Another word or two about physical punishment

8 Oct

A reader asked me about spanking and it remains one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written.  I figure about half the folks looking at it are pervs and end up moving on.  But I remain amazed at the response all the same.


So I figure an update is needed about now.


He question was, do I still use it?  The answer is no.  I’m not saying I will never do it again, but there were some bad byproducts that were totally not anticipated.  While Thomas did and still does fall into line around me, the spanking brought on an obsession of sorts for him.  The last time he got it was actually in the church parking lot when he started seriously back talking.  And then for the next month, when we’re wlking in chuch, he is saying very loudly, “I’M GOING TO HAVE GOOD BEHAVIOR SO I DON’T GET A SPANKING!  I SURE DON’T WANT A SPANKING, DADDY!  THERE WILL BE NO SPANKING TODAY!”


I can just see child protective services ringing my doorbell.


It was traumatic for him, which I suppose is sort of the point in a way.  He does listen to me better now.  I’m hoping it sticks around but not so much it rules all of his thoughts, you know? After a couple of months, he doesn’t go on and on about spanking anymore. 


It was traumatic for me, as well.  Sure, I know it works but I’m no Ivar Lovaas.  It’s not something I want to do every day, every week or every month.  Having said that, I will give his arm a squeeze at times while making my point, but that’s about it for anything physical.


Jane is convinced that I taught him to hit, which is patently false.  The boy was hitting long before I took a hand to his backside.  Some things just don’t need to be taught.


So, to the reader looking for advice I’m not going to say to do it or not to do it.  But I will say that you might be a wee bit preoccupied with punishment.  Change your thinking and turn it around a bit.  For instance, church is a traumatic time for Thomas and his brother or any child his age.  But sitting still and quiet for extended time is a useful skill and is worth working on.  So that’s what we’re doing.  I have a train magazine for him that he is ONLY allowed to look at during quiet time at church.  He lurves trains and it is a powerful enough reinforcer to get him to fly right for a time.   Think about enticement rather than coercion.  Give choices instead of threats.  These are less traumatic for everyone.  And I am SO for less trauma.


When spanking Thomas, it basically was a nuclear option resulting in an instantaneous meltdown.  There was no more learning, talking, consoling, explaining, teaching that was going to happen for a long time and maybe even the rest of the day.   Even longer, perhaps, considering the ensuing obsession.   


Every single person out there says that it should be controlled and done without anger.  I’m all for the controlled bit, as it is the adults job to be in control.  But I’m not so much for the “without anger” part.  That seems a bit silly, actually.  Of course I’m angry!   And registering measured anger is not a bad thing.  One of the biggest problems kids have today is the inability to self regulate.  They need to learn to regulate their own emotional reactions and modeling controlled anger is one way adults can help.  You can even tell them you are angry, and why you are so mad.  Guilting parents for being angry is annoying at best and harmful at worst.  And if you are going to make a good and convincing go of spanking you may need some anger.  It’s gotta hurt some.  The child, I mean.  It has to register.  I might have tried a mild swat years ago, and it simply did not register at all with Thomas.  Fact is, it is has to hurt.  No one wants to see their child hurt so the fact that it’s going to hurt you as a parent probably goes without saying.  But in order to get past my own issues, I needed some of the anger to muster up the nerve to do it and to do it “right”.   “Right” being defined as being severe enough that I would not have to do it again.  I’ve seen parents beating their kids repeatedly and that bugs me.  I’d rather get one good strong stout swat and be done with it.  Make the point once, and it is finished.  If it still doesn’t work, then doing it over and over again isn’t going to make much difference accept just help the kid get used to it and require ever more beatings.


So I’ll probably get lambasted for this one all over the place, having violated several rules of society, good parenting, behaviorism, the IRB, Good House Keeping, the APA and my own professional code of ethics, except I’m speaking as a parent, not a teacher. 


Okay, since I’m knee deep, I might as well enjoy the coolness of this squishy substance I’ve waded into:


When I was a kid, my mother used a belt on us kids and my Dad used a stick.  A stick he made US select.  Jane’s mother used a wooden spoon.  Some use rulers, hairbrushes, ping pong paddles, tennis rackets, shoes, and other assorted utensils.  Some schools have recently returned to corporal punishment and use various wooden paddles, some with holes drilled in them.  Some may recall the kid who got it in Singapore with a rattan cane.


But I do not advocate the use of such devices.  I have used my bare hand every single time.  And yes, it hurt my hand every single time.  Oh well.  It might have actually hurt me more than him, since he had jeans and underwear between my hand and his bottom.  But that’s okay.  Another incentive to give it one good blow and be done with it.  I’m not trying to wear out my hand or his bottom.  I am registering displeasure at a behavior that I want to stop immediately.  I am expressing intolerance.  I am enforcing my will.  If my hand is too sore to continue, it is time to stop. And one time is sufficient for me, physically and emotionally.


Spanking really is deep water in parenting today, and even moreso with kids with disabilities.  In schools, it is deeper water infested with mines and sharks.  I can’t believe anyone in a school actually does it now days.


For me, it was a very mixed result.  I do get tons more compliance.  Jane does not, and I’m not sure she could get my level of compliance even if she beat him diligently and daily.  There is some real difference in the way fathers and mothers relate to children, and fathers usually can get more compliance if they are motivated to gain and keep it.  Even though my own mother was generous in her use of the belt, Dad still was the ultimate even though he only spanked me maybe twice that I can remember my whole life.  But that was sufficient, as he made a deep enough impression.  That doesn’t mean I was a perfect child but I knew there were lines I dare not cross with him where I might try Mom many more times.


I’m not giving advice, I’m stating my one opinion and experience.  For kids with autism, they are all different and everyone’s mileage varies.  Please apply all disclaimers you have ever seen, read, heard of or dreamed of right here. 




10 Responses to “Another word or two about physical punishment”

  1. Alexander's Daddy October 8, 2006 at 8:31 am #


    This is a topic my wife and me have been talking about lately. When I was a child, I received spankings all the time from my mother, grandmother, and school. I was spanked nearly every day at school, and many times I hadn’t done anything wrong, teachers assumed I must have done something so at when kids were lined up in the hall for the spanking (they did it once a day), I was always included. I actually enjoyed the attention I got from the spankings, until the 6th grade when I put a stop to unjustified spankings by refusing. After parent teacher princpal conference, the spankings ended. I guess it wasn’t until the 6th grade that I developed a sense of “justice”. Before then, I actually liked spankings in school because of the “attention” I received when getting one. I never liked spankings from my mom or grandmother. Why? I’m not sure but I think it was because there wasn’t anyone (my peers) there to recognize my faux bravery. Mom spankings always made me cry, teacher spankings always made me laugh. Mom meant it, teachers were losing control of me which I recognized and delighted in.

    Now, I see similar behavior with my 3.8 year old son. He is so much like me at that age, yet I don’t have any good answers on how to handle him sometimes. You would think that I would since I have this 24/7 deja vu thing with him.

    Like I use to be, he likes to aggravate us in order to get a reaction. He purposely does things we don’t like and then looks at us to see a reaction. I did the same thing. It was like an obsession for me that I could not control when I was a child. I still have the same issue today, although its much more sophisticated and less overt. Its as though I receive some sort of sensory stimulation from it because its the same type of “high” I get after a good long run.

    Sorry for the rambling comment but I have decided that spanking will be used in our house, although sparingly. I don’t want my wife to spank because I feel that my son needs a “safety net”, someone to run to who will not judge him on whether he deserved the spanking. I’m not sure if that is clear or not. He always wants to “make up” after the spanking with a hug and a good cry, which I give to him. I don’t ever remember wanting a hug after my mom spanked me but maybe I did and don’t remember. I then try to explain to him why he was spanked and then I ask him to tell me why he was spanked to make sure he understands. I don’t know if what I’m doing is right or not but I am doing it because I feel he needs to understand that other people are not going to “understand his rules”, and that he absolutely has to comply at certain times.

    If I didn’t feel that my son had the capacity to understand I wouldn’t use spanking. But I think he has absolutely normal (age-appropriate) understanding of when he is suppose to comply.

  2. DougK October 17, 2006 at 11:52 am #

    I appreciate the frankness of this post on a very touchy topic. I am not a parent, so I am not going to point any fingers at anyone for spanking their child. For goodness’ sake, I’ve not even really developed my own opinion on the practice.

    I lost all my bookmarks recently, so I’m glad I found my way back to this thoughtful blog. It makes for very thought-provoking reading on a subject of great interest to me. Thanks to Dick for writing it.

  3. Alison October 19, 2006 at 9:26 am #

    There’s nothing wrong with spanking if it’s done correctly – meaning, as a last resort, as an attention getter for a child who won’t pay attention otherwise, etc. IMO, the big problem is when it’s used first, or always. The child learns nothing that way. I’ve seen some pretty awful examples – one mom who used to park across the street from my house would get out of the car, and her two year old was supposed to get himself out of his car seat, open the door himself, and close it behind him, then catch up to her as she walked to her apartment building, not looking back. If she got to the front door, and he hadn’t caught up or hadn’t closed the car door properly, he got spanked right there. I was in a mall, following a group of young girls, and the son of one of them, again left to follow unnoticed, was trying to get her attention because he needed to go to the bathroom. After he’d caught up and grabbed her leg because saying “mommy, I need to go potty” had had no effect, she turned around and whacked him for interrupting her conversation. This is the kind of spanking usage that makes it pointless and horrible. At the same time, I’ve seen plenty of parents who go way too far with the permissiveness, equating no spanking with no punishment or consequences at all. A child at the skating rink who hit his mom in the face with his gameboy being told “You’re not supposed to hit mommy. It’s not nice”, or the child who couldn’t choose between two toys throwing them at his mother and getting both instead of neither. . .I’ve been very, very, very lucky in that my daughters were very responsive to praise, and understood consequences, so I never >hadjudiciously

  4. Alison October 19, 2006 at 9:29 am #

    I’ve been very, very, very lucky in that my daughters were very responsive to praise, and understood consequences, so I never >hadjudiciously

  5. Alison October 19, 2006 at 9:30 am #

    I’ve been very, very, very lucky in that my daughters were very responsive to praise, and understood consequences, so I never had to hit them, but I would never judge a person who used spanking judiciously as a bad parent.

    (That last got cut off, somehow. Sorry for duplication!)

  6. Dick October 19, 2006 at 1:17 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by, and the comments!

    Alexander’s daddy, I think the main think is that you are think this through and being thoughtful about it. I know many parents who might do it without a thought and just swat the kid because they aren’t thinking. OTOH, there are parents with NO boundries, and those kids end up terrorizing other kids. Your own experiences will help you gain perspective but just be careful. Your son is *like* you, but he is still a different person. I often make the mistake of projecting my stuff on the kids, but notice it more when Jane does it.

    Well, DougK, you’re in the minority in not having an opinion! Most people have either been spanked or not spanked and formed their opinions from there. But you may be better off in just looking at it from different angles before you’re in a position to HAVE to do it.

    Thanks for stopping by, Alison! Praise motivates most children, but not all, all the time. If your girls are sensitive (and my youngest son is to some extent) praise is a big reward and disappointment and admonishment is a sufficient punishment for MOST things. The day will come when it isn’t going to be enough. Girls especially I’ve noticed, are more compliant generally when they are younger. But I have coworkers with teenage daughters and they are really going through it now! It’s kind of scary to see them go through that stage. Which is when i am thankful for my BOYS!LOL!


  7. Alison October 21, 2006 at 8:38 am #

    Heh. Yeah, we’re experiencing changes with our 13 year old right now. The frustration level is a lot higher. Praise isn’t quite as powerful as it used to be. ..however, we can still take away her computer. . .

  8. Mel F. November 3, 2006 at 3:53 am #

    “Some may recall the kid who got it in Singapore with a rattan cane.”

    Yes we do:

  9. Doctor March 29, 2007 at 9:16 am #

    you people are sick.I think you must all be very hurt folks with depression.adhd,and personality disorders to beat your children.please,for the sake of your kids get professional help ASAP!!!!

  10. Dick Dalton March 30, 2007 at 12:18 pm #

    Who is beating their children here, Doc? I think you should take some time to actually read the post and the comments and attempt some reading comprehension followed by deep thought and contemplation. I’m taking a fairly neutral position in this instance and looking at different sides of the issue. You, OTOH, are engaged in ad hominem attacks bereft of logic or substance.


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