148: Is spanking a child really so bad?

I’ve been thinking about producing this episode for several years now, and I always wished I wouldn’t need to do it.  Then every few months I’d see a post in an online community saying something like “Is spanking really that bad? I was spanked and I turned out fine” and I knew that one day I’d have to do an episode on it – so here it is.


My guest, Professor Andrew Grogan-Kaylor, has studied and written extensively about physical punishment of children, and believes spanking should be considered an Adverse Childhood Experience (which is a marker of severe trauma).  I mean, if you think about it, we are actually talking about physical abuse here: hitting another human being.  We only call it spanking because it’s supposed to be controlled and as punishment for an infraction.  But if my husband were to hit me in a controlled way as punishment for something I’d done wrong, would we still call it spanking?  (And as Dr. Grogan-Kaylor notes, if we’re spanking our child we’re almost by definition not doing it in a completely controlled way, since we’re doing it because we’re frustrated and/or angry.)


In the episode we also discuss how, due to the way that a quirk in one researcher’s agenda aligned with changes in ethical rules governing experiments, that there’s actually scientific evidence from randomized controlled trials to support the efficacy of spanking at changing children’s behavior to make it acceptable to their parents!  Now the rules have changed and wouldn’t permit spanking during an experiment, it isn’t possible to generate evidence against spanking.  So advocates of spanking (and yes, there are some!) can honestly say that there is evidence of the highest quality in favor of spanking, and no evidence of that quality against it.


And of course we have to ask ourselves: is compliance what we really want?  Our instinctive response to that question might be “Yes!  I do want flipping compliance – and I want it now!” But I know many parents listening to the show have a goal to raise children who speak up when they see injustice, and who are internally motivated to do the right thing…and unfortunately focusing on making children’s behavior comply with our wishes works against that.


But that doesn’t mean the alternative is letting our child rule the roost.  There are ways to get your needs met and also meet your child’s needs, without spanking, threatening to spank, punishing, giving Time Outs, withholding privileges, or any other tools like this.  


If you’re reacting in big ways (spanking, yelling, frustration, etc….) to your child’s difficult behavior right now, I invite you to join my Taming Your Triggers workshop.  We’ll help you learn the real reasons why you’re feeling triggered (which aren’t really about your child’s behavior!), and what you can do to meet your needs – and your child’s needs as well. Join the waitlist to be notified when doors reopen.


Click the banner below to learn more.





Jump to Highlights


01:33 Introducing today’s episode and featured guest

05:25 The definition of spanking

07:38 The age range advocated by some for spanking, ranging from two to 12 years old

09:20 The effectiveness of spanking

16:16 The critique of positive parenting research, particularly focusing on methodological fallacies outlined by Dr. Lazarle

22:24 The question of whether there might be an optimal level of spanking that leads to maximum compliance in children

24:40 How to handle defiant children who are not complying with milder disciplinary tactics

26:21 How to comprehend the overall impact of spanking on children 

32:03 Dr. Diana Baumrind’s surprising involvement in studies on spanking suggesting that authoritative parents, considered successful, spank their children 

35:56 The legality of spanking and the absence of legal protection for children against physical punishment

38:11 Arguments against banning spanking, citing studies that suggest little evidence of parents adopting more effective disciplinary tactics after a ban

42:10 Potential cultural and racial differences in the use of spanking

44:09 Wrapping up the discussion



About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

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