How to Avoid Spanking and Remain Calm

Dear Kid Whisperer,
My husband and I are wondering about your opinion on spanking. Thanks!
-Amy, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Spanking is such a touchy subject, for reasons too obvious to mention. The only opinions on spanking that really annoy me are the ones that say spanking should be used frequently and as a primary source of discipline and the ones that say (sanctimoniously) that one should never spank a child and that those who do spank are barbarians. The latter opinion I don’t have as much of a theoretical problem with as much as I have a problem with the usual tone of the argument.

That being said, as a person who has dealt with difficult kids whom I am not legally allowed to spank, I can tell you that a good, solid logical consequence is more effective than spanking or any other form of punishment 99.99999% of the time, and the efficacy of spanking in that .00001% of situations is arguable. I’ll get to that slim piece of the pie in a moment.

Spanking almost always comes from a parent feeling that he or she is simply out of options at the moment of the child’s negative behavior. We often think, “I tried every #@$% thing I can think of and she just keeps doing _______. I’ve tried taking things away, I’ve yelled, I’ve put her in her room. What else am I supposed to do? I’ve got nothing.”

With nothing else left in our arsenal, we often will spank. I call spanking “throwing the gun”; a reference to action and western movies where, after the bad guy is out of bullets that he has shot at the good guys chasing him, he throws his pistol at his pursuers. Spanking is just as effective as throwing the gun.

Now, this is where most so-called “experts” will stop. “Don’t spank, and if you do spank, you are a bad parent… good luck!” This, of course, is unhelpful nonsense. Instead, I will give you a skill to experiment with. If you like it, do it, if you don’t, chuck it.

When your child does something and you are just beside yourself and don‘t know what to do, whether it’s because it has happened over and over and nothing you are doing is working, or whether it’s because she just did a ridiculous, horrible new behavior, I would like you to experiment with the Love and Logic® skill of delaying the consequence.

As stated before, parents usually spank because they are frustrated and are out of ideas. When you are upset and your child is upset, this is not the time to make decisions.
So don’t.

In my classroom, when a kid does something that either makes me mad or I don’t know how to handle, I say the same Love and Logic® response every time. This is how it looks:
Kid: …so that’s why I glued Dashaun to the toilet.

Kid Whisperer: Oh, man. This is sad. We’re going to have to do something about this. But not now, later. Try not to worry about it.

Kid: Wait. What?

The consequence doesn’t have to happen that day, or even the next. What gives parents totally unnecessary stress is the myth that something must be done right away if the child is to learn. In actuality, the opposite is true. The child CANNOT learn when he or she is angry or scared. At that point the child is thinking with her brain stem. She is in fight or flight and is neurologically incapable of learning that she did something wrong and that she should not exhibit the behavior that she just exhibited. Also, at the point of the expression of the negative behavior, YOU may be thinking with your brain stem: not a good time to make decisions about discipline. When we delay, we allow both parties to switch the location of their thinking from their brain stem to their frontal cortex, where rational thought occurs.

So, as for the .00001% of the time when a safe, legal swat on the behind may be effective, the one and only time for this may be when life and limb are threatened if your child does not recognize that she is in a life and death situation. Spanking may be effective here because the fear that is caused by spanking is the actual feeling that you are trying to elicit from your child and you WANT them to feel that fear right in that moment. A child running into the street and then laughing about what she did would be an example of this kind of situation. This is even more effective when this is the only time that spanking is used.

For how to actually deliver the consequences, feel free to check out the following posts:

“How to Deliver a Consequence with a Belligerent Child”
“How to Deal with a Student Who Refuses to Comply with a Consequence”
Good luck!