Disciplinary Spanking: Defined

Disciplinary Spanking: Defined

Corporal Punishment and Disciplinary Spanking are NOT equal terms.

Corporal Punishment is legally defined as bodily punishment of any kind.  This term includes abusive and non-abusive forms of physical punishment.  It includes all beating, face slapping, shaking, kicking, punching, choking, scalding, even starving, as well as any other physical attempt to inappropriately hurt a person.  It also includes appropriate forms of physical punishment used in the discipline of young children, such as hand slapping, firm hand grasp, or ordinary spanking.

Disciplinary spanking is a subset of corporal punishment, and therefore must be clearly defined in any attempt to intelligently discuss or evaluate it.  Spanking has been defined as “physically non-injurious, intended to modify behavior, and administered with the open hand to the extremities or buttocks.”[i]  The following table defines two types of corporal punishment.  They differ greatly from each other.


Disciplinary Spanking Physical Abuse
The Act Spanking: one or two swats to the buttocks of a disobedient child. Physical assault, including beating, kicking, punching, choking, etc.
The Intent Training: to modify behavior and persuade the heart Violence: “physical force intended to injure or abuse.” [ii]
The Attitude Love and concern Anger and malice
The Effects Mild to moderate discomfort; behavioral change  Physical and emotional injury


The proper use of disciplinary spanking is not physically harmful, nor emotionally detrimental to the child. There are several misconceptions about disciplinary spanking as follows:

1.     Disciplinary spanking is not slapping of the face, kicking, beating or the delivery of repeated demoralizing blows to the unruly child.

2.     Disciplinary spanking is not revengeful strokes delivered  by parents who “lose control of their feelings… in a moment of anger” as some critics have claimed.[iii]  It should not be inflicted by parents as a “last resort at their wit’s end.”

3.     Disciplinary spanking is not to be used as the primary method of punishing all undesirable activity or without regard for the child’s age and developmental maturity.

4.     Disciplinary spanking does not preclude the use of time out, restraint, distraction, or restriction of privileges as primary forms of guidance.  It does not preclude positive reinforcement for good behavior.

5.     Disciplinary spanking should not be an act of parental exasperation and frustration with the persistently challenging child.

Disciplinary spanking is one of many disciplinary tools intended to shape appropriate behavior in the developing toddler or child.  Mild spankings may be necessary as early as fifteen months of age.  They should be relatively infrequent, and should always be reserved for clear willful defiance, not innocent exploration or childish irresponsibility.  Spanking should always be a planned action by the parent and not an angry reaction.  It should consist of one or two spanks to the buttocks and should be administered immediately after the offense.  It should be followed by a loving embrace from the parent and a verbal review of the offense and reason for punishment.  As a toddler cognitively develops, the use of time-out, reasoning and restriction of privileges should serve as primary disciplinary measures, with spankings occurring much less frequently.  Spankings should only occasionally be necessary after 6 years and rarely, if ever, after 10 years of age.


[i].  ”Consensus Statements” in Friedman, Stanford B., MD, & Schonberg, S. Kenneth, MD (eds). “The Short and Long Term Consequences of Corporal Punishment.” supplement to Pediatrics, 1996; 98 (4):853.

[ii].  Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Relieved 3-22-2006. Merriam-Webster Inc.

[iii]. Wessel M. The pediatrician and corporal punishment. Pediatrics. 1980; 66: 639.

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