Hitting Kids - Is It Ever OK?

Posted on Mar 23, 2021 by 10 Comments

You might think I’m about to talk about kids hitting other kids since all children seem to go through that faze. I’m not. This, unfortunately, is about parents hitting kids.

I was on the plane the other day coming back from a very stressful trip to my hometown and was seated next to a family with a 21 month old son. They seemed tired, the parents. It didn’t help that we were crammed in the plane (Continental sucks, btw!) and as soon as we pulled back from the gate, the Captain (or First Officer, but who cares) said that we were grounded for at least an hour and would have to wait to take off.

Crammed in, we had to wait. We were, literally, a foot from the gate. I’m certain they knew of whatever problem we encountered before we boarded, but to classify as an “on-time” departure, the plane has to leave the gate not actually take off. So, we left the gate. Then stopped. (Contintental suuuucks!)

Not a good situation for even the most patient kid-less person.

The mother and father seated next to me, though, made my stomach turn. Now, I’m a very forgiving person and know just how challenging flying with a toddler can be, but what these parents did next was awful.

Amid all the groaning from adults on the plane the 21 month old began to cry and fidget. OK, really fidget and it was more like scream. The Dad, who was holding the kid, tried to soothe his son and, in a burst of frustration and anger (probably embarrassment, too) whacked the kid on the legs three times. Whack, whack, whack. My eyeballs popped out of my head, but I just sat and stared.

Then, the Mom took over and tried singing and distracting the child, then she, too, out of the blue, smacks his arms. Without warning. Well, maybe the tone in her voice was warning enough after the love went out and the anger came in.

This went on and on. I swear. Kid cries, Mom hits kid for crying. What happens? Kid cries louder! No shit, Sherlock. I mean, c’mon.

It bothers me enough that these parents felt comfortable hitting their kid in public. And, that inevitably leads me to think, well, if they feel OK doing that in public, what do they do in private?

What haunts me, now, is my own reaction - I didn’t say anything. I was screaming inside for them to stop and a litany of choice words was streaming through my mind. But what does one do? If I said something, would that have made a difference? It would have eased my own conscience, to be sure, but what is my duty to that kid?

Is spanking in public a reportable offense? Is spanking an offense, period? Yes, it is offensive, but at what point to authorities need to be called in? Does it matter if you know the offender well or not at all?

I wish I had answers.

I’m wondering, is corporal punishment ever OK? I mean, I know (a little too well) how far a parent can be pushed and how much a parent may feel compelled to hit her kid. I also know that violence and anger can be passed from generation to generation.

But it is a toddler’s job to push the boundaries so that they know just where those boundaries are. Plus, kids are emotional tidal waves - they ebb and flow with precious little regulation. How can a toddler regulate his emotions - he is just finding out that he has emotions. But we, as parents, are the so-called adults. It’s our duty to manage our emotions so that we don’t harm out own children, right?

I just don’t know how to handle these situations. I know they happen and I know there are some hideously bad parents out there. But what if the parent isn’t hideous, but just acts hideous sometimes? What does one do then?

Should I have stood up to them and said get your damn hands off of your kid who is just voicing the frustration every one of us feels? Now, days later, I think maybe I should have. Unfortunately, I feel like such action would have been fruitless.

photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

Posted in: Parenting

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  • april

    I wasnt there so i cant really speak for the parent but what i do know as a mother of 3 that when we do nothing and our child acts up we then get looks of disaproval or are the brunt of comments about ” bad parenting” . Yet if we spank our kids then we are abusers.

    I have a 14, 12 and now a 1 year old. with my 14 and 12 year old i believed in time outs. I felt awful for spanking and to be honest time outs in a chair and trying to explain what they are doing wrong just didnt work. Perhaps if i would of spanked them now and then they would have known i meant buisness. Now as they are older i can tell them something and its just in one ear and out the other. taking items away or telling them to go to their room also has no effect.

    I still really dont like to spank and as of yet we have not spanked our youngest except swats on the hands as she is testing our buttons. after swatting her hand a few times she stopped touching turning on and off the TV or trying to reach for things she knows she shouldnt touch.

    I am a loving mother and i love and care for my family deeply. The thing i fear the most is when i am out there parenting and there may come a time that i have to God forbid spank… not beat BUT spank my child the same thing our mothers and fathers did to 99% of us growing up. I will end up being acussed of being an awful parent or worse turned in for child abuse.

    Its crazy how you turn on the news and you see stories of child abuse and how people “saw all the signs ” but did nothing to report it or the agencys that did nothing to take the child out of the home.

    Then you have the parents on the plane, or the mom of the screaming kid in the store or wtih the kid who has a major melt down in the mall or walking to the car as they leave the park … who ends up swatting their child to get them to behave (again something most of us growing up had done to us) and we are so fast to judge them as bad parents or that thought of I wonder if they beat their kid at home.

  • admin

    You bring up a good point - that spanking sometimes actually works. It teaches the child that the parent means business. Kids really do need to learn to respect their parents - to listen to what their parents have to say. Also, our children have to go from being emotionally primitive beings to being a responsible member of society and it is our job, as parents, to help them on that often challenging journey.

    But when we are on that journey together with our kids and they are being hideous, what then? I hear you when you say that maybe, in hindsight, spanking your now teenagers may have helped them to respect your word now. However, I still question that line of thinking.

    My frustration about this subject is two fold. One, hitting is inherently disrespectful. Now, it’s difficult to have respect for a child sometimes, especially one that is pushing your buttons and behaving hideously. But if our children learn by watching us as role models, then you are telling your kid that it’s OK to turn to violence when angry. And even more problematic, that you don’t respect them enough to find an alternative way to teach them whatever it is that you are intending to teach them by hitting. If you aren’t modeling respect, then how can you expect your kids to really understand the importance of respect. Having kids has taught me the absolute ridiculousness of saying, “do as I say, not as I do.” In effect, by resorting to spanking, aren’t you saying that?

    Second, where does it end? When you swat your small child, eventually swatting won’t work anymore because they grow. Then you spank, then what? As a parent, you are sort of backing yourself in to a corner, albeit a very long, drawn out one. That’s a long term fight that you might not want to win.

    Now, I know I sound judgmental and I don’t mean to be. I was spanked as a kid and I learned a couple of lessons from it. First, to obey my parents. Not so bad a thing to learn. Second, to be afraid of anger. My dad’s anger, my anger, anyone’s anger because it could easily lead to violence. Not a good thing to learn. Yes he was an authority figure, but there wasn’t room for my own psyche - my sense of self was definitely affected by being spanked, and not in a good way. And it’s taken me a long time to learn the ins and outs of respect.

    My questions about hitting really are about learning to tell the difference between behaviors that are understandable (if not likable) and behaviors that are not to be tolerated. Does a member of society have a duty to learn to tell the difference?

    Certainly, in our own homes we can parent however we see fit and we shouldn’t be judged for it unless it is obvious that a line has been crossed. But out in public, where is that line and, if crossed, what does a bystander do about it?

  • Lili

    I came to understand a non parent by the reactions he has when it comes to parents. Parents have been children themselves and parents, are capable of seeing every situation from both sides. A non parent has only his experience as a kid to refer to and this is where the confusion begins. No, its not ok to say something to parents because you and me are not there when they are sick in the middle of the night, they are. You and I don’t pay for tuition, clothes and toys, you and I aren’t more interested in the well being of the child then the parent and the bond they have is bigger and stronger than a smack.

    The image of the perfect calm parent no matter what is an utopic one, especially at this day and age where parents have to work full time and sometimes as single parents.

    I think next time either one of us sees a kid getting smacked we should look inside of us and deal with what its stirring from our OWN childhood and realize that abuse is mainly when corporal punishment makes damage and when its done at a regular basis and for other reasons then the child’s behavior.

    The example you gave is the pressure parents felt for their child not to be a nuisance. The toddler will survive this I assure you, I the next day he was all giggly with his toys.

    You on the other hand, (or me) need to search why it bothered us so much and what on earth makes us think this is ANY of our business. (Cause if it is, then file for custody of that child, there are no half measures here, if you get my drift, take esponsibility and see where that leads you)…..And then have a chat with our moms. Or grow up :)

  • Janet

    Oh my goodness - now I understand why people have such a problem with “spanking” what happened to this child on the plane is NOT spanking! This was hitting! and it was terribly ineffective to boot! We spank our young children (between the ages of 2 and 7/8 ONLY) and it always in a controlled manner, NEVER when the parent is upset or frustrated and only on the padded bottom with a hand and only 2-3 spanks. This is preceded by a talk about the offence, and why a spanking is happening (as a consequence to a bad decision by the child - not because the child acted immaturely or was tired and acting out -only because they actively disobeyed a command). after the spanking, we pull our child onto our lap and hug them and reassure them of our love for them (it’s easier to console and wipe away the tears of a repentant three year old, then to wipe away the bitter tears of a rebelious teenager). We employ many different types of discipline in our household, sometimes a time out if they are simply over excited, or a stern “no” and re-direction if they are intent on the wrong object etc. Spanking is not a daily occurance, and it is never out of control which would be hitting. Our society is out of control, and I agree that in the past spanking really bordered the abusive line, but rather than eliminate an entire effective discipline tool as abusive, perhaps greater research into the proper administration of this discipline would create fewer rebelious teens and young adults, and more harmony, love and respect within the family unit.

  • Emily

    I aa a young mom of a very hyperactive 3 year old and I was spanked as a kid okay maybe not so much spanked as beat by my father. We tried time outs and taking things away and at three if I spank my daughter she just laughs and says didn’t hurt and hits me back this happened once and I learned a bigger lesson then she did.Spanking just showed my daughter that its okay to hit and that it isn’t effective at all. Now we send her to sit in her room on her bed for three minutes and she must appoligize for what she did just like we give ourself time out if we yell at her and we also must apologize for doing it
    We talk it out and things get better. Hitting a baby because you are unhappy is pissed is not exceptable. I would have intervened I have before.

  • Hilarie

    I have to agree with Janet. My father spanked me (sometimes it did veer over the edge into a full-fledged beating, which is never okay), but I still love him and I have grown into a pretty decent human being, I think. I am, in a way, glad for the spankings/beatings, because it helped me decide what is and is not okay with my children. I don’t agree with a lot of what he did, but I know that he didn’t hit us out of malice. It’s the way he was raised and he thought he was making us “tough”. For that alone, I can forgive the times he crossed the line.
    I now have a one-year-old son and another on the way and my husband and I probably will spank them on occasion. However, there is a difference between spanking and hitting, or abuse. You never give a spanking when you’re upset because 1) the potential to overreact and cross the line into a beating is huge and 2) your judgement is clouded by anger. We believe that parents should only spank after they have calmed down and are in a reasonable frame of mind to know if a spanking is really necessary. Who knows? Maybe once you’ve chilled out a different solution to the disobedience will present itself. Spanking should not be a daily occurrence. If it is, there are problems besides your child’s misbehavior going on. You should never hit hard enough to leave a mark and always spank a padded bottom (not bare-assed as my father was fond of. That sucked!). We will never spank our children in response to violence on our kid’s part (for instance, if our kid hits us, we are NOT going to spank him. We will never return violence with violence.) and spankings will always be preceded and followed up with explanations of why the spanking is happening and that mommy and daddy still love them.
    As opposed to the parents the author of this article witnessed on the plane, we will also never spank our babies. Corporal punishment should never be used on the littles. They don’t understand, for one, and 9 times out of 10, kids that young are not misbehaving just to upset you. Spankings, I believe, should be reserved for slightly older kids (but not teenagers) and only for blatant, purposeful misbehavior that the child knew beforehand was not okay and should have been able to control. If you take your six year old to the zoo and then out for ice cream for his birthday and he’s going, going, going all day long and then has a meltdown at the end of the day, don’t spank him! He’s just overwhelmed, tired and probably in need of some down time. However, if your six year old walks into the kitchen, opens the fridge and dumps pickles, ketchup, whipped cream and mustard everywhere for the third day in a row - that’s a different story.
    Whether or not spanking is okay, I think, is completely dependent on the age of the child, the force used, the “type” of spanking (i.e., spanking in response to emotional outbursts vs. spanking in response to blatant disobedience) and the specific situation at the time.
    I do, think, though, that you should never spank your kids in public. Punishing your children for misdeeds is one thing, humiliating them in public is another. Humiliation is never an acceptable punishment.
    The hubby and I have gone over these rules for ourselves several times and I really believe that our kids will be okay as long as we stick to them. Plus, while I do believe that spanking is sometimes okay, I also believe that all other avenues of discipline should be exhausted first. For example, I think manual labor is good for the soul and I’m probably going to be more likely to assign some good old fashioned hard work before I will a spanking.

  • VeraHG

    In my opinion “physical” parenting is a way of communication that is necessary to raise a child. Showing love, care and determination while punishing the kid will make him feel that he is being protected from a bigger danger than a spanking. It is justified only if it is necessary for the child to understand something, so out of question with frightened children or babies. Also, it is OK only if it doesn’t make any harm in the child (bruises etc.). But that means physical communication on the other end of the spectrum: touching, kissing, hugging, cuddling older children too when they are their usual sweet self.

  • been there

    You could have told the parents you and the other passengers didn’t mind the crying.

  • Lisa

    It’s none of your business. People today think they have to stick their noses into everything. I’m not saying you should spank a child on a regular basis, but YOU CANNOT REASON WITH A TWO YEAR OLD! Anyone who thinks you can has never had one!

  • Irene

    Hitting in frustration is not right.
    No matter how bad the child gets, hitting them is only going to make the problem worse. The difference between spanking and hitting, well one is to teach your child and the other is purely in favor of your frustrations. I spanked my son honestly three times throughout his whole childhood and he’s ten now. And when I say spank, I mean a firm tap on the butt or hand. But I tell him that I love him and EXPLAIN WHY he was spanked. Parents these days just hit and send their children away like they’re suppose to know why they were hit. That builds anger in children, that could lead to more tantrums, outbursts and so on. Children are learning, growing into their own personalities and sometimes things can get emotionally crazy; they need to express it somehow. Don’t hit them when they throw a tantrum, comfort them. Just like us, parents…they stress out too.