Physical Punishment and Its Cultural Relevance

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Now that my daughter is entering the infamous ‘terrible twos’ I’ve been thinking a lot about physical punishment and all that we know today about what kind of impact it has on children to various extents. I am reflecting on this because I grew up in an environment where corporal punishment was (and still is) the norm, even though I personally experienced it a lot less than my older sister and my neighbors.

As a mother of these times —and avid reader— I have read several books and resources about modern ways of parenting, new trends, etc. And also about attachment parenting and how it contradicts a lot of the advice you can get from the books and resources mentioned before. Needless to say, neither of the two condones physical punishment.

For many of you this is probably a no-brainer and the mere fact that I am thinking of this may portrait me in a very negative light. However, in this search for what kind of parent I want to be there are different factors involved: I was raised in another culture, have acquired many aspects of the American culture and in trying to make the most of the two, I find myself split agreeing with diverse aspects of parenting that are found in both of the before mentioned lines of parenting.

Furthermore, as a person who experienced corporal punishment in a culture where that’s the norm, I know it didn’t have the impact in me that it may have on a child growing up within a different cultural background. Consequently, to this day, I am ambivalent about the use of physical punishment. That is to say, I don’t hit my daughter, but I’m still not sure if that will remain the case once she is older and on a case-by-case scenario.

One of the things I dislike about the modern style of parenting is that small children have too much power; I will not be the mother arguing and negotiating with a two-year old just to get her on the car. I see a lot of disrespect from children at a very early age, and a lot of parents begging the kids to behave or giving-in just to avoid public embarrassment. That is just one example.

Here in the US, there are some groups in which physical discipline is viewed as a part of the parenting of a child; and while I don’t think you have to resort to corporal punishment for every little thing your child does —as with any other type of discipline misuse will undermined your authority— but when lines are crossed and a “timeout” or the taking of a privilege just won’t do it, the need for this kind of discipline may become apparent.

Like I mentioned in the beginning, this is a subject where I am not yet convinced one way or the other, so I would love for all of you to weight-in. Here are my questions:

  1. Do you think the environment where the corporal punishment takes place is relevant?
  2. Would a child in the United States be more negatively affected than a child in another part of the world by this kind of discipline?
  3. Did you experience physical discipline growing up? If so, did you at home, school or both?
  4. Do you believe/practice corporal punishment with your children?
  5. What do you think is the level of acceptance of physical punishment in the United States?



  1. says

    This is a great post. I don't talk about this much because I know many blogging mothers may disagree with my opinion and I rather avoid these parenting discussions but this is my experience. My first child, I never had to spank her even raise my voice, if she did something wrong I would make her go to time out for a bit and she learned her lesson quick. My second, my little son is quite the opposite and there have been times where I have to spank him, he is 4 now. First time I spanked him he was almost three. This means I turn him over pull his shorts down and spank his butt with my hand 3 times. Then I sit him down and tell him I gave you a million chances Andrei and you didn't listen so I had to use a punishment we don't like. Spanking you hurts you just as much as it hurts me. and I show him my hand. I don't think spanking with a belt or anything is acceptable ever. When I was growing up that was the norm and I get a lot of crap from my family telling me my kids are running crazy and I need to discipline them more but I think we are doing just fine… I also always make sure not to embarass him telling him I'm gonna spank you etc in public. Anyway just my opinion :-) 

    • Dania Santana says

      I know what you mean about many parents disagreeing with this; and I know it's controversial. However, to me the laws here are extreme and almost prevent parents from parenting. It's a 50-50 thing for me, you need to try other methods but for some kids, like in your case, time-out and talking is not enough.

    • says

       Flor, I feel the same. There are just times when absolutely, positively, nothing else will work and rather than letting the situation get more out of hand, I rather give one spank and as you said, explain later.

  2. says

    This is really an important conversation to have and one that I feel is rarely talked about.  I was never spanked but my sister was – different kids – different personalities and needs. My husband grew up in a culture that corporal punishment is very much the norm and usually happened with a swat with a shoe.  It's been interesting with our kids.  I am much more likely to give a spank versus yelling, screaming or berating them.  I think that a spank is an immediate "oops I did something wrong" whereas verbal responses are either unheard or stick far longer than the action that provoked them.  DH believes American kids are way too spoiled and sensitive to everything and that we should be the parents – not letting them control us.  

    • Dania Santana says

      I think is not black and white and not to be use as the only parenting tool; but sometimes when everything else does not work and the fault calls for it, it's valid. I agree with your hubby that kids here are too spoiled. It's like they set the boundaries with over sensitivity and the parents become helpless. As parents we should draw the line early in life and make clear who is in charge.

    • says

      My husband agrees with yours!!  And I think Latino culture in great part still believe in spanking as a way to get respect. My husband believes in spanking so much I've actually had to work with him to control it a bit. He is never abusive, but I also explain that it isn't the only form of punishment. However, I've also seen how no accountability leads to teenagers later on in life get away with everything. My mom's best friend told me once she slapped her 15 year old son after an argument. He was completely out-of-control, disrespecting his parents, and drinking. He told his mother that he was going to call the police because he had been taught in school that the slap was "abuse". You know what she replied? "Go ahead call them! Then I'll give you a real reason to say you were abused!" He never called.

  3. says

    Here in Florida, corporal punishment it's allowed, but the law, of course, wants to make sure you don't abuse your child, so you can spank your child, but you cannot leave a mark or bruise, because that means you hit the child hard enough to be considered abuse. Personally having being raised in a country where people will look at you as if you were growing a third head, when your kid is throwing a fit on the floor and you are just standing there with a blank face not moving fast enough to grab the belt and give them a good ole spanking, I think that the problem is being able to establish respect, obedience and setting boundaries from an early age. If "no" means "no" from the beginning, it will mean "no" in the long run as well, but our main issue is that when they're little, what otherwise will be considered unacceptable, appears to be cute precisely because they're little and cute.
     Our grandparents did not know any better, did not have the patience or time (some of them having up to 13 kids or more) to play around, and a spanking was always a quick fix. We have learned by example, but that doesn't always mean it's right. And with this I don't say spanking it's not right, i think it's a personal choice, but take in consideration that spanking a child with the same hands you use to caress and give love sends a mixed message to the child. 

    There's no question in my mind, kids must be disciplined and taught right from wrong, but must of all, they should not only be shown the way but be led by example. I know every Dominican can say they have received a "pela" (spanking) at least once in their life, but that doesn't mean all Dominicans are well behaved. Believe me if you let your kids know their fits won't take them anywhere, they will get it sooner or later. Kids are very smart, and they will try whatever might work to get their way. That works in our favor, because if we stand our ground and prove to them their fits are a waste of time,(providing we are talking about a child raised in a positive, functional environment) they'll eventually find a much positive way of getting your attention. Now, the times that they are in fact behaving good, should always be praised, so that the kids learn that good behavior pleases us and gets our attention in an even better way that a fit does.

     To tell you the truth, I don't ever want my kids to be the kind that never ever gets mad, or that never throws a fit or yells. I hope they don't do it in front of people, and they know better than that by now. What I'm saying is that I never want my kids to be the kind to take no for an answer, or that when they're told "it's not possible", they would take it with out a fight (of course I will never let them know this and if you do I'll deny it 'till the day I die). "Wanting their way" and not stopping at nothing is called "perseverance" in the adult world, and I wouldn't want my kids to ever give that up for anything in the world. I'm confusing you right? I know…All I'm saying is we have been granted the honor to help our kids use their "powers" for good…Now, how? with love, respect, praise, a good laugh, help from above and lastly but not least, discipline that is constant and never delayed. 

    • Dania Santana says

      Great insight Michelle! I agree with you in what you are saying and I am all for providing a positive environment where kids learn all the tools they need to be out in the world. As a Dominican, like I said, I was not the subject of physical punishment and I don't think is the only way of discipline. However, some children are more defiant and can do so in situations where there is no room to explain. I hope I can continue to raise my daughter where she knows her limits and what's acceptable and what's not without spanking, but I am not open to let her take control of the relationship like she is the parent and not the child. Sadly, that's something I see too often with children and parents dynamics and at the end giving so much power to kids don't teach them limits and boundaries that are also important tools for adults to know in order to be able to be good citizens, law-abiding and pretty much get along with others. 

  4. Nikki @ Euphoria Luv says

    I find the idea of what punishment is and how harsh it should changes from culture to culture.  i come from a west indian culture and I do believe in spanking but not on the same level as it's used here in USA. 

    I agree that children here have to much power. I think some parents dont understand that discipline starts when a child is young and it's not just spanking and yelling.  To many parents dont reach their child's heart and minds, which is where the real discipline happens…not on a child behind

    • says

      Such a great point!  "To many parents dont reach their child's heart and minds, which is where the real discipline happens…not on a child behind."  Words of wisdom. <3

    • Dania Santana says

      You are right Nikki, we need to connect with our kids and disciplined them and that is so much more than spanking and yelling. I am against abuse and are trying no to resort to spanking my daughter, so far she understands when I say no and when she cannot have something. She may cry, but ends up accepting what I do. I hope this can continue as she grows. But I will not allow her to disrespect me or take control as if she is the decision-maker. I think here parents have confused making their kids independent with letting them do as they please and then they see negative results. Thanks for you comment!

  5. Anonymous says

    I am very much against spanking for laundry list of reasons. I discuss this on my blog quite a bit as part of post related to alternative methods to mainstream parenting techniques. In short, I view spanking as a form of physical abuse. If my husband hit me, it would be abuse. So why is there a double standard when it comes to parents spanking their children. I mean, if I forgot to put my clothes in the hamper and my husband spanked me for it, it would be considered spousal abuse. If I did the same thing to my child for the same reason, it is considered "teaching" and discpline. I cannot wrap my brain around that.

    I use gentle, more peaceful methods of parenting including modeling the behavior I expect from my daughter. Children learn EVERYTHING they do and say by watching others, especially their parents. We cannot expect them to behave one way when we behave another way. Children's brains cannot graps logic and reason until they are around 9 years old and even then, they are limited. We forget this as parents and set our expectations too high. We also fail to take into consideration other developmental limitations.

    I personally am glad to see that more and more awareness is being brought to the dangers of spanking. There are so many ways in which to guide your children. I hope that with this next generation of parents, we are able to move past mainstream acceptance of spanking and start digging deep as parents to actively parent in the most peaceful manner possible. And by peaceful, I do not mean passive. Check out my blog if you are interested in ideas on how to parent outside of what it the mainstream standard today. At then end of the day, every child is different, every family is different, and every cultural norm is different. I simply think that parents who take the time to research other parenting techniques and give them an honest try will realize that spanking accomplishes nothing.

    Great post to start a good discussion!

    • Dania Santana says

      Thank you Jennifer for your comment! I see and understand what you are saying. I will definitely visit your blog and research on the subject. I am totally open to learning each and every day as a parent, because ultimately all I want is to raise my kids to be good adults. Like I've mention before, sometimes it seems to me that the "talking approach" is not working for many families that have kids that misbehave and turn into teenagers that get in trouble, etc. That's why I decided to write about it to learn more from other parents out there, like yourself. 

  6. says

    I'm not a spanker, and have never spanked my daughter, but I really enjoy the convo and hearing a variety of perspectives. For me, I do time-outs, which I've heard are also illegal in NY! We use completely non-aggressive techniques and I find that the most important element in parenting is consistency! There are definitely going to be variations in parenting style, but I think any aggression can be negative. I've heard parents say that they can spank, without being agressive and I have to wonder how that's possible, but I don't like to judge either.  But, it's definitely good to be open-minded and discipline our children in a way that we believe we deserve ourselves.  <3

  7. says

    Great article! I know how you feel Dania! My husband and I are actually quite split on the subject! He believes that spanking should be a form of punishment while I've tried to break away from the cycle from when I was a little girl! At that time, it was OK for my mother to throw her "chancleta" at me. Looking back, I remember that the reason I don't swear is because I got such as spanking once for it, it left a mark (an emotional one, not a physical one). My main concern with spanking is not so much that it will make the kid aggressive but rather that the parent is venting his own frustrations out on the kid. However, I think that one slap on a diaper-covered behind on my temper throwing toddler is actually OK, when absolutely nothing else has worked and I just want to get her attention. But for the most part, I  give my 4 year old time out in her room and she HATES it and they work well. I even give time out to the 2 year old in her crib for two minutes at a time. I also make them accountable for things, which I think nowadays is one of the biggest problem in the US. No one is accountable for anything. Kids will hide behind their parents, and parents will hide behind their lawyers.

    • Dania Santana says

      You are so right Mari Tere! There is no accountability and that's a huge problem because that is what you are teaching when you let something slide or defend your kid when you know it's their fault instead of teaching them consequences. And I agree that spanking should be a last resort when nothing else has work and when faced with a dangerous situation that calls for your child's immediate attention. As everything in life, parenthood is an every day learning experience and I am striving to learn as much as a can to be the best mom I can to my children. 

  8. says

    My sisters and I were spanked by both parents. We're not emotionally scarred because of it. What I will tell you is that it put a healthy fear in us that we'd better behave. Having said that, I've only spanked our son two-three times and I always regretted it immediately after. Our son is generally a well-behaved child, respectful and obedient. Every now and then when he gets mouthy all we have to do is threaten to take away privileges for him to get his act together. I don't think that at his current age I would respond to his disobedience with corporal punishment. I'm afraid it would have a reverse effect and instead of correcting behavior, it might make him resent me and exacerbate any underlying issue. *shrugs* But that's me. I've learned to step away and give myself a time-out, too. Great post, Dania.