Spare the Rod? Is Spanking a Child Harmful or Helpful? – Part 9 – Is spanking an ineffective solution to misbehavior?

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Spare the Rod? Is Spanking a Child Harmful or Helpful? – Part 9 – Is spanking an ineffective solution to misbehavior?

Opposition to parents spanking their children has been growing significantly in elite circles over the past few years. And, my blogs on spanking are among the most read of those I publish. Therefore, I’ve decided to, with the help of the research of my friends Den Trumbull, MD, S. DuBose Ravenel, MD, to look a the arguments used against spanking, to see if they hold any water. This is the ninth of a 12 part series.
Argument #8: Spanking is an ineffective solution to misbehavior.
Though the specific use of appropriate spanking has rarely been studied, there is evidence of its short-term and long-term effectiveness.
When combined with reasoning, the use of negative consequences (including spanking) does effectively decrease the frequency of misbehavior recurrences with preschool children.[9]
In clinical field trials where parental spanking has been studied, it has consistently been found to reduce the subsequent frequency of noncompliance with time-out.[10]
Spanking, as an effective enforcer of time-out, is a component of several well-researched parent training programs[11] and popular parenting texts.[12]
Dr. Diana Baumrind of the Institute for Human Development at the University of California-Berkeley, conducted a decade-long study of families with children 3 to 9 years old.[13]
Baumrind found that parents employing a balanced disciplinary style of firm control (including spanking) and positive encouragement experienced the most favorable outcome in their children.
Parents taking extreme approaches to discipline (authoritarian-types using excessive punishment with less encouragement or permissive-types using little punishment and no spanking) were less successful.
Baumrind concluded that evidence from this study “did not indicate that negative reinforcement or corporal punishment per se were harmful or ineffective procedures, but rather the total patterns of parental control determined the effects on the child of these procedures.”
This approach of balanced parenting, employing the occasional use of spanking, is advocated by several child rearing experts.[14]
In the hands of loving parents, a spanking to the buttocks of a defiant toddler in appropriate settings is a powerful motivator to correct behavior and an effective deterrent to disobedience.
[9] Larzelere, Dr. Robert E. and Merenda, Dr. J.A., “The Effectiveness of Parental Discipline for Toddler Misbehavior at Different Levels of Child Distress” Family Relations 43 (1994): 4.
[10] Roberts, Mark W. and Powers, Scott W. “Adjusting Chair Time-out Enforcement Procedures for Oppositional Children.” Behavioral Therapy 21 (1990): 257-271, and Bean, Arthur W. and Roberts, Mark W., “The Effect of Time-out Release Contingencies on Changes in Child Noncompliance” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 9 (1981): 95-105.
[11] Forehand, R. L. and McMahon, R. J. Helping the Noncompliant Child (New York: Guilford Press, 1981); pp. 79-80.
[12] Clark, Lynn C., SOS! Help for Parents (Kentucky: Parents Press, 1985); pp. 181-185.
[13] Baumrind, Dr. Diana, “The Development of Instrumental Competence through Socialization,” Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology 7 (1973): 3-46.
[14]Austin, Glenn, Love and Power: How to Raise Competent, Confident Children (California: Robert Erdmann Publishing, 1988). Also, Dobson, Dr. James, The Strong-Willed Child (Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1985), and Coopersmith, Stanley, The Antecedents of Self-Esteem, (New York: W.H. Freeman & Co, 1967). Reprinted 1981. California: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.
Here’s the entire series:

You can read more of my blogs on spanking here:

Here’s the Entire Series:
Argument #1: Many psychological studies show that spanking is an improper form of discipline.
Argument #2: Physical punishment establishes the moral righteousness of hitting other persons who do something which is regarded as wrong.
Argument #3: Since parents often refrain from hitting until the anger or frustration reaches a certain point, the child learns that anger and frustration justify the use of physical force.
Argument #4: Physical punishment is harmful to a child.
Argument #5: Physical punishment makes the child angry at the parent.
Argument #6: Spanking teaches a child that “might makes right,” that power and strength are most important and that the biggest can force their will upon the smallest.
Argument #7: Spanking is violence.
Argument #8: Spanking is an ineffective solution to misbehavior.
Argument #9: Adults who were spanked as children are at risk for using violence as a means of resolving conflicts as adults.
Argument #10: Spanking leads a parent to use harmful forms of corporal punishment which lead to physical child abuse.
Argument #11: Spanking is never necessary.
Den A. Trumbull, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician in private practice in Montgomery, Alabama. He is Vice President of the American College of Pediatricians. S. DuBose Ravenel, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician in private practice in High Point, North Carolina. He served for 11 years on the pediatric faculty of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine prior to entering private practice.
You can read more of my blogs on spanking here:
Is Spanking Associated with Child Abuse?
The ABCD’s of Parenting – Part 7 – Discipline
Spanking a Child – Is it Good or Bad?


  1. Ashley Bazer says:

    Hey, Dr. Walt!
    I have found spanking to be effective to a point. Of course, we only spank when we deem it necessary and even then, we are careful to judge the weight of such punishment. But we are finding that it’s losing effectiveness with our oldest (nearly 4). He is more apt to respond to time out or toy restrictions. Spanking seems to be such a personal decision for parents and I think that decision must come from the nature of each child. They are all different – God’s awesome design! :o)

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