Corporal Punishment in the Home: Parenting Tool or Parenting Fail…

One of the most commonly practiced strategies used by parents to alter long term behavior of their children is corporal punishment, commonly referred to as spanking. But use of the term spanking is problematic in that how caregivers interpret it varies widely, and there is frequent overlap with what pediatricians consider to be abuse. Despite a great deal of evidence showing that spanking is ineffective, is a risk factor for greater forms of physical abuse and can negatively impact the behavioral and cognitive development of children in a variety of ways, it remains a controversial issue in the United States. The American Academy of Pediatrics and numerous other professional organizations have come down firmly against the use of physical punishment by parents, but unlike 34 other developed nations there are no federal laws banning spanking.

Laws regarding corporal punishment vary from state to state. 19 states currently allow the striking of a child in any school setting. Of the 31 states and the District of Columbia that ban the practice in public schools, only New Jersey and Iowa also include private schools. Many schools give the misbehaving child a choice between suspension and being beaten with a paddle. It is also common for schools to require a parent to opt out of their child receiving corporal punishment rather than having to sign a consent form before such physical correction is applied. Corporal punishment in schools is more prevalent in the South and in lower socioeconomic school districts, leading to poor black children being by far the most likely to face it.

Currently no state has a law that explicitly bans corporal punishment in the home. In fact, most state laws have specific language in their statutes on abuse, assault, battery, or domestic violence that make exceptions for spanking by a caregiver. In 2012, new child abuse legislation in Delaware made the news because it might possibly be interpreted as making spanking illegal. The law was put into place to serve as a means of improving the ability to protect children from physical abuse, but the language was vague. The lawmakers claim that it is not meant to interfere with parents who choose to use “reasonable force”, whatever that means, and do not cause injury.

There are many examples of folks being arrested for “spanking”, but these invariably involve the use of an instrument like a spoon or metal rod, or the use of excessive force that leaves long lasting marks or bruising. The use of the word “spanking” in these reports confuses the issue. I certainly wouldn’t call it that and it doesn’t fit the definition of spanking used by the AAP. I was unable to find a single case of a parent or caregiver being arrested for spanking as defined by “reasonable people”. Again, whatever that means.

I have always felt strongly that spanking children is a parenting technique that reflects more on the poor coping skills of the caregiver than on the behavior of the child. Spanking is a practice that appears to be carried from generation to generation primarily by anecdotal reports of success, cultural momentum and weak science. Odd, at least to me, is the fact that many parents who spank seem to proudly wear their own history of being spanked as some kind of a badge of honor. “Look at me. I was spanked and I turned out just fine!” The psychology of this makes sense to me though. I doubt many parents look at a newborn child and plan to make use of corporal punishment to mold them into an upstanding citizen. More likely they do so out of anger and frustration, and only then find the need to justify the act.

But in any one individual case, it very well may be true that an adult who was submitted to recurrent episodes of corporal punishment as a child has turned out just fine. Of course they would have almost certainly turned out just fine if they had never been spanked. They might have turned out better though. The evidence just doesn’t support the practice, and many children almost certainly do not turn out just fine. Some end up being more severely abused, many have long term difficulties and most grow up to use corporal punishment as a technique themselves.

Examples of spanking apologetics are everywhere online. What inspired me to finally cover this topic, something I’ve been toying with for months, was when an acquaintance on Facebook recently “liked” a meme which blames spanking for the “psychological condition known as ‘respect for others.'” But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Here is a terrible article giving 8 Reasons to Spank Your Kids. Here is one that explains Why Spanking is Necessary that is based on the Biblical principle that young children must be absolved of their guilt through physical punishment as an act of love. If you aren’t scared already, this is the very same concept put forth in the infamous To Train Up a Child book which has led to several deaths. Religiously-motivated pro-spanking websites are extremely common.

In 2010 a study, that supposedly showing that children who were spanked grew up happier and more successful, made the rounds (1, 2, 3). There are countless links to these press releases and news reports on parenting boards and blogs attempting to endorse or justify spanking. All leave out important facts, such as how the study was a small and unpublished outlier. But if you google “benefits of spanking”, this is pretty much the only “science” you’ll find.

what is corporal punishment and when is it physical abuse?

Simply put, corporal punishment is the use of physical pain in response to behavior that has been deemed inappropriate. As with many behaviors, there is a spectrum of severity. Anything from a light slap on the back of the hand to holding your child’s foot in scalding water is technically corporal punishment. One end of this spectrum is clearly accepted as physical abuse by rational people while much of the rest of it is not, which is a big part of what makes this such a touchy subject.

Many parents who use one form of corporal punishment would take offense at the notion of being put in the same category as other parents who use a different form of corporal punishment. Not everyone agrees on where the line between acceptable physical punishment and abuse, or even between what are appropriate and inappropriate non-abusive techniques, should be placed. The AAP defines spanking as “striking a child with an open hand on the buttocks or extremities with the intention of modifying behavior without causing physical injury.” They differentiate spanking from other forms of physical punishment that incorporate the use of an object, target other areas of the body, leave bruises or red marks that persist more than a few minutes, or involve pulling the hair or jerking the child by an extremity.

The AAP lumps physical punishment doled out while angry, or with the intent to cause pain, with these and states that they are all unacceptable and should never be used. But how does one spank without the intent to cause pain? And available research doesn’t support that corporal punishment is able to be planned or initiated when the caregiver is calm, which is integral to the recommendations of most pro-spanking resources. In one survey, 85% of respondents “felt moderate to high anger, remorse, and agitation while punishing their children” with 44% reporting that more than half of the time they had “lost it.” This makes sense to me because it fits with how most episodes of more severe physical abuse occur when a parent or caregiver snaps. I imagine that few people in jail for hurting a child thought it was something that they were capable of before the event.

We are still left with the question of what is child abuse, or at least how do we differentiate it from spanking or other forms of less severe corporal punishment. When an angry parent uses a belt to slap a child on the buttock, are they committing child abuse or just using an inappropriate form of spanking? Unfortunately, many still find this completely acceptable. What if the belt leaves a bruise that lasts for a few days? What if a plastic pipe is used? What if they do this repeatedly over the child’s first few years of life? What if it is a 4-month-old? When should child protective services be notified? These can be tough questions. I know how I feel but am not always comfortable in my role as arbiter. I am considerably more comfortable when it comes to the discussion of effectiveness and risk of spanking.

The AAP, in their policy statement on the evaluation of suspected physical abuse, recognizes this problem:

The recognition and reporting of physical abuse is hindered by the lack of uniform or clear definitions. Many state statutes use words such as “risk of harm,” “substantial harm,” “substantial risk,” or “reasonable discipline” without further clarification of these terms. Many states still permit the use of corporal punishment with an instrument in schools; on the other hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics has proposed that “striking a child with an object” is a type of physical punishment that “should never be used” and has recommended that corporal punishment be abolished in schools. The variability and disparities in definitions may hinder consistent reporting practices.

I believe that this puts it lightly. And they don’t say that “should never be used” equates to child abuse or that use of an object should be illegal. I have little doubt that there are many children out there who are disciplined in ways that should probably be categorized as abuse but are not. I believe that many pediatricians and other pediatric healthcare professionals employ compartmentalization when it comes to acceptable corporal punishment versus physical abuse, and rationalize the probable abuse as a parental right. Many of us are likely hindered by a general discomfort telling parents how to raise their children. But more on what pediatricians think about corporal punishment later.

Who uses corporal punishment and who is on the receiving end?

Spanking is extremely common. I found a number of sources (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) with slightly different statistics but all make it clear how prevalent corporal punishment in the home is. Data from the 1970’s revealed that more than 90% of families in the United States used corporal punishment in the home at least once. More recent data supports the continued high prevalence, with roughly 80% of young children and more than half of kids through age 13-14 years being disciplined by a caregiver with physical punishment several times each year.

There are many socioeconomic and cultural factors which increase the likelihood that corporal punishment will be used by caregivers, and that it will be used more frequently. Spanking is more common with boys and tends to be harsher. Use increases as family income decreases, and black children are much more likely to be spanked than white kids. Parents who were spanked are also more likely to spank their own children, as are caregivers who are more stressed in general.

Although corporal punishment is most widespread in low socioeconomic households, a 1996 survey revealed just how common, and how severe, it can be in middle class families. 25% of participants acknowledged weekly use and 35% admitted to occasionally using an object. An object was used half of the time in 17%. 12% of the occurrences of corporal punishment were felt to have caused considerable pain with 5% leaving lasting marks on the child’s body.

Spanking is most commonly used to discipline preschool and school-aged children, but sadly about 15% of children under the age of 1 year are spanked. This number is considerably higher in poor families, with about a third of infants being hit. Women who experienced physical or sexual abuse, or were exposed to violence in the home, are much more likely to practice infant spanking and to have a positive view of corporal punishment in general. Children this young, and often even older kids, do not understand the connection between the physical punishment and the undesired behaviors, and even the vast majority of spanking proponents do not recommend it in babies.

What about the evidence? What is so bad about spanking?

I’d love to make this section very short to save time as I sit in our neighborhood library during my first blizzard and a rapidly approaching subzero wind chill. The default after all should be that nobody should intentionally inflict pain on a child without evidence to support the benefit outweighing the risk, such as with an immunization or surgical procedure. And the burden of proof should naturally be on the proponents to provide this evidence. So far, there is no scientific evidence to support that corporal punishment is an effective behavior modification technique and only a meager gruel of studies which at best show that it may not be quite as harmful as most experts think. Done.

The problems with this approach, however, is that it is far too late. As described above, the use of spanking for behavior modification is commonplace, even among otherwise well-meaning and reasonable folks. And there is good, although imperfect, data showing that there are considerable risks. Even proponents of spanking, who question what the available literature appears to show, strongly recommend limits on its use. Limits, such as not using an object or leaving a persistent mark, or not hitting children under one or over six years of age, that are often not followed.

First and foremost, spanking doesn’t tend to work very well, and certainly is a less effective form of punishment than time-out strategies or other negative punishments like removal of privileges. A positive punishment like spanking may in the acute setting stop an unwanted behavior but it loses effect over time. Thus in order to achieve the same result, it often must be increased in intensity, which is part of why it can lead to clear abuse. So there is room to argue that in a very few specific instances, such as a child about to put their finger in an electrical outlet, an immediate slap on the hand might stop the behavior. Of course so would simply removing them from the area and putting a cover on the outlet, and explaining the danger once they are old enough to understand.

There are a variety of potential harms that studies have linked to the recurrent use of corporal punishment on children. In addition to the potential to lead to physical abuse, repeated spanking may cause agitation and lead to aggressive behaviors through observational learning of poor coping skills. Spanking risks negatively impacting the parent-child dyad, making other forms of discipline less effective when the child is too old/large for the use of physical punishment. Children who are spanked may come to accept it as a parental right, which increases the likelihood that they will spank their own children and even that they will abuse their spouse. Use of corporal punishment has also been linked to negative cognitive outcomes, in particular decreased receptive and expressive vocabulary. (1, 2, 3)

The ability to study the harm of spanking is hindered by a lack of prospective studies. It would be unethical to have a randomized trial where some children are intentionally subjected to corporal punishment. So the available data is retrospective and often based on maternal report. There have been few longitudinal studies and, as you can probably imagine, there are a number of potentially confounding socioeconomic and caregiver variables.

While discussing this recently on Twitter (@skepticpedi), I was asked how we know that bad and more aggressive kids aren’t just spanked more. That certainly sounds plausible. The two studies I provided links to above are the most recent and best to date, and provide solid evidence to support concerns that spanking actually plays a causal role in future aggressive behavior and interference with cognitive development. Using data from the Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study, which was a longitudinal birth cohort study of over 4,000 kids from 20 major US cities through age 9 years, both were able to take into account a large number of potential confounders involving “family characteristics and risk with the potential to affect parenting stress and family functioning.”

What do pediatricians think about corporal punishment in the home?

The AAP periodically surveys its Fellows on a variety of topics. In 1998, one such survey looked into the attitudes and counseling on corporal punishment in the home. The results were based on responses from 603 post-residency Fellows who provide direct patient care. Here is what it revealed:

53.4% of responding pediatricians were generally opposed to the use of corporal punishment by parents, but not to an occasional spanking for certain reasons. I guess that is the finger in an outlet clause. 31.4% were completely opposed to the use of corporal punishment under any circumstances. Only 14.4% supported limited, which I take as non-abusive, use while just 1.5% were unsure of what they think about it. Sadly, only about half ever discussed the pros/cons of corporal punishment with parents. Of note, about 75% of pediatricians in the survey reported that they had been spanked as a child and a full third admitted to spanking their own kids, although less than 1% said it was their most commonly employed disciplinary strategy.

It’s entirely possible that this data is not reflective of current trends. Hopefully even fewer pediatricians are supportive today compared to 15 years ago. And hopefully more are taking time to discuss it.


The limited use of mild corporal punishment, in very isolated and specific circumstances, may have some benefit but prevention/protection is almost always a better option. Its use as a strategy to improve overall behavior is fraught with risk. Although imperfect, there is good evidence that recurrent use can lead to physical abuse, interfere with learning and increase aggression. And it may worsen behavior in the long run.

There is an absence of any data showing it to be more effective than other techniques, such as negative punishment strategies like time outs. Unfortunately, the internet is full of pro-spanking propaganda that relies on anecdotes, old fashioned thinking and one study that didn’t survive peer review. The best initial resource for questions regarding discipline should always be a child’s physician. We aren’t perfect, but most pediatricians accept that corporal punishment is a poor method of discipline and should be able to provide education and help accessing local resources.

For a satirical look at corporal punishment in the home, check out this post over at Knudsen’s News.

Posted in: Science and Medicine

Leave a Comment (109) ↓

109 thoughts on “Corporal Punishment in the Home: Parenting Tool or Parenting Fail…

  1. Robert K says:

    Great article. I still can’t get over how many people in the aftermath of the Sandyhook school massacre kept claiming that if only the shooter had been hit more by his parents, this never would have happened!

    The massacre itself made me sick, and this kind of response also made me quite sick, and it all rested on the assumption that the shooter was never hit or abused. Pretending to know something that can’t be known, the height of arrogance.

  2. windriven says:

    Religion and ignorance are the handmaidens of this and any number of other social ills. The propensity for physical solutions to mundane problems generally seems inversely proportional to education and intelligence. And putting a bible in the hands of a pugnacious moron justifies his violence as ‘God’s work’.

    “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs: 13:24

    Yeah, gimme that old time religion.

    I’m reading “Monkey Girl” at the moment on its recommendation in another thread. I was struck by the imagery used by some of the fundamentalist types who envision the second coming as Ghengis Christ astride a charging white steed, robes flowing and sword slashing, the blood of infidels flowing in rivers. I don’t know what happened to the ‘turn the other cheek’ Jesus of the NT. I guess Yaweh gave him the OT ‘eye for an eye’ talk after the first coming ended badly. Theology as imagined by Sylvester Stallone.

    Sam Halpern is right. We ain’t a species built to last.

    1. goodnightirene says:

      I am reading “Monkey Girl” as well, and while I’m finding it hard to put down, most of it I have come across before in bits and pieces. Some of the testimony offered by principal players is simply astonishing in its ignorance–even many of the “good guys” express mortification at being thought of as–gasp–atheists!

  3. Greg says:

    I agree with this, in principle, in reality, what do you do with a child that continues to misbehave after being admonished several times? Children will, at times, push their limits to the point where it seems parents have no choice. And reasoning with a child does not work very well at times, so how do you then correct undesirable behaviors? For example, in Ontario there was a case where a father spanked his daughter in public, in front of many witnesses. People were extremely upset by what they saw. What they didn’t see was the little girl deliberately slamming the car door closed on the hand of her younger brother. The father was charged, but the case was dismissed by the judge ruling the father’s actions were reasonable given the circumstances.

    1. Greg says:

      “I have always felt strongly that spanking children is a parenting technique that reflects more on the poor coping skills of the caregiver than on the behavior of the child.”

      This quote, to which I was agreeing in principle, was missing from my prior post.

      1. Lawrence says:

        I do believe that “spanking” or physically hitting a child with the intent to harm (really, is there any other kind?) is wrong, wrong, wrong…and should never occur.

        I also remember, attending a Southern Baptist private school back in High School – corporal punishment was indeed enforced, quite strictly and stridently – with no exceptions (I overhead the football couch liberally wailing away at one of his players who had broken the school disciplinary rules).

        As a parent, I do believe it would be a failure on my part, should I ever raise my hand to my child – there are many different ways to deal with bad behaviors and trying to “spank” the behavior out of them is probably the worst idea I could even possibly conceive of.

    2. nancy brownlee says:

      “Children will, at times, push their limits to the point where it seems parents have no choice. And reasoning with a child does not work very well at times, so how do you then correct undesirable behaviors?”

      Yes- they can, and do. Not every kid, and not every time- but a sizable proportion will push until you’re so exasperated- and/or so concerned about their behavior or their safety that it seems there’s no choice. I swatted fannies a number of times when my kids were young- to correct what seemed to me things that needed immediate correction. I still think that a single, emphatic swat isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a kid who insists on running into a street or a busy parking lot- while you wrestle with his baby sister and the car seat.
      But I think there are better ways to handle it.

    3. Clay Jones says:

      But isn’t that begging the question that spanking will work? The most effective technique, but the most difficult, is positive reinforcement of desirable behavior. After that is negative punishment like time out or taking away things they like. In the acute setting like the case you mention, spanking will stop the behavior in most cases but so will picking the child up and removing them from the scene or preventing them from having access to the car door in the first place. Spanking is not very effective at making the kid remember to not do a future bad behavior, and has all the risks I mention in the post.

      1. Greg says:

        I’m wondering what, in the absence of corporal punishment, will work to correct undesirable behaviors. Positive enforcement of desirable behavior is absolutely one of the best tools parents can use, however some parents use food and this sets the stage for a child to have an unhealthy relationship with food, so there are drawbacks to this method too. Unfortunately as you have pointed out, there is no definition or standard for what is considered reasonable. What is reasonable to me may not be reasonable to you. I don’t have children so I don’t have a frame of reference, but I do have dogs and they get out of hand with incessant barking. I could put shock collars on them, such as many people do, but I considered it to be abuse. Their behavior is not correctable by us, so we have learned to live with it, which is ok for our dogs as they are always supervised by us when out in public. But what about children – bad behavior in the home can lead to terrible consequences if the child behaves the same way in public or at school. Children have to learn actions have consequences and sometimes those consequences can be very negative and be physically harmful.

        1. windriven says:

          “I could put shock collars on them, such as many people do, but I considered it to be abuse.”

          The abuse is in the intended use. I use a training collar that allows me to deliver a tone, a ‘spike’ or a shock. I’ve never used the shock. But the tone, occasionally reinforced with a ‘spike’ works beautifully.

          With kids and dogs: firm, fair, and most importantly consistent.

    4. Bruce says:

      Greg, I would argue that there were much deeper parenting issues if a child were to deliberately slam her brother’s hand in a car door. Could it be she had seen her parents punishing her and her siblings with physical violence and responded in like when she saw her brother doing something she didn’t like?

      I would be the first to admit I don’t know the whole story, including just what that spanking was and just how severe it was and how old the girl was. While I agree that there might be cases where it might be justified, as a fairly new parent I would definitely err on the side of not spanking or any kind of corporal punishment.

      (I was beaten with belts at home (rarely) and the cane at school (not so rarely). Anecdotally, I would agree that over time the fear of the belt or cane does diminish over time, whereas the annoyance with myself for being in a situation where I have a wasted afternoon in detention never did. Whenever I had a choice I would take the cane.)

      1. Greg says:

        That’s a strong probability, but the father’s skills as a parent weren’t at issue and at the time of the incident their mother was not with them.

        1. Greg says:

          Having trouble using the blockquote tag – I meant to quote this sentence by Bruce: “Greg, I would argue that there were much deeper parenting issues if a child were to deliberately slam her brother’s hand in a car door.”

      2. nancy brownlee says:

        “I would argue that there were much deeper parenting issues if a child were to deliberately slam her brother’s hand in a car door.”

        You may have some interesting parenting challenges ahead. Children deliberately do (mostly minor) injury to other children all the time- especially to younger siblings. No one has to teach them this behavior. It happens. How often, how hurtful, and how deliberate the behavior is- is highly variable, but it’s damnsure not rare.

        1. Bruce says:


          I do have nephews and nieces and friends with children and one thing that should be and is instilled in their children is how dangerous slamming fingers in the door is, even accidentally. For the child to do it deliberately and maliciously and specifically to defy her father and hurt her brother does not suggest children being children.

          Reading the story, I actually think the father got off very lightly there. It points much more towards parenting failure than anything else.

          And you can tell me I have a lot to learn as a parent, and I am sure I do, but if I ever find myself in a situation like that, I would consider where I went wrong and not take it out on the child by inflicting pain and humiliation. He could very easily have taken her away from the situation and punished her in any number of other ways.

          1. Lytrigian says:

            For the child to do it deliberately and maliciously and specifically to defy her father and hurt her brother does not suggest children being children.

            And experienced parents everywhere enjoy a quiet chuckle over your naivety.

            Children are not rational beings, and the combination of their impulsiveness and thoughtlessness occasionally overcomes any amount of “instilling”, no matter how carefully inculcated by the most loving of parents. To immediately conclude that, because this happened at all, the parenting must perforce have been defective, is simply invalid.

            1. nancy brownlee says:

              Yep. I do so well remember how horrified I was to see my darling 3-year-old pick up a wooden truck and clock his toddling baby brother across the back of the head.

              Your little kids may never hurt each other.. or at least, not much… but you’re a fool if you think aggressive behavior must be learned (a la tabula rasa) and cannot happen without an example. Humans have the capacity for compassion and sympathy and for aggression; I submit that both are innate. Whether you think so or not, it’s a bad idea to leave the baby alone with a sibling not yet old enough to have learned not to hurt other people.

              1. Bruce says:

                While I might be a naive new parent and you will laugh at me and my silly ideas and assumptions, can you all tell me that taking the girl’s pants down and striking her on her bare buttocks as being comensurate punishment?

                Even going by your very experienced and wonderful parenting logic, why did he leave them alone and let the argument escalate while he was rummaging in the back of the car? Why was the girl able to push the child out of the car door? Was it not locked and where they not secure in a public parking lot? How come the father was still so far away from the action that he could not stop the door being slammed at the point when the brother was out of the car?

                No, while you might chuckle at my supposed lack of parenting knowledge and you say that children are inherently violent or do violent things, the violent reaction of the father is not good parenting. From what I can see he had several points at which he could have diverted the situation, and he did not, so in the end he decided to take out his anger and frustration on the girl.

        2. mousethatroared says:

          Agreed – I will add that the tendency for folks who are against spanking to blame the parents for causing their child’s misbehavior does nothing to help the parents deal with some of the genuinely challenging and dangerous behaviors that children sometime engage in.

          There is no evidence that parental abuse is the sole cause of the tendency for children to do dangerous or painful things to themselves or others. In fact younger children don’t have the developmental ability to understand most of these dangers or how other experience pain. There is no reason to believe that a child who is never spanked will be mild mannered, considerate and gentle.

          1. nancy brownlee says:

            Sensible and intelligent comments from an observant parent. And honest! It is so often hard for parents to admit that their kids do sometimes misbehave in serious ways- or, in ways that might be serious; that young children can be mean, and jealous, and sneaky, no matter how “perfectly” we attempt to parent them. It’s just another control delusion- “if I do everything exactly right, my kid will be exactly right!” Wrong.

            1. AlisonM says:

              True indeed. And if you have more than one, you know that it’s a fool’s errand to expect the same outcome using the same techniques on different children.

              1. nancy brownlee says:

                Ah- “What a perfectly splendid baby! I must be a wonderful mother! I am so good at this, I think I’ll have another one!”

                Hahahahahahahahaha … the sound of the cosmos, larfing and larfing…

              2. Bruce says:

                Wow, some really pompous backslapping going on here.

                No one here has presented me as a new parent any evidence that sways me to think the claims that children 5 and under do violent things just as a matter of course. My son is 13 months old and he ALREADY understands when he does something he should not be doing, this includes bashing other babies. I have not once spanked him. If he one day slams another child’s hand in a door, I will consider that a failure on my part.

                I approach parenting the same way I approach anything else, I do the best I can within the rules I set myself. If I ever strike my child I will consider my own actions and how they led to that situation. You can “larf” and “larf” all you want.

              3. mousethatroared says:

                Bruce -Holding onto an unrealistic idea of childhood behavior isn’t helpful to parents and it certainly isn’t helpful to children. Read an outline of typical child development. If you choose not to believe what the science shows, I don’t know what to tell you.

                ” If he one day slams another child’s hand in a door, I will consider that a failure on my part.”

                If one day your child slams another child’s (or your’s) in a door, will telling yourself you are a failure be helpful for finding the best way to address disciplining your child or will it get in the way of forming a productive plan?

                In my case, that kind of catastrophizing would lead to a more emotional reaction and get in the way of productive discipline. I guess you will have to figure it out for yourself, if it comes up.
                Best of Luck, MTR

              4. Chris says:

                Nancy Brownlee: “Ah- “What a perfectly splendid baby! I must be a wonderful mother! I am so good at this, I think I’ll have another one!”

                :-). Which is exactly what we did. The boys are just shy four days of being two years apart. I thought I was a great mom, and then I learned otherwise. The first one’s “terrible twos” lasted a couple of weeks, the second one from eighteen months until he was seven years old. The oldest only needed to be removed once from the playground to stop throwing sand, it took a few times being taken home for the younger one to stop.

                The oldest one stopped having temper tantrums once the speech therapist introduced him to sign language. The younger one (who did not have seizures and had little trouble with speech) had temper tantrums until he was seven. I told him it was fine as long as he had them in his room, and then I would walk away. He would look up, see I had left the room, move next to me and throw himself down on the ground to continue.

                A sense of humor is a parenting survival technique.

                They had the same fourth grade teacher who told me she had never seen a pair of brothers so different from each other. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be arranging a limited guardian trust for the older one (severely learning disabled, still in community college after six years, though he missed some due to open heart surgery), and the younger one will graduate with a math degree next June (while working since high school to pay living expenses).

                It is sometimes it is the luck of the genetic dice, with some things you can’t control (like seizures from a now vaccine preventable disease).

            2. nancy brownlee says:

              I wasn’t larfing at you, I was larfing at me- and my blithe assumption, all those 35 years ago, that I had it all figured out. I certainly did not, and almost surely still don’t.

              @ chris
              My 35-year-old eldest was an easygoing and sweet natured little boy- mostly- easy to correct and happy, until adolescence threw him for a serious loop. Diagnosed at age 30 with (very mild) Tourette’s, he struggles with a number of problems. The younger son, born pissed off, stayed that way for 20 years. He has worked to smooth out his life and control his impulses.

              Both are self supporting adults, in graduate school, and I don’t think either one has ever sat in the back of a patrol car… not that they’d tell me.

              1. Chris says:

                Yep, you can never tell. My brother is still amazed that his son who made him go nuts as an adolescent now has a very good job, got married, and has two little girls.

                I guess we can tell Bruce that there are no guarantees, and you just have to go with the flow. Just be sure to support your kids, even if you don’t understand them.

                Oh, and all of my kids have sat in the back of a patrol car. That is because I slipped on a hill and broke my ankle in a park when the kids were eight and younger. Fortunately there were two cops standing close enough to hear the bone crack (before we all had cell phones).

                So they called my husband, my neighbor and an ambulance for me. They put my three kids in the back of a patrol car, and the child I was watching for a friend in the front passenger seat, and then drove to our house to meet my husband. My friend tried to find out what happened when she picked up her son, but all he wanted to talk about was the police car!

              2. Bruce says:


                I know I don’t know it all, and I think if I read back some of this in years to come I might just “larf” at myself… I have been know to make mistakes! :-P

                My original point has been lost though, and I still stick by the theory, I say theory on purpose, that perhaps more positive parenting might have produced better results and I certainly disagree with the pulling down of pants and striking on the bottom in public reaction by the father.

                It is not an easy job though, and me judging one instance from thousands of miles and many years away is probably not much use at all.

    5. windriven says:

      “What they didn’t see was the little girl deliberately slamming the car door closed on the hand of her younger brother. ”

      There is more going on with a child who deliberately slams a car door on another person’s hand than a spanking is going to fix. This is not a case of routine discipline.

      1. Greg says:

        Agreed. One can only hope her parents did the smart thing and get their child some professional health. Too bad it is not mandatory for parents to take a course in parenting prior to the birth of a child. Though there’s no excuse for it, most parents, at least the ones I know, seem to just wing it when it comes to parenting as if they believe the skills required are instinctual.

      2. nancy brownlee says:

        How old was the slammer? Three? Seven? Fourteen? A child under six may well have wanted to hurt a younger sibling, but had no idea just how serious the hurt might be. Aggression between very young children is not desirable and must be corrected- but it is NOT abnormal.

        1. Greg says:

          I think I found the case in question – didn’t realized how long ago it was, but it definitely sparked some furor here when it happened –

      3. mousethatroared says:

        IME five year old slam doors on others all the time. The majority of the time, nothing horrible happens so they continue to do so unless someone takes considerable time and effort to break the habit with some sort of consequence. No reason to explain the behavior with theories of childhood pathology.

        As an aside – One prescribed child care technique for dealing with a child who is intentionally hitting, pushing, biting another child is to ignore the aggressor and make a huge fuss over the injured party. For some kids even negative attention encourages a behavior. This approach avoids giving that negative attention and has the benefit of soothing the injured child as well.

        This isn’t particularly useful in a parking lot, though. Considering the possibility that the older child may have run off into traffic.

        1. AlisonM says:

          Five years old is enough before Theory of Mind develops to expect the unexpected. I used both the “pay attention to the victim” and the “tell the aggressor you don’t want to be with him/her” depending on circumstances. Worse behaviors to follow and dangerous situation being just a couple of those circumstances.

    6. lagaya1 says:

      Perhaps she slammed her brother’s hand in the car door because she thinks it’s okay for the bigger to hurt the smaller. Wonder where she got that idea?

      1. Chris says:

        And Nancy Brownlee explained, it is not unusual, especially for children under six.

        When my boys were a bit over three years and one year old I would take care of a neighbor’s three year old while she tended to his baby brother. That kid would find any excuse to lash out at my toddler. Every time I would turn around he would push the kid, or smack him on the head with paintbrush.

        My guess was that he was lashing out at no longer being the only kid in his house. I did catch him in the act, and proceeded to sit him alone in another section of the L-shaped room. Then I set my boys down in the other area to calm down with a video. The little man complained to me he could not see the video, and I explained to him that he had to stop hitting the toddler. His behavior improved.

        I usually used the “count to ten and then proceed to provide an action that was doable.” The action was often like leaving the playground. And throwing sand was an immediate “going home offense” (after I spent a day clearing the sand out of one kid’s eye from the action of some other person’s child). That usually worked.

        But I am by no means perfect. I have been known to lash out with a slap when things are going very badly (especially after getting very little sleep), or the action was downright dangerous.

        I grew up when spanking was common. Even in high school there were paddle boards and at one time the history teacher pulled on belligerent student out of class to strike him on the buttocks. I had to learn that it is not okay, and definitely not productive. One reason why I am glad that I did not become a parent until my thirties.

    7. jemand says:

      little girl bigger than littler brother, inflicts pain.

      father bigger than little girl, inflicts pain.

      This is supposed to teach the little girl NOT to bully? HOW?

      And that was his ONLY OPTION? Not removing the brother from near the car, not physically redirecting his daughter, etc? There are a million different things to do– it just seems spanking proponents lack imagination at times like these.

      1. Greg says:

        First and foremost you’re teaching a child that actions have consequences, particularly that negative actions have negative consequences which is truly how life works for the vast majority of people. What’s so wrong about that? Isn’t it better for the child in question to learn that at a young age?

        1. Clay Jones says:

          But once you are a certain age, those negative consequences rarely involve physical pain. My boss can’t spank me if I screw up my billing. What about being a child makes it okay to be hit?

          1. Lytrigian says:

            Your boss can talk to you as one adult to another, and make you to understand consequences for error. You think a quiet, rational, disciplinary conversation will really convey the appropriate horror to a 5-year-old girl over what she had just done? Children are not miniature adults. At that age do not enjoy the benefits of adult-style cognition, particularly when they’re having the kind of emotional melt-down that resulted in the action in question. (She first pushed her little brother out of the car, and then after being warned not to by her father slammed the door on his hand. An adult woman who did that would indeed not be spanked. There’s a good chance she’d be in jail. As the dad in this case was, at least overnight.)

            This was also a case where other means of immediate discipline weren’t available. The family was not at home; they weren’t even at a relative’s home. From a behavioral point of view, a delayed punishment by other means would not have associated consequence with action. You’re thinking about this in moral categories, where a behavioral point of view is probably more applicable.

            There’s no moral equivalence here anyway. The girl did not simply inflict pain on her brother; she did something that might have caused him serious injury. Her father inflicted pain on her with no real possibility of injury at all. Medical testimony as to the latter was of material significance in his acquittal in this case.

            Mind you, I’m not necessarily saying spanking was the right thing to do here, even though it was found to have been legal. I’m pointing out that you’ve drawn a false equivalence, comparing two situations where neither the actions nor the people involved are comparable.

            1. Clay Jones says:

              Wrong on all accounts. I did not recommend reasoning with the child in question. Furthermore, you assume that there is benefit to spanking this child, that it will cause a change of future behavior. Do you have evidence of this other than anecdote? I would have recommended removing the child from the opportunity to hurt her brother. The family could work on her behavior at home as in a parking lot is not the ideal situation for a time out or other negative punishment. But what if the parent, as happens frequently, did cause harm to the child when they lost their cool and hit them? As I stated in the post, most caregivers don’t plan to snap and injure their child. An environment such as exists where spanking is seen as okay is problematic in this regard.

              1. Lytrigian says:

                Furthermore, you assume that there is benefit to spanking this child, that it will cause a change of future behavior.

                I explicitly made no such assumption. I merely pointed out that from a behavioral standpoint, immediate consequences are much more effective than delayed, and I am very dubious that any amount of talk after the fact will connect actions with consequences in the mind of a 5 year old.

                You did not recommend reasoning with this child in so many words, but that’s essentially what you’re doing when you compare discipline of a child to workplace discipline. Perhaps you have worked in much different environments than I have, but I for one have never been given a “time out” at work. The comparison is absurd.

    8. Calli Arcale says:

      There are no easy answers. Spanking can occasionally be used to prove a point (“look, it hurts, you wouldn’t want this done to do you so why do you do it?”) but that’s about it, and honestly, since most of the time a child trying to hurt another child is doing it in a fit of rage, this probably isn’t going to be a very useful lesson. With my kids, I find that taking away privileges is usually a good approach, and we have a point system for behavior that serves as their allowance. Good behavior earns points, bad behavior costs them. If they’re angry enough, of course, this doesn’t help. Timeouts are good because it forces them to think about it and removes them from both the thing that is upsetting them and from the target of their rage — this pretty much always works for my kids, because they do eventually calm down, realize what they’ve done is wrong, and want to apologize. I find that giving the opportunity to make amends is big, because it gives them a chance to be proactive, to make a decision, and that teaches them that they do not have to keep feeling bad once they’ve done something wrong, breaking them out of the vicious cycle of “I did a bad thing, so I’m a bad person, well, bad people do bad things, so I’ve nothing to lose by doing more bad things which are so satisfying anyway.” Taking away their beloved electronics is also good, and so is telling them that some promised fun activity will now be suspended. “You hit your sister, so I’m afraid we will not be playing Minecraft today.”

      I know someone who, to my great surprise, told me that it is not merely appropriate but actually *obligatory* to physically correct a child who is being wasteful or ungrateful or embarrassing but not actually doing any physical harm. Even a child who is not your own. I fear that will eventually get him into serious trouble; for now, I just maintain separation between him and my kids lest they offend him. (He actually told me it’s “uncaring” to not physically correct them, so he’ll “try not to care” next time. He’s gotten strange in recent years, and honestly, I have to say I hope he doesn’t have kids ever.)

      1. mousethatroared says:

        Calli Arcale “I find that giving the opportunity to make amends is big, because it gives them a chance to be proactive, to make a decision, and that teaches them that they do not have to keep feeling bad once they’ve done something wrong, breaking them out of the vicious cycle of “I did a bad thing, so I’m a bad person, well, bad people do bad things, so I’ve nothing to lose by doing more bad things which are so satisfying anyway.”

        So true! Another instance of the need for a like buttons.

  4. Larry says:

    Our parents, both of them, often hit us when we were kids–this was the 1950s and 1960s. We kids just took it for granted and it wasn’t until I overheard one of our tenants (our house had a wing with two apartments our parents rented out) talking to her husband about how we were treated that I began to think it wasn’t right. She said we even had marks on our faces from being slapped so hard–this was true. But he told her to stay out of it, clearly he was afraid they’d be evicted if they said anything to our parents, their landlords. The way our parents terrorized us is still with me today. Even now, I sometimes find myself handling things in a confrontational, explosive way when facing problems. I was lucky to have a spouse who loved me and really cared for me–his devotion helped a lot. But the effects of physical punishment have never left me, and it has affected all my siblings, too, some of whom have had emotional problems. The youngest ones were not hit as much, but they seem to have been traumatized by seeing how badly us older ones were treated.

  5. goodnightirene says:

    As someone who was routinely “spanked” (beaten), which increased in severity into my teens, to the point of not being able to sit down, I find the laws that allow “spanking” abhorrent. Admittedly, what happened to me would not go unnoticed today, and would clearly be labeled abuse, but the line is still not clear enough.

    The good news is that amidst all this, my high school Health class offered a unit on parenting which included a discussion of the “cycle of abuse” where I learned about the tendency of abused people to repeat these behaviors. I made up my mind to break that cycle, and I succeeded about 99 percent. I did pop the bottom, once at a time, of my eldest with an open hand a few times, but one day realized I was breaking my own vow and never did it again. When her father knocked her down with a face slap at age three, I left immediately and never looked back. The only other time I failed was when my eldest son at age 17, unleashed a string of obscenities on me, to which I reacted rather instinctively and slapped his face. I wish I could say that was effective, but it wasn’t. Professional help was sought, but it just took years for him to “grow up”. He’s 40 now and a very successful adult, although we have had strong words about him “spanking” his own children occasionally.

    It’s a travesty that people most vulnerable to using physical punishment (the term that should replace the silly “spanking”) have little access to the kinds of services that might help them find alternatives, and that so many state laws are so vague on the matter. It’s gratifying to know that attitudes have changed for some “classes”, but sad to know that poor minority children take the brunt of less enlightened treatment.

    Thank you for addressing this. I always find it distressing to read about abuse, but I know how glad I am that it came up in that Health class long ago.

  6. jacobv says:

    The first failure of many parents who use physical punishment is when they equate a well-trained and compliant child with a well parented child. If we want our children to develop the judgment and necessary skills to manage life’s responsibilities and the increasing autonomy that comes with getting older, I have trouble seeing how ensuring compliance over teaching good decision making and valuing fear over respect and trust are effective tactics.

    1. nancy brownlee says:

      ” If we want our children to develop the judgment and necessary skills to manage life’s responsibilities and the increasing autonomy that comes with getting older, I have trouble seeing how ensuring compliance over teaching good decision making and valuing fear over respect and trust are effective tactics.”

      If we want them to live long enough to be able to make effective decisions, sometimes we must train for compliance in order to ensure that they do so. A toddler can be allowed some choices, but not others. The same is true of all ages- but the split’s in a different place. Deciding where to place it is a huge part of parenting. Nobody gets it right every time.

      1. jacobv says:

        Perhaps I was unclear or veiled in my response to the article. I’ll endeavor to be more precise, now and in the future. For one human to intentionally inflict pain on another human is barbaric, irrational and could have numerous unintended consequences ranging from causing minor to serious injuries and even death, criminal charges, and causing traumatic emotional distress. The intentional infliction of pain and potential injury on a defenseless child is not only barbaric and could lead to the above unintended consequences it is also nothing more than bullying and crass intimidation of a child who looks to you for protection, guidance, affection and safety. And the intentional infliction of pain on a child by a parent communicates contempt, anger, disdain, distrust and shallowness to someone the parent hopes to have a lasting and loving relationship with. Physical punishment is folly for a thinking parent.

        1. Greg says:

          Physical punishment is folly for a thinking parent.

          Ever try reasoning with a very young child? What happens when you don’t have the time to decide how to deal with undesirable behavior that needs to be corrected immediately? As mentioned earlier a good swat on the butt will often have the desired effect. Raising your voice works too, but would you yell at a child in public?

          My point being that it’s all well and good to point out the shortcomings of using physical however you’re not offering any real solutions to very real problems.

          1. AlisonM says:

            I have never hit my children. I have, on a rare number of occasions, raised my voice. As a thinking parent, I anticipated certain behaviors, learned to pre-empt them, or figured out the motivations for behaviors and changed the availability or attractiveness of the motivations.

            There are some solutions. They worked quite well. I have two incredible young adults now, one making her business plan because she’s graduating college a year early, and the other starting her second semester at an Ivy League school (on a significant grant and scholarship, because we be po’. . .) So, yeah. You don’t need to hit if you’re doing it right.

            1. Dorothyfromoz says:

              Your example is just that–one example. Many boys (and surely, some girls) can be more challenging. Some kids have–gasp–mental health issues that make parenting extremely difficult; none of the standard practices have any effect. A stressed parent can overreact occasionally without wrecking a childhood. Professional help helps.

              1. Jess says:

                “A stressed parent can overreact occasionally without wrecking a childhood”

                Exactly the point. Spanking relates more to the emotional reaction of the caregiver (reaction/overreaction) than it does a controlled plan of behaviour improvement. And as offensive as AlisonM probably finds your insinuation that her parenting methods only worked because she had girls, I am far more disturbed by your mention of mental health issues as one justification to (need to) resort to spanking.

                After all, adults with mental illness, even those illnesses resulting in lack of maturity in their cognitive processes, would never have a “spanking program” implemented against them for inappropriate behaviour and have that considered reasonable by the general popuation. If we don’t deem physical beatings an appropriate way to deal with adults with mental health issues (even if those issues give them the cognitive reasoninig ability of a six year old), why on earth would we think it appropriate in younger more vulnerable humans?

                The lessons taught by fear are never developmentally helpful and are often developmentally deleterious. Think carefully before deciding that your child’s submission in the moment is worth the risk posed to their future self.

              2. AlisonM says:

                Well, this parent has been dealing with ADHD and major depressive disorder her entire life, and one daughter has ADHD and the other has GAD, and both have had other physical challenges throughout their lives. So I tend to feel that my particular case still shows that mindful parenting can make a better behaved child by making the relationship better.

                Of course there are children who are more of a challenge. However, they represent a small percentage of all children. And in their cases, mindful parenting is going to be even more beneficial than spanking. One of the advantages of getting professional help is that it will teach parents how to not resort to spanking and use more positive behavior modification techniques.

          2. Calli Arcale says:

            Did you know that animal behaviorists advise strongly against using negative reinforcement when training a dog? If you can train a dog without hitting the dog, then you can train a toddler without hitting the toddler. It does take a lot of work, but studies have shown that positive reinforcement is more effective — and faster, too, because you’re reinforcing the behaviors you want rather than whittling away at bad behaviors in hopes of having only good behaviors left.

            1. Clay Jones says:

              Just to make sure terms are being used correctly, negative reinforcement is the removal of something bad in order to encourage a behavior. Negative punishment is taking away something good, which wouldn’t work on a dog I imagine. beating the dog is a positive punishment.

              1. Calli Arcale says:

                That is a good point. I was speaking of negative/positive reinforcement. Negative reinforcement is, broadly speaking, punishment for undesired behavior. Both positive/negative *punishment* qualify as negative *reinforcement* because in both cases it’s revolving around creating a negative mental association between the undesired behavior and the punishment.

                In both cases, it’s misleading to think of positive = good and negative = bad. Don’t assume a value judgement with the terms; it’s more like convex versus concave, or a negative mold versus a positive cast.

              2. Clay Jones says:

                “Negative reinforcement is, broadly speaking, punishment for undesired behavior. Both positive/negative *punishment* qualify as negative *reinforcement* because in both cases it’s revolving around creating a negative mental association between the undesired behavior and the punishment.”

                No, these are defined terms of operant conditioning. Negative reinforcement is taking away something bad in order to encourage a desired behavior. It is not punishment in any way. You are right that positive doesn’t mean good and negative bad. Positive is adding something and negative is taking something away.

              3. mousethatroared says:

                Clay Jones “Negative punishment is taking away something good, which wouldn’t work on a dog I imagine. beating the dog is a positive punishment.”

                This is trivial, but I passed by this comment and wanted to mention that one does use negative punishment sometimes in dog training.

                If a dog is playing too aggressively, one might put the toy up and walk away. If a dog growls at someone while sitting on your lap, you might put them off your lap and not allow them to return for awhile.

            2. Greg says:

              I have two dogs, so yes, I know you should never beat a dog, as it just makes it fear you, but there’s a big difference between beating and spanking. Obviously, if you disagree with the premise, there’s no way to determine what is considered acceptable use of spanking, however I would consider it a tool of last resort. And just to clarify what I mean by spanking – it is an open-handed slap of appreciable but not excessive force.

              And for the record, I was spanked as a child and while I can’t say for certain, I don’t believe it had any indelible effects on me.

  7. dbe says:

    Look at the map of Europe, then of the U.S. Once again we have to drag the southern states into the present. It’s very, very hard to respect a culture that is always trying to move backward and is constantly wrong about everything. This time it’s children. Last year it was healthcare. The year before, women. For a long time it’s been minorities. It’s like dealing with half a nation of cavemen who are proud to be cavemen.

    1. windriven says:


      “Once again we have to drag the southern states into the present.”

      I grew up in the North, lived for two decades in the Deep South, and now live in the PNW. It is my experience that hatred, stupidity, pettiness, and obstinance know no geographic boundaries.

      1. Andrey Pavlov says:


        I was born in Bulgaria, a Soviet citizen at birth, grew up in Southern California, lived in Washington DC, spent extensive time in NYC, lived in Australia for 2 years, currently live in New Orleans for the past 2 years, and have traveled to ~29 countries around the world. My experience jibes with yours.

        1. windriven says:

          I lived in New Orleans for 20 years. Not the same city since the storm – but still the best city in the Deep South in my estimation. I imagine you’re at Tulane or LSU – both fine programs.

          Don’t know if it is still there but there used to be a wonderful restaurant called Cafe Atchafalaya down near Magazine as I recall. Run by a lesbian couple. Really sweet people. Crab cakes to die for. Used to be my go to place for Sunday brunch.

          Hope you enjoy your time there as much as I did mine.

          1. Andrey Pavlov says:


            Actually I am at neither program. If you are curious just look up the last post I wrote for SBM and you will find my (brief) bio and information there. And I am actually currently at no program… I have graduated, have my MD, and will begin my post-post-graduate training in July (we say “graduate medical education” but medical school itself is a graduate level, so technically it is post-post-grad, lol. Plus my fellowship will land me an extra “post” and the second fellowship I am looking at another. Maybe, one day before I die, I’ll finally stop training… but what would be the fun in that?)

            As for Atchafalaya… I really love their pasta with cream tasso sauce. Delicious! I think they’ve changed owners in the not-too-distant past but I don’t know who the current owners are.

            I visited NoLa once before Katrina but it was just for a few days so I can’t really compare. I know a lot has changed, but the place is awesome. It really is the “gem of the south.” I was particularly proud of the city when it was one of only three cities in the US that officially declared a “Day of Reason” on the same day as the national “Day of Prayer.” It is a wonderful city that we both really love. In fact, I was at Cooter Brown’s last Saturday watching the Saints beat the Eagles and you should have seen the reaction! Epic!

            We do miss home though (Southern California) because we are beach/outdoorsy people – I am an avid surfer, road and mountain biker, and we both ski/snowboard and hike/explore/adventure. Plus, I just miss seeing snow capped mountains. We may stay here for another 3 years of training or we may end up back in Los Angeles – depends on where I end up matching. Either option is excellent and regardless the plan will be to get back to SoCal for my fellowship.

            If you are ever back in NoLa shoot me a message. Would love to share a beer with you. Even if we do go back to LA we shall be here until mid-April at a minimum.

            1. Clay Jones says:

              I grew up in Baton Rouge and went to medical school in New Orleans. Katrina happened after my wife and I had left for residency. Her family is still there so we visit often. I have to say I couldn’t have gotten out of that place any faster. Absolutely a great place to visit as the old cliche goes, but the thought of living there now makes me cringe. I went back to Baton Rouge for the past four years and now am living in the New England area. I find life much more enjoyable up here despite having to adjust to real Winters for the first time in my life.

              1. Andrey Pavlov says:

                @ Dr. Jones:

                I knew you were around the area and was tempted a couple of times to contact you and see if you would want to get a beer or something since I really enjoy your writing (despite my complete lack of interest in pediatrics as my own personal speciality, I like learning about anything interesting) but I thought that would be weird to do so I didn’t. But if you – or anyone else on this site, commenter or author – is in the area and interested in a chat over beer (coffee, tea, food) by all means let me know. I can’t promise I’ll be available but if I am, would love to.

                As for your move… yeah, I understand what you mean. I have absolutely loved living here and have no issue doing my residency here as well, but ultimately not the place for us to settle down. However, I need to move to where the winters are 75 degrees and sunny, preferably with good waves.

                I’m freezing my **** of here in NoLa so I hope you are managing OK where it is actually cold!

              2. Harriet Hall says:

                My husband grew up in Baton Rouge and his first assignment in the Air Force was Loring Air Force Base in Maine. One day when he was writing home, he wrote that the weather was good and then realized his concept of good weather had changed to mean sunny and 20 degrees F!

            2. windriven says:

              ” I was at Cooter Brown’s ”

              I’d forgotten all about Cooter Brown’s. I’ve misspent many an evening there :-) The Saints will be playing in Seattle – next weekend I think. I’m not a huge football fan but I’ll be watching from my favorite pizza joint.

              Another place I wanted to mention is Rivershack down on River Road not too far from Ochsner. Lunch is the time to eat there. Whatever Mike (the chef) has for the lunch special is worth trying. It isn’t always a home run but it is always a worthy effort.

              I’ll definitely shoot you an e-mail next time I’m headed that way. It would be fun to share a pint.

              1. Andrey Pavlov says:


                Haha… yeah, I may have indulged in a pint and a dozen oysters from time to time there. I myself am not a sports fan at all, let alone football, but around here it is hard not to be a Saints fan. Plus my lovely better half is a football fan (mostly college) and so are many of my friends. So I enjoy watching it as a social event with others who are into it. And around this town – as you know, particularly after Katrina – having the Saints win that game was just epic. The town was on fire after that!

                As for Seattle… yeah… I don’t have high hopes, but if the Saints pull out another win there it will dwarf the celebrations of last week.

                I have also been to the Rivershack many times. Never for lunch though – I’ll keep that in mind the next time the opportunity arises. But we often have get togethers there with the med students since it is very close to Ochsner which is where we are all home-based for our clinical education.

                And yes, please do shoot me an email. I don’t exactly want to put it out here just so I don’t get spammed but it should be pretty darned easy to figure out. Just add an “A” in between my first and last name and throw it over to my via Sergey Brin. Failing that I’ll most likely catch a comment here or you can contact any of the editors of the site – they have my email as well.

  8. rokujolady says:

    I got swatted once or twice as an immediate punishment. I don’t see the big deal about it, and I sympathize with my mom whom I’d just scared in both cases. That being said, I don’t think I’d spank my child if I had one.
    I think the perception on the part of the “cavemen southerners and other more backwards parts of society”, being from what may be considered to be “backwards america” is that what they see as new disciplinary methods equate to no discipline at all. For example, I’ve seen many parents try to reason with a screaming four-year-old. It doesn’t work. They aren’t miniature adults.
    So, when you see the FB posts about how kids need to be spanked, I’m not sure it’s advocating for abuse or even spanking…it strikes me as more of a hyperbolic way of whining that kids today aren’t disciplined.
    And what is disciplining if not spanking? As far as I can tell, being sans children, it’s making sure the kid doesn’t do something you tell them not to do. It’s making sure they actually have a time out when they get a time out. It’s counting to three and then taking them out to the car when they don’t stop screaming. It’s getting them to bed at 8 PM, few exceptions. It’s being mom first and bff second. These things take a lot more work and persistence than a whack on the backside. Oftentime, parents don’t follow through with these harder parenting techniques which, I think, creates a perception that they are soft and produce bratty kids.

  9. The Midwesterner says:

    I work in a court system so I see and hear about the situations that result in criminal charges and the reactions of the accused, attorneys. Judges, and probation officers. The majority of the cases involve teenager girls who are either beaten with hands or whipped with electric cords in a revoltingly calm manner where the child is made to strip down to underwear, lie face down on a bed, and then whipped while other family members look on. In court, the accused usually ends up pleading guilty and says the right things to accomplish this but their tone of voice and body language gives away their true feelings, that they did what they had to do and what the bible told them to do because the child was out of control. Of course, it’s unlikely that the incident that brings them to court is the first such incident or that the “punishment” of the child isn’t just the latest event in a long history of progressively more harsh abuse done in the name of discipline and parental right. While the reaction of the legal professionals is usually quite negative, there is a rather surprising percentage who, while they say they would never do anything like that, express some sympathy for the accused, particularly if that person is poor and/or a minority. These type of charges are by no means prevalent but they happen often enough to be quite disturbing and come to light only because the child is old enough and has enough exposure to other adults to say something.

  10. Lee says:

    I strongly suspect that being spanked as a child was what caused me to spend 18-23 going to bars and clubs “looking for a fight”. I had after all been taught from an early age that violence is a great way to solve problems. I did “turn out ok”, but I take full credit for that myself in that I saw what I was doing was wrong. I have to fight inner violent urges to this day but it’s several years now since my last fight.

    I was amazed to read that there is still corporal punishment in US schools. At least that outlawed here before I was born.

  11. Mitzi says:

    My mother was undeniably brutally abused growing up, by a mother who beat to the torso to keep the bruises out of view of the authorities. We were physically disciplined, but she worked hard not to abuse physically. There is a difference.
    For those who would impugn Southerners, living in the country, all of life is dangerous and uncertain. Guns, sharp objects,wild animals including multiple kinds of poisonous snakes, and flammables are everywhere. Our home could not be “child-proofed”, as it was falling apart. So we learned not to go upstairs where the plaster was falling, or touch Mom’s sewing scissors, or look at the flame when Dad was welding, or try to play with a snake when it got in the house. We were potty-trained by 18 months of age. We were spanked if we were aggressive with each other, to show us the kind of pain we were dealing out, not to make us aggressive. You hurt others, it comes back to get you. Karma, but more immediate.
    We were also spanked for bad school performance, and were both top 20 in a highly competitive environment. I don’t think spanking decreased my vocabulary, as high ACT scores and a 4.0 in undergraduate and graduate studies would attest. I think the studies indicating negative intellectual effects of spanking may simply be exposing effects of poverty, since it is only the middle class that can buy covers for all the outlets in the house or afford to keep all harm out of reach,

  12. Sullivanthepoop says:

    In real life there is never a real reason to spank a child and always a better alternative. I actually know that spanking is less effective than time outs, positive reinforcement, and taking away privileges because I have three children and spanked the first but not the other two. Spanking is ineffective as a deterrent, it is usually done for the parents benefit, and it sends the wrong message.

    1. Greg says:

      I actually know that spanking is less effective than time outs, positive reinforcement, and taking away privileges because I have three children and spanked the first but not the other two.

      Please elaborate. You’ve made a statement without offering proof of your contention.

    2. Dorothyfromoz says:

      That’s your personal experience, not proof.

  13. Alia says:

    Corporal punishment in schools? Now that’s something that would come in handy from time to time. (Just joking, don’t worry). Seriously speaking, when I was a schoolkid back in 1980s, there used to be some old-school (pun intended) teachers, who would use some kinds of corporal punishment on their students, like hitting hands with a ruler. But even then it was not official, just old Ms X or Mr Y getting angry with this or that brat.
    Nowadays even this is strictly forbidden and still our students are not that badly behaved and on general manage quite well, thank you. We don’t use detention, either, the stress here is put on finding the reasons for this or that student’s disruptive behaviour, counselling, etc. And this really seems to be working. Which does not mean that I do not get exasperated from time to time – fortunately screaming at your students is not forbidden yet although it is considered failure on the part of the teacher.

    1. windriven says:

      ” like hitting hands with a ruler. ”

      I went to primary school a couple of decades before you and I’ll just say: “ha”! The nuns where I went to school studied under the Marquis de Sade. Worst was being made to kneel on rice. No, not cooked rice. When the behavior was especially egregious, kneeling on rice with arms outstretched, hands palms up, with a book in each hand.

      1. irenegoodnight says:

        On the other hand, WD, if I come across one more gum chewing retail person, I am going to pull out a small chalkboard, draw a circle on it with a dot in the middle, and tell him/her to stick his nose on the dot for one hour in the hope that this humiliation will stop this revolting public behavior.

        Whenever I hear these evil nun stories, I am really happy to have been raised a Lutheran. We only had to watch a movie about Martin Luther flagellating himself in his monk’s cell.

      2. Alia says:

        Well, in my part of the world rice was too expensive, so naughty children were made to kneel on peas (dried, of course). But that was something that I learnt about reading 19th century stories for children or things like that, nobody used that kind of punishment in my school. My primary school teachers mostly used a kind of time-out – “go stand in the corner” (face turned towards the corner). This was on the one hand getting the disruptive kid away from the rest of the group, but on the other it was also humilitation. And it worked quite well.

    2. Calli Arcale says:

      I have been very impressed at how well-behaved the kids are at my daughters’ school, and they have a very strict policy against physical punishment by the staff. It’s a firing offense. They have a very nuanced discipline policy that puts high expectations on the kids but adjusts consequences by age. I’ve really been impressed; my kids haven’t faced the kind of abusive behavior from other students that I faced as a child, even my eldest, who is autistic and extremely sensitive. This is hardly proof that spanking is bad or not spanking is good, but I can say that things are working out very well at this school in the absence of corporal punishment.

      I would like to see more studies done, even though it’s hard to get unbiased information. There has to be a way. I know there *have* been studies done on animal training, and those suggest that corporal punishment is no more effective than other forms of negative reinforcement. If that is true in humans as well, then I would reject spanking on the basis that it’s no better than other forms of punishment and carries a risk of abuse that is thus unneccesary.

  14. Wylimo says:

    I was spanked, but did not spank my daughter when she was growing up. She turned 30 just over a week ago, works in care of adults with learning difficulties and volunteers at a rape crisis center, so I’m pretty proud of how she turned out.

    One of the hardest bits was when she was 12 and she was continually angry with me for about 10 months. The really hard bit was stopping well meaning friends and family trying to get her to act nice to me. She was angry about living with me and not her mother. I thought that was fair enough. That didn’t mean I was going to go along with what she wanted, but it’s fair enough to be angry when your desires are so frequently thwarted by the adult world. It’s something I’d worked out when she was much younger, but this was the most severe test of it. My approach was I’m the grown up, I’m in charge, but I’m going to say no as little as possible and always have a reason when I do. Sometimes that reason was that it’s not convenient for me, it’s too much what you’re asking. And then be available to be angry at without taking it personally. This what I mean by being the grown up, it was my responsibility to understand her, not hers to understand my difficulties.
    So after 10 months there was week and at the start of it she seemed as angry as ever and at the end it was done. It wasn’t easy, there was a lot of leaning on some of my friends and family who got what I was trying to do. I wouldn’t recommend this role to anyone without a lot of thought-through support.
    Just a little context, during this period I was ill with an undiagnosed illness (sarcoidosis) which left me weak and nauseous, I was having to resolve my daughter’s immigration status, we were living on a single person’s unemployment benefit (for about four months) and we got evicted as well. Just saying you can be poor and in a stressful situation and not spank.

  15. Bill says:

    Enjoyed article. I find the terms positive and negative punishment confusing. Punishment is either 1) application of a noxious stimulus (spanking) or 2) removal of something positive (time out). The child will find either of them to be negative. The term positive punishment does not make sense to me.

    1. LDøBë says:

      In this case positive means “active correction” or “doing something to the child”. Negative means denying the child something and letting them figure out that they can change their behavior to avoid the outcome in the future.

      Positive means adding in a punishment like spanking. Negative means taking away things like privileges, or being able to interact with others (time out)

  16. Vicki says:

    I can’t help wondering how many of your classmates who were not in the top 20, or even the top half, of the class were also spanked for poor school performance.

    This may be a side issue, but there is an important difference between punishing a child for not doing their homework, or not studying, or even for failing a test, and punishing them for not doing better than most of their classmates: in theory, every single child in a math class could get 100% on a test, showing they all learned and understood the material. They can’t all be in the top 10% of the class, and punishing a child for not doing better than their classmates is somewhere between unfair and counterproductive unless the goal is to get them to sabotage each others’ work.

    1. Jess says:

      Excellent point. I agree, it is diligence and effort that should be the focus – a good result is just the icing on the cake.

      A child who has learnt that hard work is valuable is placed to do well in the real world, especially when faced with challenges, whereas a child who has merely been praised for visible achievement and punished for “failure” may grow up being afraid to try new things, especially things they are not immediately good at. And as you say, not everybody can be the top of the math class – that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn to master algebra if that’s what we want!

      Real life success generally takes a lot of hard work and a lot of setbacks (aka “failures”) along the way. It’s a process. Kids who have been brought up to believe that if they fail something they are bad, or that failing is something to be avoided at all costs, are at a real disadvantage. No one can always be in the top 20 for everything they do (at least not immediately), that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t try and enjoy learning everything they can :)

      1. Calli Arcale says:

        A child who has learnt that hard work is valuable is placed to do well in the real world, especially when faced with challenges, whereas a child who has merely been praised for visible achievement and punished for “failure” may grow up being afraid to try new things, especially things they are not immediately good at.

        This is very true! I’ve never punished my daughters for failing to excel; as long as a good effort is made, I’m proud and tell them so. Nevertheless, my eldest has a crippling performance anxiety, and is often terrified to try new things, and when she does try them, if she is not immediately successful she gives up in tears, usually followed by a depressive episode. We’re trying to support her and help her work through that; part of it is just growing up, but she was immediately successful with so many things early in life (she’s extremely intelligent) that she didn’t develop much early experience of how it’s okay to fumble with things for a while before getting the hang of them. I dread to think how closed off she’d be if we’d ever punished her for failure.

        1. mousethatroared says:

          This may be trite, but my BIL once said something to me that has been useful in learning new skills. He is a very accomplished skier and was helping to teach me to ski. I was embarrassed that I kept falling. He just shrugged and said “If you’re not falling you’re not learning.”

          1. Calli Arcale says:

            I like that! I will have to keep it in mind.

  17. AlisonM says:

    As a person with ADHD, I often find myself face-to-face with people who argue that all kids with ADHD need is more “discipline.” They usually mean spanking. I can tell you as a 53-year-old with ADHD who was spanked pretty regularly (and not in an abusive way – the one thing my parents always did was explain why I was being spanked and what behavior they wanted instead of what I had done) that it had absolutely zero effect on my ADHD.

    That’s part of the reason I didn’t bother with spanking, and went right to the reasoning. If you understand why kids do something, it’s much easier to prevent them from doing it (or encourage them to do it more) with a custom-tailored disciplinary action than with a one-size-fits-all whack on the buttocks.

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  19. Marion says:

    I would support spanking children if and only if I get to torture adults whose political ideologies negatively impact me or others a million times worse than anything a child does. Sure, I cannot say I would never use violence against someone’s child, if that child is torturing an animal or another child, for instance. But my reactions will always take into account the alternatives presented to that child, through how much suffering that child is going through no fault of their own. So, perhaps nothing more than twisting their arm would be sufficient.

    Contrast that, say, to an adult rightwing religious Republican who lives a life of luxury, gets billions of dollars of free money handed to him because he’s a banker with the Federal Reserve, then votes to take away $130 a month food benefits for the poor,
    tortures animals by eating meat, and thinks he’s entitled to benefit from medical advances that are due to experimenting on innocent animals, and blocks legislation to act on global warming, promotes pseudoscience & religious bullshit in schools.

    Such an evil adult deserves to blown up, bombed, tortured, killed, executed, raped, burned to death, have their limbs severed, eyes gouged out with a screwdriver, denied all food, denied all water, denied all medical care. And I am proud to exercise my absolute free speech right to advocate doing that to such an individual – if such an individual could be proven to exist.

    It’s just moving atoms around & a mathematical calculation of how much pain is inflicted and how much pain is deserved.

  20. Frank says:

    The limitation of what is presented as evidence is that is specific to the group that’s study. All evidence is not necessarily generalizable across cultures. People who were spanked turning out to be “ok” is real. What needs to be explored are what are the other factors involved in a child’s life that contribute to becoming traumatized Was it the spanking alone? Was there emotional neglect in addition to the spanking? How long? How often? etc. Conversely, what protective factors were present among those who were spanked and turned out ok. That people who were spanked and identify being fine is not an outcome that should be ignored in the name of being politically correct. Spanking in itself may not be the problem.

    1. Clay Jones says:

      If you look at the studies, they take into account these variables as best as possible. But just because some or even many children aren’t damaged physically or cognitively by recurrent episodes of corporal punishment, that can’t be used as evidence in support of it. Not every child who gets an unnecessary prescription for antibiotics when they have a cold gets C diff, but we still speak out against it. Also what does being politically correct have to do with this. We are discussing intentionally inflicting pain on children with no evidence of benefit except for anecdotes. Not doing that is just regular correct.

  21. sarah says:

    As a twentysomething mother of a toddler, thanks for this article! It addresses questions I’ve been mulling over for some time.

    I’ve never intended to use corporal punishment, and so far I’ve never needed to. There’s a distance between ideology and in-the-trenches parenting, however, and we’d all benefit from being gentler judges.

  22. Matt says:

    +1 for calling out the toddler-beaters of “To Train Up A Child”, but you missed what I’d consider the dirtiest underbelly of the spanking scene – namely the offshoot that decrees that only girls should be spanked, only on the bare bottom, and that they (the girls) should be ENCOURAGED to post about their spanking experiences on forums frequented by the older men who advocate for this style of “discipline”.

    A fine example:

    Yep, it’s low-grade BDSM crossed with incest with a big ol’ dollop of Old Time Religion on top to pretend that those stepdads aren’t just groping their teenage stepdaughters. “Gross” barely begins to cover it.

    As for why boys shouldn’t be spanked? I bet you won’t be shocked to find out that the claim is that it will “turn them gay”.

    1. Clay Jones says:

      Yes, I didn’t get into the concerns that spanking as a child turns kids into sadomasochists as adults either.

    2. G says:

      Re. “” Sounds like a thinly-veiled excuse for, as you said, incestuous BDSM; and it would not surprise me if there was another level to the site, that requires vetting by admins to access. If that site contains any improper images of children, or sexualized or “suggestive” postings, you should report it to the FBI immediately.

      However, if there are abuse images, merely visiting the site makes you guilty of a statutory federal felony because browsers automatically cache web content and it’s illegal to have child sexual abuse images stored on your computer in any way: unless you either a) purge the cache and history from your browser, or preferably b) immediately report what you saw to law enforcement, starting with your nearest FBI office. (This I found out when I reported a questionable site years ago: the FBI agent I spoke with had to talk me through the process of clearing out my browser.)

      The FBI takes child sexual abuse and images of such extremely seriously, and FBI agents themselves take it _personally_: like a violent hostage situation that requires immediate response. If you find anything suspicious on that site, you’ll know it when you see it, so make the call and potentially save a life.

  23. mousethatroared says:

    I completely agree that often spanking is used when a parent is stressed and had run out of productive parenting tactics. As the parent of a child who was VERY challenging as a preschooler, I sympathize with folks who struggle to discipline their children. I will add that finding help is not easy. I wish, in general, that advice was more focused on finding appropriate strategies that work for the child and family than focused on how parent might be abusing their child.

    In the books that I read, it seemed like everything from spanking, to time-outs to taking away privileges, to leaving a child to fall asleep alone has been called “damaging” or borderline abusive. There’s a sea of parenting advice out there, but very little fresh water.

    When I went to a pediatrician (my regular ped was not available for behavior consults) for help with my daughter’s behavior, I was told to say no less often and read 123 Magic. The fact was, when my daughter was in misbehavior mode, she went out or her way to do the things she knew were forbidden, like hitting me or her little brother or slamming a door on someone. It’s hard not to say no to that. If you gave her a count, she would only try to get as much dangerous mischief done as possible before you got to three. She would not sit in a time out. If you sent her to her room for a time out, you had to lock her in and then she would climb in the windows (second story). If you tried to hold her in a time out, she would head butt and bite and kick. No good time-out options.

    The pediatrician only referred us to a therapist reluctantly, even though I made it clear that I was looking for help with more effective parenting techniques, not to medicate my daughter. Neither of the therapist office returned my calls for an appointment. Wrong insurance, I think.

    Luckily, I happened upon a book that DID help called What Your Explosive Child Is Trying to Tell You – as well as getting a couple of hints from my daughter herself. She mentioned that she liked one of her preschool teachers better because of her three strikes system. We initiated a system where consequences (such as losing their choice of movie or TV privileges) were only applied after three transgressions. Cards with a sad face were used to record a transgression. The book focused on predictable taking away of priveldges as a consequence, positive reinforcement and a game that helps kids develop an inner dialogue. (sounds crunchy, but it actually was helpful).

    The last thing that was helpful is other parents, such as my SIL, who assured me that their kids behaved similar at that age, but did much better as they matured. When you are parenting younger children it’s easy to think that they will always behave that way, but so many things, they just grow out of.

    As the kids have aged (9 and 10 now) we switched to verbal “yellow cards” instead of sad faces, but that system still works for us. Although now we have to use it far, far less for hitting or dangerous activities. it’s still useful for back talk, mean teasing and shirking chores or responsibilities.

    God help me when they are teens. :(

    1. mousethatroared says:

      I just have to add. I don’t want to portray my daughter as intentionally mean or defiant. I often got the feeling that there was a “don’t think of a pink elephant” thing going on. That somehow she was so focused on the fact that she wasn’t supposed to do something that she couldn’t just let go of the misbehavior and move on to something more enjoyable…sorry, hard to describe.

      1. Chris says:

        She sounds like bit more challenging version of my younger son. I usually described his “terrible twos” as lasting from eighteen months to seven years old. I found help from a book about “dealing with a spirited child.”

        He seemed to have the opposite of ADD in that he would get a hold of an idea and not let go if he wanted to do something, even to the point of waiting for me to get distracted. He was very stubborn. One thing I learned was to direct his interests to things that were safer. (one example: I had to call poison control when he was three years old because while I was directing the spray of a neighbor’s broken hose bib away from our house in freezing weather, he pushed a stool to counter, climbed up, got the chewable Tylenol box and chewed them out of the blister pack, fortunately it only had a few left.)

        1. mousethatroared says:

          Yeah – When my daughter was four (I think) we had to take her to the E.R. after she climbed on the toilet, then onto the ceramic pedestal sink, balanced there, while she undid the eyebolt I had installed at the top of the medicine cabinet, took out the cough medicine with codeine, opened it in spite of the child-proof cap (I think it was gooey and the catch didn’t click) and drank some.

          This is the same child that I have consistently struggle with to take any medication at all since the age of 2.

          My husband found her with the bottle part full and we didn’t know how much she had drank. Poison control told us to take her to the E.R., but ultimately they didn’t feel she needed any other intervention besides a lovely charcoal concoction, that she surprisingly drank without too much fuss.

          I still don’t know whether to thank my lucky stars that she didn’t drink more of the medicine or didn’t slip and fall and bash her head. Both I guess. Our mistake was not accounting for what a good climber she is, thinking that the latch was out of reach.

          1. Chris says:

            “This is the same child that I have consistently struggle with to take any medication at all since the age of 2.”

            This was the same with my younger son. I was totally baffled.

            I cringe when I think of his near misses. Like when he was a toddler and bolted from the sidewalk in front of our house into to street, and I was very glad the car stopped. This was when I made sure to put the “kid leash” on him when near roads (oh, don’t get me started on the remarks for that!). Then when I found him on top of a low dresser about to go through a fully opened second story window. For that I gave his dad a good yell while holding my little boy tightly since the window has a latch to lock it when it is only opened for three inches (his excuse was that is was a hot day).

            Parenting is not for the faint of heart.

            Now full circle irony: he has been a lifeguard for at least seven years, since he was fifteen years old. He now cringes when his friends refuse to wear a life jacket when they canoe in the lake.

            1. mousethatroared says:

              Chris “Now full circle irony: he has been a lifeguard for at least seven years, since he was fifteen years old. He now cringes when his friends refuse to wear a life jacket when they canoe in the lake.”


  24. Jamie says:

    A positive punishment like spanking may in the acute setting stop an unwanted behavior but it loses effect over time. Thus in order to achieve the same result, it often must be increased in intensity, which is part of why it can lead to clear abuse.

    Could you provide some further information regarding its decreasing effect over time?

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