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Good Reasons to Hit Your Kid

So three or four years ago, my kid broke the screen on her iPad, for the second time.

I was telling the story to my students before class started, kind of laughing about it, the way you do, because kids, am I right, when one of the students in the back row said, “You need to beat that child.”

I gave her a puzzled look.  “Why would I do that?”

“How’s she going to learn?” she asked, equally puzzled by my response.

This started my informal research project to Understand The Spanking Parent*.

Over the past five years, in my classes and informally in conversations with students and friends and family, I have asked parents who hit the reasons why they hit their kids.

These are the main reasons I collected

  • The child talks back
  • The child argues
  • The child lies
  • The child has forgotten something, like her homework, or the shoes she needed
  • The child is in trouble at school/elsewhere
  • The child is in imminent danger and must be hit to save its life!
  • The child has it coming
  • The child disobeyed


This last one breaks down into two categories.  Either the child has simply forgotten to do something, as in the child was told to do the dishes, or take out the trash, and forgot to do it; or the child deliberately disobeys, as in the child knows she’s supposed to clean up her room, and just doesn’t.

There is also a kind of loose category called “The kid screwed up,” which is where my kid and her iPad would fall, I guess.

I heard a lot of interesting stories as parents explained to me why children needed beating**.

Some of them just amazed me.  “My daughter shows up for church, no church dress, no shoes. Well!  I just cut me a switch.  She won’t forget again.”

Or: “Rolled her eyes at me!  I gave her a reason to roll her eyes.”

Or: “Rule at my house is I call you once, and then it’s a whupping.  And none of this I-didn’t-hear-you-Mom, either.  You better hear me.”

Their favorite explanations fall under the imminent danger.  You have to hit or otherwise harm children, I got told, to protect them from danger: This is the hot stove, on-coming traffic, Mean Police Officer Reason.  If you don’t hit your child, how do you keep her from running into traffic?  If you don’t beat your child, the police will.

This may sound convincing, at first glance, but then I ask the parents who use this method of discipline whether they would leave a two year old they had smacked for running into the road to play near the road on its own.  They stared at me like I was insane.  “So…” I said. “You don’t think hitting the kid teaches it not to run into the road, then?”

I grew up in New Orleans.  My kid and I have had a number of discussions of what to do if a police officer ever pulls her over.  I didn’t have to beat her to teach her not to mouth off to a cop.  We discussed it, at length, instead.  She knows exactly what to do if and when she is ever pulled over by the police.  How her parents beating the hell out of her to make her tense and terrified of authority would be helpful in this situation I cannot imagine — well, except that it would teach her that she deserves whatever beating the police dish out to her.

*** *** **** ****

I’m afraid that in my quest to understand parents who beat their kids I began to form a hypothesis.

Some parents don’t hit their kids at all.  In American society, so pervasive is our societal bias toward beating children, that it takes a deliberate act of will, a philosophical determination on the part of a parent, to decide against hitting.

Once you have committed to raising your child without violence, it becomes easier and easier to find ways of raising that child without violence. Hitting a kid

This is not to say you are never tempted to smack your child (just once! Just one time! What could it hurt!) when she is screeching and wailing about something truly ridiculous that you can do nothing about (“Why did you pour the milk into the cereal? Why, why, why?  I wanted to put the milk in the cereal!  MEEEEE! MEEEE! MEEEE!”).

But you take a deep breath, you ask yourself, “Will hitting her make her cry more or less?  Will hitting make this child better or worse?” And you find a different way.

Whereas, once parents take the path of raising a child with violence – once parents decide, in other words, that violence is an answer, well, you know the joke about hammers and nails.

And talking to parents who hit their kids, this is what I have found.  Once you decide that hitting your kids is an acceptable disciplinary tactic, pretty soon you’re like that woman in my class a few years ago.  You don’t just use it as a last resort, or when the child’s behavior is especially egregious.

You use it for everything.  And often you will use it even when it isn’t warranted – you will hit the kid when you’re short-tempered and angry, when you’re hungry or tired, when really you’re the one who needs a time-out.

And you use it for vengeance.

What are good reasons to hit your kid?

Lots of parents gave me lots of reasons.  I didn’t hear a single good one.


*Not to be confused with an actual research project. Seriously, folks.  

**They say spanking, but when I inquire it’s very nearly always beating, which I define as hitting a child harder than a mild slap and more than once and often with an object such as a belt or a switch.  Full disclosure, btw: I’m not only against beating; I am also against punishment.


[Images: Wikicommons; Flikr]


Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

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  1. “What are good reasons to hit your kid?”
    There is only point where I will inflict harm: When she’s deliberately hurting me.
    I don’t spank, slap or use physical punishment, but I will not be beaten, kicked or bitten because they know that I don’t use violence. So I will restrain them. Yes, even if it hurts.
    And I will announce that “if you hit me now, I will hit you back”. And yes, I’ll do that. Not forcefully. I’ll use just as much strength so she notices that being hit hurts. I should note that these are not situations in which the child is desperate and upset, but deliberately trying to test me out.

  2. I never ever hit my kids. I will rarely give a sharp pinch. I started doing this when I was pregnant with my second, and my daughter was about 18-20 months. She used to kick her legs really hard when I was changing her diaper. Nothing I said or did would get her to stop. My concern is that she was kicking me in the pregnant belly! Finally I warned her, she did it again, and I pinched her thigh. She was startled and stopped. From that point forward if she even started to kick, I’d warn her and she immediately stopped.

  3. Physical restraint doesn’t count as violence, though, does it? You sort of have to pick a kid up sometimes. And if a kid is running toward a street, or attacking someone, or heading toward (say) a Rottweiler obviously you pick it up and stop the act.

    As for the other examples here, well, I wouldn’t count those as beating a kid; but I’d point out that other ways of discipline are possible in each situation — which is why I say that once you decide against violence as a tactic, you find other ways of disciplining.

  4. “Physical restraint doesn’t count as violence, though, does it?”
    Would you classify it as violence if done to an adult? You remove their agency, you overpower their struggleing.
    That’s usually my test.
    Yes, there areother forms of discipline, but I run into the same troubles there:
    I can send here out of the room. In these special cases, what she really does is to test me, which means that she will categorically refuse to do what I tell her. Which means that I have to physically remove her from the situation, against which she will struggle physically, rinse and repeat.

  5. No, I don’t think I would count it as violence if it was done to an adult.

    That is, I can see ways in which physical restraint could be done violently — tackling, for instance — but hugging an adult who is out of control to stop that adult from hurting himself or others doesn’t seem like violence to me; and I can see situations in which it might be necessary. I can absolutely see situations in which hugging or holding an infant or a toddler to keep that infant or toddler safe might be necessary.

    And yes, sending a child (infant, toddler, 6-12 year old) from the room when they are engaged in a battle of wills with a parent is necessary from time to time. You may have to back this up, especially when they’re younger, by physically removing them. This isn’t violence as long as you don’t make it violence. Move them gently, in other words, not violently. Don’t slam them, don’t slam doors, don’t yell.

    There really is a difference, in my experience, between direct action and violence,


  6. We don’t use pain to teach.

    Another reason I’ve heard that you didn’t address was to use corporal punishment as a backstop in case the child doesn’t respond to other punishments. IE.. time outs on a chair are the punishment and if the child gets off, then they get spanked. I have yet to find this necessary. I know there are many times when my judgement is off, I yell or get frustrated when I think he is being deliberately malicious when he’s really just being two. I’m glad that none of these errors in my judgement resulted in him getting hit, since that was off the table.

      1. Thanks, Erich. Yes, one reason we took hitting / violence off the table was for that very reason. If it’s not there for a back-up, then you do find some other way to handle the frustration & exasperation. Or — you know — you do come to realize that the kid is just being two. 🙂

  7. I often hear the reasons you gave placed under an overall umbrella reason: that the child will be “spoiled” otherwise, like children are some sort of delicate fruit sitting out in the sun, and it’s the parent’s job t o abuse them just enough to toughen their skin.

  8. I’m wondering if all the adults who believe in corporal punishment for kids would be totally fine with a police officer giving them a good spanking instead of a parking ticket. How are they ever going to learn parking rules if you don’t overpower, humiliate and hurt them?

    1. Heh. I’ve often been tempted to ask parents who hit similar questions. “So — if you’re late coming home from work, your husband should smack you around a little, right? I mean, how else are you going to learn?” Or: “Next time your husband doesn’t take out the trash, you’re totally going to cut a switch, right? None of this “I forgot, sweetie,” right?”

      And then look all wide-eyed at their outrage. “Well, what’s the difference? Aren’t you just teaching your loved ones how to behave in a loving fashion?”

      1. I suspect a depressing number of the women already deal with getting smacked around a little. I mean, if violence is a solution for kids, why should we expect the dad not to use it on the mom?

        1. Yeah, that’s why I usually use the “police officer” as an example. Because that’s an authority figure for men and women and the discussion won’t get muddied with either consensual kink or domestic violence.

        2. Yeah, there’s that whole “Christian Discipline” movement which weirds the hell out of me. Kink I can understand. Believing that it’s a husband’s job to physically discipline his wife for infractions like not doing the dishes is completely beyond my ken.

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