My Struggle with Spanking

I was spanked as a child. It was infrequent and it was tame by most standards — I was only struck by a hand — but the episodes left an impression and it’s part of the reason why I have such a difficult time imagining ever spanking my toddler.

Don’t be fooled — there are moments when I believe he deserves a spanking. In fact, I wonder in those moments whether a spanking would benefit him. And that is the center of my conflict.

For instance, after being placed in time out the other day for throwing toys and general malevolent behavior, my 3-year-old ran to his room, slammed the door and urinated all over the floor. After running out, he pushed his 1-year-old brother to the ground. My wife and I looked at each other, trying to decide what punishment was commensurate with this crime.

To spank or not to spank? Does a stern talking-to equal a good swat on the behind? Do I need to send a message to the boy in order to protect our younger child so toddler doesn’t lay hands on him again? I tried to weigh all those questions in a matter of seconds.

Ultimately, I opted to keep my hands off. In practice, I do not solve my problems in life through violence or threats or fear. It’s not in my nature. The last thing I want to do is teach my children that putting our hands on another person is a way to enforce our will or force someone to bend to our rules. But I’m still confronted by the thought that does a spanking — in limited use — send a message that words do not? And does certain behavior demand a more serious response than a time-out or having toys taken away?

I’ve discussed this with several parents over the past few weeks and some have mentioned that children should have a healthy fear of their parents. I did. I always knew that my father loved me but it took awhile for me to develop a certain closeness with him. It wasn’t until we drove the northeast looking at colleges during my junior and senior years of high school that I felt we were becoming friends. We talked, shared stories and reached a level of ease with each other that persists to this day. At 40, I don’t make a significant life decision without seeking his counsel. He’s one of my best friends.

But for the longest time I had a healthy fear of my dad and in my heart, I wonder if the brief but memorable spankings contributed to my sense of fear. I want to avoid that with my own children. It’s a fine line, I’ll admit. This is not about me wanting to be my son’s friend or convince him to like me. I punish him. I discipline him. I’m not a pushover. But I’m having an internal debate — as toddler enters the Terrible Three’s — over whether a well-timed spanking is not only deserved but necessary.

What are your thoughts?


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  1. mlegreenberg says:

    I too have struggled with this. My parents spanked either with hand or sometimes a wooden spoon. Never hard enough to bruise or mame in any way but you can be damn sure I never commited that offense again. It was also always when I had done something huge that I knew was not okay…never a surprise, always deserved. They also were in control at the time too, never taking it to far. My main concern is if I could use the same restraint or would I just lose it and hit too hard. While I don’t think I have suffered any harm from their spanking, I have waffled alot on if I will spank or not. Now that my oldest has just turned 3 I feel I am running out of time. Fortunately he has not yet done anything bad enough to warrent a major punishment but I need to know what I will do before it happens. One thing someone said in a discussion on this topic that has really stuck with me though is this: “if your husband hit you for making a mistake would that be okay?” That blew my mind a little bit because NO that would be THE END and essentially toddlers are figuring out their worlds and how to exist in it and they will make mistakes as part of that learning process. When I think about it in the absence of frustration and anger I land on No, I will not spank. But if (more like when) my kid does something like you describe here I have no clue what to do to convey in strong terms how unacceptable that behavior is. At the same time that points out that spanking would, for me, be a response born out of frustration and anger and it again seems inappropriate. Its definately a sticky issue and I look forward to reading other responses.

    • happiestdaddy says:

      Thanks for your response. This part really hit me:

      “essentially toddlers are figuring out their worlds and how to exist in it and they will make mistakes as part of that learning process.”

      There brains are not fully formed so is it fair to spank when they may not understand the consequences of their actions?

      It is a tough topic and one that each parent has to weigh. I believe spanking — like anything — can be overdone and callous. It must be for a specific, reasonable purpose for a grievous mistake. The point of it is to teach a lesson.

      • mlegreenberg says:

        On the other hand though, is it sometimes more clear a message sent through a spanking rather than words which have to be processed and interpreted in a brain that is already overwhelmed and shorting out? I think I could argue either side of this equally 🙂

  2. I understand your point about spanking the kids but I also feel that spanking is a necessity. As a child I was spanked and not always with a hand, sometimes with the closest thing. I spank my 6 year old and when my 1 year old gets old enough he will be spanked also. I feel that it has worked for generations in the past and will continue to work as so. It hurts me as a parent to watch other people raise kids with no discipline.

    My girlfriend’s sister has 2 daughters, 4 year old and a 9 month old, along with a loving father. They don’t believe in raising a hand to their kids. That’s fine with me, that’s their choice as a parents. But when you see how their 4 year old acts and looks you start to question their parenting. She out weights my 6 year old by at least 25 lbs, she kicks and slaps her father for him saying no, and grabs food from the table and runs away with it to eat it. Her parents are constantly chasing her and telling her no but she still does it and doesn’t get punished for it. The most she gets is maybe a time out, and I do mean MAYBE.

    Maybe it’s just me but I believe giving her a spanking would show her that when someone says “no” they mean “no”. But like I said that’s just how I was raised. To respect what my parents said because they aren’t your friends they are your mom and dad.

    I write about my fatherhood tactics at feel free to check me out.

    • mlegreenberg says:

      I can totally see your point. I have encountered many kids that I thought could use a good spanking. Perhaps it also depends on the kid? Like maybe some kids can get it without the need for spanking whike others respond to time-outs snd the like?

      Someone also once said “how can you teach your kids ‘no hitting’ and then hit them- its confusing” but my parents spanked me and told me it was not okay to hit at the same time yet it was never confusing. Somehow I knew it was different. Or maybe I wasnt smart enough to put the two together – I guess it depends on how you look at it.

  3. aiden says:

    The contemporary view these days is that spanking is bad. This has almost extended to the idea that any physical injury is not just bad but terrible. So we get cotton wool kids because of this fear of physical pain.

    Somebody made this comment above
    “One thing someone said in a discussion on this topic that has really stuck with me though is this: “if your husband hit you for making a mistake would that be okay?” That blew my mind a little bit because NO that would be THE END …”

    Made me think.
    Why do we put people in jail for years and years and somehow think that is OK and yet at the same time no tolerance for physical punishment.

    I recall as a teenager getting in trouble at school. The very worst thing was detention. The cane was scary but it was over and done with. So in my view physical punishment is ok.

    Maybe for some criminals we should get the cane out. I am not talking here about murderers and rapists for which jail keeps them away from society. maybe first time drink drivers, fine defaulters, stealing.

  4. John says:

    Some people say spanking works. I say punching you in the face and taking from you your only sandwich because I am hungry, without giving a crap about your hunger works as well. (Animals do it too). But wouldn’t it be nicer, and more humane if I asked you to share your sandwich with me, because I was Hungry instead? I just don’t want to behave like an animal. Because I am not an animal. I am a human, and I love acting like one.

    -enough said.

    • Happiest Daddy says:

      Well said. It is interesting though that many of our children come hard-wired to react with selfishness, confrontation and even violence to accomplish their aims. Just like we have to train that behavior out of them, we need to train it out of ourselves before we spank or lay hands on our children.

  5. John says:

    I have mixed feelings about spanking because I was abused as a child. I still remember getting paddled in my underwear in front of the class, which was humiliating. But I got much worse at home. I was whipped naked with a horse whip all over, especially on my bare penis, which was agony. I’d never do that to my child, but I’m afraid I might if I were to start spanking. They say old habits are hard to break, but this is one that I’m not passing down to the next generation.

    • Happiest Daddy says:

      As you said, that is not mere spanking for punishment. That is sadistic abuse and I’m so sorry to hear that you endured something so horrific. It sounds like you emerged a stronger, more reasoned person because of it. It is a slippery slope from a spanking to a more insidious, cruel form of punishment.

This is what I think...