Power Assertion: “Might Makes Right”

Power Assertion: “Might Makes Right”

Disciplinary spanking has been criticized as an expression of power assertion over the child.  Some say it teaches children that “might makes right.”  Parental power, however, is commonly exerted in routine child rearing and spanking is only one example.  Other situations where power and restraint are exerted routinely by parents include:

  • The uncooperative two-year-old who refuses to brush his teeth.
  • The young child who insists on running from his parent in a busy mall or parking lot.
  • The toddler who refuses to sit in his car seat.
  • The young patient who refuses to hold still as a vaccination is administered, or as a laceration is repaired.

Some degree of power assertion[i] and firm control 10,[ii] over the child is necessary at times to ensure safety, health, and proper behavior.  Power exerted in the context of love and for the child’s benefit is not perceived as bullying or demeaning.  The real issue is how parents will use their power advantage for the child’s optimal development.

[i].  Hoffman M. Parental discipline and child’s moral development. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1967;5:45-57.

[ii].  Baumrind D. Rearing competent children, in Damon W (ed). Child Development Today and Tomorrow. 1989; pp. 349-378. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass