Corporal Punishment and Alternatives

Submitted by: JL Reed, Student, University of Oregon


I will not argue whether it’s nobler in the eyes of children to receive a scolding rather than a swat on the rear-end; however, I will ask whether it’s wiser in the minds of parents to discipline with methods other than spanking.

Why is this question important?  It’s important to me for two reasons.  First, when I was growing up, my parents used corporal Punishment, or spanking, as one way to discipline my siblings and me.  While their choice taught us good things, and caused no long term damage, I still wonder if it was the best choice.


Second, this question is important because I want children of my own someday, and I want to be the best parent I can be.  Some of you may also want that.  However, in order to be the best, we need to answer questions like, “When my child dumps chocolate syrup on the kitchen floor—for the second time in three days—what do I decide:  To spank—or not to spank?”


Here are some arguments for corporal punishment, and some against. 


First, when administered carefully, corporal punishment is effective because it’s consistent. 


Edward L. Vockell from Purdue University makes this point in “Corporal Punishment: the Pros and Cons” when he says that if parents lay out specific rules about what type of physical action will be taken, corporal punishment can be effective.  Children want to know—and need to know—what to expect.


Second, corporal punishment is effective because it’s unpleasant.


In other words, the purpose of punishment is to change a child’s behavior; and because a spanking is unpleasant, it’s an effective method for getting the child to change.


Third, corporal punishment is brief.


Vockell also makes this point by saying that corporal punishment allows parent-child relations to return to normal more quickly than many other methods.  For example, if a child’s punishment is loss of TV privileges for two weeks, he may be angry for two weeks.  On the other hand, the anger following physical punishment may last only two days, or two hours.


Those who argue for physical punishment say it’s good discipline because it can be effective, unpleasant and brief.  But that’s only one side of the argument. Here’s the other side.


First, corporal punishment is often administered thoughtlessly.


One example of this thoughtlessness is the parent who disciplines by imitation—he spanks his child only because he was spanked by his own parents without thinking about why he chooses to spank.


Another example is the parent whose physical punishment is merely a reflex.  When a child misbehaves, regardless of the time or crime—SWAT!  It’s a one-size-fits-all approach to discipline.  As Nancy Samalin and Patricia McCormick explain in “What’s Wrong with Spanking,” this parent thinks too little about making the punishment fit the crime… or the child.


A third example is cited by Edward L. Vockell.  Sometimes, the parent chooses physical punishment to vent his or her own emotions.  The child misbehaves; the parent gets upset, and SLAP!


These examples—discipline by imitation, reflex, and emotion—all illustrate parents who punish without thinking about whether their method of punishing is effective.


Like all of you, I want to be the best parent I can be.  I want to be informed and inspiring.  I want my children to trust me and my judgment—not fear me.  I want them to respect me, and, more importantly, respect themselves. 


For me, sometimes finding an alternative to spanking is just as effective.  What about you?


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