Corporal Punishment and Modeling Right Behavior

Parenting is a rough job. We have relatively simple goals, but getting there is always the chore. When our children are young, we want to provide them with a place to learn and grow and mature. Our eventual goal for them is to grow up to be mature, responsible, happy, and well-functioning adults. One essential part of reaching that further goal is discipline.

We discipline our children in order to teach them the right way to interact with people and the world around them. Eventually, they will be grown and will need to know how to take responsibility for themselves as individuals. At that time, they will likely be working a job. They will need to know how to follow rules. Throughout the rest of their lives, they will doubtless have times where they are in personal conflict with others. These are all reasons that proper discipline is important. It is meant to prepare them for the realities of life. There is one method, though, that many parents choose for discipline, and it works against these goals.

Corporal punishment means physical punishment. In practice, this means that when a child has done something wrong, the parent inflicts physical pain on them in an effort to get them to not do that thing again. Some try to soften the reality of it by saying, “Oh, it’s just spanking!” But, changing the term doesn’t change the reality. Corporal punishment means using violence against a child in order to force compliance.

I used to believe that corporal punishment was a legitimate means of discipline, primarily because it works. Fear is a powerful tool. If you can produce enough fear in a person, you can get them to do almost anything. But, after having my first child, both my wife and I began asking whether corporal punishment was right. We began wondering what exactly we were modeling to our child by treating them that way.

As adults, when we have a disagreement we talk and figure things out. We don’t use violence to force our friends, co-workers, or neighbors to our will. We want nothing less from our children. We want them to learn to solve their problems, not use violence to force the other side to concede. When we, as parents, use violence against our children in order to force compliance with our rules, we are teaching them the opposite of what we should be teaching them. When we use violence in punishment, we are teaching them that violence is a legitimate means of conflict resolution.

We live in a world where powerful organizations like the state use violence in order to force compliance. The state decides what you can and cannot do, then uses violence against you if you don’t comply. Most people do not have a problem with this, and one of the primary reasons for this is that they were trained as children that violence is legitimate when done by someone in authority. Their parents used violence against them to bend them to their will, now the state uses violence to do the same.

There always are people out there who will use violence to accomplish their goals. There are those who will use violence to force compliance to their will. As parents, it is essential that we teach our children the opposite. Violence is not a legitimate means of conflict resolution. As parents, we must model this to them, showing that it is possible to interact without using violence.

There are other ways to discipline your children. There are lots of books and seminars about non-violent conflict resolution in the home. We cannot say we are teaching our children to function as healthy adults if we are teaching them that violence is acceptable in regular human interaction. If they have a disagreement with someone, they need to be able to work that out without violence. Also, if they want to see some change in the world, they need to know that violence is not the answer there as well.

Editors note: Ryan Burgett, the author of this piece has a blog that you can visit at

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