Difficult Topics, Great for All Ages, Parent Tips, The Happy Student Podcast

#103 What’s the Hubbub Surrounding Spanking? (with Alison Smith)

The American Academy of Pediatrics just put out a strongly worded statement arguing against spanking because the AAP argues that spanking can harm kids. This is controversial because a lot of parents spank their kids as part of discipline and no one wants to hear that they are doing the wrong thing, especially when they feel like they don’t have a good alternative. So what’s the deal with spanking? And are there good alternatives?




The American Academy of Pediatrics just put out a strongly worded statement arguing against spanking because the AAP argues that spanking can harm kids.

What are the arguments in favor of spanking?

  • “I got spanked and I turned out fine.”
    • Years of research show that most people who were spanked usually aren’t “fine”.
      • Anecdotal evidence vs. research based evidence
        • Anecdotal evidence is a true story of one person in one particular set of circumstances in his/her own results.
        • Research takes lots of anecdotal evidence into account and the person’s particular circumstances, as well.
    • Is it really worth the risk?

What are the consequences of spanking?

  • It does do harm, but it often appears over time.
  • We have laws and ethical standards against hitting animals, spouses, strangers, so how are children biologically different that makes hitting them ok?
  • Any force, whether physical, emotional, etc., from a larger adult to a child has subtle and significant impacts.
  • The idea of spanking is to inflict at least temporary pain or discomfort.
    • How can we then say that it is not causing pain or discomfort?
  • When they are touched in a private area (the buttock) that they are supposed to protect; they feel shame and humiliation because they’ve had no choice in that.
    • This causes uncertainty and confusion about whether the buttock is a private part of the body.
    • Children can’t articulate this, but they know that something feels off, uncomfortable, or “icky.”
    • Under the age of approximately seven, children have not developed in the part of the brain that judges whether something they see or hear is true or not. So, if someone they love/respect and has a place of power does something to them and says it’s their fault, children take that in internally that they are bad and have done something wrong. They don’t even know how or why, but they feel uncomfortable, knows it has something to do with the private parts of their bodies, and that they must deserve it if this loving person is doing this to them.

Many parents believe that they have to spank their child. There are interventions that work just as well in the short term and are better for the long-term, without the risks associated with spanking.

What are a few good discipline techniques?

  • Allow them to feel like they can come for help without the fear of something bad or uncomfortable happening that may cause them to lose part of that connection they have with you. Then there’s an opportunity to work with your children to help them see the possible outcomes of all of their choices, which then builds the trust and connection between you and your children for next time so they will be more likely to come back to ask for guidance.
    • Keep a good, open communication with your child.
    • The decision making part of the brain does not fully develop until the child is 25-30 years old.
  • Teach the problem solving process and give them safe practice.  
  • Expect them to mess up.
    • There was a fear of messing up because of the thought of being in trouble. This kept us from taking healthy risks and from learning important things. It stifled us.
    • Our goal is to teach them in the moment how to make those right decisions.

But, there has to be consequences sometimes…

  • Consequences are a natural result of something.
  • Some consequences we don’t want them to experience.
  • It takes time and intentional effort.
    • We need new skills to teach us how to do this.

Where do parents go for help now that parenting has changed?

  • Parents can visit a
    • Parenting specialist
    • Therapist with specialized backgrounds in parenting/family dynamics, relationships, problem solving
    • Parenting consultant/coach/educator.
      • They focus on prevention. They consider relationship as much as possible.
  • Follow the links below.

What constitutes spanking? I have a friend who gives her son just a little tap when he’s messing up and she argues that he immediately stops and corrects his behavior. She argues that this is not spanking.

  • I would argue that it is in fact a form of spanking – she is hitting her child and that is physical punishment. And I think that teaches the child that hitting is okay – because his mom is modeling that behavior for him.
  • It teaches that might makes right.
    • Whomever has the size, strength, or power, and if they are motivated enough then they can use their size, strength, or power and it’s ok.
  • It confuses the child on what’s private, what their in charge of, and what someone in power can do.

Summary of how spanking is harmful:

  • There’s more than physical harm. It affects the way they think, the way they internalize the mistakes that they’re making, and it has a lasting impact.
    • Parenting is the most important relationship.
    • People can heal, but it takes more work to counteract those early years.
  • Being spanked has been linked to lower self-esteem, depression, masochism, and psychological distress.
    • It has an emotional affect.
  • It impacts the relationship between parents and children when power is taken out of the equation. The bond and trust we have is important to protect.

References & Resources:

Alison Smith Parent Coach

A Gift from Alison Smith: The Gentle Parenting Manifesto from

The Happy Student episodes on discipline:

“The General Rules of Discipline”

“Types of Discipline”

“Giving Logical Consequences”

“What To Do When Your Kid ‘Talks Back’ with Alison Smith”

“The Bizarre Time-Out Controversy”

“Lighthouse Parenting”

Debra L. Stang has put together some excellent arguments against spanking, using both research and common myths in favour of physical punishment. I shared a number of points from her article. https://nospank.net/stang2.htm




Hard-hitting essay on the evolution of society’s view of what constitutes violence.



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