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    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. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias
    – philosodad
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 21:23
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    -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... Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 8:00
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    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. Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 16:26
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    -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.
    – user420
    Commented May 24, 2011 at 16:39

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?" Commented Nov 15, 2012 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
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 2:19
  • If you are going to downvote, at least offer a comment. This is a contentious issue. Contribute to the discussion.
    – nGinius
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 21:26
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    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
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 13:45
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    cold showers wtf?
    – DanBeale
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 21:22

As many have said scientific evidence shows corpal punishment is not the best form of punishment. I want to second that, but at the same time I feel the need to play devil advocate and be fair to spanking even as I recommend against it. It's never the best option, but we should not vilify it or people that utilize it either.

As others have mentioned spanking can lead to aggression in children, though I think this particular negative tends to be overly exaggerated. Studies show increased-aggression linked with spanking, it is a real thing to be aware of, but studies don't show it being as significant as many anti-spanking crusaders often imply. It's still a negative to be avoided, but it doesn't make all spanked children physically abusive or lead to their starting fights, the increased aggression linked to spanking is still small compared to much larger factors like a child's genetic predisposition, and parental modeling of acceptable behaviors.

Spanking also can be misused. Studies show a parent is more likely to spank out of anger, and that this can be a subtle effect even good parents can experience. even a loving parent may still be subconsciously more prone to spanking harder then usual or being quicker to resort to a spanking in a situation where it's unclear rather a punishment is warranted if angered, due to the catharsis factor the parent gets from spanking the child. Being careful to never spank when angry prevents much of this, but spanking is still more prone to being used incorrectly for subtle subconscious reasons that one can never 100% prevent and thus it's better to avoid it if another alternative exists.

However I believe good parents utilizing otherwise good parenting techniques could significantly decrease the effect of both of the above factors . The bigger problem with spanking, is that spanking has been shown to be a less effective form of behavior modification then methods like time-outs. Spanking is in some ways too fast a punishment, being over almost as soon as it's started. It doesn't give the child enough time to reflect on the cause and effect of the punishment and fully learn the lesson the punishment is trying to instill. Studies show younger children are less able to express the cause of their punishment when asked afterwards when spankings are used instead of time-out. Even when children do understand the reason for the punishment spanking is over so quickly that the child doesn't have time to be dwell on the negative outcome of their misbehavior they way they due during a longer time-out, and it's that time spent regretting an action due to having to deal with the punishment that really affects the likelihood of the child learning their lesson. A smaller punishment over a longer length of time will 'stick' far better then quick punishments like spankings.

Since the original question asked when 'physical' punishment was required, not just striking, I'll also mention that sometimes other forms of punishment do require a physical aspect. When a child is getting their first time-out the parent will likely have to physically put them in time out and keep them there with force, until the child understands what time out is and that they need to obey it. One could argue all early punishments are partially about teaching a young child that they need to abide by their punishment, even if they don't want to, because you're able to physically force them to if they don't. Eventually the child learns this and abides by punishments without being physically compelled, but it all starts by being physically forced to obey. The key difference though is that the force isn't being used to hurt the child, just to compel them to abide by the punishment when they don't want to, with no more force then necessary used.

I would also like to mention real fast that behavior modification doesn't have to be limited to punishment, and shouldn't be! Positive reinforcement of behaviors you like is just as important, if not more so, then punishing bad behaviors. While punishment is needed at times and should be used a parent should look for opportunities to use positive reinforcement to encourage a child to do something rather then punishing the child for not doing it. I focused only on punishment above, but I just wanted to stress that it should never be used as the sole means of teaching a child.

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    I think you made a fair argument but suggest you reformat. Long paragraphs are harder to read. I really liked your last paragraph.
    – WRX
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 16:12
  • @Willow I fully agree it needs reformated. I also have a known incurable inability to be brief and concise. It clearly needs it, but I'm incapable of doing it even knowing that, any time I try to shorten my answers I end up wanting to add something else and make them just as long or longer. I have a problem I know. I'd go get help at some rambler's anonymous meeting, but all the advice would take a day for them to finish explaining ;) Anyone's welcome to try to trim the answer up if their daring enough to try lol
    – dsollen
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 16:17

I want to focus on the term 'punishment'. In a simple view it's a form of payment. E.g. If you steal a car you will pay up with a year of prison. If you look in a lawbook the 'payments' for some deeds are listed. And after your time in prison you are (theoretically) treated like a person who has never committed a crime.

In some countries there are also physical punishments, e.g. whippings.

Let's assume that all these punishments are successful. (a very wrong hypothesis, but that's another discussion)

The next question is who is punishing. This is in all cases a neutral institution - mostly the state. Even in communities where the victim may do harm it suffered to the offender, the victim is a controlled executioner.

A neutral instance is believed to be objective. The offender attacked a person not the state. He cannot take revenge against a state.

Are you such a neutral instance for a child?

Your child made a dent in the neighbors car. It was told not to play near the car over and over again. You pay your neighbor and tell your child that it gets spanked for the financial loss of the family?

Sounds awkward?

It is! Because your not neutral anymore. You became a victim of your child because you have to pay. And a punishment is dependent of your anger and not of the crime.

The lesson learned for the child: If your are angry with someone just beat him up.

Try to get a neutral person or think as one. A change in behavior needs an intelligent approach. Let him wash the car with the neighbor and learn why this car is so valuable for him. Let the child figure out what changes can be made and get creative.

And you will find out soon that this is a longer but a more effective approach.

(Footnote: I'm not a native english speaker, so some words might sound a bit harsh in the context (e.g. executioner) but I didn't find smoother ones)


I'd have to ask the following -

What does striking a child accomplish that other parental means of discipline can't/won't?

Does the failure of other methods represent a problem that must be addressed by physical violence from an adult to a child? Or does it represent a failure by the parent to apply appropriate techniques, or perhaps represent a loss of emotional control by the parent?

I never struck my children. I was a strict parent with consistent firm rules and lines between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. The claim that striking and strictness are somehow linked is a fallacy, in my opinion.

I also explained the reasons for the rules, at appropriate times, to the best of my ability, even if they couldn't grasp all of the concepts. It helped them to understand why, which made compliance with the consistent rules easier to understand, grasp and to follow for them. If I didn't have a reason for my rules that I could articulate, then I would question whether it was a necessary one.


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
    Commented Jun 17, 2014 at 14:48
  • This is exactly the advice our Pediatrician gave us. Commented May 23, 2017 at 14:19

Punishment, physical or otherwise, is ineffective in behavior control.

There is copious research in operant conditioning demonstrating that positive reinforcement schedules are really the best way to shape and maintain a behavior you want. Punishment is effective in quickly stopping an unwanted behavior but ultimately it does nothing to make that behavior less likely in the future.

I recommend you read the short and enjoyable book Don't shoot the dog by Karen Pryor (not just about dogs!). There is a section on training and reinforcing behaviors that are incompatible with the one that is unwanted.


Note that in currently 55 countries, physical punishment is illegal, sometimes even banned on the constitutional level (eg. in Austria). Depending on the specific laws and the gravity of the physical punishment, it may constitute child abuse and lead to intervention by the relevant authorities. In severe cases this can include removing the right of custody.

To the extent that legality is a necessary condition of appropriateness, physical punishment is never appropriate at least in these countries.

Article 19 of the United Nations Children's Rights convention obliges its signatories to adopt legislation protecting children from all forms of physical and mental violence.

According to the world health organization, corporeal punishment overlaps with child abuse.

  • i think most if not all of this answer has already been given. Commented May 28, 2017 at 16:09
  • @anongoodnurse I must have overlooked the answer that talked about the legality of physical punishment then. Commented May 28, 2017 at 16:42
  • Having looked over each answer again, I still can't find it. I'm leaving my answer in place, since I believe it's important to consider whether you're breaking the law, if you want to know if your actions are appropriate. Moreover, even without substantive arguments pro/against physical punishment, a look at the law is a good heuristic for what's generally considered appropriate around the world. Commented May 28, 2017 at 17:09
  • The advice is not only in one answer. However, as you have provided sources and expanded a bit, it is considerably better. Thanks and +1. Commented May 28, 2017 at 20:16

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.


The asker is probably interested in certain corner cases. Note that many countries ban physical punishment, there are statistical research, which advocates, that such punishment is ineffective (in long term parenting)

However, there's a feeling of inconsistency here. Physiologically "the pain" is quite good "short term" teacher. If You never seen a fire, and You put a hand couple of timer in it - You will feel a strong desire to avoid it very soon. This method of "teaching" works with mice, dogs, etc. and it actually works with humans. Humans, however, have more sophisticated ways of thinking, which results in many undesirable side-effects. Eg. You have a 1 year old kid, and You have certain unavoidable danger in Your environment (let's say a dangerous electricity socket, which for some reason cannot be changed to a safe one). Whenever kid moves his arm toward the socket, You immediately cause pain to him. This creates strong relationship in his neural network: "the socket" --> "the pain". That's nice, isn't it? Not exactly. In future this could cause strange side-effects, "socket-phobia" or something more bizarre (however, it will not necessarily do so - humans are quite adaptive). See the point? The kid might suffer problems in future, but at least he would stay alive to live to that future. In a modern (non 3rd) world it's a rare case. Well, in Africa some parents beat small kids for getting near to certain insects or plants. Bad guys? Or just poor?

Another story isn't mine. A guy read lot's of books about psychology - striking a kid was always a taboo for him. He had 4 kids, and there was a peculiar problem with 3rd one. The boy liked to play with his poo. He creased it, then smudged it around on walls and curtains. The guy tried lots of things without success, he was cunning, he persuaded and even threatened, he read every parenting book he had, but such a case was mentioned nowhere. Meanwhile his life was literally getting stinkier and stinkier. After lots of unsuccessful attempts he finally tried to beat the kid, after he touched the poo. After 3rd beat the kid never touched the poo again. Well, we don't know, maybe he didn't try some unknown method, that would actually work, or if the kid failed to become a normal person. Some say, that exceptions only confirm the rule.

Also, in sports or similar activities You have to suffer pain sometimes, to achieve certain results. However, the sports-kid causes this pain himself (although he is told to do so). That's quite different. The pain is not a punishment here, but an obstacle to overcome.

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