You shouldn't spank your kids for several reasons, and not just because you don't want to end up on the six o'clock news for being caught on your local discount store's security tapes. Spanking isn't really an effective parenting tool, and even when it does work, it's probably not for the right reasons.
Framing the issue
"It's hard to discuss [spanking] in a way that doesn't reinforce the polarization among the groups," notes Joshua Sparrow, M.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and co-author of Touchpoints. "There is spanking out of anger and there is spanking as a means of corporal punishment -- the child knows the rules, knows they've broken the rules, and is old enough to understand." Dr. Sparrow also notes that he doesn't intend to imply that he's in favor of spanking, but rather that the issue needs proper framing.
However, Katie Prigel Sharp, LMSW, social worker and co-owner of Heart of the Matter Seminars, says that she finds spanking a little more troublesome when it's planned carefully vs. (rarely) done as a reaction -- a light swat to your toddler's diapered bottom, for example.
Prigel Sharp, who clearly states that spanking should not be in one's box of parenting tools, says that infrequently spanking as a reaction often does work. "It's a shock," she explains. "It sends the message to the child that they crossed the line…and in a big way!" However, there are other ways to send that message, ways that don't involve physical punishment, and those methods are preferable.
As noted above, when parents don't spank often, spanking can "shock" the child into behaving appropriately. And, as Prigel Sharp says, that can be accomplished in other ways. As for parents who spank regularly and as part of controlled -- versus reactionary -- discipline, she says they usually do so because they either don't know what else to do or they feel it's the best way to control the situation -- it puts the parent in a position of authority and the child in a position of compliance.
Is spanking effective?
Sure, spanking might stop or curb an unwanted behavior, but consider the reason. Your child isn't going to engage in a behavior because she doesn't want to be hit. Call it what you want, but spanking involves hitting.
As a parent, you ultimately want your child to make decisions and exercise self control, not just behave because she's afraid or worried. "Good discipline creates a child who is intrinsically motivated to do the right thing versus a child who is motivated extrinsically -- a child who wants to do the right thing versus a child who is afraid not to do the right thing. The more you can parent in a way that will help teach a child as opposed to punish him, the more you have a child who is motivated intrinsically," explains Prigel Sharp.
The bottom line
For everyone who says, "Well, my parents spanked me and I turned out just fine," you're probably correct. Our moms and dads made parenting decisions that we now know weren't the best, and it will be the same with our children. However, there's no reason not to continually improve as parents and to use our knowledge and awareness to better our skills. If you're unsure of how to replace spanking with a better discipline technique, ask your pediatrician for advice, or read up on the issue. There are plenty of actions you can take to enforce discipline that don't involve getting so physical.
How do you feel about spanking? Share your parenting philosophy in the comments section below.