Avoiding Physical Punishment In Child Rearing Essay

, Research Paper

Is “sparing the rod” spoiling or saving the child? Is violence, resentment, anger or fear worth the risk taken when striking him or her. Whether your for or against using physical punishment in child development, as a parent, you will someday have to face this issue. Many parents are taught this method in their childhood, and are not aware of any other way. Often originating from religion, physical or corporal punishment is seen as an important ingredient in child rearing. This tool is used to accomplish total authority by the parent and to receive total submission from the child. Physical punishment may be convenient and achieve temporary conformance, but produces negative results, and should be avoided.


Punishment dates back to early human history. To maintain the laws that were created for social living, penalties were developed for the individuals who could not abide by them. Authoritarianism changed the reasons behind punishment; instead of protecting society from the criminal, it became a way for the “Chiefs to control the Indians.” It placed the leaders above everyone else, preventing the people’s opinions from counting; an antidemocratic society. As illustrated by Dreikurs and Grey, “Those in command were superior and therefore right; those whom they ruled were inferior and therefore wrong if they disagreed with the rulers” (66).

Physical punishment has been approved in history as “the role of authority,” as a declaration of power. Penelope Leach states, “Physical punishment was once an accepted part of any relationship that gave one individual legitimate authority over others – master over slave, servant or wife; officer over lower ranks; law enforcer over law breaker; employer over apprentice – but that is history; we have universal human rights now – universal except for children, that is” (126). Teaching total authority by the parent, most Conservative Protestants use corporal punishment today as their forefathers did. In Spare the Child, Philip Greven points out, “Modern forms of Christian Fundamentalism share the same obsessions with obedience to authority characteristic of earlier modes of Evangelical Protestantism, and the same authoritarian streak evident among seventeenth – and eighteenth-century Anglo-American Evangelicals is discernible today, for precisely the same reasons: the coercion of children through painful punishments in order to teach obedience to divine and parental authority” (198).

The idea many years ago is obvious, society felt that physical punishment was necessary for obedience. With study and research over time, successful child rearing has changed to produce better results. Dr. Benjamin Spock adds, “In the olden days, most children were spanked, on the assumption that this was necessary to make them behave. In the twentieth century, as parents and professionals have studied children here and in other countries, they have come to realize that children can be well-behaved, cooperative, and polite without ever having been punished physically” (437). Realizing the impact this old-fashioned method can have on a child, society is changing their views on how we should discipline. We are moving away from intimidation and pain tactics to more effective, positive methods.


To be more effective in child rearing we must first realize the undesired results that can come from using physical punishment. When a parent strikes a child, they are teaching that child to deal with problems in a violent manner. As an opponent to corporal punishment, Murray Straus writes, “I am not saying the evidence is definitive. I believe future research will confirm the conclusions that the violence we so abhor and fear has part of its origins in the actions of loving parents who, by spanking children, unintentionally teach violence? We should act now because corporal punishment is violence. Therefore, regardless of whether it reduces what most people think of as the real violence, a society that stops hitting children is a less violent and more humane society” (qtd. in Ellison paragraph 22).

Negative influence is another disadvantage of physical punishment. An adult influences a child using physical punishment, displaying a lack of self-control by the parent. Physical punishment also implants resentment, anger and fear of the parent. Causing resentment, anger or fear in a child can result in “backfire” of the punishment. Hitting a child displays a lack of respect for them and breeds rebellion. For example, meters are placed to require payment for temporary parking. Exceeding the time limit or refusing to pay can result, if your caught, in a fine. Just being aware of the consequences of violation can help to enforce this rule. However, many people will park without paying if they feel they can get away without a penalty. Similarly, a child receiving a spanking will repeat the act if he or she realizes he or she can avoid getting caught.

It has been argued by professionals that the use of physical punishment has been a factor in preventing self-esteem, self-confidence, creativity and intellectual independence; causing delinquency, depression and alienation. Used too often, physical punishment can lose its steam, and lead to child abuse.


There are successful, alternative methods in disciplining for physical punishment. Maintaining consistency, being kind yet firm is a vital part of using these alternative methods. Understanding it is the importance that we place in an issue, and not the measure of punishment given, that makes the difference. Penelope Leach writes, “Many children have indeed learned to defer bedtime almost indefinitely, but only because parents are too tired to follow through. If those same children need medication for a chronic illness such as asthma, they take it without a murmor because parents are convinced that it really matters and are therefore clear, confident and consistent in their insistence” (125).

Of the many alternative methods for discipline, a few to discuss are the “Law of Reinforcement,” “Time-out,” “Immobilization” and “Logical or Natural Consequences.” The “Law of Reinforcement” was devised by the first educational psychologist, E.L. Thorndike. It was latter revised and polished by B.F. Skinner. This method is simple, a child will repeat an act or behavior if the results are pleasing to him or her. As noted by Dr. James Dobson, “Behavior which achieves desirable consequences will recur” (64). Something to consider with this method is the rewards promised as a result of good behavior must follow immediately. They can not be long-term rewards, such as a friend staying overnight later in the week, or a vacation later in the year. Using rewards at the wrong time, such as promising them to a child that is in defiance, can also be a mistake. Furthermore, the rewards need not be material, preventing them from becoming bribery. Therefore, using verbal reinforcement (personal compliments) can be much more effective.

Another method in discipline is “time-out”. This removes the child from a situation until he or she changes the improper behavior and regains his or her composure. This method should not be used too frequently, and should always follow with an explanation of why the behavior is not acceptable. According to Larry Reibstein, “The Newsweek poll showed that 71 percent of parents often or sometimes used timeouts” (64).

Immobilization is a technique used less often for children ranging from 7 to 14 months that cannot control their behavior of, for example, hitting another child or an adult. After a warning has been given, the child should be placed on your lap or a chair and held down until the child is calm and you can explain to him or her the reason this is unacceptable. This technique is limited in many ways and should be used carefully, and at a minimum.

Dealing with a child with Logical or Natural Consequences can be an effective alternative. Teaching the child the consequences that result from a specific action can either be logical or natural. Logical meaning if a child does something wrong, the consequences can be bad, typically brought about by the parent. Natural meaning if a child does something wrong, the consequences can be bad, typically brought about by some sort of physical reality. Dr. Loren Grey acknowledges the logical method, “Even though the result is arranged by the parent, the child sees it as his own action and usually a repetition of the result is not needed to influence change” (47). Concerning natural consequences, Dr. Grey writes, “If a small child runs his head into a table and hurts it, no admonitions or repeated examples are necessary to convince him to avoid that in the future” (46).

Contained in this paper are a few of the many alternatives to physical punishment. There are many more ways to bring about change in a child’s behavior. Striking a child is a sure way to teach violence as a solution to problems, produce resentment towards the parent and instill anger or fear in the child. Becoming more educated with the alternatives, parents can play an important role in providing a less violent society. Along with these alternatives, parents should be kind yet firm and should always maintain consistency.

Dobson, James. Dare to Discipline. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale House Publishers, 1970.

Ellison, Christopher G. “Conservative Protestantism and the Corporal Punishment

of Children: Clarifying the Issues”. The Journal for the Scientific Study of

Religion v35, n1 (1996): 1-16.

Greven, Philip. Spare the Child. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Grey, Loren. Discipline Without Fear: Child Training During the Early School

Years. New York: Hawthorn Books Inc., 1974.

Leach, Penelope. Children First: What Society must do – and is not doing – for

Children Today. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.

Reibstein, Larry. “The Debate over Discipline”. Newsweek Spring-Summer

1997: 64.

“Sparing the Rod to Save the Child”. Editorial. New Statesman and Society.

24 June 1994: 5.

Spock, Benjamin and Micheal B. Rothenberg. Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care.

New York: Dutton, 1992.

Straus, Murray. Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American

Families and Its Effects on Children. Boston: Lexington Books, 1994.


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