Is spanking harmful to children?

The quick answer to this is ‘yes’.

Spanking and physical punishment is a very controversial topic and one that gets me into many debates with people. I believe the reason for this is due to a very deep and ingrained belief system that this form of discipline works. I also believe that people find it hard to accept spanking to be harmful as it would mean questioning how they, themselves were parented. It is triggering and people will often lash out and get heated when generational beliefs are being called into question.

Now I know many of you, including myself, were spanked. You would laugh at someone who attempted to call this child abuse as I am sure you, like me, were very loved and cared for. You don’t ‘feel’ harmed by this. In fact, many people believe they deserved to be spanked and look back fondly at the fear around that wooden spoon. I get it.

The truth is though, it is not always easy to see the emotional damage that gets done. Spanking creates shame and shame is one of the hardest things to identify and acknowledge in ourselves. It is that emotion that makes us question ourselves and whether we are good enough. It is the emotion that when triggered, makes us feel ugly, unworthy, embarrassed and like we don’t fully belong. We can feel powerless and like we can’t fully be ourselves, speak our mind or surrender to our desires. It feels terrible and we often lash out or blame other people. We have unmet needs and as we are unable to identify our own shame most of the time, we place unrealistic expectations on others to meet these needs for us. This is where so many problems in our relationships stem from. Our own insecurities about ourselves. We struggle to trust because we have not been able to develop self -trust.

How does spanking create shame you may ask?

When you use your power as an attachment figure or prominent adult in the child’s life to manipulate their behaviour using fear, you become inconsistent and confusing. You send the message that in order to receive your love and acceptance, you need to BE a certain way. Love becomes conditional. A young child does not understand the difference between anger and love. That you are punishing their behaviour instead of them as people. They often don’t understand what they have done to deserve this because most, if not all, of the time, they are just trying to manage their big emotions, push boundaries (developmental phase) or are reacting to something going on for them. Children do not have the brain development to premeditate behaviour or act out simply to annoy you. When they are seeking attention, they are trying to get their needs met. When they do something to be manipulative, they have learnt from YOU that this works.

More than the physical pain, the damage lies in your reaction to them and their behaviour. Your anger, frustration, disappointment etc. This gets internalised and becomes their own anger, frustration and disappointment in themselves. The attachment relationship is a very important part of parenting as it is vital for healthy development. Children learn how to love, value and trust themselves through your love, trust and valuing of them. Your voice becomes their internal voice. There are always going to be mistakes, no parent is perfect. It’s perfectly ok to make mistakes as a parent and you can teach your children huge lessons by how you repair these situations and apologise.

Consistent spanking becomes a predominant lesson though and one that plays on a child’s self-esteem and self-trust. Other factors come into play in regards to how much this will impact a person later in life but there will always be an impact in regards to a person’s relationship to themselves and other people. TFBB advocates strongly against spanking for this reason.