Spanking Didn’t Traumatize Me, and I Still Won’t Do It


I’m just going to say it: spanking goes against everything I believe as a parent, educator, and human being. Even as a kid, I felt in my gut that spanking is unethical, harmful, and a violation of children’s rights.

Oh, great. One of those special snowflakes claiming that spanking traumatizes children. Look, what’s wrong with kids today is that they need a good whipping. None of this time out, trying to reason with them stuff. You can’t reason with kids. The only thing they listen to is a swat on the hiney. My parents spanked me when I was growing up, I spanked my kids, and you know what? None of us were traumatized. In fact, we all grew up to be respectful, well-behaved people. I’m glad I was spanked.  

This is many people’s experience: spanking is either neutral or positive. It didn’t harm them, it didn’t harm their kids, and they credit spanking with their development as decent human beings. Even though the American Psychological Association claims there’s a strong case against any benefits to spanking, these pro-spanking anecdata are compelling enough for many spanked children to grow up and spank their own kids.

And I’ll be frank: I don’t consider myself traumatized from spanking. I view it as unnecessary, ineffective, and deeply hurtful, but not traumatic. I don’t credit spanking with making me who I am today, but I don’t credit spanking for making my adult life problematic.

The thing is, spanking doesn’t need to be traumatic in order for it to be wrong.

The idea of purposefully hitting a child with a hand or an object, the idea of intentionally causing pain, goes against my ethical beliefs. “Do no harm” is a mantra of mine that of course extends to the vulnerable children under my care. Yes, (emotional) pain happens during discipline of any sort, but I believe it is never appropriate to intentionally cause pain, whether emotional or physical, or to leverage pain as punishment.

It’s such a slippery slope. When does spanking become hitting, beating, violence, or abuse? When it leaves a mark? What if you meant well and it leaves a mark accidentally? When it causes too much pain? Why is too much pain bad if pain is the thing that turns your child into a good human? And how do you determine too much pain? When your child cries or begs you to stop? Isn’t the whole point to cause them enough pain to get a strong emotional response so that they never do wrong again?

Spanking advocates often point to the emotional state of the parent as the thing that draws the fine line between appropriate and inappropriate corporal punishment. Never spank in anger is the rule.

Personally, I find it downright chilling that any loving parent could calmly and quietly spank their children, especially if the child is crying out in pain. I find it less disturbing that a parent would strike their child out of anger and frustration, then realize with horror what they did. Instead, with this model, parents make a calculated decision to inflict physical pain upon their children, with no remorse whatsoever.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t loving parents spanking their children. Of course there are. The overwhelming majority of parents spanking their children do so out love and fear for their child’s future, not because they enjoy seeing their child suffer. But that makes it all the worse: their love and empathy, their strong parental instinct to protect their child from harm, gets turned off and replaced with a conviction that physically harming their child is the most loving thing to do. This is one instance where that niggling mom guilt is right on the money.

On a personal note, I am not perfect enough as a mother to have spanking in my discipline arsenal without risking a harmful outburst. I am not always patient, kind, or self-controlled. This is why I cannot have corporal punishment of any kind as an option, even as a last resort. I can’t risk spanking my child in anger, accidentally hitting too hard, or unknowingly harming the innocent party if I misinterpret a negative interaction. Instead of allowing myself the possibility of spanking, I actively work on safer, gentler approaches.

Lauding physical harm as an ethical method of discipline is an anachronism in today’s world. We decry excessive police violence. We are appalled at anyone in a position of authority using their position to physically correct a subordinate. We expect children not to hit their siblings and friends. We don’t beat even convicted criminals.

Yet it’s tolerated and encouraged for parents to hit, thrash, beat, whoop, smack, pinch, whack, swat, or slap their children, their babies, the smallest, most defenseless, most powerless people.

Even if the line between spanking and abuse weren’t so thin, even if the danger of physically or emotionally bruising children weren’t so present, I still wouldn’t spank my children.

There’s another way.

It irks me, actually, when parents say things like, “Spanking is the only way to get them to listen.”

As a teacher, I can’t tap into the instantaneous submission that spanking brings. I must work to gain respect and authority through other, gentler means. It’s tough, but it works.

And I didn’t work with angels all the time. I worked with difficult children. You bet I sometimes stood shaking in frustration, thanking God through gritted teeth that spanking wasn’t allowed or else that kid would be hurting right now. I am not an angel myself.

But if teachers can keep a large class of students in some semblance of order without spanking, parents can handle their handful of children too without resorting to physical harm.

If spanking really were the only way to get to the hardest, most defiant kid to listen, I can understand the parenting philosophy of using spanking as a last resort punishment. But I know from experience that spanking is not the only way, and that it is the very opposite of more effective ways of disciplining.

And if there’s another way, why wouldn’t I choose an option that didn’t involve physically harming my children — even if spanking didn’t cause trauma?

6 thoughts on “Spanking Didn’t Traumatize Me, and I Still Won’t Do It

  1. Lily Collins

    I understand, you don’t like spanking. A lot of people don’t, and that is their right as a parent to refuse to use it as a form of discipline. Of course, the mindset of humans is needing to bring other people around to one’s own way of thinking because it is absolutely the right way. I’m not speaking here of absolute truths or moral rights and wrongs, but something more along the lines of “I’m a morning person, and my days go SO MUCH BETTER when I wake up very early in the morning, therefore, you-who-is-not-a-morning-person, you should also get up early in the morning and your life will never be right until you DO.” When in fact that person is a night person, and will be miserable for all of eternity if continually forced to get up with the sun.

    My point is, you’re not a spanking person, but there are a lot of people who are. And I thought one of your big issues that you talk about on your blog was allowing people the freedom to follow their own opinions and their own “truths” (again, not talking about absolute truths here, of which I firmly believe there are). But you seem to be decrying all spanking parents as cruel and abusive, or at the very least ignorant and unenlightened for not realizing they’re being cruel and abusive, and not allowing that those who disagree with you hold any sort of valid opinion.

    I believe in spanking. I will spank my children. I will not beat, thrash, smack, whack, whoop, swat, etc., my children, and I don’t condone those who do. The line between spanking and actual abuse is not so fine, in my opinion. A spanking is one or two quick connections between the hand and the buttocks (probably the least painful place to get hit on the body, actually) in order to discipline, such as a forewarned consequence for deliberate disobedience, or as a means to startle the child into paying attention to you, such as when they are rushing towards a very busy road. That spanking is not meant to hurt at all, only to rapidly change the child’s focus and encourage a negative association (nobody likes to be startled) with the harmful activity. It’s kind of the same method in use with some professional dog trainers; they do a quick jerk of the leash or choke collar, not to choke the dog, but to return its focus or give it a negative association.

    I’m fine with the fact that you don’t agree with spanking and don’t intend to employ it in your parenting. I agree that if a person has anger issues and may be prone to whale on their child during a spanking, that should probably be a disciplinary technique left out of their arsenal. I don’t think it’s fair that you don’t leave room for those who may not agree, or that you equate their use of that discipline as basically child abuse. Can some people use it as child abuse? Yes. “Spanking” your child with a rubber tube until they “submit” to your unbending authority is most definitely child abuse. But the majority of parents who spank do so in a very non-abusive way. Their children understand the consequence, they are not afraid of their parents (as abused children are), and they have good, loving relationships with those parents. Do children like being spanked? No, but they also don’t like being grounded or lectured or made to clean a room. It’s not child abuse if it’s used correctly!

    So, I’m not trying to be hostile or start an argument. I just wanted to contribute a different side to the discussion. We’re both parents, and I believe fellow parents should support each other, lovingly challenge each other to be better, and acknowledge that each parenting style is somewhat unique to personality and circumstance.


    • Bailey Steger

      Lily, thanks for your feedback. I’ve been thinking a lot about your comment, as it’s something I haven’t quite worked out philosophically. I will say that I consciously approach spanking as an absolute moral issue — I think it’s indefensible to hit one’s own children, just as it’s wrong to hit others’ children, or other adults, or even animals. Because of this, I don’t see it as just another parenting style I can support as an equally moral option. I think spanking is a child’s rights violation. Obviously we disagree on this.

      I haven’t worked out how to hold moral absolutes while acknowledging that my perspective is limited and I could very well be wrong. There are many things I believe are moral absolutes that not everybody concedes: It’s wrong to abort babies. It’s wrong to discriminate against women in the ways complementarian churches do. It’s wrong to prevent gay people from marrying. I could go on. We all have our own list. I work for social change in these areas, which does involve hoping people will change their minds and agree with whatever moral principle I’m promoting.

      How does this make me any different from my previous fundamentalist self? How is this not just another version of “hate the sin, love the sinner,” or evangelistic propaganda?

      I honestly haven’t figured that out.

      My tentative answer is that previously, I saw people through their beliefs instead of their beliefs through their individual selves. What I mean is that I previously thought that if someone supported, say, abortion, they must LOVE abortion and hate babies and be all these other horrible things for all these horrible reasons. I evaluated people’s character based on their beliefs, not realizing how our experiences and opportunities shape our sense of morality—and not realizing that we could share the same set of morals and come to different conclusions about the morality of a particular act.

      We all do almost everything out of good, right motivations. When I put people in their emotional, social, moral contexts, their actions often make perfect sense, and I see them as the good people they are, instead of as my evil enemies who need to be cowed into submission to my “perfect” views. Oftentimes I realize my position is not as nuanced as it needs to be, or I realize I’ve been flat out wrong.

      In regards to this particular issue, this post is how I feel about spanking. It’s not how I feel about parents who spank. I’ve laid out in a previous post how I think all punitive punishment (including spanking) comes from authoritarian parenting, which doesn’t reflect the heart of God toward children. The philosophy/theology behind spanking is, I truly believe, abusive, disrespectful, and not informed by child development. But I believe many, many, many caring, loving, sensitive, non-abusive parents spank their children for a host of admirable reasons.

      Let me give a (hopefully) more familiar example: I believe complementarianism’s philosophical root is sexist and discriminatory towards women, but I don’t for one second believe that all women in complementarian marriages are oppressed, or that their husbands are sexist jerks, or that they promote misogyny or disrespect toward their wives. I’ve been complementarian myself. Many dear friends and family are complementarian. They often have better marriages than I do and are more respectful spouses than I am. I respect the reasons they choose to be complementarian, as those reasons are often in line with what I believe too. I see the difference between egregious acts of marital abuse and more benign aches and pains that bad theology produces. There are some beliefs/actions that cause so much damage that I cannot “live and let live” without challenging them, and then there are others things that I strongly disagree with but don’t feel that they’re any more of a problem than my own marital woes.

      What I’m trying to say is that even though I make more or less space for different beliefs or actions within complementarianism based on how egregious or benign they are, I am still 100% opposed to complementarianism because I think it’s wrong, and I think that the underlying philosophy/theology fuels the more egregious problems that many individual complementarian couples will never experience.

      I feel the same way about spanking. I don’t think that swatting a toddler for running into the street is the same as whaling on a kid with a rubber hose. My experiences and research have shaped my conscience in such a way that I feel sick seeing either incident, but I intellectually know that one is just wrong and the other is abuse. In many instances, I’m confident the parent/child relationship is loving, strong, and respectful, even if the method of discipline isn’t loving or respectful in my view. I understand that the child may likely view the spanking as coming from a place of love and care, even if I would see it as a violation of their bodily autonomy. I believe that their use of spanking is on par with other mistakes I’ve made and will make as a parent—wrong, but not ultimately destructive to an otherwise healthy relationship. Spanking within that context is something I try not to get hot and bothered about, even though I 100% oppose spanking.

      I oppose it, because the root philosophy beneath spanking (note: this is NOT the same thing as parental intent) is abusive and authoritarian and fuels the more egregious acts of spanking that we both agree are not okay.

      I want to assure you that I don’t view you or most parents who spank as abusive, and that I see and understand your heart and your intent behind your choice to spank. I don’t think you’re ignorant, unenlightened, or cruel. I don’t pretend that I am immune to wrong views on parenting or that my kids will turn out wonderful simply because I don’t spank. I don’t think that parents who spank get everything wrong about parenting, or that their kids are in danger simply because their parents spank them. I know from experience that many parents, for reasons I can’t pigeon-hole, choose to spank even though they’ve been exposed to other methods of discipline. I know there are a host of valid reasons why they choose spanking even when given another option, and none of those reasons involve them being stupid or uncaring.

      Here’s my heart in this: I think our culture has handed us a broken model of parent/child relationships. The authoritarian parent/child relationship is so ingrained in us that we don’t even see many of the things done to us as kids or the things we do to our kids as disrespectful. Many of us don’t get an opportunity to critique this authoritarian model because we’re too busy parenting. Honestly, if I wasn’t forced to find other methods of discipline for my students before I became a parent, I would probably be a spanking person, as you termed it. I wouldn’t know any other way to keep my kid safe or make sure he grew into a decent person. If I were faced with a situation where the only options I knew were to spank and keep my baby safe or not spank and put my baby in danger, I would spank too.

      I absolutely do not fault parents for doing the best for their kids with the knowledge and experience they have. I absolutely do not fault parents for not having the time, opportunity, or energy to learn or implement a different way of discipline. I absolutely do not fault parents for drawing on their own experiences and research to parent to the best of their ability and with the best of intentions. This doesn’t stop me from thinking that spanking is wrong, but it does tear down a false binary of “good parents are non-spanking parents” and “bad parents are spanking parents.”

      My own husband and I disagree on this issue. For now, we aren’t spanking our baby out of deference to my strong feelings, but his experiences with spanking and understanding of discipline are different than mine and have shaped his conscience in such a way that he feels it’s morally acceptable to spank in certain cases. He hears all my anti-spanking, pro-gentle parenting rants all the time, and he is still unpersuaded. I frankly don’t understand why he doesn’t agree with me. I think a lot of it has to do with our personal experiences with spanking, which were influenced by our personalities and other life experiences. In that sense, I think you’re right that there are “spanking parents” and “non-spanking parents.”

      All of this to say, I see the heart behind your choice to spank. I am not trying to shame you or malign you or accuse you of abuse. Still, my conscience will not allow me to say that spanking is a morally acceptable parenting style or a morally neutral choice. I’m trying to navigate between the moral absolute against spanking and my sympathetic understanding of parents who spank. Thanks for having grace and patience with me as I work out the nuances and contradictions in my new belief system.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Diana Lopes

    Well, I have a hard time dealing with the idea of ‘is spanking harmful or not’. That’s because I am a somewhat traumatized kid, I wasn’t really spanked, but there was constant threatening and fear was all around and I’d never do that to my kids/students (I’m a teacher as well), but I have seen cases where kids were spanked and actually became better people. So, even though you build up a really good case, I’m still torn in this matter.


    • Bailey Steger

      That makes sense. My point is that spanking doesn’t have to be traumatically harmful for it to be wrong. We can acknowledge that it “works” and still say that it’s unethical.

      I would explore whether it is the *spanking* that made the difference in someone’s life or the relational context within which it was given. I was just talking to a friend about this. She said that the pain of spanking (which wasn’t much, anyway) wasn’t the deterrent; it was (1) knowing her parents were disappointed in her and (2) knowing she had crossed a line that had been established beforehand. Her parents’ love, consistency, and fairness were what changed her, and she (and her mother, ironically!) agree that that love, consistency, and fairness could have been communicated in a different way with the same effect.


  3. CatholicFeministWoman

    Totally agree. It always felt like my father was trying to beat the free will out of me. Loving guidance would have helped me to grow.

    We Christians sometimes talk about fear of the Lord. As in fear of offending someone who is only ever offended by evil. If I am offending God then I am committing evil. That should terrify me. On that note, God’s correction is merciful loving and kind while spanking is not. The harshest thing that God ever does to us is let us reap what we sow.

    Obey whoever hurts you isn’t a great way to form your conscience.

    There’s always a lot of talk about running into the road when this topic comes up. A few thoughts: since toddler brains aren’t mature, they probably don’t process language like we do. What if when you say “Don’t run into the road”
    The kid isn’t able to negate the phrase “run into the road.” He heard the word “don’t”’ so there is something he is not supposed to do but he’s not sure what. And also he heard “run into the road” after forgetting about that “don’t!”

    Maybe it’s not disobedience when he seems to ignore you. And maybe when he finally startes listening it’s not because the spanking took affect. It could just be that his language processing center matured.

    Final thought: I think that most parents who spank are genuinely trying to give their best and simply don’t see a better way.


    • Bailey Steger

      I changed my mind about a lot of discipline techniques when I revisited who God was, and I changed my mind about God after using gentle discipline techniques with my students. I think it’s no small thing that “the harshest thing God does to us is let us reap what we sow.”

      Your point about immature language processing centers is really apt. It’s really difficult for me to see toddlers and babies spanked for that exact reason — not having the cognitive ability to process what you’re telling them. Many times kids that young don’t even hear you because they’re so absorbed in their world. Many times they don’t comprehend the meaning of our words. They may think we’re playing a game and run giggling in the road. They may be simply trying to assert their independence without realizing this is an extremely dangerous opportunity to do so. They may have absolutely no reason at all and just run because they have no impulse control. In any case, this is a moment for education, not punishment.

      One of my students ran away from us on our nature trail. She did it as deliberate disobedience, trying to get a reaction out of her teachers. Spanking was obviously not an option, and because of several other uncontrollable factors, I couldn’t give her any other consequences besides me kneeling in front of her, looking in the eye, and firmly telling her that running away was dangerous. Several other teachers not even present ended up talking to her in the same way. I felt like a total failure as a teacher. But then, of her own volition, she went back to every single teacher and apologized for running away, and we were able to talk more about why it was dangerous and what she could do differently next time. It was the most amazing thing, and spanking wasn’t required (and she’s the kind of girl people think of when they say kids need spankings!).

      Liked by 1 person

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s