Parent Spanking - The golden rule of child discipline?
By Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, Ph.D
At birth we intuitively know our bodies are sacred. This provides a
built-in protection system. When a baby is startled by an
uncomfortable noise or touch, this protective system kicks in. When
a child squirms or throws both arms across the chest, the child is
using this protective mechanism. Observers of child development
refer to this self-protective mechanism as the 'startle response.'
Within a few hours of birth this startle response is apparent.
Adults need to respect children's sacred physical boundaries and
inherent likes and dislikes beginning at birth. Lack of respect for
a child can disturb a child's protection responses, rendering their
intuitive perception of unwanted or uncomfortable touch to be either
inoperative or very weak.
Parents can avoid thwarting this protection system by minimizing
any touch or maneuvering that the child dislikes. When your child
protests, you need to stop immediately and find an alternative
approach. Yes, fostering and developing this protective system takes
effort. However, remember the goal is to reinforce your child's
right to protest uncomfortable or unwanted touch for any reason,
rather than simply getting done what needs to be done—such as:
bathing, dressing, undressing.
The worst type of sacred body boundary violation is the use of
spanking as a form of discipline. Spanking, defined as slapping of
the buttocks, is a form of hitting and is physical violence. This
fact alone is reason enough to make the spanking of children
unacceptable by the same standards that protect adults, who are not
as vulnerable. However, there is more to spanking than simple
hitting. Spanking also trespasses on one of the body's most private
and sexual areas—the genitals. Furthermore, violent socialization of
infants, children and youth by means of 'spanking,' 'bopping,'
'switching,' 'licking,' 'whipping,' 'paddling,' 'popping,'
'whacking,' 'thumping,' etc. conditions children to accept and
tolerate aggression and violence. This leaves the child prey to
sexual abuse and incest. To address the inappropriateness of
spanking children completely, we need to consider not only the issue
of physical violence, but also the issue of sexual trespass.
It is a known fact that sex offenders target children who appear
to have been victims before (quiet, withdrawn, compliant.) A
previous victim of body boundary violations tend to be quiet, easy
to manipulate and more likely to comply with a sex offender's
The harm of spanking to reinforce appropriate behavior has been
thoroughly explained and demonstrated over the past century in a
vast body of academic literature, scientific research, legal
treatises, and recently in the popular media. We know that spanking
is still considered the preferential form of child discipline as 22
states allow paddling with a wood end paddle in schools and in a
random telephone survey done by Harvard Medical Center in 1997, 67%
of parents surveyed stated they hit their child(ren) an average of
once a week for discipline.
In my discussions with people who use spanking to promote
compliance with instructions, the most frequent rationalization is
that a two-year-old child cannot be reasoned with—so spanking is the
best alternative. When I then ask the adult if I can hit them
because they cannot be reasoned with regarding hitting or spanking
children, they are chagrined by the obvious analogy.
Another classic rationalization is the need to spank in emergency
situations—when there is no time for explanations. An example of the
rationalization that is frequently given is "What if my child
walks into the street with oncoming traffic. In this situation, one
has to impress on the child that walking into the street is
dangerous," they reason, "and spanking the child is the most
effective alternative." This reasoning is faulty because
spanking creates shock, whereby the mind is unable to focus or
retain logic rather than enhancing comprehension. Furthermore,
hitting engenders rage rather than respect. Thus, instead of
creating learning and compliance to avoid stepping into the street,
the child has learned to distrust adults. In order to maintain the
relationship, the child pushes the rage deep into the psyche; the
accompanying response to body boundary violations is to act out in
other ways that may include rebellion, violence, self-destructive
Our laws and our cultural values are unambiguous concerning
adults who physically attack or verbally threaten other adults. Such
behavior is recognized as criminal, and we hold the offenders
accountable. Why then, when so much is at stake for society, do we
accept the excuses of those who hit children? Why do we become
interested in the needs of children only after they have been
terribly victimized, or have become delinquents victimizing others?
The answer is not complicated. We cannot believe that hitting
children is abuse until we can honestly acknowledge the mistreatment
from our own childhood experiences and examine the shortcomings of
our own parents. To the extent we feel compelled to defend our
parents and guard their secrets, we will do the same for others. We
will look the other way. By continually insisting that we 'turned
out okay,' we are reassuring ourselves and diverting our attention
from deeply hidden unpleasant memories.
This is why, when someone says, 'spanking is abuse,' many people
react as though a door barricaded since infancy has been smashed
open. This barricaded, unconscious door has prevented us from
committing the most dangerous most unpardonable act of disloyalty
imaginable, disloyalty to our parents. We are afraid that by opening
the door to the truth we might fall through into an abyss -
abandoned and cut off from any possibility of reconciliation with
the parents we love. The fear is irrational. Denial - about what was
done to us and, now, what we are doing and allowing to be done to
the next generation - is the real danger and the real sin. Hitting
is a sacred body boundary violation and is violence toward another
human being. In the case of hitting children for discipline, it is
an act of violence by the person, who the child trusts implicitly
and on whom the child is the most vulnerable and dependent.
Reconciliation and healing can only begin with an acknowledgment
of the truth. It is futile to hope that lies, evasions and excuses
can somehow erase the memory and pain of past injuries.
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer, PhD, author,
If I'd Only Known...Sexual Abuse in or out of the Family: A Guide to
Prevention, specializes in: Emotional healing and
Physical/Sexual Abuse Recovery. As an inspirational leader, Dr.
Neddermeyer empowers people to view life's challenges as an
opportunity for Personal/Professional Growth and Spiritual