Disciplinary Spanking: Is It Necessary?

Disciplinary Spanking: Is It Necessary?

Successful child rearing requires three fundamental elements: Instruction, Affirmation, and Correction.  A parent must first give instruction, then encourage the child to comply, then if disobedience occurs, correct the child.  During the early stages of a child’s cognitive brain development, the effectiveness of reasoning with a child is limited at best.  During these early years a parent’s corrective measures are very limited.

For ages 1-3 years, there are:

  1. Disapproval (verbal and nonverbal)
  2. Redirection/Distraction (only works when very young)
  3. Physical restraint (holding a child, or physically making them comply)
  4. Logical & Natural consequences
  5. Time-Out

For ages 4 and up:

  1. Reasoning
  2. Privilege removal
  3. Grounding
  4. Logical & Natural consequences

For children under 5 years of age, reason and explanation alone are ineffective in changing problem behavior.  This was reported in an August 1995 article by Dr. Nathan Blum and associates published in Pediatrics.[i]  They indicated that parents of young children should manage behaviors by use of the following: (p. 336)

  •  Appropriate Behavior ………. Positive incentives and praise
  • Mildly Inappropriate Behavior ………. Ignore it
  • Aggression, Dangerous Behavior, and Other Inappropriate Behaviors ………. Time-Out

Although time-out is an effective and useful disciplinary response in many settings, it does have its limitations depending upon the behavioral setting and the child’s temperament.  It is when time-out is ineffective or impractical with young children that the availability of spanking to a parent is necessary to maintain the authoritative approach, which has been proven to be the optimal parenting style.  Furthermore, time-out often requires a “backup” or enforcer to eliminate a child’s escape attempts.  Research indicates that spanking is often the best choice to be used to back-up time out in many settings and types of children.[i],[ii],[iii],[i]

If deprived of disciplinary spanking, even the most prepared parent is merely left with nagging, begging, negotiating, or yelling, and certainly without the position of authority needed to properly manage the behavior.

For very compliant children milder forms of correction will suffice and disciplinary spanking may never be necessary.  For more defiant children who refuse to comply with milder consequences such as time-out, or who refuse to be persuaded by milder consequences, spanking is useful and effective.  In order for a corrective response to deter disobedient behavior, the consequence imposed upon the child must outweigh the pleasure of the disobedient act.  For some children, sitting in a chair for 2 or 3 minutes is a small price to pay for the control they gain when biting their sibling.

Therefore, disciplinary spanking is necessary when the milder measures fail to control a child’s behavior.


[i].  Forehand RL & McMahon RJ. Helping the noncompliant child. 1981;pp 79-80. New York:Guilford Press.

[i].  Roberts MW & Powers SW. Adjusting chair timeout enforcement procedures for oppositional children. Behavioral Therapy. 1990;21:257-271.

[ii].  Bean AW & Roberts MW. The effect of timeout release contingencies on changes in child noncompliance. J Abn Child Psych. 1981;9:95-105

[iii].  Day DE & Roberts MW. An analysis of the physical punishment component of a parent training program. J Abn Child Psychol. 1983;11:141-152.

[i]  Blum NJ et al. Disciplining children: verbal instruction and reasoning. Pediatrics. 1995;96(2):336-341.

[i]  Blum NJ et al. Disciplining children: verbal instruction and reasoning. Pediatrics. 1995;96(2):336-341.

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