Instead of Spanking


Guest post by Jennifer McGrail

“Never spank when you’re angry.  Give yourself time to cool down, so that you can then spank calmly and without emotion.”


The above is common advice amongst those who advocate spanking.  The interesting part about it is that while I am a vocal advocate against spanking, at any time, for any reason, in any fashion, I actually fully agree with the first part.  Yes, absolutely, please don’t spank when you’re angry.   But once you make that decision not to lay your hands on your child (and if you do make that decision, great job.   You’ve gotten through the hardest part),  I suggest taking the time that follows to do something very different than making a calculated plan to then calmly inflict pain in order to “teach a lesson.”  You’ve given yourself – and your child – the gift of time.  You can use that time to regroup, to think, to make a kinder decision, a gentler decision, a decision that is going to help you and your child re-connect, not draw you further apart.


The problem lies in the fact that when you’re in the heat of the moment is the exact moment when many parents want to spank.   Your child has just done something dangerous, or hurtful, or destructive.  You’re angry.  You’re scared.  You’re frustrated.  Adrenaline is flowing, and fight or flight syndrome is kicking in.  If you don’t spank, what do you do?  How do you get through those initial, emotionally charged moments so you can make a better decision?


If you do nothing else:  breathe.  It oxygenates and calms the body, mind and soul.  If you’re struggling with what you should do next, just remember to S.H.I.N.E.


S – Safety.  Your first step is to make sure you, your child, and everyone around him is safe.  Scoop him up and carry him away from the busy street.  Stop the paperclip from getting shoved into the electrical outlet.  Hold the hands that were just hitting the sibling.  If you feel like you’re in danger of spanking (and therefore encroaching on your child’s safety yourself), recognize it, and do whatever you need to stop it.  Shut yourself behind the bathroom door and count to 100.  Pray.  Call a friend.  Go outside and scream.

A lot of people cite safety as a reason that they spank:  “How else will they learn to stay out of the street??”   But the fact is, parents are equipped with an innate, instinctual reaction to impending danger.  Our child is in harm’s way, and we move.   Fast.  Our voice changes, our body language changes, and our demeanor changes.  The child sees that the situation is serious, and they learn from it.  No spanking required.


H – Hug.  After everyone is safe, make sure you re-connect with your child.  She’s likely scared, confused, or frustrated herself,  and it’s important that she know that mom is still there, in her corner.  Hug her (or hold her hand, or stroke her hair) if she’s open to it, and speak softly and calmly.  Physical touch and soft words will go a long way towards calming both you and your child.


I – Inform.  I think a lot of time we parents have a tendency to talk too much.  Especially when a child is really young: the less words we use, the better.   But there is a time to talk about what happened, and to let your child know why you can’t let him run with scissors/punch his sister/ throw rocks at the neighbor’s car/play with the rattlesnake.

When the immediate situation is diffused, and everyone is feeling safe and loved, use words to describe why you intervened.  “Hitting hurts.”  “The stove is hot.”  “The snake is dangerous” Etc.


N – New activity.  When my now 13 year old was a toddler, one of his favorite things to do was to shove things into the VCR.  Matchbox cars, his brother’s glasses, peanut butter sandwiches…if it could fit (and often, if it couldn’t) he’d cram it in.   We’d stop him of course, we’d talk to him, we’d connect with him.  And ten minutes later he’d do it again.  The one thing that worked – and worked well – was to scoop him up and leave the room.  We’d go outside and blow bubbles, or we’d go in another room and play trains.  It took patience, but the season passed, he grew up, and the VCR was once again safe from his little hands.

Sometimes all that’s needed is a new activity, a change of pace, and a fresh perspective.  If your child won’t stop pulling the cat’s tail, it’s okay (and preferable!) to take her away from the cat.  Keep everyone safe, reconnect, talk about it, and go do something else… something just as fun and interesting as she was wanting to do in the first place.


And finally,


E – Empower.   Your child can’t learn about the world around him unless you let him live in it.  Help him explore.  Hold his hand while he crosses the street.  Show him and talk to him about safely using scissors and knives and fire.  Let him climb.  Let him experiment.  Let him throw things.  Get some chalkboard paint so he can draw on one wall.

Empower him to make good decisions by giving him opportunities to make them.  Show him what it means to be safe, responsible, and kind.  Watch him, guide him, walk beside him…. But most of all, trust him.  Trust that as he gets older and gains more knowledge and maturity, he will learn.  He will learn how to successfully navigate the world and its people, how to gracefully deal with the unknown, and how to regroup after he’s made a mistake.

*     *     *     *     *

Our children learn largely by watching what we do.  But when it comes to spanking (and specifically, making the conscious decision not to spank) they learn from what we don’t do as well.   They learn that we can problem solve without resorting to violence.  They learn that we can help each other without pain, coercion, and control.  They learn that they are people, just like us, worthy of respect, and kindness, and love.  When it comes down to it, those are some of the biggest, most important lessons I want my children to learn.


Really, isn’t that what we all want?




Jennifer McGrail is a full-time unschooling mom, a yoga teacher, and a writer. She lives in Phoenix with her husband, four kids, and an ever-growing variety of winged, scaled, and furry pets. She loves exploring in the desert, baking cupcakes, and a really good cup of coffee.  You can find her on her website, The Path Less Taken at, on Twitter and Instagram as @blessdwith4, and on Facebook at

The Path Less Taken

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