Spanking… is it just lazy parenting?

The recent changes in South African legislation on corporal punishment reignited the debate on spanking children as a form of discipline. Unfortunately, the predominant thinking amongst most South African parents is that it’s a no-brainer: of course you should.

As a matter of fact, there have been numerous studies published in peer reviewed journals on the fact that there are literally no good outcomes from spanking (Elizabeth T. Gershoff, 2016). But scientific evidence is unlikely to convince most pro-spanking parents that spanking children is a futile exercise in discipline.

I often say that spanking is lazy parenting, and the reason why I say this is often obscured in the barrage of ‘I was spanked and I’m fine’ or ‘The Bible tells me to spank my child’. The pro-spanking group often erroneously believes that non-spanking parents just ‘tell their children not to do something’. It’s not that simple. And this is where the hard work comes in.

For smaller children I’ve often used the principles set out in 1-2-3 Magic Parenting, along with those taught by a local child psychologist.

STEP 1: You need to stop the transgression immediately, and confront the child in an age-appropriate way about their actions. They know, more often than not, that what they’re doing is wrong. That’s step 1.

STEP 2 is asking them to choose an option: the right action and a positive consequence, or the wrong action and a negative consequence. And this step, right here, is really hard work. My biggest challenge at every age, was figuring out our child’s ‘currency’; the thing that makes them tick. At one stage it was our son’s action figures, at another, our daughter’s dress-up clothes. Then it became Lego, and then it became screen time. It changes, frequently and sometimes drastically. The other catch is that you need to make it a choice that’s realistic for you: don’t threaten with no-screentime-ever-again-in-the-future-of-forever, because it’s impossible to follow through. I’ve abandoned a shopping cart in the middle of a supermarket because of this. I’ve had to leave social engagements sooner because of it. More recently, I’ve had to spend a (rainy) school holiday at home with no screen time, no TV, no movies, nothing. It was punishment for me too, but I know our son felt it much more keenly than I did.

STEP 3 is putting it back to the child in the form of ‘who made this decision’. The child needs to understand that the choice was totally and utterly theirs to make, and they are responsible for the actions that follow, positive and negative. Honestly, for each of our children, it was two weeks of close to emotional hell for us, until the penny dropped and they realised that they are responsible for their actions, and also for the resulting outcomes.

Things change as they grow older, and of course your strategy needs to adapt, but the basics remain the same: for every action there’s a consequence, and you, as child, are responsible for your choices, and the resulting outcomes. Its hard work, mostly for the parent, but the long term benefits is supported by scientific research. You also don’t end up teaching violence is wrong, by employing violence.

Click here to find Protective Behaviours, an NGO dedicated to the goal of creating a safe environment for kids and adults.

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Sandra Doyle

Sandra Doyle

Sandra Doyle is your typical socially awkward engineer, living with a husband, 2 children, 3 dogs, a cat and a hairless rat.

2 Responses

  1. Been meaning to reply to this for ages, totally against what is being said here.

    Came across this article which explains it all:

    As I was dropping my youngest kids off this morning Teagan was giving me attitude and refused to get out of the car. So I got out and walked around and told her that if she didn’t get out of this car and wipe that look off her face then I would give her a whooping in front of everybody. The teacher looked at me like I had grown two heads and at that moment I realized what was wrong with this world. Judgement. Parents are too afraid to discipline their children in public because they are afraid of judgement then they start adapting to this role of letting a child control them. You know what I’m afraid of? Raising children who think they are entitled to things in life they don’t work for and in turn when they don’t get their way they find a way to get attention. I for one am not ok with raising an entitled child who thinks it’s ok to take another human life with no consequences. Let kids be kids was a whole different definition when I was growing up. It meant let them play in the mud and be outside but to respect their elders and obey their parents. Parents don’t allow their kids to take accountability for any of their actions today. It wasn’t long ago I got a phone call from jadens teacher and she said “Amanda I just don’t know what’s going on with Jaden, he won’t listen, he refuses to do his work, he won’t sit down and he keeps disrespecting me.” I told her I would be there in 15 minutes because I knew it was a matter that didn’t need to be dealt with at a later time. I went into his classroom where 24 other teenagers were at and it was a good 5 minutes before he realized I was there. He was acting a fool. I didn’t raise him like that. As soon as he seen me he went pale because he knew. I walked up to him in the middle of all his friends he was entertaining and looked him right in his eyes and said if you don’t sit down I’m going to give you a reason not to be able to sit for a week. I said if you want to act like a child then you’re going to get treated like one and I’m gonna bend you over and put whelps on your rear end with this belt. You know what my kid did? He sat down and didn’t move for the next 45 minutes while I sat in the back of his classroom holding a belt. His teacher called me a few days later and told me that Jaden has been amazing and so has the rest of her class. That just goes to show you how much a little bit of parenting can go a long way. Stop being your children’s friend and start being a parent. Stop being afraid to discipline your kids in public if they are acting like demons. And for the love of god stop bribing your kids that if they be good in a store or ect they will get a surprise/toy! They should not get rewarded for doing what they are supposed to do! Should I get a daily reward for raising my kids? No, because it’s my responsibility! Your kids don’t need all these materialistic things they need you! It’s a terrible thing what happened to all those kids at that high school. All because some entitled little b** got his panties in a wad and thought he’d go and be a badass. I don’t know about you but I’d much rather be a parent now rather than later watch my kids be tried for the death penalty. Start raising decent human beings instead of raising millennials.
    If this post offends you then you’re more than likely a part of the problem.
    : They just need a good hiding..Spare the rod and spoil the child..

  2. I have been in the nursery school industry for 18 years and in all this time up till now have never found children, as young as 3 dictating, negotiating and controlling parents.
    It is astounding to see that parents are allowing this to happen as well without any consequences so as not to “harm” the childs self esteem or confidence. We are the adults and children are becoming the adults whereby they will not adhere to adults. The passive discipline just doesn’t work for most children and its a pity that we have to be afraid and cower down to every whim of a child in order to not undermine their authority. A smack on the backside when children just will not behave appropriately or do something that will harm them wont alter their outlook on life at a later stage. They might just thank you some day for metered out discipline. By no means abuse, but a firm hand on the bottom might just settle things once and for all. Not done in anger, but done out of love.

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