At what ages spanking should be used is almost as controversial as the issue of whether children should be spanked at all. I believe spanking should start at age three and continue to be used into the middle teenage years. In this section, I offer guidelines about when to start and stop spanking, but ultimately, you and your spouse must decide.
I do not recommend spanking children younger than age three. Until children begin to master language, they can not reason about right and wrong to any degree. And if they can not reason about right and wrong, then they should not be held accountable for their actions.. But once a child does begin to master language, then you can explain to your child how you expect her to behave. Be sure to state your expectations in the simple language your child understands. Then, if your child does not do what you ask, she should be punished since she will have understood what was being asked of her. Now the occasional swat on the bottom can be used with children younger than three, but only if they are endangering themselves, about to commit some action that has dire consequences, or are being defiant. In these cases, a swat and a loud "NO" will suffice for them to learn to avoid whatever it is you want them to avoid. But a child younger than three years old should not be given a full-fledged spanking.
The age at which your child is "too old" for a spanking can not be stated definitely; it depends on the child. However, my experience is that most parents stop too soon rather than too late. It is easy to be fooled by kids today. Their dress, attitudes, and knowledge of the world can make them seem very mature, and so we tend to think they are grown up before they actually are. However, children continue to develop their sense of right and wrong through middle school and even into high school. Therefore, older children need rules and structure as much, and sometimes more than, younger ones. We do our children no favors by ignoring this fact and treating them as "adults." Curiously, most children are aware of their need for rules even when their parents are not. I have had more than a few kids tell me that their parents are not strict enough: something many parents would be shocked to hear a child say. But living in a world without rules and guidance is scary. Children need and want our direction.
If older children need rules, then there must be consequences for breaking those rules; otherwise, the rules are meaningless. But what should the consequences be? For many older children, I think it should be spanking. Remember that spanking has the advantages of intensity and duration when compared to other punishments, and intensity and duration are just as important when dealing with older children as younger ones. Therefore, spanking should continue to be used with preteens and young teens both as a first resort for dangerous behavior, lying, and disobedience as well as a last resort when other forms of discipline fail. For older teens, spankings as well as other punishments, will be less frequent, since older teens will have internalized our rules for the most part. Yet there may be some occasions that call for drastic action, and so a spanking may have to be given. It is a good idea, therefore, to keep spanking as a option in case it is needed. I strongly recommend against telling your child that he is too big for a spanking or that you have decided to switch permanently to other forms of discipline. When you say such things, you give up a very powerful tool, and a time may come when you wish you had that tool back. Such circumstances will be extremely rare, but you must be prepared for them.
The Bottom Line: I recommend that spanking be used with children from age 3 through the middle-teen years.
This material is copyrighted by Paul J Preston, 2004-2013. All rights reserved.