Help Me Sara: Should we consider spanking our child?


Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.

Parents Canada  guest post : By Sara Dimerman on September, 09 2013

My husband and I were raised by parents who spanked. When I was 11, I started hitting back. Although we know that spanking is not the ideal way to deal with difficult behaviour, we find that this is often the only thing that works. We’ve tried reasoning with them, giving time-outs and ignoring bad behaviour, but nothing works as well as a quick smack.

Question: Is corporal punishment really so bad? Help me Sara!


The short answer is yes, it really is bad – for many different reasons. You’re correct in noting that a quick smack does bring about much more immediate results. Typically, a child is stunned into silence or compliance, which may be exactly what your goal is at that very moment. However, the greatest downside of this is the longer term results. As you experienced, when children grow older, they begin to retaliate – not just by lashing back at parents, but at their younger siblings and peers, too. Parents’ actions speak louder than words and even without meaning to, your children will model your behaviour.

In addition, they will find ways to get even with you. They may disobey later the same day when you request that they do something for you. Or you may see passive aggressive behaviour, which means that he might drag his feet or do the bare minimum so as to avoid further punishment. In the longrun, if a child is disciplined corporally, he’s most likely to comply because he’s afraid of getting punished, not because he cares about helping you. I’m sure you’d agree that a relationship built on a foundation of caring and cooperation is preferable to one built on fear and intimidation.

There’s a lot to consider when disciplining children. First, your shortand longterm expectations. And even more important, how long do you think it should take for your child to do what you’re asking? There’s no doubt that a smack will speed things up, and that the other methods require more patience and thought, but isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Discipline is often easier if you have a strategy in mind and stay as consistent as possible. Corporal punishment falls under the reward/ punishment umbrella. Often, punishments are unrelated to the problem and perceived as unfair by your child. This is why children often seek revenge after they have been physically punished.

An alternate approach to discipline is to consider consequences for inappropriate behaviour. Sometimes consequences such as hunger, after refusing to eat, occur naturally. Other times, a logical consequence needs to be put into effect. For example, when your child refuses to stick within the boundaries of your front lawn and keeps running onto the road, a logical consequence would be to have her play in the backyard only.

You mention timeouts. These may be presented as a logical consequence to hitting a sibling, for example. In this case, your child would be asked to spend some time apart from his sibling. However, if the timeout is implemented because a child has refused to comply, for example, then this would be a punishment rather than a consequence.

You mention reasoning. This is more a form of communication rather than discipline. Depending on your child’s age, sometimes talking less is more effective.

You also mention ignoring. This may be chosen as a logical consequence for attention-seeking behaviour but may be perceived as a punishment if you have not advised your child of your intention to ignore in advance. As you can tell, discipline requires a lot of thought and practise. You may want to consider taking parenting courses and reading books such as Nelsen and Lott’s Positive Discipline.

The bottom line: Fair discipline may be harder and require more consistency to see the desired results, but in the longrun, you have more to gain than to lose.

Sara Dimerman is a Psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at


Guest Post by: logo

Sibling fighting is one of the biggest complaints of parents and caregivers alike. Siblings, especially same sex ones, seem to know how to push each other buttons. Here are some tips to help your kids stop fighting.

  1. Set clear boundaries. Often, parents send the message that sibling fighting is a normal part of the relationship, so it’s also an acceptable part of the relationship. It’s up to you to let your children know that although disagreeing is a part of every relationship, you expect them to take action to solve those disagreements. Your expectations will set the stage for how siblings treat each other and how they work together to solve their conflicts.
  2. Teach problem solving skills from a very young age. Kids are naturally problem solvers because they’re naturally creative thinkers. By giving your children a framework for problem solving and teaching them real world skills, you can help them learn to solve their own conflicts with siblings. Teach them how to identify and name their own feelings so they have the vocabulary needed when talking about how they feel and what they want. Encourage them to look at the situation from the other person’s perspective and imagine how the other person thinks and feels. Model brainstorming several solutions for a problem and show them that if one doesn’t work, you have the option of moving onto another solution until you do find one that works. These problem solving skills require a lot of patience and practice, but they will serve your children in every relationship they’re in.
  3. Let your kids solve their own problems. It’s natural to want to jump in and solve the sibling squabbling yourself. Chances are you know exactly what needs to be done and it would be quicker and easier for you to do it than to wait for your kids to figure it out themselves. However, when you intervene, you’re not giving your children the chance to practice the problem solving skills you’ve been teaching them. You’re also sending the message that they’re not responsible for their problems. Instead, step back and let them find a solution on their own. They probably won’t get it right on the first try, and that’s OK. The goal is to give them the space to learn how to get along by themselves.
  4. Don’t play favorites. In many situations, one sibling often seems like the instigator. He’s the one who teases, who hits, who takes things without permission and who does other things that drive his brother crazy. It’s easy to fall into the trap of siding with the “victim’ sibling and ganging up against the instigator. However, that will only increase the tension between the siblings and will often cause anger and resentment to build up. The result, of course, is more problems between the brothers. Remember, there are always two sides to every story. Give both children the benefit of the doubt and focus your attention on solving the issue and moving forward, not on who’s to blame.
  5. Don’t get stuck on the ideal of fair. Of course, you should try to be as fair as possible with your children. But the reality is that life isn’t always fair. When you’re cutting up the cake, one piece may be bigger than another. Because your schedule is different from day to day, your five-year-old’s play date may have to end 30 minutes earlier than your seven-year-old’s play date. If you allow yourself to get caught up in the idea that you’re responsible for balancing out those things somehow, you will be caught in a never ending cycle of trying to make things up to your children. It will drive you nuts and it will give your children unrealistic expectations as to how things really work. Instead, take the stand that sometimes you get the bigger piece and sometimes you get the smaller piece. Let your child work through his feelings about the unfairness of it all without feeling like you have to fix it for him.
  6. Stress the importance of the sibling relationship. From the child’s perspective, a sibling can seem more like a curse than a blessing, especially if the relationship is a difficult one. Of course, that changes with time and circumstances. Older kids learn that a brother or sister, even one they fight with often, holds a special place in their hearts. If you have siblings, model the type of relationship you want your children to have. Talk to them about the special role that siblings play in their life. Let them know that family, even when they drive you crazy, is irreplaceable.

Hitting, Kicking, Biting and Hair Pulling

By Elizabeth Pantley, author of

The No-Cry Discipline Solution

Children resort to aggressive behaviors because of a lack of wisdom and self-control. It is not a sign that a child is hateful or mean. Kids are human beings and human beings will get angry, we can’t prevent that. What we can do is teach our children how to handle their frustration and anger in appropriate ways. If your child uses these physical acts to express her feelings, use some of the following tips to change her behavior.

Intercede before it happens

Watch your child during playtime. When you see her becoming frustrated or angry – intervene. Coach her through the issue. Teach her what to do, or model what to say to her friend. Or if she seems too upset to learn, redirect her attention to another activity until her emotions level out.

Teach and explain

It’s one thing to tell a child what not to do or to step into an argument and solve it yourself. It’s another thing entirely to teach her what to do in advance of the next problem. This can be done through role-play, discussion, and reading a few children’s books about angry emotions.

Examine hidden causes

Is your child hungry, tired, sick, jealous, frustrated, bored or scared? If you can identify any feelings driving your child’s actions you can address those along with the aggressive behavior.

Give more attention to the injured party

Often the child who hits gets so much attention that the action becomes a way of gaining the spotlight. Instead, give more attention to the child who was hurt. After a brief statement, “No hitting!” turn and give attention to the child who was wronged, “Come here and Mommy will give you a hug and read you a book.”

Teach positive physical touches

Show your child how to hold hands during a walk or how to give a back rub or foot massage. Teach a few physical games, like tag or cat’s cradle. Under direct supervision, children who are more physical can gain a positive outlet for their physical energy.

Teach the clapping method

Tell a child to clap his hands whenever he feels an urge to hit. This gives him an immediate outlet for his emotions and helps him learn to keep his hands to himself. An alternate is to teach him to put his hands in his pockets when he feels like hitting. Reward with praise anytime you see he’s successful.

Give your child a time out

To use Time Out when a child acts out aggressively, immediately and gently take the child by the shoulders, look him in the eye and say, “No hurting others, time out.” Guide the child to a chair and tell him, “You may get up when you can play without hitting.” By telling him that he can get up when he’s ready, you let him know that he is responsible for controlling his own behavior. If the child gets up and hits again, say, “You are not ready to get up yet,” and direct him back to time out.

Avoid play hitting and wrestling

Young children who roughhouse with a parent or sibling during play time might then use these same actions during non-wrestling times. It can be hard for them to draw the line between the two. If you have a child who has trouble controlling his physical acts then avoid this kind of play.

Don’t lose control

When you see your child hurting another child it’s easy to get angry. This won’t teach your child what she needs to learn: how to control her emotions when others are making her mad. You are mad at her, so she’ll be watching how you handle your anger.

Don’t let your child watch violent TV or video games

Children can become immune to the impact of violence, and they may copy what they see depicted on the screen. Avoid viewing shows that portray aggression as an appropriate way of handling anger.

Don’t assume your child can figure it out

If your child comes to you about a difficult situation, don’t send him away for tattling. But don’t step in and handle it for him, either. View his call for help as an invitation to teach him important social skills.

Don’t focus on punishment

More than anything your child needs instructions on how to treat other human beings, particularly during moments of anger or frustration.

Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Discipline Solution

(McGraw-Hill 2007)





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