Spanking. It’s always been a controversial topic and now it’s on everyone’s minds, in light of recent reports that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gave his 4-year-old son a “whooping” using a tree branch, and left a scar on his older son during a separate incident.

Peterson apparently was disciplined with an extension cord as a kid. Some say this isn’t surprising, considering that research shows that physical punishment is cyclical. According to a study in Child Abuse and Neglect, kids who are hit by their parents are more likely to resolve conflicts with physical acts, and parents who experience corporal punishment during childhood are more likely to spank their own children.

A pretty vicious cycle—and it’s not the only adverse affect of spanking. Harsh physical punishment can increase a child’s risk for mood disorders, anxiety disorders and alcohol and drug abuse, according to a 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics.

Spanking doesn’t just hurt their bodies, but it can impact their brains. Kids who are spanked regularly (at least once a month for three years) are shown to have decreased gray matter, which influences learning abilities and emotional development.

Studies aside, 78 percent of American parents with one child believe that spanking is sometimes appropriate, according to a The Harris Poll. A 2013 story from the Washington Post, The End of Spanking noted that “Depending on how you ask the question, most surveys show that between 70 percent and 90 percent of parents in this country spank their kids at least once during childhood. In 2013 America, spanking a child is about as common as vaccinating one.” And I know plenty of adults who were spanked when they were younger—and they don’t hit their kids, nor are they depressive alcoholics.

Yet, I think even among spanking supporters, it’s pretty safe to say most think using a tree branch or an extension cord is not okay.

But what do you do? Almost all parents I know acknowledge that controlling our tempers when the kids act out, while simultaneously teaching children how to handle their emotions in a healthy way, is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting.

Here are a few strategies to try:

  • Fast and firm technique. Take a deep breath, bend down to your child’s level and deliver the reprimand calmly.
  • Counting. Tell your child, “I’m counting to 10 (or 3 or 5), and if you don’t stop you are going to time-out.” 
  • Time-out: Designate a spot in your house and have your child sit there quietly for a minute per year of age (i.e., 5 minutes for a 5 year old).
  • Take away toys or privileges, like TV time. Pick something that really matters to your child (I tend to stay away from anything healthy, like going to the park) and take it away. This will help teach that there are consequences to his actions.
  • Grounding. While mine is too little for this one, taking away coveted social interaction has shown effective for tweens and teens.

And sure, I’ve thought about spanking, but it’s not the right choice for me. I’d probably end up crying more than her, and it would completely negate the umpteen times I’ve read her Hands Are Not for Hitting.


What do you think? Is spanking an acceptable punishment?