Question: I have never spanked my three-year-old because I am afraid it will teach her to hit others and be a violent person. Do you think I am wrong?
Answer: You have asked a vitally important question that reflects a common misunderstanding about child management. First, let me emphasize that it is possible...even easy...to create a violent and aggressive child who has observed this behavior at home. If he is routinely beaten by hostile, volatile parents, or if he witnesses physical violence between angry adults, or if he feels unloved and unappreciated within his family, the child will not fail to notice how the game is played. Thus, corporal punishment that is not administered according to very carefully thought-out guidelines is a dangerous thing. Being a parent carries no right to slap and intimidate a child because you had a bad day or are in a lousy mood. It is this kind of unjust discipline that causes some well-meaning authorities to reject corporal punishment altogether.
Just because a technique is used wrongly, however, is no reason to reject it altogether. Many children desperately need this resolution to their disobedience. In those situations when the child fully understands what he is being asked to do or not to do but refuses to yield to adult leadership, an appropriate spanking is the shortest and most effective route to an attitude adjustment. When he lowers his head, clenches his fists, and makes it clear he is going for broke, justice must speak swiftly and eloquently. Not only does this response not create aggression in a boy or girl, it helps them control their impulses and live in harmony with various forms of benevolent authority throughout life. Why? Because it is in harmony with nature, itself. Consider the purpose of minor pain in a child's life.
Suppose two-year-old Peter pulls on a tablecloth and a vase of roses on which it rests tips over the edge of the table, cracking him between the eyes. From this pain, he learns that it is dangerous to pull on the tablecloth unless he knows what sits on it. When he touches a hot stove, he quickly learns that heat must be respected.
If he lives to be a hundred, he will never again reach out and touch the red-hot coils of a stove. The same lesson is learned when he pulls the doggy's tail and promptly receives a neat row of teeth marks across the back of his hand, or when he climbs out of his high chair when Mom isn't looking and discovers all about gravity.
For three or four years, he accumulates bumps, bruises, scratches, and burns, each one teaching him about life's boundaries. Do these experiences make him a violent person? No! The pain associated with these events teaches him to avoid making the same mistakes again. God created this mechanism as a valuable vehicle for instruction.
Now when a parent administers a reasonable spanking in response to willful disobedience, a similar nonverbal message is being given to the child. He must understand that there are not only dangers in the physical world to be avoided. He should also be wary of dangers in his social world, such as defiance, sassiness, selfishness, temper tantrums, behavior that puts his life in danger, etc. The minor pain that is associated with this deliberate misbehavior tends to inhibit it, just as discomfort works to shape behavior in the physical world.
Neither conveys hatred. Neither results in rejection. Neither makes the child more violent.
In fact, children who have experienced corporal punishment from loving parents do not have trouble understanding its meaning. I recall my good friends, Art and Ginger Shingler, who had four beautiful children whom I loved. One of them went through a testy period where he was just "asking for it." The conflict came to a head in a restaurant, when the boy continued doing everything he could to be bratty. Finally, Art took him to the parking lot for an overdue spanking. A woman passerby observed the event and became irate. She chided the father for "abusing" his son and said she intended to call the police. With that, the child stopped crying and said to his father, "What's wrong with that woman, Dad?" He understood the discipline even if his rescuer did not. A boy or girl who knows love abounds at home will not resent a well-deserved spanking. One who is unloved or ignored will hate any form of discipline!
By Dr. James Dobson