Spanking — And Not the Fun Kind

Out in California, an Assemblywomn named Sally Lieber has proposed the state outlaw spanking — not between two consenting adults, because how would it be California without a little recreational spanking? — but between adults and children; specifically, the proposed law would make it a misdemeanor to paddle kids under the age of four, with punishments eventually reaching a year in the slammer (and a $1,000 fine, which, frankly, is nothing compared to a year in the slammer). The proposed law doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and even if it did it wouldn’t affect me, because I live in Ohio. But it did give me a moment to think about what I think about spanking, which is, ironically, that it is most effective under the age of four, i.e., the age which Ms. Lieber suggests banning it.

I’ll begin by noting that I think as punishment, spanking is pretty damn ineffective. I speak from personal experience, because I got spanked on a regular basis as a kid — at least two or three times a month — and since my mom was not wanton smacker of her children, you can assume I did something egregious enough to warrant a spanking as punishment. But inasmuch as I was averaging a couple three spankings a month, how effective could it have been as punishment? I was still needing to be punished on a regular basis. If this was a punishment for bad behavior, it wasn’t working. It’s for this reason that I can’t recall ever spanking Athena to punish her for bad behavior. I know my daughter well enough to suspect that spanking as a punishment will just make her more stubborn; to a large extent that’s how it worked for me.

If one doesn’t spank as punishment, what does one spank for? In my case, on the rare occasions that I spanked Athena (I can only remember two occasions), it was to use the spanking as a deterrent to a specific sort of dangerous activity. The last time I spanked Athena was when she was two-and-a-half or three, when she developed an unhealthy obsession with something likely to get her all banged up (I want to say wall sockets, but, honestly, I can’t remember specifically), and us warning her away from it wasn’t seeming to work — she just wasn’t old enough to grasp the idea that there would be negative consequences.

So when she did it again, I spanked her — not to punish her but so that she would associate that particular activity with physical pain (although a much lesser physical pain than the one that could occur from the activity itself) . It worked, because she stopped that particular activity. Shortly thereafter, she became old enough to understand the idea that some things really are bad for you and you don’t have to try them out. We haven’t spanked her since. Which goes to my point: Spanking my eight year old daughter now makes no sense, because she’s old enough to understand things. Spanking my two-and-a-half year old daughter then made good sense, because I needed to a way to keep her from dangerous behaviors when she was too young to fully understand the implications of those behaviors.

All of this is not to say that I don’t understand where Lieber is coming from. The last time I went to Chicago, I was stopped at a street light and this woman was coming out of a corner store with a child who could have been no more than two years old in tow. The two year old was crying about something or other, and suddenly the woman wheeled around and smacked the kid hard on the face and started yelling at the kid. It was absolutely appalling, and then someone was honking at me to get my car in gear. That woman wasn’t spanking her child, but I have no doubt that she does, and I have no doubt that those spankings are doing that child rather more harm than good. Be that as it may, I don’t regret spanking my own child when I felt it was was necessary, because I felt it did more good than harm. If I lived in a state where spanking was banned, and I had a young child, I would be very likely to ignore the law and spank my kid if I thought it was what I needed to do. I’m pretty confident I could make a good case for having done so.

Personally, I just feel lucky I have a kid who I only had to spank a couple of times, and haven’t had to spank in years. I suppose I could chalk that all up to wonderful parenting, cough, cough, but I really suspect that’s not the whole story. It’s nice when your kid makes the executive decision in her own little head that you as parents might actually be worth listening to, from time to time. She’s a smarter kid than I was when I was her age, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

61 Comments on “Spanking — And Not the Fun Kind”

  1. My daughter is 12, and the few times I spanked her to actually spank (and this is, as you said, sub-preschool years) she just got extremely upset that I’d -hurt- her, and couldn’t even tell you why I did it, she was just so upset that I hurt her.

    A thwap on a diapered bottom was often enough to get her attention, and it didn’t hurt, it just make her realize that I wasn’t kidding. And I’ve smacked her hands for touching something dangerous. But I had a coworker who would spank her HIGH SCHOOL AGED DAUGHTER until she cried because “I don’t feel like I’ve gotten my point across until she cries.”

    So, there are times to spank, and times it doesn’t work, but yeah, if someone is spanking a kid over the age of 4-5, I would generally say that’s just lazy parenting, because by then, they’re old enough to understand being told -why- they shouldn’t do something. In general, obviously. There are always exceptions.

  2. Most people don’t understand the difference between abuse and spanking because they sometimes look the same. There are many things that look the same, but are completely different. These differences tend to escape people.

  3. In one of my past lives, I worked for a university on a “Positive Behavioral Supports” research project that was geared toward modifying the behavior of kids with severe behavior problems. In which case, the stacks and stacks of research throughout time that have shown that spanking/other forms of artificial punitive reenforcers don’t work, or work for only a short time is overwhelming and almost getting to be indisputable. (As much as any research can be.)

    In the under four set, it is much more effective long term, with less negative consequences for the parent/child relationship, to change the environment that is causing the behavior that you describe. (A behavior that will cause danger/harm to the child such as poking tongues in light sockets and the like.) It is likely that Athena’s behavior changed temporarily, and would have gone back to the indiscretion had she not grown and developed enough to make a new strategy, that you surely used, effective. This was probably that she came to understand the natural consequences of her actions. As in sticking tongue on light socket = lots of pain.

    But I have two two-year-olds, and I know the temptation to do this when nothing else is getting through to them and the environment cannot be changed. I have never spanked them, but I have sometimes quite harshly grabbed their arm and tore them away from things at times, which in itself was startling enough to them to stop the behavior. So, I know that in real life, using nonviolent punitive measures can be really, really hard to do all the time.

    Nevertheless, the research shows that even in the under four set, changing the environment, close supervision and redirection, positive reenforcement are by far more effective at getting long term behavior change.

    But beyond the research, I think laws like this are not aimed at the ocassional spanker, where if it is that ocassional, it should be easy to find something more effective to replace it with, but at the chronic spanker/slapper/mild abuser which are just producing little stubborn violent brats more than anything else. I understand the impications on personal freedoms, here, but in the reality of behavioral science, discouraging people from spanking just makes good sense. It’s a little like the smoking laws. Smoking is really stupid and does nothing good for society. That has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. So it isn’t that the laws don’t make sense, it is just a matter of how far we want our government to go in preventing us from being really stupid and causing negative consequences for society at large.

  4. My mother tells the story that the only time her father ever hit her was when she was six or seven and they were lighting firecrackers for the Fourth of July. She got so excited that she lit a firecracker, threw the punk away, and put both hands, including the one still holding the firecracker, to her ears. My grandfather slapped the firecracker out of her hand before it blew her ear off.

    I will admit that when my sons were little, I sometimes spanked them out of frustration. I consider that a personal failing, and I am of the firm opinion that spanking a child is a sign of immaturity, incompetence, and/or violent tendencies on the part of the parent. The only reason our culture condones striking a child is that it approves of the strong dominating the weak, regardless of any high-minded rhetoric to the contrary.

  5. I personally think a pop on the butt is appropriate in most cases where the child isn’t listening to you. My sister’s kids are older than 4, but still get the occasional whomp on the rear-end when they choose to ignore what they’re being told. I don’t consider that actual spanking.

    Spanking in the sense Aiela mentioned is pretty useless, IMO…

  6. I have a folder in my RSS reader marked “spanking blogs”, and then there’s a folder called “writers’ blogs”, which includes the Whatever. When I clicked on this item, I thought I was seeing things. 8-O

  7. My gut take on this sort of law is that it’s a bad idea, not because I think parents ought to be able to abuse their kids without restraint, but because when we pass laws we need to remember that fully 50% of law enforcement personnel are of below average competence, and thus imagine what happens when the far end of that 50% starts trying to enforce the law in question.

    Yes, I know this argument can be used against some laws to which I’m not opposed. It’s an issue I’m not done thinking about.

  8. My experience exactly matches yours, John. My daughter (Rowen) is now 8 and I think I spanked her twice, but only really remember one occasion.

    I wonder what good this law will do. People who hit their kids are not going to stop. And it’s illegal anyway. I think this is a case where current laws cover it.

    Unless we agree that putting your hands on your child in any way is wrong, then this removes a tool that parents can use to teach their children. It wont stop abusers.

  9. I got spanked once as a child and I vividly remember the whole thing. I was under 5 (wasn’t in school anyway) and I ran out into traffic.

    I’d say it was effective, as I still look carefully both ways before crossing the street 30-some years later.

    That was the only time it ever happened, so I can’t tell you if it would have been effective it it’d been used regularly. My guess is probably not.

  10. I live in California, and therefore would be subject to the proposed law. IMO, it’s a terrible idea, one more case of the government intruding into an area they have no business being in. There are already laws on the books that cover actual child abuse. The Chicago incident John describes would definitely fall under that category, but what is abusive needs to be looked at on a case by case basis, we don’t need blanket prohibitions like this proposal.

    While I certainly agree that spankings over about the 3-4 year old age group are not effective, and in fact can produce counter-productive behavior (it certainly did in my case, where my father believed in belting hard enough to draw blood at age 16), below the ‘age of understanding’ sometimes physical force is the only way at that immediate instant to stop a dangerous activity. Longer term, it certainly behooves the parent to remove the temptation for the activity (i.e., put covers on those wall sockets!) This does not mean really hurting the child, merely forcibly making that child pay attention in a language he can understand at that age.

    Having a government meddle in family judgmental decisions is expanding the powers of government far too much.

  11. We got the flat of the hand, as children, when we were out of line. Usually it was my mother doing it (and the frequency was, after I reached six or so, less than once a year). Capital punishment was being swatted by my father, maybe twice between six and sixteen.
    My parents used it like a 2×4 to the head, to get our atention.

  12. There’s a difference between the “thwap to get attention” and “bend over, here it comes again”. I have a three-year-old daughter who once in a while gets a thwap or two, generally after repeated instructions and when we’re in a situation where I can’t simply pick her up and take her away for the old-fashioned “good talking-to”.

    As a matter of public policy, it’s rather more problematic. I don’t know California law, but I rather suspect that existing laws regarding child abuse prohibit the sort of harmful, violent hitting that any rational person would recognize as way beyond the prerogative of parents to decide how best to raise their children.

    Side note: my favorite childhood spanking story is from when I was probably in early grade school. I was about to get whooped for… something, I have no idea what, but the probability is that it involved intentionally not paying attention to one or both parental units. Just as Dad was getting ready to administer justice, I turned around and said, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

    He was laughing so hard I got out of the punishment…

  13. On the other hand, the day I ran out into traffic, my mother just shouted at me, marched me to the gate, took hold of my head and turned it up and down the road (not painfully, but crossly), saying ‘You must look this way, then that way, then that way again!’

    Unfortunately, in her agitation she got the sequence wrong – left-right-left rather than right-left-right (the cars drive on the left where I live). It undoubtedly made an impression, though. I was doing my road safety drill backwards for years.

    The coupla times she lost her temper and slapped me, on the other hand, changed my behaviour not a bit. The slap convinced me I was more sinned against than sinning, and that she was too worked up to be capable of sound judgement.

    (In defence of my mother, I feel bound to point out that she’s actually a loving and trustworthy woman. These were rare occurences.)

    In conclusion – if you can get the kid’s attention without hitting, especially if they’re old enough to speak English, you may get a better result if you keep those itchy palms to yourself.

  14. I listened to a ridiculous morning show talking about that while I did my laundry a week ago (someone else was actually watching). I kept wanting to jump into the conversation.
    What I remember of swats as a kid were that past a certain age, they were humiliating more than anything– “I’ve been such a horrible kid that Mom actually hit me,” more than anything– but before then (and that’s the only time I remember a specific instance) it wasn’t a coordinated punishment. We didn’t get swats because our parents thought it would deter us from the behavior, except in the most distant sense; we got swats because it had to stop RIGHT NOW. A campaign of swats to stop me from eating freezypops all afternoon without permission wouldn’t have done anything. One swat would be enough to make me stop doing it right then.

    Before a certain age, children and puppies are about the same. Until then, words and examples are not going to make an immediate impression– unless you use them very, very effectively, and even then it’s probably not going to get through the way you expect.

    I also wanted to ask the no-spankers who said to talk to the kids if there’s any way to get a kid’s attention with communication that isn’t just as traumatic as spanking. If you say that touching a kid in anger is abuse, parents will find a way to get to the kids that doesn’t involve touch, and I think that’d mess them up even worse. It’s easier to stop spanking at a certain age than to stop verbal battering.

  15. Two Points:

    Why does it seem like that around every corner parental rights are being taken out of the hands of parents? It may be a case of a few bad apples spoiling the bunch, but there are smart adults out there who do know the difference and stick to the middle ground between extreme and passive discipline.

    This law does nothing but lump together a group of infant/toddlers by saying all children are and will forever be ‘the same.’

    I have three children and this couldn’t be further from the truth. I did not spank my son at all. The threat of a spanking for my 6 year old is all it takes to curb her dangerous behavior and yes, I have had to swat my 2 year old to curb an action I thought to be harmful.

    Do I regret it? No. Does it kill me to have to do it? Yes. Anytime spanking is done in anger, or frustration you’ve crossed that tempered line.

    Perhaps if Parents were given the freedom to do their jobs without fear of punishment themselves from localized agencies, we wouldn’t have such a lack of respect from the current generation.

    Anyone watch Nanny 911 lately? My God.

    *steps off soapbox*

  16. But inasmuch as I was averaging a couple three spankings a month, how effective could it have been as punishment? I was still needing to be punished on a regular basis.

    You could have been doing 2-3 different bad things per month, which considering the ingenuity of toddlers doesn’t sound unreasonable.

  17. My feeling is that this is another case of “Legislation is easier than Governing.” Basically it gives the state the ability to run people in whom they suspect of child abuse without that pesky “proof” thing. Presumably, the state will then use the proceedings to attempt to build a more solid abuse case. This is much the same thing as banning handguns in SF (which happens every time the current crop of legislators forgets what happened last time) where it’s more or less an excuse to arrest suspected gang members without them having to commit an actual crime. The same thing happened recently on the national level with the legislation concerning pseudophedrine–it’s much easier to get it off the market than it is to hunt down meth labs. As much as I disagree with that particular legislation, I do admire its cleverness. Rather than attempting to ban a safe and effective drug they just made it economic death for the drug companies to keep it in.

  18. We’ve had a law against spanking (and other forms of child abuse, including locking a child in) since, I think, 1973. So far, society seems to be holding up just fine, and kids aren’t dying in droves from licking wall sockets.

  19. Not being a parent I try to stay out of discussions of specifics.

    All I’ll note is that I had to learn about positive reinforcement training and behaviour modification techniques when adopting a dog from the SFSPCA and they were extremely enlightening as to all interactions, human-human and human-animal both. They should teach this stuff in highschool or something :)

    And since we are trading anecdotes AFAIK I was smacked once as a kid, and I was eleven or twelve. I popped out for a minute and then lost track of time and came home hours later. I was sent to my room and my mother landed a smack on my ass as I passed. It didn’t hurt, but was such a shock that drove home just how worried she had been.

  20. My mom says she spanked me but I don’t remember it. I do remember her preferred from of punishment – fixing me with her laser-beam eyes and saying “I want you to tell me what you did wrong, and why I’m disappointed with your behavior.” I used to plead for a spanking rather than admit I had done something wrong and let her down.

    My husband’s dad drank, and used to beat him black and blue for the slightest thing. He swears he remembers every single time it happened.

    I think that alone shows the difference between a swat to keep your kid in line and abuse

  21. I don’t have kids, and am highly unlikely to do so. So I am largely indifferent to the question of spanking as legitimate parenting tool or child abuse, beyond wishing someone would smack the damn screaming kids in the grocery checkout line (an admittedly curmudgeonly view). I suppose generalizations are impossible and the question of legitimate spanking comes down to the personality and maturity of the individual parent(s) and child.

    That said, I think the law is a stupid idea. It’s the sort of legislation that totally fails to fulfill its purpose while being easily subverted and corrupted to unjust uses. Think of the DMCA, or the Patriot Act.

  22. Just a note to the non-parents and those who’ve not had the responsibility of raising a child (yours or someone else’s): lay off the dog-child comparisons. They’re offensive and only reinforce the fact that you really don’t understand. The considerations and reactions are so much more complex; small children may lack some understanding and capacity that adults (usually) have, but if you underestimate their intelligence, you’re doing yourself and them a severe disfavor.

    The worst punishment I ever received was my father (to whom I’m very, very close now) looking me in the eye and saying, “Son, you disappointed me.”

    That doesn’t work on a two-year-old, but if you do your job right with the two-year-old, it’ll work wonders on the twelve-year-old. Hell, it would work on me now.

    And Therese: but is the law actually followed, or is it a “piling on” charge?

  23. Having said I’m pretty dubious of this sort of law, I want to also say that I’m pretty dubious that “around every corner parental rights are being taken out of the hands of parents.” I don’t think that’s remotely true, although I sure do see a lot of people making that claim.

    Quite the contrary, in most of the United States, you can mistreat and abuse your kids in all kinds of ways to your heart’s content, and if you’re reasonably discreet, the chances of you being noticed the underfunded, underempowered social services charged with protecting children are very low. Claiming that there’s some kind of wave of interfering with the “rights of parents” is like claiming that the Bush Administration is unduly cracking down on the oil companies–would that it were so.

    To repeat, I don’t think this is a well-considered piece of legislation, but it does seem worth noting that, in addition to the “rights of parents,” there’s another kind of human being in the equation, and hard though it may be to realize this, they have rights too.

  24. Kyle,

    I’m not a parent, but I’m the oldest in a big family. Due to a large age difference, and a parental illness, I did a lot of the parenting with my youngest sibs. I’m also a trained outreach animal handler at the Cincy Zoo. I’ve worked with both kids and animals, although never dogs, and it seem to me breaking bad habits in toddlers and animals is just about the same. It’s not intelligence that’s in question it’s the ability to reason the consequences of your actions

  25. Just a note to the non-parents and those who’ve not had the responsibility of raising a child (yours or someone else’s): lay off the dog-child comparisons. They’re offensive and only reinforce the fact that you really don’t understand.

    I want to argue with that, because I instinctively feel there must be some similarities that make the comparison useful, but I lack the necessary standing to make the argument effectively (childless at current) and I do not remember my own mindset at the age of two.

    To those of you who have raised children, what do y’all think about this?

  26. I’m a parent of an almost 2 yr old girl, and I have a boy on the way. Yes, I have smacked her bottom and I intend to with this one. It does not mean that I will be abusive, just getting their attention and letting them know that I’m not being funny when I tell them no. However, I would like the ‘no spanking’ individuals to provide me w/ examples of what I could do instead. Aside from, rearranging furniture, removing them from the room… putting things up higher. Because, maybe I’m stubborn but I’m not going to rearrange or remove items (other than the dangerous sort) out of reach. They will just have to learn.

  27. Kyle: I’m sorry if I was unclear. My point was not to say raising a kid is the same training a dog. Which why I didn’t say that :) Dog training is simply the way I discovered the theories in question.

    Two of the books we were required to read were in fact *not* about animal training at all but about the theory as applied to all interactions. This includes the interactons one has with other adult humans (which is where I’ve had the most use for it), children and animals.

    I still try to apply a lot of what I learned despite the fact that I haven’t owned a pet in two years.

  28. It sounds to me as though Sally Lieber is one of those politicians who wants to micromanage every facet of our lives, because SHE obviously knows what is best for us. In other words, she’s a Really Stupid Politician. I think Lieber is the one who needs a spanking. A public one, and one that would inflict the maximun pain and humiliation possible, just for being a Really Stupid Politician.

  29. Kyle: Sure. And if you’d say things like the parents here are saying in a Swedish living room, the conversation would stop, people’d look at you as if you were from another planet, and they’d probably never invite you again. It’s just not done in polite society.

    Sure, many parents fail, and have hit their kids. Often, it’s just once, with one kid, and they’re horrified afterwards. It’s seen as a serious personal failure.

  30. I work in a midwestern urban public library and we call the police maybe once a month about a parent hitting a baby because it won’t stop crying.

    My (now in college) kid got the occasional swat, but only for deliberate disobedience.

  31. Sorry if I knee-jerk reacted earlier; I’ve run into a lot of people that have opened with the statement “I don’t have kids, but we do raise dogs, and it can’t be that different”. And honestly, I sort of thought that for a long time, in the sense that it made sense to me even though I knew parents got upset.

    My wife and I are also both the oldest in our families with substantial age differences to our siblings… and parenthood still hit us like the proverbial 2×4 to the head. That said, I do agree that one need not be the biological parent to feel the same imperatives. Adoptive parents, grandparents or uncles/aunts that raise kids, etc., are all in this the same, whether or not said kids issue from your loins.

    While there are likely some basic comparisons — okay, yes, positive reinforcement is by far preferable — the differences are far more vast, so much so as to render the comparison almost meaningless.

    Parents (and society at large) are trying to turn children into thinking, responsible adults who’ll be valuable members of society and in many ways an expression, at least in part, of our own beliefs about humanity. Dog owners are trying to turn puppies into fun companions that don’t urinate on the carpet. Well, parents don’t want our toddlers to urinate on the carpet either, but that’s not a primary teaching objective for very long.

    There are very, very few dog owners who’d willingly and without hesitation jump in front of a bus to save their dog.

    There are very, very few parents who wouldn’t do the same for their child. It’s even probably true that most adults would do the same for any child they see… for a puppy, we’ll cringe and cry, but we understand the relative differences instinctually.

  32. Point taken.

    And perhaps I didn’t make myself clear, in most cases I don’t think swatting is a great idea for either kids or animals, but sometime it does serve to get their attention, and sometimes you have to do that.

    I wonder what the no spanking people would think about squirting kids with a spay of water when they act out. It seems to work for everything I’ve worked with but cats. Nothing really works with cats.

    (I’m only joking here not really promoting spritzing kids for whining, so don’t start chewing me up about it.)

  33. Remember the pet owners that wouldn’t leave New Orleans because they couldn’t take their pets with them? You can get that attached to an animal, even if you’re a parent. They’re like members of our families.

    I trained two dogs before we had our two boys, and I’ve trained another dog since then. I still feel there are some similarities between small toddlers and dogs. I don’t say this in public, since some parents become highly upset with me.

  34. Just want to buttress what Patrick Nielsen Hayden said regarding abuse of kids – in my experience in Illinois as a social worker, you have to be one of the worst abusers out there to be investigated by our child protective services. DCFS is almost never going to come knocking just because you hit (not spank, but hit) your kids. They just don’t have enough staff or funding. You’d need to break bones, or inflict some very visible and bad looking injuries before you will draw their ire.

    So there are tens of thousands of kids who are actually being abused (and neglected) today that will probably never be investigated by DCFS. Even when investigated, the likelihood of the children being removed from the house is low. Even when abuse is indicated (roughly, there is evidence that DCFS believes abuse is occurring), there just are not enough foster homes and adoptive parents to meet the need. So, many kids are stuck in abusive households with DCFS personnel making home visits rarely or never. There is even one particular risk that horrifies people in my profession – you get DCFS involved, but only to the level that it pisses off the parents more, and they take it out on the kids.

    People like myself who work in community agencies, hospital social workers, and school social workers, along with teachers, are most commonly the ones who call DCFS. Not only are we “mandated reporters”, we also tend to think violence is a bad way to modify behavior.

    As for spanking – please. I am not going to waste my time calling DCFS or law enforcement because I see a parent spanking their child. For one, I believe corporal punishment by parents is legal in Illinois. Even if it became illegal, I can’t imagine burdening a law enforcement and social service apparatus already overtaxed and underfunded because of spankings. If the behavior crosses the line from spanking to abuse – based on force applied, frequency, location on the body, and my assessment of it harming the child – then we already have laws that cover that.

    Do I think spankings are an effective tool? Very rarely. However, I think making it a crime is even less effective.

    A better alternative, which I encourage everyone reading to support or get involved in, is to research and support non-violence programs in whatever way possible, and lobby legislators to provide enough funding for professionals to protect all the kids that need it.

  35. Todd: you’re a social worker in IL, my home state? Then my guess is you’re tougher than Irish pizza. I doff my hat to you.

  36. Re: Kids/Dogs

    As I stated above, I have years of training in Positive Behavioral Supports for special needs children. I also used a guide dog, which required an intense month of behavior training.

    The basic princibles of Applied Behavior Analysis are the same in both kids and dogs. And adults for that matter. Where it starts to differ is that a dogs life is relatively controlled, therefore the antecedents and consequences for the behavior are able to be extremely consistant and straightforward. Compared to a human who is put in dynamic situations all the time and have varied relationships that make behavior analyais with humans much more complex. And with a strong need to assess the function of the behavior and how the environment interacts with it. If you had a really bad day at work, and you come home and the cat meows at you so you kick it–the antecedent is not the cat meowing at you. It is a complex and varied system of stuff that you’ve experienced that day and throughout your life that created that behavior. ABA works well on Toddlers not because their intelligence is like that of dogs, but because they are livng relatively simple lives that are largely controlled by the adult who is managing the behavior as well.

    I’ll quit nerding out on behavioral theory now.

  37. Kyle: I understand the pet/kid comparison is frustrating; there’s a reason I have had dogs, cats and ferrets but decided long ago I will never have kids :D

    As for PRT and BM; I’m not training other adults to not pee on the carpet either but the books covered adult to adult interactions pretty extensively.

    My point is simply that there are some basic theories that everyone can learn about and techinques that everyone can apply to *all* of their interactions. They can even learn a little about their own motivations and behaviour. I think that sort of knowledge is exceedingly cool and thus I am eager to share it with likeminded organisms :)

  38. Lisa: Sweet, an expert! Nerd on all you like as far as I’m concerned-I was fascinated by my extremely limited reading on the subject.

  39. What do we non-hitters do? Try harder, I guess. I can only remember smacking one of our three, when she had worked herself into a fine hysteria. It calmed her down and I will carry the scar of that failure on my psyche to my grave.

    My parents didn’t spank me either. Ever. Or my two brothers.

    I’m not going to call anyone who does hit (without abusing) their children. Raising kids is the hardest and best thing we ever get to do. But I think they’re mistaken.

  40. In my experience, pain is relative. We only know the depth of the pain we have felt as individuals. Being a father of a 11 year old girl I can see that words can be just as effective (and as hurtful) as physical violence. When we resort to spanking I fel its due to inability to express ourselves and resorting to the lowest form of communication. I have found no reason to “spank” my child. I can remember what being a kid is like. However I do not think goverment can push morals on us. As a govt representative, I would think she has far bigger issues to focus her energy.

  41. I was the child that broke my parents of spanking. According to my Dad, I would just fall apart every time my parents spanked me. He says it was pitiful. My parents would still swat, but only if it was something dangerous. If it wasn’t, we just got a stern talking to. They had plenty of opportunities since they had seven children. I just don’t remember them doing it often.

    As for legislating against spanking, doesn’t the California legislature have better things do with it’s time? It’s a good goal, but I don’t think achievable through legislation. It’s good for publicity, but it’s just not practical. Plus, I’m not sure that I like a governmental agency getting this nit picky. I think most people would rather that the legislature stick to goals that are in their sphere of influence and have a chance of actually making a difference.

  42. In many cases it’s quite difficult to prove beyond a reasonable that child abuse is taking place. My wife is teaching in a pre-school for at risk kids. They believe one of the kids is being abused, but reporting it before they have proof isn’t a good idea. For one thing, it pretty much guarantees that the kid will be withdrawn from the school, removing him/her from of one of the few (only?) safe/healthy environments in his/her life.

    I can’t help thinking the kid would be a lot better off if they could just report that s/he’s being spanked. On the other hand I’m quite sympathetic to PNH’s point about the sub-average competence of 50% of the enforcement officers who’d be administering it.

  43. I was spanked fairly often as a kid. It was a ritual. First you stood there and were told precisely what you had done wrong. Then, pants down and across the knee. One hit for whatever you’d done wrong, and a second hit if you’d tried to cover up for yourself by lying. Then there was the secondary punishment (confinement to room, standing in the corner, extra dish duty, et cetera.)

    Past about the age of five this came with the “We thought you were old enough that we wouldn’t have to do this any more. I guess we were wrong” speech, which had the intended effect of humiliating the hell out of me.

    I was never struck in anger — this was always a dreadfully calm event. I don’t think I was ever spanked past the age of ten.

    Now I’m grown up and my husband and I, when we talk about having kids, frequently bring up the “spank or not” question… he’s against it, I’m for it. But then, I grew up on a farm, so aside from the whole dealing-with-animals aspect of it I see (and always saw) the actual pain issue as pretty trivial. Spankings hurt, but frankly, I was doing worse to myself on a daily basis, what with the rusty nails and the falling-out-of-trees and riding the Evil Pony. The humiliation was what made them an effective deterrent.

    And spankings were also over quickly. I remember my first boyfriend describing his mother’s discipline methods… he was never spanked, but instead treated coldly and distantly for days on end until he was practically crawling with guilt. Um, no. I won’t do that to my kid. I won’t do that to anyone.

    So who knows what we’ll come up with, in the end. I’ll be mining this thread for ideas… *grin*

  44. Spanking is abhorrent, end of story. You’re teaching the kid that violence is suitable for some circumstances and then they don’t know ho to draw the lines.


    If it’s your girlfriend and it’s hockey night and she’s up for it, then it’s cool!!!

  45. I don’t remember being spanked as a child and don’t feel the lack harmed me. I do remember getting my brothers to try things out first, and some of those got them spanked. But then I was a conniving youngster.

  46. Being vintage 1943 I was raised in a time when spankings administered by the paternal parental unit were not uncommon and were generally societally approved. My brother and I received our fair share of such discipline when we were young and even when we were in the later years of elementary school a thorough spanking was always held out as a possibility, such possbility being noted by an occasional vigorous passing thump or two on the bottom.

    I believe I thumped my eldest two or three times on his pamper-clad (and thus well-padded) bottom in an attempt to halt a dangerous activity of climbing out of his crib at four in the morning. Realized that this was not working, so replaced crib with a bed (remove danger of falling) and blocked off entry to the non-bedroom areas so he either had to play in his room or come into our bedroom (removing danger of unsupervised access to the kitchen).

    One day when he was somewhere around two and a half or three we were walking through a shopping center parking lot when he escaped from my grip and was running. I quickly grabbed him with one hand and attempted to administer a disciplinary bottom thump to emphasis the “NO!” nature of running in a parking lot — but my left hand was the hand that grabbed him as my right hand came in for the thumping. That left had was also holding the plastic bag containing the items just purchased: a quart of paint and a four pack of light bulbs. The end result: a sore hand and one or two of the light bulb were broken.

    My younger two were raised with the idea of a good old-fashioned over the knee spanking always being theoretically (or rehetorically) as a potential action, but in actuality time-outs (or, in more serious cases, banishment to the couch or even “go to your room” as possibilities).

    My grandson, now three and a half, gets discussions about making good choices. I don’t know if this is more effective, but his father has broken no light bulbs in the course of those discussion.

  47. I actually saw something on tv where they spoke with the folks behind this law – so it wasn’t just people talking about it, but the ones orchestrating it were explaining it. What it seems to come down to is that there have been many cases brought to this legistlator’s attention where parents certainly seemed to be abusive to their child as far as prosecutors and social workers and even judges thought but were getting off by saying they were spanking their children. It sounded like there was some loophole in the abuse law – so you could spank and mark the child from spanking but that was permissible under the abuse law – there is no way to prosecute in those instances.

    Is it too much? I don’t know – I’ve seen parents go apeshit crazy in parking lots spanking the ever loving crap out of little kids (1 – 2 yrs old) and when you have seen it like that, it sure doesn’t look like healthy discipline.

    From everything that was said in the five minute or so interview, this law was not designed to go into houses and prosecute parents for spanking as a deterrent for electrocution. It’s about parents who are out of control and trying to get out of successful prosecution by claiming they were just spanking.

    One thing was clear – it’s not part of a conspiracy to take parental control away. It’s about preventing abuse (at least from their perspective).

  48. I remember being spanked once or twice, as a child, but I haven’t the slightest clue why.

    My parents largely believed in the time-honored punishment of making me stand in the corner and count to large numbers… it was (and still would be) deathly boring.

  49. One thing was clear – it’s not part of a conspiracy to take parental control away. It’s about preventing abuse (at least from their perspective).

    Well, chalk one up for good intentions, but this rationale makes it sound like an even worse idea. Essentially, they’re introducing a law that’s meant to be enforced unevenly. A law that simply says “spanking is illegal,” but is only meant to be enforced where the spanking appears to the viewer to be crossing a line whose exact placement is somewhat subjective?

    OK. Number one, that’s stupid. Ideally, we should mean it when we write a law. If one does not intend to criminalize all spanking of every child 4 years and under, one should write a more specific law, one that attempts to actually catch the behavior that they’re intending to stop. (I’m no expert, but it seems to be it would be better to amend the anti-abuse laws so that the word “spanking” is no longer a magical get-out-of-jail-free word.)

    Number two, a law that’s meant to be enforced unevenly is a law that’s ripe for abuse. Imagine the post-divorce fallout, just for example. It’ll be the latest weapon in custody battles. Or imagine the neighborhood scrutiny parents will come under if their religion, sexual orientation, or other lifestyle choices don’t meet the approval of bigoted neighbors who’d really like to have the kids taken away before they learn how to be like their parents. This kind of crap already happens all the time; an anti-spanking law will just cause it to happen even more.

    So, yay for good intentions, but them’s what they pave roads we don’t wanna walk with, right?

  50. The subjectivity I saw was between “swatting” and “beating”. Lots of people have complained about being barred from a smack or a swat – that’s not what they were saying in crafting this law. (Although how to define a swat or a smack as opposed to spanking is anyone’s guess.)

    I’ve tried to find the actual content of this bill online somewhere and can’t, but that might be just because Lieber is not introducing it until next week.

    I can’t help but think there is one odd angle here that seems to be overlooked. Really, everyone is fighting over the right to hit their own little children. Let’s not pretty it up or anything, this is about the right to hit little children, most of them under 35 pounds. (Call it spanking but it still involves hitting.) I understand and agree with the questions about enforcement and everything else, but the debate is about the right to hit. That just seems wrong somehow – or really sad.

    Here’s a bit from the San Jose Mercury News last week as to how the governor is thinking:

    Schwarzenegger recalled parent-teacher conferences in the 1950s and ’60s. All the students would sit in a classroom studying as their parents took turns talking to the teacher about class behavior and grades.

    At one conference, Schwarzenegger recalled, his father, after conferring with the teacher, walked over to him and smacked him in front of the other kids. Afterward, his father walked back to the teacher to shake hands. ‘They would exchange cigarettes or something like that and then walk out.

    ‘I didn’t feel terrible about it because then the farm lady came in with the cane,’ walked up to her son and ‘whacked him with the stick,’ Schwarzenegger added. ‘It was . . . wild — not wild then, but wild looking back now. It’s just two different worlds.’

    The governor was exposed to different child-rearing strategies by the family of first lady Maria Shriver, which relied on ‘no physicality at all, just communication.’ Now, when the four Schwarzenegger kids misbehave, they are talked to or barred from social outings.

    As for spanking them, he said, ‘Never. None of our kids ever was touched. Absolutely not.’

  51. Isn’t the point that parents are allowed to do to kids what would have me in jail for quite some time if I were to do it to anyone else?

    Eight years old have the same rights to be protected from violence as anyone else.

  52. Seems to me that these latest posts that are coming right out and equating “spanking” with “violence” this simplistically need to read the original post and then engage it. It’s bad manners to simply contradict a well-thought-out argument without actually engaging the argument on a point-by-point basis.

    I.E. “I disagree with Scalzi on his stance that some spanking under the age of 4 is necessary. He says that a child too young yet to reason can sometimes only be prevented from killing itself if the parent gives it a reason to associate (lesser) pain with the dangerous behavior; I think there is actually another way, which is…” And so forth. It reads a hell of a lot better, and is a lot more polite, than “Nuh-uh! Spanking bad! So there!”

  53. When I’ve read the above comments I remembered an old phrase complaining that you do not need any licensing for producing children.
    Anyone can do it, but few are good in rearing them.

    Raising children demands: (not in a particular order) attention, care, thought, observation, time, responsibility and sometimes even love.

    Raising children does not involve violence at any stage.
    I’m not talking about instant actions that are caused by hair raising scenarios. (Firecrackers in the ears tongue in socket etc.)
    BTW – those scenarios would have been prevented if the parent would have stuck his/her head up his newspaper or snap out of his/her day dreaming.

    When you hit your child, no matter how you rationalize it, means that you have LOST. Quitted on the most important time your child needs you. It means that you have taken the easier, convenient route to you, not your child.

    Look deep in your heart. You have spanked your kids when you felt that nothing works, or that they do not understand you, or that you don’t know how to prevent a certain behavior form repeating itself and you thought spanking will do.
    You have acted out of ignorance and impatience.

    It’s not your children fault that they are curious but lacks knowledge on what things can hurt them.

    That’s part of your parenting chores, to teach. Oh yea you can teach and learn with spanking, but there are ALWAYS another ways.

    I had an opportunity to re-read starship troopers again this weekend. I was displeased to discover that Heinlein approves of rare and well deserving spanking for special occasions. To his opinion there would be much less juvenile criminals if they would have been spanked by their parents at early age.

    I hope that I have misunderstood him.

  54. You haven’t misunderstood him, nsh.

    Also, I disagree that if you’ve spanked your child, you’ve lost. I think there are particular situations where a spanking is both appropriate and desirable, such as the one I described in the entry. I am willing to entertain the argument that there was a different way of dealing with that particular situation, of course. But the spanking in this particular case was neither inappropriate or catastrophic.

  55. I’m rather startled by how many people equate spanking with heavy violence, or even say you’d be arrested if you did the same to an adult.

    No one has yet tried to arrest me for smacking my husband on the butt.

    I also have to remember a family I used to live with in college — two kids, two-and-a-half and six months, both girls. The older girl was a bit of a brat: cute and knew it, used it to get away with all kinds of rude misbehavior, and was also in the “kill/torture little sister” mode. I saw her do some stuff to that baby that really, *really* should have been stopped.

    I also happened to be passing by one day when the mother was attempting to discipline the two-and-a-half year old. She was kneeling on the floor, holding the girl’s shoulders and speaking very sternly. “You shouldn’t do things like that. It’s very hurtful. You hurt my feelings.” While the girl stared at her with sullen confusion.

    You cannot talk that way to a two-year-old. They’ve done studies on this. Kids don’t develop any significant ability to empathize until they’re four or five at least.

    Now there were probably ways that these (very loving and well-intentioned) parents could have stopped the kid putting herself in hysterics until she got what she wanted or bending her baby sister’s fingers backwards until she screamed aside from spanking. But in this case? Spanking would have been a better option than what they did try. It had at least a chance of making an impression.

    For the record, I’m still undecided on spanking myself… but I’m coming to the conclusion that it really depends on the child. Most of the alternate punishments listed here (time-outs, sitting in the corner, denied social opportunities) wouldn’t have worked on me because I was an incredible daydreamer. Being forced to sit in the corner and stare at the wall with no one talking to me? That was heaven. Unlimited daydreaming time! Even having to count (or extra chores) didn’t upset me much, because I’d trained myself to do simple tasks with one part of my brain while the other went visiting in fantasyland.

    Once again — probably there was a non-violent option for dealing with this, and I’m interested to see what people come up with. But I do kinda object to the idea that spanking is the worst option out there. It’s not.

  56. Kat wrote:

    “No one has yet tried to arrest me for smacking my husband on the butt.”

    Kinky stuff :-)

    After 8 PM the local chuildren channel transfoom into a parenting channel. Each night there is a show called little angels. The show feature ordinary families with kids that behave not-so-very-nice.
    The family recives a parenting Guru that helps them overcome their problematic children, no spankinmg involved.
    I’ve learned a lot from watching it.

    If a hard working single mother to a 3 years old triplet can handle her kids without spanking, then ANYONE can manage.

    I’d like to recommend a book

    It has comics in it too !

  57. Well, spanking is bad. No one thinks that actively hurting children is a good thing, merely the least bad thing. Therefore, the burden of proof is on pro-spanking advocates to prove that spanking works.

    The default position should be: never, ever, strike another person against their will. Nothing I’ve seen following this post has convinced me either that spanking works, that we should override that fundamental principle in this case.

    Indeed, as far as I can tell, the actual evidence, and everything I know about children backs this up, is that spanking doesn’t change behaviour patterns.

    Remember, a two year old starts off with all the same rights as you or I, and I’d better see a damn good case for removing any one of them before we start abrogating the inherent rights of a human.

    I just haven’t seen that.

  58. I remember being spanked both coldly/unemotionally and in anger (both parents feel terribly guilty about it now, regardless of the circumstances) and while I can’t say I remember if it was effective or not, I do know that I turned out OK.
    Despite this “wrong/bad/horrible” item in my background, I believe it was actually positive words (specifically strangers complimenting my little sister on her looks) that gave me the most challenging self-work to do in adulthood.
    Just goes to show that these things are difficult to predict.

  59. To address the idea from an above post that spanking does or does not work: it worked for me. Fear of my grandparents spanking me stopped me from doing some hurtful and dangerous things to my brothers, such as writing swears on the cars and roughhousing while climbing trees.

    Now, there could have been other ways to modify my behavior. However, the rare times I got spanked (less than 5 times I can remember), it usually provided motivation for me to stop the behavior. However, if you are going to spank, you have to know your kids, and whether it will stop them from doing something dangerous. At some point, about age 5, I reached a point that I was so stubborn that spanking would not have stopped behavior.

    Spanking a child, as long as the child knows that you love them and can feel that love, is not, in my experience, going to scar them or teach them that violence is OK. On the other hand, there are probably equally or more effective alternatives for the majority of kids.

  60. I’m the mother of a 17 year old son. I’ve given occasional swats — the closest thing to a spanking was 4 swats over pajamas and training pants, thus, I am sure he felt next to nothing. This happened when he was 4 years old. It didn’t come out of the blue. He was acting up and I put him in his room for a time out. He immediately opened the door and ran out. I picked him up to put him back in his room, and he sank his teeth into my shoulder. So I dumped him on the bed face down and gave him the four swats.

    Generally I’m not in favor of spanking but in an instance like that the parent is completely justified.

    Most of the discipline I used was of the nonspanking sort, time outs, discussion, taking away privileges, etc. But especially with a kid four and under, once in a while there’s just not much other choice.

    His behavior is exemplary today and he hasn’t been in trouble in school since first grade. I hardly think he’s been damaged by the occasional swat.

    The California law doesn’t make sense because there are already laws against child abuse. If parents are claiming they “spanked” their kids but there is marking or evidence of undue severity, the child abuse laws should cover that.

    Child welfare workers are notoriously overworked. They don’t need spanking cases added to their rosters. In fact, they sometimes take kids away when the parent hasn’t done anything wrong, while leaving kids in the home too long with a parent who is dangerous. While a kid is put into foster care because he got a couple of swats on the bottom, some other kid will get beaten to death because the child welfare workers were busy with the spanking case.

  61. The reason that this proposed California Law is so important is that it will introduce a non-violent concept in our state that will progress to other states until the whole country adopts a non-violent stance – something we have never had. We have always been a violent country and and the violence has always started in the cradle.
    No child of any age should ever be hit – regardless of the circumstances. The child learns nothing except that the person or persons who are supposed to love them more than anyone has hit them intentionally. Being hit at any age is terrifying.
    We are way behind Europe, who have discovered the evils of hitting children and have banned it in most of their countries. We need to grow up as a nation and realize what other countries are doing right with their children. Other countries have the same challenges with pre-school aged children as we do. Yet..they don’t hit them. Finland stopped doing this way back in 1890.
    If this law doesn’t go through this time it needs to come up again and again until we have abolished the physical correction of children for good. Your example of the woman hitting the little child in the face is the very reason why this law must go through as soon as possible. There are way too many children from past generations as well as today’s generations who have suffered being hit by their parents and teachers. If the law has to step in, so be it.

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