Is It Okay to Spank?
Along with lessons learned in childhood, many parents spank their kids for another simple reason: It stops children from doing whatever it is they're doing. "One day my son was acting up and was uncontrollable," says Togni. "He wouldn't listen or calm down, so I spanked him and told him to go to his room." The shock of the spanking coupled with time alone put an end to everyone's frustration, she says.
Even parents (like me) who are against spanking in theory admit that it seems to be a particularly effective stopgap when their child is doing something dangerous. Now, I don't spank my kids as a regular punishment, but there are times when I think it works. For instance, if my 3-year-old suddenly tries to grab the burner on the stove, it doesn't occur to me to have a discussion with him about why touching the stove is a no-no.
When safety is the issue, it's hard to dispute that spanking works, and my experience backs this up. But other methods, like positive reinforcement, are better ways to change behavior over time, say experts. While spanking might make a child take his hand away from the stove and avoid injury, they say, it won't necessarily keep him from trying it again or even make sure he understands the connection between his action and the consequences.
Linda McKenzie, a mom of three in St. Louis, recalls when her 5-year-old darted into traffic; she spanked her twice, telling her never to do that again. Later, she even sat her down to explain why she'd been spanked. The next day at school, her daughter told her teacher, "My mom hit me." When her teacher asked why, she replied, "I don't know."
If spanking is merely a behavioral Band-Aid, why use it at all? For many parents, it's the quick solution -- especially when they're dealing with an unruly toddler or preschooler, or when they're stressed out. But, say experts, spanking out of anger is never acceptable. It's vital to step back when a situation is escalating to a point of no return in order to give the thinking part of your brain time to catch up with your emotions.