For parents who refuse to ever hit their kids....

You probably believe that you can raise nice kids without ever hitting them.
I was wondering how you’d deal with these situations:

  • a toddler that keeps on trying to stick things in electrical sockets, even after you’ve tried time-outs and saying NO! a lot.

  • a young kid who keeps on having tantrums in public if you don’t do things such as buy them a toy.

  • a kid that is really badly behaved in general that is rude to others and to you and you have already tried non-physical punishments.

I am actually against hitting, but since I’m not a parent, my opinions aren’t carrying much weight. All I can find is opposition. People seem to think that there can be a point when hitting children becomes necessary.

My question basically is for those parents who disagree about hitting being sometimes necessary, why do you disagree? And what if they have ADD or ADHD or autism? Maybe your kids are naturally well-behaved… ?

I’m sure this will be moved to GD soon. Not a bad topic for debate actually.

If you slap someone who says something rude to you at work, what happens? You can be slapped with an “assualt” charge and forced to pay the penalties. Why is there a double standard if the assaulted party is less than 3’ tall?


If you don’t discipline your child you can also end up in court charges relating to neglect. Or worse, if they run out of control.

All kids are different, some need more ‘hands on’ tutelage than others in order to bring them up right.

A big distinction always needs to be made when the subject of “physical punishment for children” i.e. “spanking” comes up. You need to distinguish between Situation A, the impromptu “swat on the bottom” when the parent is goaded beyond belief by an obnoxious pre-schooler, and Situation B, which is the carefully orchestrated “punishment”, as in “go upstairs and I’ll be up there in a minute with the belt…” Or the “haul off and slap the kid in the face”, or the out-and-out beating.

Situation A is not a problem, happens all the time, doesn’t warp the kid IMO. For one thing, if done properly (the swat administered quickly, without fury, and as quickly forgotten), it serves as a useful indicator to the child in question that he has Pushed Mommy Too Far, and gets his attention much quicker than any verbal signals.

Situation B is sickening. Punishment for children should be swift, easy, and to the point, not “planned”. And nobody should ever slap a child in the face.

Also, age makes a difference. The fast swat on the bottom is best reserved for very small children, who are the ones who benefit most from non-verbal signals, since they communicate better that way, anyway.

Under Age Two is “too young to spank”. A One-Year-Old is still basically a “baby” and will only be frightened by a swat on the bottom.

At about 18 months they start to “get it”, and definitely by Age Two (as in “Terrible Twos”) the swat on the bottom can be MOST beneficial. :smiley:

Threes and Fours are starting to get to be “too big to spank” as they mature and begin to communicate verbally better.

Age Three, Four, and Five are the ages when the “goaded beyond belief” parental swat on the bottom signals to the child that he’s acting like a baby, and is therefore sometimes very useful in that respect.

Age Six is “too big to spank”, IMO.

Once, (and I mean once) when The Littlest Doper[sup]TM[/sup] was about 9 months old, he pointed his finger and was about to explore an outlet. Of course, he would not be able to poke his little digit in the slit, but that was not the point. I gave a quick, loud bark of, “NO!” and he jumped. The scare was so strong that he started crying about 2 seconds later. I walked over to him, picked him up and kissed him. I told him that I love him very much but he can’t play with the outlets. He hasn’t been tempted to play with them since.

Just my story. (and we do have to smack TLD, we just give a stern warning first. Sort of a, “If you do that again I’m going to smack your hand” kind of thing.

Maybe it has to do with capability to understand the situation. In theory, the person at work should be able to understand that whatever they said is inappropriate, once it is explained to them. However, a 2 year old does not necessarily posess the ability to understand. If they do, the explanation may not have a sufficient impact on them to prevent the behavior in the future. However, a quick swat to the rump may make a more significant impression that could deter the behavior in the future. Obvisously, I’m not up to speed on the latest concepts and theories here. Fortunately, I don’t have to worry about this for a while.

For the first one I’d say; let it be.:smiley:

I found the “Scared Grin Danger Face” to be very effective with all three of mine, when they were too little to be spanked for “danger” offenses. I read about it in some child development book. Basically, you suddenly grimace with fear at your child–peel your lips back from your teeth in a big chimpanzee “eeeek!/Oh no!!” horrified face while looking at whatever the “danger” object is (sharp knife, extension cord, etc.)

It’s important that you grimace (grin) so that all your teeth show–the “round mouth” :eek: sort of “Oh no!” face doesn’t work.

You don’t even have to say anything–just suddenly put on the “Scared Grin Danger Face” ("[gasp] [grimace]" ) and watch your startled toddler instinctively drop the sharp knife he’s holding.

Yes, I suppose so. I mean, I do understand that our society gives different rights to people based on age. And in some cases, I don’t see anything wrong with that. However, in the case of physical assault, I’ve never understood it fully. I certainly see the difference between a swat on a diaper and a slap in the face or an extended “spanking” punishment session. But I have my doubts as to either of those is EVER truly “necessary” in disciplining a child.

As the OP points out, striking a child is often used as a “I don’t know what else to do” measure. I don’t think running out of ideas makes it acceptable to use physical pain/fear as a means of establishing order.

Doesn’t swatting a child make them afraid of YOU, rather than whatever danger it was you were trying to steer them away from? Doesn’t it teach them that as long as you’re not around to strike them, it’s okay to do what they want?


Hi JohnClay. This is an interesting issue and it probably has no definitive answer, more of a GD or IMHO thing.

Anecdotally, I have two children, now ages 4 and 6. While I can’t say that they were never spanked, the times that they were probably is less than 10 for both together. And never more than one firm swat on a normally diapered bottom. Spanking is probably ineffectual for tantrums. Both of my kids have had some tantrums in one form or another, this usually starts around age 2-3 and can continue for a while. Tantrums are typically a conflict of unchecked desire and fatigue. The child at this age has not learned to control his or her emotions in the context of a given situation. Most child care experts would advise to generally ignore a child that is having a tantrum, eg, give no reaction. I found personally that after a brief moment of tantrum that you can usually talk a child through them. After some experience I could usually spot the signs that this was about to happen and then keep my son or daughter from going into a tantrum in the first place. Interestingly, the child is probably aware that they are out of control and unable to do anything about it. So spanking them in this case would just be sadistic, IMO. My daughter once told me in between sobs “Daddy, I want to stop but I don’t know how”.

As far as the electric sockets thing, we never had to deal with that as far as I recall. You can but things to put in open sockets which generally prevents this situation in the first place. And even toddlers typically understand a lot of this type of information. Voice of command works well with most, albeit not all toddlers. By this I mean that you deepen your tone so that they know you are serious. Works well with dogs, too. :wink:

Again, with the really bad behaviour thing, I believe that is mainly learned, or that the opposite, polite behaviour, was not learned. Meaning that if you give the child polite behaviour to emulate then they will normally do this. If you treat other people well and with kindness this will be copied. And vice versa. Hitting kind of sends the opposite signal. That people can be controlled with violence. (Unfortunately this is true, at least to some extent, but not the life model that I want to send my kids).

So, why then, did I ever spank my children? Mainly when they hurt someone else (normally each other). I would follow this up by 1) holding them to make them feel better 2) telling them why they just got a swat, after any crying subsided. 3) letting them know that there is always some one else bigger and tougher than them. They are too big to do this with any more, and it’s generally not a problem. If they cause injury or try to cause injury to someone else they now get taken out of the situation and told that they need to think about what they have done wrong. This might happen about once a month and is normally a response to a slight, real or perceived. Both of my children are fairly good about being honest. If the boy is disciplined for hitting his sister I will talk to his sister separately to find out what precipitated the incident. Often I learn from her that she hit him first, maybe because he took something away from her. Then she also gets a short lecture and some form of discipline.

IANAChildPsychologist. But I’ve read some books and there’s China Bambina. Little kids are extremely impressionable. They learn stuff from a single instance. They throw a temper tantrum, and you yell at them to “shut up”. Chances are you’ll get more tantrums because they learned it from you. The may be times when a quick swat without anger that is then completely forgotten is a good approach, but beware unintended consequences.

General Questions is for questions that have factual answers. This topic is more of a debate.

I’ll move this to Great Debates for you.

DrMatrix - General Questions Moderator

Curiously, this is something I’ve been pondering since last night.

Picking up baby Kate from daycare yesterday was a breeze. No troubles at all. Given that she’s now 23 months that’s not always the case.

She whined a bit on the way home but, as it’s a 15 mile drive that’s to be expected.

Park the car.
Walk around car to her door.
Open door lean in…


Smacked right in the face by a two year old! Ow! No real force behind it but WHOA was I surprised!

So right away, while her hand was still in contact with my nose I reached up and swatted her hand while saying, “NO! Don’t hit!”. Wasn’t hard at all. Probably move her hand 2 inches or so. But it sure surprised her.

She broke right down into tears and I picked her up and hugged her and told her she was OK. But while doing that when I told her that it wasn’t OK to hit people she’d break down again.

Sticky wicket. I think I did the proper thing. I know I communicated the message. But whether she can go from the specific (hitting Daddy gets me swatted) to the general (hitting people can have negative consequences) I’m unsure of.

I’d love to have some input here.

To a certain extent, I agree. A light swat, meant to get attention rather than cause real pain isn’t going to warp anyone for life. On the other hand, I expend a great deal of energy trying to teach my children that when a playmate teases, or grabs a toy, or otherwise plays unfairly or meanly, it is not appropriate to respond with physical violence. If we are going to raise children who are capable of solving differences without resorting to physical intimidation, we owe it to them to model the behavior we expect from them.

Electric sockets: What worked for us (with all such dangers) was to react immediately and very strongly the very first time. We did something similar to DDG’s “danger face”, saying NO in a very loud, firm voice while looking the child right in the face and then taking her physically away from the danger. It always scared them enough to make them cry. We also, when they were very small, used one word only for all dangers (“hot”), because it was easily said and understood. A 2yo doesn’t have the understanding or the attention span for a lecture on the dangers of electricity or sharp knives. We could just say “No, hot!” and the child understood.

One huge parenting mistake (and one I see all to frequently) is to say “No” too often when you don’t mean it. If you don’t follow through (and with a baby, that usually means physically removing the infant and using distraction to get her focused on something else) you can’t expect her to pay much attention when she is a toddler. If you save the loud, scary voice for the important things, and follow through every time, then it has meaning. If your kid learns thay she can ignore you 3 or 4 times, and only has to mind when you get to a certain level of frustration, she will always wait for that level.

Public tantrums for toys/treats: Those are never repeated too many times unless you-sometimes-give in. If, the first (and second and fifth, if she’s stubborn) time she tries it, you walk immediately out of the store and take her to a quiet place until she stops and she gets absolutely no reward for her behavior, she will learn that it doesn’t work. If you give in because you are embarrassed or tired or whatever, she will almost certainly try it again.

These tantrums are different than the uncontrollable tantrums that toddlers sometimes have, when they are overtired/overstimulated or otherwise stressed.

Rude/generally badly behaved children: I’ve always taught my children manners through modelling. If I expect them to say “please” and “thank you”, then I have to do the same. If I expect them to wait patiently and not interrupt a conversation, I have to give them the same courtesy and respect. I extend the same theory to most behaviors. So far, it has worked pretty well for me. My kids aren’t perfectly mannered, but they rarely put me to shame.

We’re dealing with this right now because Cranky Jr is almost three, and hearing “NO!” doesn’t seem to be enough of a consequence sometimes.

However, I think about how I feel when I am hurt, whether that’s by someone smacking me or getting my finger pinched in the door. Do I immediately feel contrite? No, I tend to feel PISSED. How can I expect any less from Cranky Jr?

It’s tough, I’m telling you. It’s one of the hardest challenges of parenting, because by god sometimes walloping him sounds good on a primal level.

Between the ages of 5-9, D_Odds Jr. was spanked two, maybe three times (as opposed to D_Odds, who could rely on at least that many annually). All times were very carefully done, as I was more afraid of really hurting him than of anything else.

None came without clear warning that a change in unacceptable behavior would result in physical punishment, usually several. D_Odds Jr. also learned that Dad doesn’t make empty threats.

IMNSHO, you can’t always reason with young children. Logic doesn’t always work, and in D_Odds Jr. case, punishments (from time outs to grounding to TV/video/computer privileges) are of limited effectiveness. [In the case of my stepdaughter, non-physical punishments are far more effective, and she doesn’t push or manipulate nearly as much as D_Odds Jr.; her mother is also no nonsense when it comes to a child obeying her parents.]

D_Odds Jr. is now 12 (I’ll do the math from the opening sentence; he hasn’t been spanked in about 3 years). He was, and still is, a special case and needs careful handling. He is much better now than he was a few years back, but on rare occassion I do pull out the threat (luckily, that is often enough to veer him back into acceptable territory; he’s getting too big and old for this to be effective but it’s all I have until he realizes that). However, his behavior is markedly different around me and my family than around his mother and her family. Surprising, you can be strict and disciplined, while still allowing a child to explore life and have fun. It’s a narrow road, but not impossible to follow.

My children have never been spanked (they are 2 and 3 now), and I don’t think its the evilest thing in the world.

  • a toddler that keeps on trying to stick things in electrical sockets, even after you’ve tried time-outs and saying NO! a lot.

Kids really do react to the scared no. They know when something isn’t dangerous. A child who doesn’t has bigger problems than not being spanked - and spanking probably isn’t going to help.

  • a young kid who keeps on having tantrums in public if you don’t do things such as buy them a toy.

Don’t bring them in public. Really. If they can’t behave, they don’t go to the store.

  • a kid that is really badly behaved in general that is rude to others and to you and you have already tried non-physical punishments.

Once again, limit their contact. If they don’t behave, they don’t get to play, if they are rude to you, they don’t need to be around you. Once again, if you’ve tried non-physical punishments and they aren’t working, why do you think physical punishments are going to work?

  • a toddler that keeps on trying to stick things in electrical sockets, even after you’ve tried time-outs and saying NO! a lot.
  1. architectural solution - get outlet covers. 2) I don’t do time-outs for safety issues (or at all, really, but they do them at school for repeat infractions). 3) if saying no on a safety issue ONCE doesn’t work, time for a different approach.

Example: Our outlets are covered. The ONE time he walked towards an outlet in another location (with my keys, incidentally), the flying-leap-and-grab-simultaneous-with-‘STOP’ scared him bad enough that he never ever tried that again. We haven’t hit Gabe yet as punishment (though I’ve bonked him by accident a few times). We save the no’s for big issues. Other behavior is redirected, and foot-dragging and/or noncompliance get the speedy 5-4-3-2-1 countdown to a negotiated punishment. But Gabe is also very easy - he checks during the process of an action to see if it is safe/allowed. That’s his personality. (This is the kid who after being told ‘no’ firmly regarding exploring his grandmother’s kitchen cabinets would not explore ANY cabinets for four months…) For other kids in the family, there is a standard progression of terms/voice that indicate how serious the issue is. If that is stable (that is, if you only ever use ‘STOP’ to mean ‘stop-instantly-or-I-will-grab-your-arm-in-a-vice-grip-and-drag-you-away’), you get a stable response. ‘Most of the time’ responses don’t work.

  • a young kid who keeps on having tantrums in public if you don’t do things such as buy them a toy.
  1. young kids have tantrums because they either are trying it for the first time, or they know they work, or they are frustrated or tired or are coming down sick. 2) if they know the tantrum works, that’s the parent’s fault. 3) if they are trying it the first time, ignore, repeat the rules of the situation in appropriate terms, talk them through it, and/or remove them from the scene without the thing they were tantruming for. 4) if they don’t get the picture, the architectural solution is not to bring them out to those situations until they get it.

Example: Gabe had a long series of tantrums when he was nearing 2 years. Mostly frustration ones - he wanted to communicate, he wasn’t effective enough. Or he wanted to do, but wasn’t physically able. Those, I treated gently and with compassion. One good round of “how awful that the ball wouldn’t bounce back to your hand the way you wanted it to - it is really frustrating when you try and try to get something to work and it just won’t” - one round of that, and he’d stop the tantrum, sigh in resignation, and either try something else or try the frustrating thing again. Negotiating an alternative solution often helped when it was something he wanted and I didn’t want to give. And we also have a rule that he cannot negotiate until he’s calm, so he calms down REAL fast if he thinks there’s some way of getting close to his intent by doing so.

HOWEVER, there was one instance where he wanted to do something that was against the rules (running away and hiding in a store), because he thought it would be fun, and when I stopped him, he had a full-blown fit. I reiterated the rules, and he kept having said fit (alternating with attempting to repeat the run-and-hide). I ignored him (while preventing him from escaping), and he made the fit louder. I offered to calmly negotiate an alternative. He declined to calm down to negotiate. I declined to leave the store, and instead held his wrist firmly (so he couldn’t run away), and brought him with me to the counter (screaming bloody murder the whole way). I refused to be embarrassed, I repeated the rule-being-violated clearly, I made eye contact with the other adults (all of whom were utterly sympathetic), and then I picked him up under my arm and carried him out of the store along with my purchase. We then sat in the car and I waited until he quieted down, and then we discussed how that behavior would not be permitted, and that further instances of fits like that would result in me restraining him again (which he absolutely HATES), and would not get him what he wanted. Never had another tantrum in a store, period. He whines occasionally, but that’s the limit.

  • a kid that is really badly behaved in general that is rude to others and to you and you have already tried non-physical punishments.
  1. rudeness is often (in my experience) a reflection of emotions that are poorly understood or which the child does not know how to express effectively. 2) kids who are polite generally have ‘polite’ modeled at home. 3) parental tone of voice works on these, too.

Example: Gabe was about 18 months old when he started expressing his emotions in seriously unacceptable ways. For most emotions, it took all of about four tries to get him to grasp that his emotions were FINE, it was his expression that needed work. Once he grasped that there was more than just one way to express an emotion, and that when he did it in certain ways he got what he needed (validation, support, encouragement, options, etc.), well, BINGO, end of problem. For example, he started hitting when he was angry. I told him that we use words to express our feelings, not fists, and then showed him what I say/do when I am angry. As soon as he grasped that the feeling ‘angry’ could go with more than one action, he chose stomping and scowling as his preferred expression. Stopped hitting immediately. Same when he didn’t like a food he tried at grandma’s house - not liking it was fine, saying YUCK loudly at grandma was rude. He now says ‘no thanks, I don’t like that’. We also use terms like ‘rude’ and ‘kind’ as precisely as possible - otherwise how the heck can he figure out where the lines are? I can still (at 4 1/2 years) stop him in his tracks by saying that something he did was rude. He has also told me when I’ve been rude (oh, how kids LOVE to catch you with your own rules!) and I’ve had to admit that he was right. I don’t mind, because that way I know he’s grasped it - and you learn faster when you can teach someone else, right? :slight_smile:
My question basically is for those parents who disagree about hitting being sometimes necessary, why do you disagree? And what if they have ADD or ADHD or autism? Maybe your kids are naturally well-behaved… ?

I don’t know that all hitting is bad - but I wouldn’t trust myself to know the difference (I had some bad hitting in my childhood - slippery slope, IMHO). I just feel that I can (so far) manage a situation by either paying attention before the problem progresses to the ‘I have to hit you’ stage, or by other means. If I can do that, why should I hit? Besides, I cannot teach ‘don’t hit’ to a child who gets hit. Kids model on their parents, and they learn all sorts of lessons from their parents hitting them - including that anger makes parents lose control (therefore anger is really dangerous), and that they (the child) has the power to make the parents lose control. Not a place I want to go. ADD or Autism? I’m sure there are other management techniques that are appropriate, but I haven’t needed to look for them.

My older son is ‘naturally well-behaved’ but that doesn’t mean that effort is not required to encourage him to stay that way. My younger will probably take a few things apart that he ought not to, but that won’t make him poorly behaved. Just a challenge to my creativity (and possibly to my patience).

Corporal punishment can be used at any age. When my teenage kid got into all sorts of trouble I thumped him a good one. It set him straight real quick.

I’m all for whacking a kid when the oportunity arises, but if something better is available, use it. Like temper tantrums.
My dad used to pour a bucket of ice cold water over us if we were having a tantrum. You just sat there, stunned from this cold burst all over your head. He never had to do that more than twice to any of us. After the second one you got the point that this was how it was going to be. After getting the water treatment at home none of us dared having a tantrum in a store.

Other than that, my parents spanked all the time, and me and my siblings have turned out just fine. Not a criminal in the bunch.

Could you please explain this question?

Are you suggesting that spanking kids who cannot control themselves for various mental or psychological reasons is a good idea? (Mind you, my ADHD son has been spanked on occasion–but only for deliberately choosing to push his boundaries, never for acting out when it was beyond his control.)