Spanking Debate Summary

Summary Points on a Parent’s Use of Spanking

Teaching children to behave (submit to their parent’s authority) requires much encouragement, but also some degree of correction.

  • Correction must ideally be swift and effective.  It is often a child’s desire to draw out the process and wear down the parent.
  • When milder methods of correction fail (such as disapproval, physically holding, logical consequences, and time-out), spanking can be very effective if properly administered, especially with the younger child.
  • For the younger child under 4-6 years of age, reasoning (trying to convince them to change by explanation) is generally ineffective and, if used excessively, may be counterproductive.  Relying upon reasoning alone has been shown to cause the bad behavior to get worse. [i]
  • Spanking is most effective with children under 6 years of age when reasoning is ineffective, and especially under 3 years when corrective measures are very limited.  Young children require concrete forms of correction, which  involves some degree of unpleasantness.
  • Studies have shown spanking to be a preferred and effective enforcer of time-out, thereby strengthening time-out and reducing a parent’s need for spanking later.
  • No parent likes to spank a child, but for some children it is the only method that will work to gain control of the child’s behavior and ultimately persuade the will.


With young children, a parent’s options for correction are limited due to the child’s failure to respond to reasoning.

  • For ages 1-3 years:
    • Disapproval (verbal and nonverbal)
    • Redirection/Distraction (only works when very young)
    • Physical restraint (holding a child, or physically making them comply)
    • Logical & Natural consequences
    • Time-Out
  • For ages 4 and up:
    • Reasoning
    • Privilege removal
    • Grounding
    • Logical & Natural consequences
  • When the above measures fail to control a child’s behavior, spanking is necessary and effective.

Spanking Guidelines (Read more)

  • Age: most needed from 18 months to 3-4 years when available methods are limited and when reasoning is ineffective.  The need should begin to decrease after 6 years of age, when reasoning and consequences (privilege removal and even fining) are more effective.
  • Method:
    • Be proactive; plan ahead.  Don’t spank impulsively or reactively.
    • Forewarn the child of the spank consequence for the particular offense
    • Spank in private
    • 1-2 swats to backside
    • Loving embrace and review of offense


  • There is no evidence indicating that ordinary spanking of preschoolers causes aggression or adult dysfunction.  There is also good evidence that it does not.[ii]
  • Research reveals that it is how a parent uses a method more than the actual method used that determines its effectiveness.  The parent-child relationship is the key to success in discipline.
  • Little quality research has been done on disciplinary spanking specifically.  The best research has favored its use in certain settings.


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

[ii] Trumbull, DA. for the American College of Pediatricians. Corporal Punishment: A Scientific Review of its Use in Discipline. 2007.