What age is appropriate to begin spankings? (To spank a child – or not? – Part 4)

Many people have this question – and it’s a very important one.  Nobody wants to do harm to their children… and applying a spanking before it’s able to do any good could do exactly that.  So what is the appropriate age for spankings to begin?  Here’s some pointers I’ve seen be helpful…

When “safety” is the issue – I believe a form of spankings (a slap on the hand, etc.) can begin as soon as the child is able to get into trouble of their own free will.  Case in point: I’ve seen this so many times and it’s actually kind of funny after the fact.  The child goes toward the electrical outlet, and I can tell where they are headed.  I watch to make sure, and just like I thought they begin reaching toward it.  I call out from the other side of the room, “NO!  No touching!”  They stop, look at me (sometimes they don’t, you know… “Maybe he’ll believe I didn’t hear him…”), and then slowly turn back toward the socket while slowly raising their hand again.  I say it again, more firmly this time.  Again, they may stop, they may not.  At the point that I’m pretty certain that they KNOW what I’m talking about and they CONTINUE to move toward the outlet (which doesn’t take long), I’ll go over, slap their little hand, and say “NO!  No touching! Owie!”  They get the point, they cry, they can’t believe their wonderful daddy has just done such a horrific thing.  But like most situations where a human being has to learn wisdom, they also don’t realize the horrible thing daddy’s little hand-slap may have saved them from.

Many parents will simply take the child away from the forbidden object, or remove the object from their sight.  I believe that is doing a dis-service to the child, not allowing them to learn self-control, which we all so desperately need.  Many others use the safety plug things to prevent the holes in the outlet from showing and to prevent an accident (or cabinet latches, etc.).  We could debate the appropriateness of those all day, and I’d never tell someone that it’s “wrong” to use them.  But I can tell you this – if you properly discipline your child regarding outlets, you don’t need those things.  They’ll learn self-control and obedience in that area with firm, consistent discipline – and it won’t take very long.

Some points to consider about this scenario that may be helpful in determining how “ready” your child is for this kind of discipline:

  • The child couldn’t even speak yet, they were only crawling.  So communication skills or “higher reasoning” abilities don’t have to be fully functional yet.
  • YET they had the ability to recognize that there was something we were attempting to stop them from getting/doing.  (In other words, they recognized the prohibition).
  • They chose to go against the prohibition (call it what you want: rebellion, disobedience, willfulness, stubbornness, strong-will, but the fact remains that they had the ability to go directly against what the parent was instructing).

All of these are indications that a spanking is appropriate…

When the parents want something to be “off limits” – Many people child-proof their homes, taking breakables or keepsakes off the lower shelves, out of the reach of little hands.  They remove plants, etc. from the reach of a child.  We chose, in order to teach our children obedience and self-control, to leave those things in place and endure the pain of discipline (on our side and theirs) for a short time.  When consistent, it doesn’t really take very long.  There are two main reasons we chose to do this:

  1. We want our children to be able to handle the world the way it is.  People will not typically make adjustments for our kids to make life easier for them.  That’s just how the world is.  When you try to fashion the world to make life easier for your kids, you get spoiled kids, not responsible ones.  We want our kids to learn to be flexible, to learn to be respectful of other people’s ways, to learn to be responsible.
  2. We want our children to learn self-control or self-discipline.  We all know that this is one of the largest struggles the American population has.  Our culture doesn’t believe in denying yourself anything.  But think about it:  Exercise, diet, health, education, employment, and many other things DEMAND self-discipline in order for you to be successful at them.  When a child learns to discipline themselves from the very early years of life, life goes much better for them.

So in answer to the question, “At what age is it appropriate to begin spanking?”  I’d say this:

  • When the child understands that something is forbidden or off limits. (Don’t underestimate your kids, they are sharp!)
  • When they exhibit a willfulness against those boundaries.

So regarding age, when do these apply?

  • Most 2 year olds, even early in their twos fit both of these criteria.  Why do they call it the “terrible twos?”  Because that is exactly WHEN they are learning to exert their will against that of their parents (and everyone else in some cases).  It’s the IDEAL time to begin teaching them self-discipline and respect for others through appropriate spankings.
  • An exception to the 2-year-old guideline is in the instance of a safety issue like I mentioned before.  Children who can crawl are much younger than 2, but still need that slap on the hand for their protection.
  • Most teens fit these criteria as well.  Some feel that the humiliation of a spanking is too juvenile for a teen… that it doesn’t fit.  While I agree that as a parent you want to walk a very fine line between unnecessary humiliation and healthy humility when it comes to teens – the healthy humility HAS to be there!  One of the areas that makes parenting a teen so difficult is that they are very prone to becoming TOO proud of their ever-growing capacities for thinking, acting, etc.  They want to grow up too fast, most of the time when they are not ready to handle the adult responsibilities that come WITH growing up.  A proper spanking will sometimes bring them back into reality to help them see that they are still the child, still learning, still growing, still under your guidance.  Don’t disregard this important aspect of the process.
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37 thoughts on “What age is appropriate to begin spankings? (To spank a child – or not? – Part 4)

  1. Pingback: To spank a child - Part 1 « the passionate follower’s journal

  2. I believe that if at all possible try other means of disapline. The reason why is that you are teaching your child to hit. They will also play house and hit their baby dolls and speak as you do to them, just by what you do to them.

    • That’s actually only partially correct. Yes your children mimic your actions. However and this is a point that I think was just over looked in this article. I think your mindset at the time of punishment plays a major role. I see some parents wait until the child makes them angry before punishing them. Therfore the child learns to hit out of anger. That’s dangerous. Learning physical discipline for the right reasons under the correct mindset does not teach a child to hit. My son was hitting people long before he ever got spanked. Hitting is inherent to everyone. What you learn about hitting is what makes the difference. Association with your mood is the number one thing a child will see and learn from. As for your assessment. I see tons of kids who learn to hit out of anger from their parents. But I have yet to meet one child is is spanked or slapped on the hand by cool headed parents that has self control or hitting problems. Why? Probably because they learned that there was a logical reason for the slap that they could see with their own eyes. As opposed to an angry parent where the first thing the child notices is that the parent (the person who loves me the most and I look up to more than anyone in the world) is visibly angry. Automatically their little minds solder that connection together and it is engrained in their brain for life.

      • Stephen,

        Great, very thoughtful comments. Thank you for participating in the discussion. You are right in saying that we should not wait until our anger is boiling to discipline our children. I believe it’s not only wiser but biblical to discipline immediately when needed. But I would not say that it’s never OK to discipline in anger. There have been plenty of times I’ve been angry at my child (for mistreating their sibling, for example) and it’s my anger that motivates me to act. When wrong has been done (especially to another person) it is OK to be angry. For me, the issue is whether or not you are in control of your anger as a parent, or if the anger is in control of you. If your anger is well under control, proceed with the discipline wisely. If not, take some time to cool yourself down. Anger is not wrong, but the inappropriate use of it is.

  3. Hi Helen, thanks for the comment.

    While I agree that spanking is not the “first choice” of discipline in all circumstances, I strongly disagree that it will teach your child to hit others, when done properly.

    I have no problem with my children “spanking” their dolls in imitation of the way I discipline them, since I spank them in a loving manner, with plenty of encouragement and connection surrounding it. They are learning the “right” way to spank and thinking of it rightly in their imitation when that is the case.

    Thanks again,

  4. What do you consider to be the “proper” or “right/correct” way to spank? I agree with your stance, I am just curious about the practicalities. Thanks.

  5. Hi
    I think that it is ok to spank a child but not under the age of 2. I mean I started to get spanked when I turned 3 and if I had kids I start to spnk them at the age of 3. I think you should stop to spank them when they turn 16.

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