Spanking, Effects on the Child


By Ron Hindbaugh M.A.


In last week’s article it was stated that spanking is a technique used by many parents to teach their children. What parents teach by spanking is not always what the parent intended to teach. Because, in reality, spanking is a method of intimidation used to punish or hurt the child so that the child will submit to the will of the parent.

Even though parents intuitively feel bad about hurting their child, spanking continues to be used because of the frustration parents feel when children do not obey. Parents use spanking because they feel that it teaches children to mind, obey, live by standards, and thus to be accountable for their behavior. Parents use spanking because they want quick fixes to child behavior problems.

But in reality, children do not change because of what parent's do but rather they change based on how they perceive what parents do. Children change because they decide to change. Spanking is a method that controls from the outside in. It does not help a child develop permanent internal principles that will guide them as they grow into a responsible adult

Let’s look at what spanking really is. Spanking is a method used by parents to inflict pain on a child. Spanking can be put in the same category as hair pulling and pinching.  Other names for spanking are "hitting" and "slapping." Spanking affects children in many ways.  First of all, spanking sets a bad example. Children model the adults in their environment. The message we give our children when we spank them is that if you are bigger you can hurt those who are smaller.

Spanking is a form of violence. An interesting phrase that some parents use is, "Do you want a spanking?" The same thing could be said in another way. "Do you want me to get violent with you?" “Do you want me to give you some pain?”

Spanking can become habit forming. Many times parents will hit a small child on the hand before they have even thought about what they are doing. When this is the case, spanking has become so accepted and common to the parent that they do not even think of other things to do to help the child. The child also begins to look for the "slap" on the hand. This is the child's signal from the outside that something is wrong. The child learns that they can do whatever they want until they feel the pain of the slap.

Spanking children perpetuates an unfair double standard. The law protects adults from hitting. Hitting an adult is not only wrong but it is illegal. If you were walking down the street and someone hit you, you would have solid grounds for an assault-and-battery charge. If a parent hits their own child, most people would not recognize this as equal cause for a lawsuit.

Spanking promotes a poor self-image. A child who is hit intuitively knows that their parent does not trust them to learn from their mistakes. The child interprets the use of "external force" to "make" them do the "right thing" as meaning that the parent has little or no faith in their capacity to make the right choice.  When a child feels that their parent (the individual who should trust them the most) has to "force" them to do the right thing they start to think that maybe their parent is right. Maybe they can't do things right.

Children who hit grow up to be parents that hit. We parent our children in the manner that we were parented. Many children who are spanked say to themselves, "I will never hit my children when I grow up." They are later surprised to discover that they are hurting their children just like they were hurt. It is felt that this pattern continues, not because it this is what the person wants to do, but because they never learned what to do instead.

The bottom line is that most parents feel that when a child does something wrong, unwise, stupid, or selfish punishment (hitting) is necessary. The child, in this conceptualization, has become a criminal because of their behavior and must be “purified” by the inflictions of pain and/or punishment. The parent becomes the judge and jury as well as the person who inflicts the punishment or pain.

If a parent can give up the role of judge and jury and see himself or herself as a coach or cheerleader, hitting becomes unnecessary. The parent starts enjoying the process of helping the child grow up. The issue becomes one of instructing or helping. The parent now struggles with how to help the child figure out what needs to be done in each situation. The issue, for the parent, is how to provide real life consequences, how to impose the rules, how to be consistent, and how to hold the child accountable. The child may still have to suffer because that is how growth occurs. Suffering because of misbehavior or unwise decisions with a concerned and loving parent by your side is more likely to be an impetus to change then suffering inflicted by a hit from the parent. Logically, a parent should have faith in their own flesh and blood, recognizing that, in time, the child will learn how to approach life’s problems in a consistent, wise, and caring manner. As the child grows, the parent’s role must be one of support and love, implementing the rules of appropriate conduct in a firm, wise, and consistent manner.

Next week we will discuss what to do instead of spanking. We will talk about how to help a child gain the inner control needed to make wise decisions as they progress through this life.