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Asa Don Brown Ph.D.
Asa Don Brown Ph.D.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?

A new perspective on discipline.

“Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Dr. Asa Don Brown
Source: Dr. Asa Don Brown

At the heart of corporal punishment, is a desire to resolve, correct, or redirect the behavior of another, but does this justify the use of an ancient form of chastising? The longstanding argument for corporal punishment has been the parental right, religious ideological perspectives, and the right of the government to correct, rebuke or create physical consequences for negative attitudes, behaviors or actions.

Argumentatively, while there is undoubtedly a historical precedence that is in play; the argument for such correction has grown tired, weak and no longer justifies the use of corporal punishment.

The debate for corporal punishment has varied from religious instructions to parental rights. Corporal punishment has not only been excused by religious texts, familial familiarity, and governmental avoidance of change; it has been made allowable because of its longstanding relationship with society. “My father did not spare the rod, therefore I will not spare the rod.”

Parents, teachers and school administrators have frequently argued that there are no alternatives and/or that the alternatives are incapable of changing the mindset of a particular child. While understandably, some children are stronger willed than others; the truth is, all children will react favorably to methods that are constructive and positive. Most commonly, corporal punishment is enacted when a parental figure is no longer capable of managing his or her own emotional welfare.


The Canadian Parliament Section 43 of the Criminal Code:

Section 43 of the Criminal Code reads as follows:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstance.

While the Canadian Parliament has ruled on the case of corporal punishment, the ruling on corporal punishment allows for a vague interpretation by those who are reading this decree. Furthermore, corporal punishment is neither abolished or rejected, but has been made excusable by the Government of Canada. “Corporal punishment remains a widely used discipline technique in most American (and Canadian) families, but it has also been a subject of controversy within the child development and psychological communities.” (Gershoff, 2002)

For many, corporal punishment has its foundational roots in religious and moral teachings. Furthermore, there are many who believe that they are spiritually instructed to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline.

An example of this allowable form punishment finds its acceptability in religious texts such as Proverbs 13:24 of the King James Bible. The verse states:

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes”

~ Proverbs 13:24, King James Version

In North America, corporal punishment remains a norm within our society. “A poll conducted by The Huffington Post and YouGov found that 81 percent of 1,000 adults polled believe that spanking with a hand should be legal, and almost half think it’s an effective form of discipline.” (Samakow, 2014) The most common argument in favor of corporal punishment is a parental approach reflecting upon his or her own childhood punishment and the ideological perspective that it helped mold them.

Dr. Asa Don Brown
Source: Dr. Asa Don Brown


What is corporal punishment? Corporal punishment is any form of correction that involves physical retribution. Corporal punishment may include: switching, spanking, caning, slapping, chastising, paddling or flogging. Moreover, the use of negative language and name calling has become an acceptable addition to corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment has long been considered an acceptable form of discipline by parents, teachers, principals and other authorities, but the time has come that we must consider alternative avenues for raising up our children. As a society, we have learned to justify our lack of creative alternatives by the use of corporal punishment.


“Instead of yelling and spanking, which don’t work anyway, I believe in finding creative ways to keep their attention - turning things into a game, for instance. And, when they do something good, positive reinforcement and praise.”

~ Patricia Richardson

Let’s consider the following questions:

  • Why are you attached to the use of corporal punishment?
  • Do you feel that you are incapable of disciplining your child without it?
  • Do you feel that the use of corporal punishment is an individual right?
  • Have you been taught to use corporal punishment by a religious leader or religious teaching?
  • Why have you chosen to use corporal punishment as a means for correcting negative behaviors, attitudes or perceptions?

Research has shown that a majority of adults use corporal punishment before considering alternative approaches to discipline.

When have you chosen to use corporal punishment? Have you chosen to use corporal punishment in the raising of your children? If so, were you emotionally frustrated, angry or simply without alternative methods of discipline?

Dr. Asa Don Brown
Source: Dr. Asa Don Brown


“Spanking a child is about the parent not the child. The child will learn more from positive correction than physical manipulation.”

~ Asa Don Brown, Canadian Counsel. & Psych. Assoc.

Corporal punishment is most commonly used by frustrated adults. The typical excuse for exercising one’s rights to use corporal punishment is:

  • My child left me no alternative.
  • If I love my child, then I will discipline my child (spank them).
  • I am commanded to spank my child.
  • I personally benefitted from being spanked.
  • My respect for my parents is derived from my own personal journey with discipline.
  • My child forced my hand.
  • “People get frustrated and hit their kids. Maybe they don’t see there are other options.” (Smith, 2012, p. 60)

If corporal punishment is an effective alternative for disciplining children, then why not permit the use of corporal punishment on adults? The argument could be made that an employee lying or cheating should be spanked, flogged or severely reprimanded for his or her dishonesty.

Perhaps we should reinstate corporal punishment in the police force. Could you imagine receiving a spanking the next time you are caught speeding or forgetting to wear your seatbelt?

Perhaps the judicial system should reinstate the use of corporal punishment.

Moreover, maybe we should make it permissible for a spouse to spank his or her cheating partner. Should your spouse be provided the right to discipline you with a paddle; the next time you forget to take out the trash or do the dishes?

Perhaps we should even consider employing corporal punishment for the disorderly rich and famous, and our governing bodies. Why not, if it is good for chastising a child, then why not employee it in all aspects of society? Why not even consider returning to an age of using stoning and the severing of hands?

Of course, you may think I am being simply preposterous, running my lips in a hyperbole forum, but I beg you to consider the basis of this argument. If corporal punishment is permissible among the youth of our society, then why not consider employing such a corrective tool throughout the whole spectrum of society?

Furthermore, the Canadian Foundation For Children, Youth and The Law v. Canada (Attorney General) have made a continued argument for the enforcement or allowability of corporal discipline, only among those who are the most innocent of our society.

On 30 January 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in the case of Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (Attorney General). The issue was whether s. 43 unconstitutional. Six of nine justices concluded that the provision does not violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it does not infringe a child’s rights to security of a person or a child’s rights to equality, and it does not constitute cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

Dr. Asa Don Brown
Source: Dr. Asa Don Brown

My argument is, if it “does not infringe a child’s rights to security of a person or a child’s rights to equality,” then why not have true equality by making corporal punishment permissible throughout the entire spectrum of society?


“The greatest mark of a father is how he treats his children when no one is looking.”

~ Dan Pearce

Let’s consider the following: what measures have been taken to correct an employee who fails to meet the expectations of his or her employer? Perhaps we should use corporal punishment when an employee is being insubordinate and disobedient. Why not harshly rebuke these insubordinate employees, by implementing a stern reprimand followed up with a good ol’ fashion paddling? Again, you may think of me as being utterly absurd, but my argument remains; there are alternatives to all forms of corporal punishment. Whether an employee or a child, there are alternatives to implementing and excusing the use of corporal punishment.

If corporal punishment is not permissible in the workplace, then why have we made it permissible to be used in the educational systems, and most importantly, the sanctity of the home?

If there are alternatives to the enforcement of corporal punishment in the workplace, then should there not be made alternate forms of correction in the home and school?

As in the workplace, alternative punishment or correction will not occur without consideration and constructive dialogue. As a society, we owe it to our children to devise a plan of action that is constructive (serving a useful purpose), instructive (useful and informative), edifying (providing moral or intellectual instruction), supportive (providing encouragement or emotional help), corrective (designed to correct or counteract something harmful or undesirable) and directional (relating to or indicating the direction in which someone or something is situated, moving, or developing).


“We need to understand the difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment is what you do to someone; discipline is what you do for someone.”

~ Zig Ziglar

Even in the academic world, there is no tolerance for a child hitting or physically lashing out at a fellow student or teacher. In fact, in a majority of public school systems, not only could the child be expelled indefinitely; but the probability of legal repercussions is quite high.

For many school systems, there is absolutely no tolerance for disruptive behaviors, much less aggravated assault or threats of assault. Even if, a child were to verbally threaten the action of assault, they could be immediately apprehended by authority and they could be tried as an adult in many jurisdictions. If our school and legal systems no longer tolerate even the utterance of a threat by a child, then why do we permit a parent or an adult to physical harm or utter threats of harm towards our children? A threat is a threat and harm is harm.

Yet, there remains 19 states that permit some form of corporal punishment in the public school systems. Why is it that we continue to allow corporal punishment to be used in our schools; however, we have strict guidelines on child conduct and behavior. Is there really a difference between a child acting out aggressively and an adult physically punishing a child?

Permitting Corporal Punishment

Who should be made responsible for setting the standards of corporal punishment? Who should be permitted to decide what is allowable and what is not? Should parents be provided a standard, and if so, then who will be made responsible for setting such a standard?

The Canadian Parliament and many US States have vague interpretations of what is permissible and allowable in the home and in the public school sector.

Why is it illegal and a violation of an adult’s civil rights to be struck by another adult? Why is it not permissible to hit your spouse? employer? employee? neighbor?

Why have we made it permissible for an adult to strike a child? Whether or not, a governing body could devise a permissible set of standards, the truth is, striking any individual, whether young or old should be a violation of human rights. “(Even) on the international front, physical discipline is increasingly being viewed as a violation of children’s human rights.” (Smith, 2012, 60)

The following is an example whereby a child’s rights were egregiously violated. “The first swat knocked [my son] down ... when he fell, the principal said he had five seconds to get back up, or he’d start all over again ... it probably took him a minute and a half to get up again. They gave him two more swats. Then the principal had to go to the nurse’s office to get the asthma inhaler, [my son] couldn’t breathe ... When he came home from school, my wife found the marks on him. … He had severe bruising on his buttocks and on his lower back. His butt was just covered.” (Adwar, 2014)

The previous discourse is not an uncommon case for communities that have made corporal punishment legal. Why should a child be scolded for striking a fellow student; if they themselves are allowed to be struck by an adult for misbehaving?

  1. “It perpetuates a cycle of child abuse. It teaches children to hit someone smaller and weaker when angry.
  2. Injuries occur. Bruises are common. Broken bones are not unusual. Children's deaths have occurred... due to school corporal punishment.
  3. Corporal punishment is used much more often on poor children, minorities, children with disabilities, and boys.
  4. Schools are the only institutions in America (and Canada) in which striking another person is legally sanctioned. It is not allowed in prisons, in the military or in mental hospitals.
  5. Educators and school boards are sometimes sued when corporal punishment is used in their schools.
  6. Schools that use corporal punishment often have poorer academic achievement, more vandalism, truancy, pupil violence and higher drop out rates.
  7. Corporal punishment is often not used as a last resort. It is often the first resort for minor misbehaviors.
  8. Many alternatives to corporal punishment have proven their worth. Alternatives teach children to be self-disciplined rather than cooperative only because of fear.” (CED, 2014)

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the most ratified human rights treaty... It is the first international human rights binding instrument to expressly address the protection of children from violence.

Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to take:

‘all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child” (COE, 2014)

The use of corporal punishment has no effective behavioral features. In fact, there is no substantive evidence or research to support the use of corporal punishment. Furthermore, whether the use corporal punishment is being used in an academic environment or a familial domain; it has no positive constructive benefit or feature for those enduring this type of behavioral intervention.

Healthy Communication and Discipline

For many children, when they are acting out, they are poorly communicating or feeling unheard. As parents and adults, we need to do our best to know and to actively listen to our child. If we know our child, then we will have an ability to communicate with our child. Healthy communication is one of the best approaches to offering corrective and constructive discipline. Healthy discipline occurs when the child is gaining a positive perspective on a negative choice or decision that they have made.


“What I love most about fatherhood is the opportunity to be a part of the development process of a new life.”

~ Seal

Always be certain to employ an unconditional spirit of love with discipline. If you are forced to discipline, do it in a manner that is respectful, dignified, and loving. As a parent, you may ask your child to participate in his or her discipline, rather than disciplining with an iron fist. A parent does not have to “use the rod” to discipline, correct, or redirect his or her child. In fact, we should remove the word discipline from our vocabulary, replacing it with the word GUIDANCE. If we are guiding our children, then we are offering positive advice, direction, and/or information that is aimed at resolving a problem or personal challenge.


“I believe that there is no longer any use for corporal punishment in schools and much to be gained by suppressing it.”

~ B. F. Skinner

Dr. Asa Don Brown
Source: Dr. Asa Don Brown

As a father, mother, teacher, or school administrator, do not fear being limited in your information. Be diligent and extremely conscientious when you are considering the methods with which you intend on discipling (or GUIDING) a child. Always remember that you are guiding them away from destructive paths, down paths that enrich the person’s character and overall wellbeing. Do everything within your means to be an informed parent.

As parents and adults, we should seek constructive information, education, and skills. Consider acquiring the services of a professional therapist, counselor, or psychologist. Do not fear feeling inadequate as a parent, teacher or administrator, because we are all limited.

The bottom line is, “the goal of discipline (or GUIDANCE), which actually comes from the Latin root meaning ‘to teach,’ is to change behavior. And physical discipline across many, many, many studies is ineffective at changing behavior and it’s ineffective for many reasons ... corporal punishment actually teaches children is that aggression is an acceptable method of problem solving.”


The problem is, few people discipline their children while in control or without prejudice. In most cases, the parent is fed up, exhausted, and personally agitated by a childhood act. When an individual is personally and emotionally involved, the situation can prove volatile in the best of circumstances. Good people make mistakes. Why then, would we encourage a recipe for plausible and considerable harm?


For many individuals, they perceive themselves as having or being in control. The truth is, research has shown that the loss of personal self-control increases when under pressure or personal distress.

While corporal punishment has been used for a variety of purposes, it’s primary roots stems from a religious background.

While many claim that spanking is not a form of beating, it’s this fine line that many cross. A recent case resulted in a young child losing her life. Parent’s Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz followed the instructions set out in a book called, “To Train Up a Child” by author Michael Pearl. The Schatz’s were spanking their children, Lydia and Zariah, when Lydia perished from the severe spanking. The problem is, they spanked to create pain in order to reinforce a discipline. Obviously, the Schatz’s perception of control was lost during this spanking session.


The good news is, there are many alternatives to spanking. While we continue to live in a society that permits corporal punishment; the alternatives are increasing and the knowledge of child behavior is as well.


Everyone on this planet can and would reap from a personal timeout.

Parents and children should both receive timeouts. The parent should accept a timeout to cool down and refocus ensuring personal control. The child should be given a timeout based on his/her age. If your child is 5, then your child should receive a 5 minute time-out. It’s a minute per year of life: 5 years (x) 1 minute = 5 minutes. Again, placing a child into timeout ensures that the parent can retool and prepare to positively reengage.

Be creative, inventive, resourceful, and proactive. Discuss the matter of discipline (GUIDANCE) with your child. Ask your child what he/she feels would be a good consequence for his/her behavior or attitude. Consider looking online for information from legitimate sites and resources: American Psychological Association; Center for Effective Discipline; Project No Spank; etc. You may consider gaining advice from those who have found alternative means to corporal punishment. Consider brainstorming with other parents, the school, and/or friends who have children of a similar age.

Be a Proactive Parent

  • Always reaffirm your child's goodness and abilities.
  • Avoid using negative images or language when guiding your child.
  • Be certain to regularly communicate with your child.
  • Always use your active listening skills when interacting with your child.
  • Refrain from using language that stresses hate, resentment, anger, or intolerance.
  • Most importantly, children need a familial environment that is safe, caring, nurturing, and unconditionally accepting and loving.

Furthermore, it is okay to disclose your disappointment in your child’s behaviors or attitudes, but it is never okay to make a child feel as though they are a bad person or worthless. As a parent, we are our children’s greatest advocate and ally. A child's wellbeing is ultimately placed into your hands. If you breach their right to safety and wellbeing, then you are ultimately placing your child's life in harm’s way.

Consider the following

Are you proving an advocate for your child? Are you instilling good parenting techniques and qualities in the life of your child? Have you chosen to be a positively influential role model? Parenting has no concrete absolutes, but as a person you should seek to grow and positively influence your children. As parents, we will undoubtedly make mistakes, but it is prudent that you forgive yourself and move forward. Good parents make mistakes, but seek to learn from their mistakes.

Whether you are a parent, teacher or administrator; be resourceful and ask for help. We should all be searching for constructive information and alternative methods to providing guidance for our child. Always have an attitude of diligence and a desire to be punctilious.

Child rearing is a directional role, thus we should be guiding in a way that inspires others to follow positive pathways. If I am acting in a conscientious way, then I will have a deep desire and heartfelt yearning to do that with which is right and constructive.

Always remember, that “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child."

About the Author
Asa Don Brown Ph.D.

Asa Don Brown is an author, speaker and clinical psychologist.

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