|In 29 countries1
around the world, it is illegal for a parent, teacher, or anyone
else to spank a child, and 113 countries prohibit corporal
punishment in schools. Yet in all of North America, physical
punishment by a parent, as long as it is not severe, is still
seen by many as necessary discipline, and condoned, or sadly,
For the past several years, many psychiatrists, sociological
researchers, and parents have recommended that we seriously
consider banning the physical punishment of children. The most
important reason, according to Dr. Peter Newell, coordinator of
the organization End Punishment of Children (EPOCH)2,
is that "all people have the right to protection of their
physical integrity, and children are people too."3
1. Hitting children teaches them to become hitters
themselves. Extensive research data is now available to support
a direct correlation between corporal punishment in childhood
and aggressive or violent behavior in the teenage and adult
years. Virtually all of the most dangerous criminals were
regularly threatened and punished in childhood. It is nature's
plan that children learn attitudes and behaviors through
observation and imitation of their parents' actions, for good or
ill. Thus it is the responsibility of parents to set an example
of empathy and wisdom.
2. In many cases of so-called "bad
behavior", the child is simply responding in the only way
he can, given his age and experience, to neglect of basic needs.
Among these needs are: proper sleep and nutrition, treatment of
hidden allergy, fresh air, exercise, and sufficient freedom to
explore the world around him. But his greatest need is for his
parents' undivided attention. In these busy times, few children
receive sufficient time and attention from their parents, who
are often too distracted by their own problems and worries to
treat their children with patience and empathy. It is surely
wrong and unfair to punish a child for responding in a natural
way to having important needs neglected. For this reason,
punishment is not only ineffective in the long run, it is also
3. Punishment distracts the child from learning how to
resolve conflict in an effective and humane way. As the educator
John Holt wrote, "When we make a child afraid, we stop
learning dead in its tracks." A punished child
becomes preoccupied with feelings of anger and fantasies of
revenge, and is thus deprived of the opportunity to learn more
effective methods of solving the problem at hand. Thus, a
punished child learns little about how to handle or prevent
similar situations in the future.
4. The phrase "Spare the rod and spoil the
child" is not from the Bible but from Samuel Butler's
"Hudibras", a 17th Century satirical poem. The poem,
like his novel, The Way of All Flesh, was written to
expose and denounce violence against children. Ironically,
this phrase is now used to justify corporal punishment and other
punitive actions against children.
5. Punishment interferes with the bond between parent
and child, as it is not human nature to feel loving toward
someone who hurts us. The true spirit of cooperation which every
parent desires can arise only through a strong bond based on
mutual feelings of love and respect. Punishment, even when it
appears to work, can produce only superficially good behavior
based on fear, which can only take place until the child is old
enough to resist. In contrast, cooperation based on respect will
last permanently, bringing many years of mutual happiness as the
child and parent grow older.
6. Many parents never learned in their own childhood
that there are positive ways of relating to children. When
punishment does not accomplish the desired goals, and if the
parent is unaware of alternative methods, punishment can
escalate to more frequent and dangerous actions against the
7. Anger and frustration which cannot be safely
expressed by a child become stored inside; angry teenagers do
not fall from the sky. Anger that has been accumulating for many
years can come as a shock to parents whose child now feels
strong enough to express this rage. Punishment may appear to
produce "good behavior" in the early years, but always
at a high price, paid by parents and by society as a whole, as
the child enters adolescence and early adulthood.
8. Spanking on the buttocks, an erogenous zone in
childhood, can create in the child's mind an association between
pain and sexual pleasure, and lead to difficulties in adulthood.
"Spanking wanted" ads in alternative newspapers attest
to the sad consequences of this confusion of pain and pleasure.
If a child receives little parental attention except when being
punished, this will further merge the concepts of pain and
pleasure in the child's mind. A child in this situation will
have little self-esteem, believing he deserves nothing better.
For more on this topic, see "The
Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children" (also in French).
Even relatively moderate spanking can be physically
dangerous. Blows to the lower end of the spinal column send
shock waves along the length of the spine, and may injure the
child. The prevalence of lower back pain among adults in our
society may well have its origins in childhood punishment. Some
children have become paralyzed through nerve damage from
spanking, and some have died after mild paddlings, due to
undiagnosed medical complications.
9. Physical punishment gives the dangerous and unfair
message that "might makes right", that it is
permissible to hurt someone else, provided they are smaller and
less powerful than you are. The child then concludes that it is
permissible to mistreat younger or smaller children. When he
becomes an adult, he can feel little compassion for those less
fortunate than he is, and fears those who are more powerful.
This will hinder the establishment of meaningful relationships
so essential to an emotionally fulfilling life.
10. Because children learn through parental modeling,
physical punishment gives the message that hitting is an
appropriate way to express feelings and to solve problems. If a
child does not observe a parent solving problems in a creative
and humane way, it can be difficult for him to learn to do this
himself. For this reason, unskilled parenting often continues
into the next generation.
Gentle instruction, supported by a strong foundation of love
and respect, is the only truly effective way to bring about
commendable behavior based on strong inner values, instead of
superficially "good" behavior based only on fear.