|In 47 countries around the world, it is illegal for a parent, teacher, or anyone else to
spank a child, and 124 countries prohibit corporal punishment in schools.1
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, even encouraged.
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
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 clearly unjust.
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. 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.
5. 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 child.
6. 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.
7. 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).
8. 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
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.