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A Parent’s Rules for Spanking: The Correct Way to Spank Your Child

I’m an advocate of spanking children as punishment for major transgressions. That doesn’t mean I beat my kids, nor does it mean I’m a crazed authoritarian. Instead, I have realized over years of being a parent that there are just certain situations when you really, really need to clarify to a child that he or she has done something far beyond the pale. The best way to emphasize that is through corporal punishment — spanking.

There are many who take spanking too far – and others who have no idea how to spank children, so never do. This is not a piece advocating spanking; that’s a very personal decision. Instead, this is a guide for how to spank children properly, without moving across the line into child abuse.

Remember, spanking your child is not intended to cause pain; it is intended instead to emphasize the seriousness of the child’s offense. If you follow these rules for spanking, you can maximize your child’s understanding of the seriousness of spanking, and minimize the number of times you’ll have to do it.

Rules for Proper Spanking

1. Never spank a child who can understand rules unless you have given him or her fair warning. In other words, lay down very clear rules for your children – they get grounded for not doing homework, for lying, for minor misbehaviors. But for major infractions, such as theft, fighting, incorrigible lying, etc., they will be spanked. Small children should be limited to 1 spank per year of age, up to 3 spanks maximum.

2. Because every child and every family is different, it’s impossible to give a clear idea for where to draw the line. It should be as far down the range of misbehavior as possible. It is also critical that the rules governing spanking and other disciplines be applied across the board to all your children – if lying is a spanking offense for your 12-year-old son, it must also be a spanking offense for your 7-year-old daughter. But – also see rule #3.

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3. As children age, spanking rules should change with them, but any replacement punishments should be at least as traumatic as the original spanking. You might require your teen to let you drive him to school, for instance, instead of spanking him for lying about skipping school.

4. Spanking should not be done on the bare bottom, but at the minimum on a layer of cloth. A child should never be struck anywhere except on the bottom.

5. Spanking should be done only with your bare hand so you can accurately gauge how much force you are putting behind each stroke.

6. Children should never, never bear any mark from a spanking for more than a few minutes. If they do, you used too much force. Again, pain is not the major goal of a spanking; the emphasis of how far the child transgressed is the real goal.

7. Never spank a child while you’re angry. Calm down first, and then let the child know why they’re being punished before you proceed.

8. Treat your child’s spankings as a ritual. Each spanking should be identical to the degree possible – the same place, the same amount of force, the same pattern of notification, and the same actions surrounding it. For instance, when I spank my boys (a very rare occasion), I first let them know why they are in trouble and ask how they feel about it. I then take them to a private place – usually the bathroom, sometimes a bedroom – just somewhere away from witnesses. The spanking ensues, three smacks to a clothed bottom. Then we discuss the behavior; invariably, though I’m a wimp and I know the spanks didn’t hurt much, there will be tears. After my son tells me what decision he should have made, we hug, I tell him I love him, and that’s the end of it. All over.

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The reason for the ritualization is that it helps the child understand that this will happen every single time he or she misbehaves. It also enhances the feeling of dread – which is what punishment is all about to begin with. But most importantly, the ritual helps me – I can approach the punishment calmly, with no anger, and treat the situation as a necessary punishment instead of a way for me to release rage. Afterward, I feel terrible and often cry too – but the behavior that brought on the punishment is almost always eradicated. It never takes more than two spankings to correct a behavior.

9. Spanking should always, always be the punishment of last resort. I probably spank my boys about once a year, and even when they were younger I may have done it two or three times. This is with two young men who had distinct behavior problems, who were kicked out of daycares as very small children, and who consistently acted out in school. Today, the older of my sons is just wonderful; the younger has behavior problems secondary to autism, but does well with the very clear rules I lay down for him.

While it should be a last resort, spanking should also be combined with other punishments like grounding and removal of privileges. Otherwise, some children may choose to work toward a spanking – which is over with quickly at least – as opposed to a longer-term punishment like grounding. Again, every child is different.

10. Spanking should be a part of a very clear set of rules. There shouldn’t be so many rules that children can’t remember them, but they should be very clear on what behavior is unacceptable and what level of misbehavior can earn the child a spanking.

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I’m sure I’m going to get comments that I am a bad parent because I spank. That’s fine. I think it’s more important to have that final, critical punishment available for the child who can’t be taught in any other way. While spanking, well, sucks for both parties, it is far, far better to keep that tool available than to not adequately discipline a child. And if you discipline your child properly, even the most ill-behaved child will only need to be spanked rarely.