Ask A Therapist: To Spank or Not to Spank

by Roy Fisher

What are your thoughts on spanking? I’m black and my parents spanked me and I don’t see what’s wrong with it. Giving kids a timeout doesn’t make sense to me. My partner and I disagree on what’s best – any help would be appreciated.

Until proven otherwise, I believe all parents and caregivers what to be proud of their child, have a positive impact on their child, and have a good relationship with their child. I believe that parenting choices are informed by our cultural beliefs and practices.  Spanking has been condoned, and in many ways celebrated, in communities of color for so long that we question those who don’t put hands on their children. “The reason that child is bad is that their parents are so lenient.” “The problem with children is they don’t have any respect…back in my day, if I said or done something like that, I would have gotten it.” Sound familiar?

The role of the parent or caregiver is to provide discipline and structure. Discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina meaning instruction/knowledge. Parents are guides, mentors and role models. A big part of the parental responsibility is to prepare children for the future. What does hitting a child prepare them for? What are we teaching children by hitting them? In the short-term, spanking a child can result in immediate compliance but it also results in increased aggressive behavior. Spanking your child can also result in a poor relationship between child and parent; increased mental health issues in children; and raise the risk of increased physical abuse. There have been no long-term benefits of spanking identified.

This is where many say, “I was spanked and I turned out ok.” Or that if we don’t correct the behavior, we aren’t doing our job as caregivers. One question I ask all my parents when it comes to spanking is do you want to teach or do you want to punish/hurt?

Do you remember how scared you were when the person who said they loved you hit you? Do you remember the pain? We’ve learned a lot about the impact of trauma on health and wellness and make no mistakes about it, hitting your child is traumatic to them. We know traumatic experiences change brain neurobiology, meaning it rewires the brain. For some this includes a heightened startle response or difficulty assessing a threat. There are social, emotional and cognitive impairments as well, including, but not limited to, increased fights with peers and parents and a general feeling of being out of control.

Dr. Stacy Patton, author of Spare the Kids: Why Whupping Children Won’t Save Black America draws on her extensive research to suggest that corporal punishment is a crucial factor to explain why black folks are subject to disproportionately higher rates of school suspensions and expulsions, criminal prosecutions, improper mental health diagnoses, child abuse cases, and foster care placements, which too often funnel abused and traumatized children into the prison system. If you want to learn more about the impact of spanking, I highly recommend this book.

Call it what you want, corporal punishment, spanking, whuppin’, etc., there are more effective ways of disciplining your child.

I hope this has been helpful.

Counselors Roy Fisher and Liz Covey answer readers’ questions for South Seattle Emerald’s “Ask A Therapist.” Have a question about a relationship? Wondering about the struggles of being a parent? Others likely have the same questions and Covey and Fisher bring years of professional experience to provide their insights.

If you have a question, please click here and let us know. We will select two questions each month to answer. The form requires no email address or identification and is completely anonymous. If you are in crisis or in immediate need of care, please contact Crisis Connections at 1-866-427-4747.


Leave a Reply