Use Words, Not Hands to Teach Children
By Qin Sun Stubis, Santa Monica Star, Summer 2010

Qin Sun Stubis is a writer, communications consultant, and mother of two living in the New York City area.
Few of us feel comfortable answering such questions these days, and even fewer physically discipline their children openly. Gone are the days of the old woman who lived in a shoe, whose approach to parenting was to “whip them all soundly and put them to bed.” Spanking is something we just don’t talk about anymore, for it triggers a negative association with cruelty and child abuse. It reminds us of ugly news stories about parents whose tempers and “discipline” went awry, and kids got horribly injured.

Sometimes it seems that our youngsters live in a rosy world where the worst punishment is a “timeout” when kids are forced to sit on comfy couches. A closer look, however, reveals that corporal punishment is by no means extinct, and spanking still receives much public interest. A search for “spanking” on Google, for instance, generates 17.8 million web hits–a lot more than “tutoring” (12 million hits) or “family vacations” (1.6 million hits).

People are obviously taking a closer look at this age-old parenting standby. I wondered about spanking, too: who did it and why. While raising my own young family in an affluent neighborhood on Long Island, I heard many parents complain about today’s lack of freedom to “discipline our own children.”

“You mean hitting your kids?” I asked a neighbor. “They’re my kids. I feed them. I do everything for them,” he answered. “Why can’t I hit them if I want to?”

A young Asian mother once confessed to me that she spanked her daughter often, and couldn’t stop herself. She attributed it to her father beating her while she was growing up. “How did you like it when he hit you?” I asked. “I hated it,” she answered. “I wished I were big enough to hit him back.” This didn’t seem to be the reaction she would want in her own child so I advised her to keep that in mind before she raised her hand again.

While spanking or slapping may satisfy a parent’s rage, it does nothing to educate a child, providing little reason beside avoidance of punishment to curtail the same behavior from happening again.

On the contrary, children may see a spanking as having paid their “debt” for doing something wrong, having learned nothing about why what they did was wrong. Others may just explain their parents’ hitting by thinking “they hate me,” the sad precursor to a damaged parent-child relationship. And, as some children get accustomed to physical punishments, they may do things that actively invite spanking, either for spite or attention. I’ve heard upset and frustrated parents describe these kids as “knowing how to push my buttons,” but few seemed to ask themselves why their children seemed intent on hurting themselves and the ones who brought them into this world.

Soon enough, luckily, all kids graduate from spanking, not because they have learned to behave better, but because they have outgrown their parents in size and strength. And equally soon, those who have endured physical punishment become adults and raise families of their own, many taking over the spanking role.

Even though I’ve heard grownups say, “I was spanked and I turned out fine,” I feel sorry for the kids doomed to be born into “spanking families.” According to studies, kids who are hit frequently at age three are more likely to be aggressive when they are five. Spanking has been associated with anxiety, aggression, depression and a lower I.Q. later in life.

More and more people are listening to the data–and their own consciences. Even the old lady in the shoe has changed her ways in today’s Mother Goose anthologies, now opting to “read them a story and put them to bed.” Words and reason separate us from other animal parents. Let’s think seriously about corporal punishment, why we do it, and whether it really works. And let’s try using words, not hands, to teach our children. You can also reach me at


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