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woman holding crying toddler girl

President Hinckley said about parenting children, "They get on your nerves now and again, I know. ...We understand because we have been through it." For most of us, his empathy is much appreciated!

Many of us as children were disciplined by spanking. The Bible even advocates not "sparing the rod." Is spanking under controlled circumstances okay?

President Hinckley follows up his statement about the difficulties of parenting with this: "You will be far more successful with love as your watchword than you will be with a whip or lash or anything of the kind."

What can we do to parent effectively without spanking? What counsel do researchers and church leaders give parents?

How Common Is Spanking? Surveys show that about 50% of parents today support spanking, which is down from 90% in the 1950s. Those who do spank report that they often feel bad about doing so.

Part of the problem with spanking is that it works. Why would anyone in her right mind give up something that helps a child behave better?   
We understand more clearly now that even though spanking often works, it works only in the short term-and the price can be steep.   
Because of the long-term problems spanking can create, researchers encourage us to avoid it, even in "controlled" circumstances.

Spanking is easy, quick and may work in the short term to change behavior. There is really nothing to it including no planning, no thought and it takes no time at all.   
Spanking appears to work. Your child may stop the offensive actions. You may be surprised to know that spanking does not change behavior over the long run.   
Spanking denotes anger, disapproval and concern on the part of the parent. All of these emotions are obvious to the child and add a sense of rejection or an interpretation that the child himself is the problem and not the behavior.

"Spare the rod and spoil the child."

Rod can mean loving guidance. A shepherd's crook is used to guide sheep-not hurt them

"Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."   
-Psalm 23:4

A child will often feel he has "paid for his sin" simply by enduring a brief discomfort" (Sorenson 19). Other parenting experts back this up: "Most kids would rather receive a spanking than to have to think about their poor choice" (Cline & Fay 221).   
Spanking may also have negative emotional side effects in children, "such as anger, resentment, and the desire for revenge" (Cline & Fay 222; see also Latham 195-200).   
The distance spanking can create between parent and child means more difficulty the next time discipline is needed.   
Researchers no longer advocate spanking.

"I have never accepted the principle of 'spare the rod and spoil the child.' I am persuaded that violent fathers produce violent sons. Children don't need beating. They need love and encouragement" (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, Conference Report, Nov. 1994).

"Above all else, children need to know and feel they are loved, wanted, and appreciated. They need to be assured often of that" (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1982, 60).

"Use no lash and no violence, but . . . approach them with reason, with persuasion and love unfeigned. . . You can't do it any other way. You can't do it by unkindness; you cannot do it by driving. . . . You can't force your boys, nor your girls into heaven. You may force them to hell, by using harsh means in the effort to make them good, when you yourselves are not as good as you should be. The man that will be angry at his boy, and try to correct him while he is in anger, is in the greatest fault. You can only correct your children by love, in kindness, by love unfeigned, by persuasion, and reason" (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., SLC: Deseret Book Co., 1939, 316-317)

"It is not by the whip or the rod that we can make obedient children; but it is by faith and by prayer, and by setting a good example before them" (Brigham Young, Deseret News Weekly, 9 Aug. 1865, 3).

Should I interfere at all?

"So many bothersome things our children do are really not that important. Children almost by definition have rough edges to them. How often do we meddle and later wish we hadn't?"

How should he behave?

When you see your child misbehaving, before reprimanding him ask yourself, "What should he be doing instead and how can I encourage it? He can't very well be doing what he should and shouldn't at the same time. Could the swearword that just rolled off Jake's tongue be offering you a teaching moment instead of a punishing moment?"

Should a penalty be involved?

"A stinging reprimand upon catching Mark with his tongue in the sugar bowl might work perfectly-if our only concern is to keep the sugar clean. But reprimands [including spanking] can sometimes cause more harm than good. Cross feelings and words can, over time and many occurrences, impel our children to turn to others for their deepest emotional ties."

Can I block rewards for misbehavior, rather than apply a punishment?

Think of the two-year-old who is taken out of sacrament meeting for being noisy. He then runs up and down the halls--finally free! He's learned that rewards can come from inappropriate behavior. Instead, what about sitting in a quiet, empty classroom (with little interaction from you). Soon being in the meeting surrounded by interesting people becomes more appealing. Sometimes these "reward blocks”less straightforward than punishment-- need to be figured out in advance because they require more creativity.

Should I follow my first impulse?

"The answer is often no. Be wary of quick, unthinking responses to troublesome situations. . . . Situations where we attempt to change our children's actions are among the most challenging we ever face. Surely they warrant as much careful planning and prayer as we would give to speaking in church or presenting an important report at work. Even a moment's reflection can sometimes mean the difference between foolishly serving our own needs or wisely serving the needs of our children."

man and boy in front of sunset

You can raise well adjusted, self-disciplined children without spanking. If you rely on teaching types of discipline, your relationships with your children will be closer: you will draw your children to you, not drive them away. It's true that spanking is a quick way out of a situation, but it's also true that there's always a better way.

In Go Forward with Faith Gordon B. Hinckley writes this beautiful thought, a shining example for all of us: "My father never laid a hand upon me except to bless me" (141).


Cline, Foster, and Jim Fay. Parenting with Love and Logic. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinion Press, 2006.   
Hinckley, Gordon B. Talk given at Salt Lake University 3rd Stake Conference, November 3, 1996. Quote from Church News, November 9, 1996.   
Latham, Glenn I. The Power of Positive Parenting: A Wonderful Way to Raise Children. Logan, UT: P&T Ink, 1994.   
Sorenson, Dean, and Paula Sorenson. "Changing Children's Behavior: How to Help Them Stop Doing What They Shouldn't." Ensign December (1977): 19.   
Young, Richard K., Sharon Black, Michelle Marchant, Katherine J. Mitchem, and Richard P. West. "A Teaching Approach to Discipline: An Alternative to Punishment." Marriage & Families, August (2000): 9-15.