The Discipline Question

I’ve been thinking a lot about a truism. Every parent knows, in their head anyway, that kids learn by modeling them. We hear our kids use the same words and phrases we use. We see them make the same gestures we make. We watch, sometimes in horror, as they react to someone in a similar way that we might. Kids model adults. This isn’t news.

But, one thing I want to add to that truism is that kids don’t just model how we treat other people, but also how we treat them. If you want your child to learn respect, respect him. If you want her to be truthful, don’t lie to her. If you want him to be peaceful, don’t hit him.

I gather I may have lost a few people on that last one. Yes, I’m talking about spanking. My son, Little W, is 13 months old.  I don’t know many parents who would spank a 13-month old. But, he’s nearing that age where we will need to decide how we’re going to discipline.  My husband and I are working through our thoughts on this. This post represents my current feelings on the subject. We were both raised with spanking in our lives, and have, mostly, turned out okay. Most of our friends spank their children and I respect their decision. I do believe that it can be used judiciously and thoughtfully. But, I also believe even the most loving spank sends mixed messages.

To me, spanking is the ultimate “do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do” form of discipline. We don’t want our children to hit, yet we smack their behinds. It’s confusing and it shouldn’t be too surprising to see them model that behavior by spanking their baby dolls, little siblings and peers.  

It’s also a meaningless gesture. A spank isn’t a logical consequence to an inappropriate action. It’s disconnected from the offense and makes little sense to our kids. If you’ve ever heard, “This hurts me more than it hurts you,” you have to understand how non-sensical that is. As a child, that was a preposterous statement. I saw my parent hitting me – if it hurt them so badly, why didn’t they stop?

My one experience with anything close to physical punishment toward my son drove these points home. When Little W was a few months younger, I found myself having to corral his little hands. They grabbed everything in sight and were magnetically drawn toward electrical cords and toilet bowls. Advice from friends was to flick or smack his hand and sharply say, “No.”

I tried this. Once. You know what he did? He hit my hand right back.

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9 Comments on "The Discipline Question"

  1. Sheri
    11/05/2010 at 1:39 pm Permalink

    This is a very heady topic…one that will invite as much controversy as the unschooling debate.

    Many people believe that the occasional slap on the wrist (or bottom) serves to deter a child from an inappropriate action. That may be the case…in very rare instances.

    For example, your toddler reaches for a hot element on the stove and the only way to keep them burning themselves is to slap their hand away. This I would deem as an appropriate action because I would do the same to any adult who was doing the same thing.

    “No, don’t touch that, it’s hot.”

    But in general, I don’t think that hitting children as a disciplinary measure works in the long run.

    In the short term it might teach your child to be afraid of the consequences of making mistakes. It will definitely teach your kids to be afraid of trying something new and it will for sure keep them from exploring their environments for fear of physical reprisal.

    True discipline is set by example, verbal correction and unconditional love. In my opinion, there is no room for corporal punishment if you want to raise secure, happy and compassionate people.

    JMO. 🙂

  2. Cassi
    11/05/2010 at 4:26 pm Permalink

    Thanks, Sheri. I know this is a hot-button topic and one that many parents feel strongly about one way or another. But, I have to hope that even parents who believe in spanking feel conflicted about it. Just my gut reaction is, “No, I don’t want to physically discipline my kids.” I just don’t like the thought of purposefully hurting them.

    I agree with your example, and I have used a little “get his attention” slap for safety issues. But, I have also simply pulled his hand away, removed him from the situation and say, “Ouch! Don’t touch!” This seems to be just as, or perhaps more, effective than a slap.

    I do plan a follow up post on my thoughts about “Well, then, what are we supposed to do?” I, of course, am no expert and I have only my experiences and philosophies. But, I do think it’s a topic that all parents need to challenge themselves on. How we discipline is one of those things that will shape our kids’ childhoods and how they view living in our home.


  3. Neely
    16/05/2010 at 5:13 pm Permalink

    I don’t believe in spanking. I have slipped and done it before. The look of hurt on their face stops me in my tracks. It was definitely my fault that I spanked. I was tired and overwhelmed. Instead of letting my feelings escalate I should have stood back and took a deep breath.
    Some people think that by spanking their children they are teaching them right from wrong. My children understand right from wrong and are well rounded children with out the spanking. It is all in how you speak with them, respect them and love them unconditionally.
    Some wonderful books are Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Khon and Playful Parenting by … I can’t remember who this is by. 🙂
    It sounds like you really take the time out to see what is best for your children. Good for you! 🙂

  4. Cassi
    16/05/2010 at 8:40 pm Permalink


    Thanks for the book recommendations. I know the “accidental” spanking situation. You don’t know what else to do and you react. We’re all human and I have done it too. I certainly think that an apology goes a long way with kids and learning that next time you might all need a cool down period. I’m even trying to remember that when arguing with my husband – 10 or 20 minutes of alone time works wonders for our relationship. And, it works for parents and kids too.


  5. Red
    21/05/2010 at 8:42 pm Permalink

    Spanking is assault, straight up. Good intentions doesn’t change that.

    You shouldn’t respect peoples choices to hit their kids. Respect the young people, not their oppressive parents.

    As for the argument that its necessary to teach them things, this is just plain laziness – there are plenty of better ways.

  6. Cassi
    21/05/2010 at 8:55 pm Permalink

    Hi, Red–

    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your points, but the people I know who spank don’t “assault” their kids. I know there are some parents who really hurt their children, and I don’t condone that one bit. But, my friends who spank usually just cause a little sting. Except for the one time when I remember my mom spanking me in anger, I never felt “assaulted” by her or my dad. I’m certainly not going to use it myself and I agree that there are far better ways to teach that things are dangerous. But, I won’t accuse my friends of child abuse because they choose to spank their children. That’s reactionary and not helpful at all.

    We all make a myriad of parenting decisions every day, and we believe that our decisions are the best for our kids. And, even though I disagree with my friends who spank, I do respect the fact that they are parenting to the best of their abilities and are making the decision that they truly believe is the best for their children. Once I start accusing them of assaulting their kids by spanking them, what’s to stop them from telling me that I’m abusing my child by not putting him in school? We’re all just doing our best at raising our kids.


  7. TSN84
    30/05/2010 at 2:13 am Permalink

    Hi I just stumbled upon your blog, and I have to agree prior to becoming a parent I believed that there was truly nothing wrong with spanking I had been spanked and turned out fine. But now I find many people use that “I turned out fine” line for a lot of things that we simply would not do anymore because of our new understandings in areas such as safety, and health (mind and body).
    I often use the example that when my sister was brought home from the hospital they didn’t even use carseats. Sure she turned out fine but would anyone in there right mind bring thier newborn home without one these days?

    I did recently read a good book about stimulating babies and toddlers I believe it was ‘Smart Baby, Clever Child’ though I could be mistaken which had some interesting articles that discussed discipline. It had some interesting examples on how in a lot of situations it’s better to use it as a teachable moment, then to try and discipine.

  8. dani
    21/02/2011 at 2:59 am Permalink

    Hi, I live in Switzerland and I don’t know any parents that would advocate smacking their kids. It sometimes happens, in moments of stress or frustration, that a parent might smack her childs bottom or hand, but then it’s clear that the parent was out of control and made a mistake, as the child will only feel hurt and insecure and would learn that violence is acceptable.
    It is definitely advised against by child experts here.


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