Many people have this question – and it’s a very important one.
Nobody wants to do harm to their children… and applying a spanking before it’s able to do any good could do exactly that. So what is the appropriate age for spankings to begin? Here’s some pointers I’ve seen be helpful…
This post was originally published on a blog I wrote years ago. This version has been updated before republishing here. 🙂
All posts in this series can be found here.
When an issue of safety is in view
I believe a form of spankings (a slap on the hand, etc.) can begin as soon as the child is able to get into trouble of their own free will.
Case in point: In our years of raising 5 kids, we’ve seen this so many times it’s actually kind of funny after the fact. The child goes toward the electrical outlet and I can tell where they are headed. I watch to make sure and just like I thought, they reach toward it. I call out from the other side of the room, “NO! No touching!”
They stop, look at me (sometimes they don’t, clearly thinking… “Maybe he’ll believe I didn’t hear him…”), and then slowly turn back toward the socket while slowly raising their hand again. (See why it’s funny?)
I say it again, more firmly this time. Again, they may stop, or they may not.
At the point that I’m pretty certain that they KNOW what I’m talking about and they CONTINUE to move toward the outlet (which doesn’t take long), I’ll go over, slap their little hand, and say “NO! No touching! Owie!”
They get the point, they cry, they can’t believe their wonderful Daddy has just done such a horrific thing. But like most situations where a human being has to learn wisdom, they also don’t realize the horrible thing Daddy’s little hand-slap may have saved them from.
Many parents will simply take the child away from the forbidden object or remove the object from their sight. I believe that is doing a dis-service to the child. Parents who do this are not allowing the child to learn self-control in an age-specific situation, which we all so desperately need.
Other parents use the safety plug things to prevent the holes in the outlet from showing. That way the kid is none the wiser to the even existence of electrical outlets. We could debate the appropriateness of those all day, and I’d never tell someone that it’s “wrong” to use them. But I can tell you this – if you properly discipline your child regarding outlets, you don’t need those things. They’ll learn self-control and obedience in that area with firm, consistent discipline – and it won’t take very long.
Some points to consider about this scenario that may be helpful in determining how “ready” your child is for this kind of discipline:
- Communication skills or “higher reasoning” abilities don’t have to be fully functional yet.
- If your child has the ability to recognize that there is something you are attempting to stop them from getting/doing…
- And they choose to go against the prohibition (call it what you want: rebellion, disobedience, willfulness, stubbornness, strong-will, but the fact remains that they had the ability to go directly against what the parent was instructing).
Then that child is ready for a spanking, no matter their age.
When parents want something to be off limits
Many people child-proof their homes. You know, removing breakables or keepsakes from lower shelves or tables, keeping them out of the reach of little hands. You can do this, but keep reading…
In order to teach our children obedience and self-control, we chose to leave the special things in place and endure the pain of discipline (on our side and theirs) for a short time. When consistent, it doesn’t take very long.
There are two main reasons we chose to do this:
- We wanted our children to be able to handle the world the way it is.
People will not typically make adjustments to accomodate our kids. That’s just how the world is. When you try to fashion the world to make life easier for your kids, you produce the beginnings of spoiled kids, not responsible ones. We want our kids to learn to be flexible, respectful of other people’s ways, responsible to behave properly. So we left the special things where they were and taught the kids proper boundaries.
- We wanted our children to learn self-control or self-discipline.
We all know that this is one of the largest struggles the American population has. Our culture doesn’t believe in denying yourself anything. But think about it: Exercise, diet, health, education, employment, and many other things DEMAND self-discipline in order for you to be successful at them. When a child learns to discipline themselves from the very early years of life, life goes much better for them.
SUMMARY: When is it appropriate to being spankings?
I hope the preceding examples have been helpful… but more than helpful I want to be clear.
So, in answer to the question, “At what age is it appropriate to begin spanking?” I’d say this:
- When the child is ABLE to understand that something is forbidden or off limits. (Don’t underestimate your kids, they are sharp!)
- When they exhibit willingness to push against those boundaries.
At what age do these apply?
Most 2 year olds will fit both of these criteria. Why do they call it the “terrible twos?” Because that is exactly WHEN they are learning to exert their will against that of their parents (and everyone else in some cases). It’s the IDEAL time to begin teaching them self-discipline and respect for others through appropriate spankings.
An exception to the 2-year-old guideline is in the instance of a safety issue like I mentioned before. Children who can crawl are much younger than 2, but still need that slap on the hand for their own protection.
Most teens fit these criteria as well.
Some feel that the humiliation of a spanking is too baby-ish for a teen… that it doesn’t fit.
While I agree that as a parent you want to walk a very fine line between unnecessary humiliation and healthy humility when it comes to teens – the healthy humility HAS to be there!
One of the areas that makes parenting a teen so difficult is that they are very prone to becoming TOO proud of their ever-growing capacities for thinking, acting, etc. They want to grow up too fast. A proper spanking will sometimes bring them back into reality to help them see that they are still the child, still learning, still growing, still under your guidance.
Don’t disregard this important aspect of the process.
In case you didn’t know… my wife and I have begun publishing a podcast for Christian parents. It’s called “God Fearing Kids and the Parents Who Raise Them.” You can find it at https://GodFearingKids.com