North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

By Penny Davis
Positive Parenting 

Discipline doesn't necessarily mean spanking


Dear Ms. Davis,

My husband and I are expecting our first child in the next few months. Recently we have been discussing our views on discipline and handling misbehavior of children. Both of us were spanked as husband feels this worked on him, and that it is something he will use in the future with our children in order to get good behavior. I feel pretty strongly that spanking had some negative effects on me, mainly fear of my parents (dad, mainly), resentment and humiliation...things I'm not sure I want my children to experience. Help!

Anxious Expectant Parent

Dear Anxious.

This is a very common issue in families. How to discipline children is often one of the things that couples argue about the most. I commend you for reaching out, and for addressing this issue BEFORE you have children.

Spanking has been hotly debated for several decades. Most of us were raised with this punishment and I often hear... 'I didn't turn out so bad'. Interestingly, however, when questioned further about their feelings at the time it was happening, most adults report feeling resentful, humiliated, confused, and that the adults in their lives just didn't understand them. It's true that spanking may result in instant compliance – kids WILL stop doing the behavior if we hit them--but we need to ask ourselves what we are really teaching. Children learn from what we DO, not what we SAY (that old phrase that many of us heard, 'do as I say, not as I do' just isn't effective). Children are always watching and learning about themselves and the world by observing the grown-ups in their lives. Spanking, at best, teaches our children that it is permissible to hit when we are angry, and at worst, that it's OK to hit people who are smaller than us. Is that really what we want?

Our job as parents is to discipline (the root word of which is 'disciple' which means 'to teach') in such a way that our children can learn valuable social and life skills for the future. Our goal should be discipline for the long-term, not for the 'quick fix'. Most parents, when surveyed, indicate that they would prefer NOT to spank, if they had other tools that were effective.

Research over the past 40 years has determined that the most effective discipline (called Authoritative in the literature), is that in which parents are both kind AND firm. Children do better in an environment of respect, where their voice is heard and their opinions matter, while at the same time learning rules and guidelines, problem-solving and responsibility. There are many books, programs, and other resources that help parents understand how to accomplish this without the use of physical punishment. I would recommend the 'Positive Discipline' series of books by Jane Nelsen, Ed.D. For your family, I would suggest 'Positive Discipline, The First Three Years.'

Good luck to you. You and your husband are embarking on one of life's most interesting journeys.

Penny Davis, M.A, has been a parenting educator, teacher trainer and consultant for over 35 years. She is a Lead Trainer for the Positive Discipline Association, and provides seminars/presentations throughout the U.S. and internationally. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, CA. She can be reached through her website at or by email at


Reader Comments

Casey writes:

Yes!!! Thank you Penny for your thoughtful advice. What a world we would live in if parents understood that children had underlying beliefs fueling their behavior and if those children were treated with respect and encouragement.

Mariana writes:

Every child deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. People like Penny help parents to make the paradigm shift that this world needs to generate peace in the society in general and in our homes.

PDGrammie writes:

How refreshing to read an article that opens the door for a discussion on spanking! Even though research points out all the reasons why it doesnt work, when we don't have the tools to discipline meaningfully we tend to fall back on whatever we know...I look forward to hearing more about tge Positive Discipline tools and stocking a whole new discipl ne toolbox!

change5553 writes:

I wish every parent would read what Penny Davis has to say about spanking. I would like to add that most parents would be happy to give up spanking if they had respectful parenting tools to help their children learn the valuable social and life skills they need to be happy, contributing members of society. Jane Nelsen

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