Write me: rebecca@positive-parents.org

There has been a lot of buzz about how spanking affects children. It got me to wondering how spanking affects the spanker. I turned to my friend and Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Laura Markham, founder of AhaParenting, for her thoughts on this topic. Her words are in bold type.

1. When a parent hurts her child, the parent has to deaden her natural empathy. We know, for instance, that watching a violent image reduces our empathy. To actually engage in a violent act ourselves is much worse, we must disconnect from our own compassion not only for our child but for anyone.

Yes, spanking is a violent act. Even if you do it “out of love” it is still violence because you are physically striking another human being to deliberately cause them pain. To deliberately inflict pain on you own child, you have to disconnect from compassion and from empathy.

2. When we spank our child, we MUST justify it in order to live with ourselves. So we begin to see our child as bad, as deserving of punishment.

Wow, that’s big, isn’t it? If you did NOT see your child as deserving of punishment, you would see no need to spank, would you? If you viewed your child through a compassionate lens, as a tiny person who will make mistakes along the way because he is human, who deserves to be taught in a loving, gentle way, you would never strike him. You spank because you believe your child deserves it. Why? Who deserves to be hit?

3. When we see our child as needing to be physically hurt in order to learn a lesson, we may become less protective. We certainly are more likely to spank harder next time.

Research studies have shown that you must escalate your punishments for them to continue to work. Studies also show that you hit your child 40% harder than you think you do. Furthermore, 2/3 of all physical abuse cases start out as regular spankings that get out of hand. Prof. Wolpert said his research suggests that people’s inability to actually gauge how hard they are whacking others means that parents who try to spank no harder than they remember being spanked may well over-hit.

4. When we spank our child, we “wall off” our own inner child, who feels vulnerable. In fact, our desire to cut off that vulnerability is one reason we spank. But it walls off our hearts and makes us less capable of feeling love.

Less capable of feeling love. If you need to heal your inner child, click here.

5. When our empathy for our child is reduced, we feel less connection to him. We are therefore less likely to say things to him in a way that helps him hear them.

When you spank your child, not only does it cause your child to disconnect from you, but you’re pulling away too. This is detrimental to your relationship and creates a cycle of disrespect and resentment.

6. Studies confirm that when we’re angry, we can calm down if we disengage. If, instead, we interact either verbally or physically with others, we tend to lash out with our words or bodies. Lashing out actually makes us angrier. So the act of spanking actually makes the parent angrier. That’s one reason spanking keeps escalating, because the parent has to spank harder and longer to “vent” her anger.

Every time you spank, neurons on firing in your brain. I’m no neuroscientist, but what I have read and understood about neuroplasticity is that your actions and thought patterns create neural pathways that make you more likely to act and think that way in the future. You have to break the pattern.

7. After we spank our child, we experience a temporary release of the “fight or flight” neurotransmitters that have flushed us with rage. That relieves us. We feel better. The problem is that we associate feeling better with the spanking. So we are more likely to spank in the future in order to feel better when we are angry. Spanking is actually physiologically addicting to parents.

Are you an addict?

8. Any time we “give in” to our anger and have a tantrum (and spanking is a parental tantrum, as is yelling), we set ourselves up for a cycle of remorse and guilt, which lowers self-esteem.

Once your “feel better” is over, do you start to feel bad? Guilty? If you are a spanker, pay attention to how YOU feel after you’ve spanked your child. Don’t sweep your feelings under the rug or brush them off. FEEL them.

9. When we hurt our child physically, it ruptures a bond of trust. Children only “behave” because they love and trust us, so they stop behaving. The effect on the parent is a feeling of hopelessness, like whatever was rewarding about parenting is gone.

Ah. And here is heart of why spanking doesn’t work. Your child, feeling disconnected and resentful, acts out more. You begin to dislike your own child. Once your bundle of joy, now the joy is gone.

Oh, it does work, you say? Your child stops acting out? If that were true, you’d never need to spank your child more than once.

Some children deal with the pain in a different way. Instead of acting out more, they internalize the pain. You’re fooled into thinking it worked because the behavior stopped, but there are harmful effects you may never see until years later.

10. Research shows that when we depend on spanking as a way to manage our child’s behavior, we become less creative about finding other solutions, and our parenting is less effective. That in turn undermines our confidence and damages our self-image.

“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” – Abraham Maslow

The harmful effects of spanking on the spanker:
1. Reduced empathy.
2. Distorted lens through which you view your child.
3. Walls off your heart and makes you less capable of feeling love.
4. Broken connection.
5. Tendency to be angrier.
6. Addiction to the “feel better” after the release of the “fight or flight” neurotransmitters that have flushed you with rage.
7. Lower self-esteem.
8. Loss of joy in parenting.
9. Lowered confidence.
10. Damaged self-image.

If you were spanked but “turned out okay” and use that as justification to spank your child, then I urge you to watch this eye-opening video.

For more truth about spanking, read Plain Talk About Spanking.

“Children ought to be led to honorable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows and ill treatment.” – Plutarch, circa 45 -120 CE, “The Education of Children,” Vol. I, Moralia, Ancient Greece.


  • Anonymous Posted 4 August 2011 9:05

    I appreciate the way you've focused the spotlight on the parent, thank you for sharing!

  • Becky Posted 4 August 2011 10:27

    Thanks, Dionna!

  • Saieef ahmdya Posted 7 July 2012 8:13

    Good post and Smart Blog
    Thanks for your good information and i hope to subscribe and visit my blog Ancient Egypt and more The Dark Age in Ancient Greece and Responses thanks again admin

  • Christoph Posted 30 April 2013 13:38

    This is a wonderful article.

    However, the words, "This hurts me more than it hurts you," are ghastly.

    The child is hurt far more at the time and over a lifetime. The adult also cruelly and selfishly adds more pain to the child by guilting the child being hit for the adults hitter's allegedly greater pain. That's beyond disgusting.

  • Becky Posted 1 May 2013 6:00

    Christoph, I agree with you. The title was from the standpoint of a spanking parent who says this to her/his children. They don't realize they are actually harming themselves more than they realize, but the child definitely receives greater harm.

  • KRFAHorn Posted 23 March 2014 11:30

    Thank you for your words. They really resonate with my own experience.

Comments are closed.