Extending FTN: Spanking

Or what to do with that “strong-willed” child.

I fully intend to do a thorough treatment of Autumn’s answers to my questions but first things first.

FTN recently wrote about his trials with his daughter and his thoughts on spanking. I’m sure he’s gotten lots of unsolicited advice via comments (Which I can’t read presently by RSS) but I feel the need to give him his own post on the subject. Google up spanking and you’ll get all sorts of interesting hits. And I’ll get some here, especially if I mention spanking and chastity. But that’s not my intended audience today. Sorry kinksters, maybe another time!

Like FTN, I had discussed this with my wife prior to becoming a parent. Like Autumn, Arwyn did not want to spank. Unlike Autumn, Arwyn has held to her guns. As a child, Arwyn and her siblings did get a wooden spoon. I got a belt (with mom) and a stick with Dad. Dad had a twist on his already-harsh discipline. He would make us get our own stick. The major part of that task was picking a wooden lath that didn’t have nails in it. Dad’s spankings were very infrequent. In fact I remember only getting it once from him and the impression of that was deep enough. I got the belt from mom much more often. A lot. And I let her do it because not allowing her to spank me whenever meant Dad would do it. And no one wanted that.

My oldest has developmental delays along the autistic spectrum which gave us both cause for pause as parents. But fortunately for all involved, one of us was a die-hard behaviorist and that’s the approach we use…most of the time.

I’m not against spanking and its judicious use. But if it happens too often it causes problems just like FTN is having now. For instance, when my oldest was 5 (he’s about to turn 9) he was acting up in church. So I took him outside and gave him a stern talking to. When he got defiant, I took him to the truck and gave him one single hard spank. It made an impression. It was enough of an impression that the next Sunday while we and the entire congregation was entering God’s house, he said in a voice loud enough to be heard in the entire county, “I DON’T WANT A SPANKING, DADDY! PLEASE DON’T SPANK ME!”

And this happened every Sunday for the next 6 weeks. I didn’t have anymore problems, except with an obsessive preoccupation he had with spankings. For him, it just wasn’t the best thing and after a month or so of very few spankings followed by an ever-increasing obsession I had to find other ways. I had to become the King Behaviorist.

Punishment represses behavior. It does not eliminate it and it does not fix it. While I don’t believe it teaches a kid violence (that’s something that doesn’t need to be taught) it does not teach appropriate behavior either. Getting a handle on problem behaviors involves asking one fundamental question: What do you want this child to do?

Once you figure that out it is a matter of teaching them how to do it. I’ll catch hell for saying it, but kids are essentially animals until we teach them how to be humans. That’s our job as parents. Kids are not born knowing how to act civilized, and it is not something you can beat into them. They must be taught.

I’m assuming that Autumn and FTN are already modeling civilized behavior. At least Autumn is. Kids are going to learn self-regulation, control and patience from their parents. Beating the hell out of a kid out of anger doesn’t model self-controlled behavior. I’m not saying anger is wrong or that it won’t serve a purpose in discipline. It’s okay to register your anger to children, but they also need to witness its control.

I’m not saying FTN is being a caveman child beater at all. In fact, he’s a pretty sophisticated guy who stuggles like every father does. I think all good fathers struggle. No problem there.

FTN wants his daughter to not talk so much at school. Okay, but that does not answer the question: what does he want her to do. Let’s noodle out talking behavior for a minute.

Talking serves an important function of communication. My oldest did not talk until he was 3, so a lot of his acting out was the result of his communication deficits. But once he started talking he wouldn’t shut up, which does not go over well in church during the pastoral prayer. He talked often and loud. So what did we do?

First, we reinforced “quiet behavior.” We used small food given contingently on quiet behavior. If he talked out, we might take the snacks away. As soon as he was quiet, he got his snack bag back. Also, munching cheerios or having a sucker is mostly incompatible with talking behavior. Mostly. One can talk while eating, but it provided enough stimulation to keep quiet until the food was gone. But we usually had enough to last until Children’s church time when the little tykes are sent to place where they can raise cain somewhere far from the sanctuary.

Obviously, this might not work in a school setting. But using a token economy can serve as a reminder for acquiring a reward contingent on a target behavior like being quiet. If you get 10 smiley faces you get a candy bar or get to play monopoly with Dad. Maybe give Monopoly money as a token and say she has to earn $100 to play the game with Dad. Adults do all kinds of stuff to earn privileges like that. You work and behave a certain way and you earn something fun. Money buys fun. She might as well start learning that now. Behaving poorly costs money. Levy a fine for bad behavior. But make sure the reinforcement schedule is rich enough she never goes in the hole. But also make sure the “cost” of her reward is high enough she can’t “retire” too early!

By using positive reinforcement you can give positive verbal praise to reinforce the desired behavior. “Good job being quiet and working! You are going to have so much fun playing Monopoly with your Dad!”

Good behavior has reinforcing properties all its own, but a child who is struggling often never accesses those rewards. Using an artificial system provides scaffolding in order to support her until she learns and gets access to more natural reinforcers like praise, good grades and more peer acceptance.

Autumn and FTN are falling into a common trap caused by relying too much on punishment. Basically when punishment is the sole tool it has to be administered more often and with greater intensity in order to continue repressing the behavior.

I remember seeing a Geraldo Rivera special years ago about a behavior institute where workers delivered electric shocks to clients who engaged in self-injurious or aggressive behaviors with a remote control. They could control the amount of current and they ended up having to use the maximum voltage to stop the behaviors. At that point, the director of the place was shopping for bigger zappers with a livestock company that sold cattle prods!

Repression is like building a dam. If the goal is to stop the water altogether, you have to keep building it higher and stronger. The trick is to control the output by providing a productive pathway.

My son is still having to learn when to talk and when not to talk. We’ve drilled him: If you want to get the teacher’s attention, wait until they look at you, raise your hand and wait for them to call your name. Talk and then get back to work. Don’t argue.

Sometimes spanking is sometimes necessary to get a child’s attention. They are so self-engrossed in their defiance or tantrum, they need to “snap out of it” in order to be brought back to earth. This can often be done by other means, however, like proximity, squeezing their arm or something a bit less intrusive.

If you’re going to spank, let’s talk about that. I’m of the opinion (and I’m unanimous in this) that one good, hard whack beats ten smaller ones. Yeah, it will hurt, but that’s kind of the point. But let’s not turn it into a harder job than it has to be. Do it one time and make it count. Doing it multiple times can entail getting carried away plus if the child is squirmy you’re going to have as many misses as hits. Make the first one count. Once you got the kid’s attention, take off the black hood and start teaching.

Autumn needs to spend less time on Discovery Health and more time watching Supernanny. Supernanny is a behaviorist at her core. That’s not to say I agree completely with her take on spanking, but I respect where she’s coming from.  The families Nanny Jo deals with are extreme examples but make for good TV.  Failing that, watch The Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel. He’s a behaviorist, too. His techniques can work on kids as well as dogs. Trust me. Although it was kind of weird watching my oldest use the “Tssst!” on his little brother that I had just used on him. Oh well.

Telling a kid to do something over and over and over and over again before losing it teaches the child to ignore you. They’re smart little buggers and can tell where that line is. And watching Mom fall apart is cheap entertainment. The one warning and then act rule is a sound one and I’m betting FTN’s level of compliance from his kids is greater than hers. Men traditionally get greater compliance from their children and it’s not because they are men. It’s because they have an infinitely lower tolerance for foolishness. And THAT might be because they are men! Men, being less verbally inclined and more action oriented, are not going to repeat themselves endlessly. Redundant verbage is too exhausting for us. The kids learn that Dad is not going to play that game. Funnily enough, they feel more secure with that more solid boundary.

I sometimes see parents (mostly mothers again) do the counting thing. “1….2….3…..4….41/2….43/4….” This is exactly the same dynamic as repeating the verbage. This just means the kid can ignore the instruction until the last moment. Anything worth demanding compliance for is worth demanding and commanding it immediately. If the kid is about to run into a busy street, are you going to start counting? If the kid is drinking something poisonous is it going to be “Stop drinking that….stop drinking that….stop it…..stop it…..STOP IT!”?

I use a system of least-to-most prompts. First I tell them…

“Pick up your toys.”

They don’t do it. So I make sure I have their attention:


If they don’t look at me, I am up off the couch or chair and on my feet and on my way to get their attention. Obtaining a young child’s attention is the most often neglected yet important step in the process. If they are engrossed with the semi trucks or the pretty poison drinks I’m not going get anywhere verbally but I WILL obtain their attention.

Now that I’m on my feet and in their space, I am poised to act. I now point to the mess:

“Pick up your toys.”

Notice I’m not raising my voice because my proximity has their attention. If it doesn’t, I decrease the proximity until attention is obtained. An arm squeeze will often do it if nothing else.

If we’re dealing with a particularly obstinate and defiant episode, I’ll give a physical prompt which means grabbing their little hands and helping them put their junk away. And I’m none too gentle about it, registering my displeasure. We get the job done and are finished with it and move on.

If I still have a defiant tantrum, then we’re going to deal some punishment.

I want to say one more thing about punishment. I encounter a lot of parents who talk about how they’ve taken everything away until the child has nothing left to lose. And then wonderr why the behavior continues to deteriorate. Think about it; they have nothing more to lose.

The reinforcement schedule for compliance needs to be several times greater than the schedule of punishment so that they never end up with nothing left to lose. People are inherent gamblers and when you have nothing left to lose, you will go with the sure bet every time. Instead of asking themselves “Why should I behave?” they will ask “Why the hell shouldn’t I do whatever I want? Besides, I’m PISSED!”

For you children, the latency between the consequence and the behavior need to be as short as possible. If a child acts out at school at 10 a.m. and gets a consequence at home at 4 p.m., there’s little actual teaching going on and it’s almost a waste of time. It’s better to let the school handle it. But I’ve gotten letters home from teachers wanting us to do something when the kid is acting out. How to be supportive? I’ll talk to the child about their behavior, sure. The best time to have this talk is *before* school in order to close the latency between behavior and consequence. In the morning, I preteach good behavior and reinforce my expectations. I may offer a reward at the end of the day for good behavior and maybe even give the child a picture of whatever it is they are working toward to put on his desk at school to remind him. That enables me to “be there” without actually being there. If the child can read (and mine could read before he could talk) I might send an email to the teacher to give to the child during the day (perhaps with a picture) to remind him what I expect and the consequence that is hopefully positive for good behavior. Perhaps another picture is in order. Now I’m supporting and helping the teacher in her teaching and putting another tool in her hand that is hopefully more of a carrot than a stick, not that I haven’t delivered a virtual stick a time or two. But the orientation needs to be a positive one because there is already a bunch of negatives going on for children with behavior issues. Kids do not have the inherent ability to self-regulate their emotions and impulses. Some adults don’t either. As parents, we are really the child’s primary teacher and punishment is not the same as teaching. I’m not saying what FTN and Autumn are doing is wrong, per se, except there is some frustration there and I’d like to see it turned around for them and their daughter. They can keep working the way they are and their daughter will likely turn out okay. But at what cost? I’m just saying there are easier ways of doing it and better ways of living with less stress and less guilt. Parents do the best they can with the knowledge they have, and it’s not a job for the faint of heart. Parenthood offers more chances for growth than anything else in the world!

Okay, that’s my take on it. There’s a money back guarantee on this advice, so use it guilt and risk free. What do you have to lose?


There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18



4 Responses to “Extending FTN: Spanking”

  1. FTN Says:

    There’s lots of stuff to think about here! Maybe I’ll have more comments next week. I may show this to Autumn, too.

    You might want to glance at the comments in my post if you have time, too. I always make sure that I don’t spank in anger — I do it from a very logical, reasoned standpoint. We talk about it and discuss WHY she’s being spanked, and I make sure she understands. I don’t just go in and start yelling and spanking — it’s important to me that she grasps what I’m saying every time I punish or admonish her.

    One issue is the difference between rewards and bribes. It’s a fine line. I’d rather give a reward for good behavior — giving her something she wasn’t expecting for doing something right — than saying, “Do this and I’ll give you a treat.” But I understand that method might work sometimes! She is 6 now, so she should be getting to the point of understanding WHY she needs to behave, and WANTING to do the right thing.

    We took one of the “Growing Kids God’s Way” courses years back, and were able to glean some really good information from that (regardless of some of the things you might hear about some of those courses).

    I’ve also heard that by the time kids are 4, 5, or 6, the latency between the behavior and the consequences is not as much of a problem as what you say it might be. Kids have no problem remembering something that happened 4-5 hours earlier. My kids have a better memory than I do! Granted, immediate consequences are ideal, but not always possible.

    Positive reinforcement is also the ideal way to do things, and I attempt to do that. We’ve tried many, many different methods of things like “the reward jar” (with marbles put in one jar for good behavior, or removed and put in another for bad behavior, or whatever) over the years. And of course, many different methods didn’t work in the least!

    Again, maybe I’ll have more thoughts on this next week. I have made a big effort over the past few months to make the spankings more rare, which makes them more meaningful. I do appreciate the unsolicited advice!

  2. Digger Jones Says:

    The latency issue varies between kids and between situations. The shorter the latency the more powerful the connection between the behavior and consequence. The more consistent and certain the consequence, the stronger the connection. This is why you have more control than Autumn, because she increases the latency and the uncertainty thus weakening that whole operant condition.

    Bribing is buying immoral or improper behavior. Your boss doesn’t *bribe* you to work. He/she offers a strong incentive! If the boss wants you to do more work he can threaten you with various punishments or make the compensation contingent upon more and better performance. Guess which will be more likely to have you working longer hours?

    Seriously, Supernanny is a good watch. TiVO it if you can and you and Autumn can watch it together. She might enjoy it almost as much as the Discovery Health morbid obesity marathon. Plus your kids might not look so bad compared to some of the little monsters she deals with (and tames).

  3. Satan Says:

    You’d make a very effective dog trainer, Digger. I have nothing to say about spanking except “Yes, please”.

  4. Death of the Euro Says:

    London Stock market…

    […]Extending FTN: Spanking « Unsolicited Advice: WordPress Version[…]…

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