Hot sauce adds a kick to salsa, barbeque, falafel and hundreds of other foods. But some parents use it in a different recipe, one they think will yield better-behaved children: They put a drop of the fiery liquid on a child’s tongue as punishment for lying, biting, hitting or other offenses.
“Hot saucing,” or “hot tongue,” has roots in Southern culture, according to some advocates of the controversial disciplinary method, but it has spread throughout the country. Nobody keeps track of how many parents do it, but most experts contacted for this story, including pediatricians, psychologists and child welfare professionals, were familiar with it.
The use of hot sauce has been advocated in a popular book, in a magazine for Christian women and on Internet sites. Web-based discussions on parenting carry intense, often emotional exchanges on the topic. (Pitter’s note: I should add here that the author of the popular book “Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline” is the actress who played Blair on The Facts of Life. :dubious: )
But parents aren’t the only ones asking “to sauce or not to sauce?” Several state governments have gotten involved in the debate. In Michigan in 2002, a child care center was sanctioned for using hot sauce to discipline a child. The mother of the 18-month-old boy reportedly gave the child care workers permission to use the sauce to help dissuade her son from biting other children.
Parents who use hot sauce say that such tactics as timeouts, lectures, negotiation or restricting certain pleasures have not worked. For them, hot sauce – or even the threat of it – stops undesirable behavior. “It works like a charm,” DeLorme said. [One of the hot-saucing mothers.]
DeLorme remembers being “at the point where I would try anything” with her 2 1/2-year old son, whom she described as “a disciplinary challenge.” She learned about the use of hot sauce from a friend.
She now uses the pepper sauce, or the threat of it, when her son hits or bites his 5-year-old sister.
“He is better behaved as a result,” DeLorme said. “He’ll say, ‘Please don’t give me hot tongue, Mommy,’ and [the threat] interrupts his behavior. We’ll talk about it, hug and make up. That’s what usually happens.”
In those rare instances when the threat is not enough, DeLorme pries his mouth open and puts one drop of sauce on her son’s tongue. “I don’t feel like I am physically hurting him,” said DeLorme, who described herself as “opposed to spanking and physical violence.”
As for parents who disapprove, “Walk a mile in my shoes first,” Crosen said.[Another hot saucing mother.] “What I’m doing is minor compared to what kids used to get 40 or 50 years ago. One drop of hot sauce is not going to hurt him. Everyone has to do what works for them, within reason.”
Pediatricians, psychologists and experts on child care and family life contacted for this story strongly recommend against the practice.
Kendrick [one of the experts] says parents who use the technique are “at the very least . . . ill-informed.” He pointed out that many parents are not aware that hot sauce can burn a child’s esophagus and cause the tongue to swell – a potential choking hazard.
Capsaicin, the substance that makes peppers hot, inflames membranes in the eyes, nose and mouth. While many adults find this feeling pleasurable, capsaicin can cause negative reactions even in the third of the adult population that has no tolerance for ingesting it, according to Joel Gregory, publisher of Chile Pepper magazine.
There are additional risks for children. Giorgio Kulp, a pediatrician in Montgomery County, said that the risk of swelling as well as the possibility of unknown allergies make the use of hot sauce on children dangerous.