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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Toddler Spanking

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Sep 1st 2010

Toddler SpankingA toddler is any child from age two to three who is starting to walk and speak a few words. My grandson, now almost 14 months old, is a toddler. He crawls with great speed and walks like a drunken sailor until he plops on the floor and laughs. He says things like, "Hi, Dada, Bot (bottle), woof (for doggies) and Roar (for pictures of lions."

A study was completed at Tulane University and published in Pediatrics that shows parents continuing to use spanking and corporal punishment despite warning against such behavior from both the medical and psychiatric communities. This article refers to corporal punishment in the United States. If you wish to read the original the reference for the article is:

 "Use of Spanking for 3-Year-Old Children and Associated Intimate Partner Aggression or Violence"
         Catherine A. Taylor, PhD, MSW, MPH, Shawna J. Lee, PhD, MSW, MPP, Neil B. Guterman, PhD, Janet C. Rice, PhD
         Pediatrics August 23rd, pp. 2010-0314

Interestingly, the findings showed that the highest percentages of toddler spanking occurred in families with lots of inter couple conflict, both verbal and physical.

Corporal punishment has lasting negative effects on the psychological well being of children throughout their lives. It leads to depression, low self esteem, lack of self confidence and impaired ability to trust others.

According to the article, corporal punishment is defined as, "the use of physical force intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort for discipline, correction, and control, changing behavior or in the belief of educating/bringing up the child."


What I wish to make clear is that, from my point of view corporal punishment includes one or both parents yelling or screaming at the toddler in the supposed interests of child rearing.

In addition, I have known of horrible situations in parents spanked toddlers as young as one to two years of age.

As I look at my grandson and remember our two children when they were growing up, it is hard to imagine any adult using anger, rage and physical punishment on those young and infantile bodies.

For sure it can be difficult to deal with children because, as they grow, they become more curious, independent and mischievous. I believe that there are those who do not know of any other way to raise children than to use spanking because that is the way they were raised.

The fact is that toddlers are easily distracted from activities that may get them into trouble. It is much easier for adults to simply substitute a better activity for them than the one that is problematical.

It should not need to be stated that adult use of physical force with children of all ages can be dangerous and result in harm and even death. One example is "Shaken Baby Syndrome."

If parents are going to be honest with themselves and others, they will have to admit that the spanking and scolding happens because they lose control of their tempers and act in impulsive rather than sensible ways.

What are your experiences with infants, toddlers and children?

What would you do if you became aware that parents were abusing their child?

Your comments and questions are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

These comments make me sick - - Jul 3rd 2011

I read this article for a confirmation that I was treated wrong, and that it's no wonder that I'm still struggling with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and other issues (NB: I only realised that recently - I used to think I was fine). The last thing I needed to find was that there are still plenty of people who even pride themselves on abusing (YES, abusing) their children.

To those of you who think they "turned out fine": Well, lucky you. But PLEASE don't expect other people, including your own children, to react/cope the same way.

To those of you who think they ought to do as the Bible tells them to: The Bible wasn't written by God, it was written by humans some 2000+ years ago. A lot of the things it tells were very advanced back then, but need to be seen in their historical context. Now we've had 2000+ years to evolve and to come up with different solutions. Unless you're Amish, this argument is pretty hypocritical.

I guess there are people who are ok with that kind of treatment, but WHY TAKE THE RISK?? You're afraid that your child will lack discipline etc.? You're not more afraid that your child will be emotionally damaged? Would you prefer your child to be obedient or happy?

really? - - Jun 24th 2011

How about conduct a nationwide survey in our prisons and ask our dilinqeunts what (if any) kind of discipline they received growing up?  Then conduct the same survey in our middle class group of successful people who have managed to do something productive with their lives.  Lets let the results speak as to whether or not the occasional swat on the bum is ABUSE.  This is what is wrong with our society today... we let our children do what they want, when the want.  We 'distract' them with other appealing ideas or activities when they are doing something we wish they would not do.  Is that TEACHING them anything?  I do not condone BEATING a child or anyone else for that matter.  I got swatted on the butt when I was little and while some of the peers my age ended up pregnant at 15 and on drugs and high school drop outs, I managed a bachelors degree and a very good job.  Are there exceptions?  Absolutely.  However, there are exceptions with everything.  I love my child with all of my heart, but if you ask me if I am going to swat him on the hiney for trying to climb up the stove to get to a boiling pot of hot water, you darned right I am.  I'm not going to politely redirect him to his TOYS...or the TV... or a coloring book.  My child is 2 1/2 and he behaves better than most children I know at this age.  Out of fear??  Possibly, but not the bad fear some of these tree hugging hippies make it out to be.  It's the kinda fear one has when they think they are going to disappont someone they care about.  That is a good fear.  Why do we OBEY the law?  Because we fear the consequences.  You can manipulate any sitation to make it look as good as you want and as bad as you want.  But when your child is 17, on drugs, pregnant, and facing prison...let's see what kind of REDIRECTION you can come up with then.  Until then, my child although he receives the occasional light swat on the behind, still continues to run up to me out of pure excitement and love when I pick him up from daycare after work.  When I go in his room in the morning to tell him his favorite pancakes with the smiley faces are ready, he about breaks his neck getting out of his bed to wrap his arms around me.  I dont' now about you, but that doesn't sound like fear to me. 

I agree with spankin when appropriate - amanda - Jan 28th 2011

I would have to agree with spanking. I think That it can become abusive and thats when it is wrong.Children look up to adults for guidance. I believe that you should never spank a child out of anger, but out of love. When i spank my nephew, Who i have been raising for three years. I never do it out of love i have only had to spank him maybe twice. When i spank him i do it with clothes on. And he only gets three swats. very lightly on his bottom. then i sit him down and tell him that what he did was wrong and that he should not do it again.  i tell him i love him and give him a hug. My toddler is very loving and very affectionate. always saying i love you and blowing kisses. The most important thing is that your child knows you are not doing it to hurt him but  becaus ehe did a bad thing and that even though he did you still love him. a child should never be fearful of you and thats when it becomes abuse. children bring joy to everyone that appreciates them and respects them.  and with that they have to learn to respect adults. a childs up bringing is what makes a child who they are as adults. If they are showed hate then are hateful if they are showed love and respect then they will show love and respect. theres a fine line between discipline and abuse. i believe in discipline when it is appropriate.

Spanking toddlers ?? Just wrong. - TealRose - Jan 6th 2011

Spanking toddlers ??  Just wrong.  Spanking children ?? WRONG !  And yes... it did hurt me.  I was spanked as a child, and from the first slap, the first time, they lost me - my love, my respect, my care, my belief in them.  I lost, my childhood, to a blur of pain and fear.  I was terrified every single time, and worried sick every single day of my life in case mum or dad decided they would rip down my panties and spank me till I couldn't sit down.  I never learned a single thing.  Not one.  oh ... sorry ... I 'lied' ... I learned that they lied to me when they said they loved me.  I learned they were hypocrites when they told me not to hit and then hit me.  I learned that size and age equalled might.  I learned that I wasn't good enough.   I learned that living was one long trauma.  I learned that I was a gentle soul and never spanked my children as I learned that discipline was instilled with love and gentleness and explained right and wrong.  

Toddlers - should be looked after by you as the adult, YOU are responsible for safeguarding your house and their lives. YOU are the one responsible making sure they can't run out into the road!  Or poke the electrics.  Or start fires.  And then as they age - you explain why.  

Spanking a child - - Oct 6th 2010


I confess, I spank my 3yr old daughter in hands and butt. And I regret. I want to stop me from spanking her. And now I am afraid that it is TOO LATE. How can I start again and correct my wrong act (spanking) to my daughter. I only wish that she will forget and forgive me in spanking her.

Just say no to spanking - Sam - Sep 15th 2010

It boggles my mind why people would hit a child but think hitting an adult is wrong.  Children are small and defenseless.

I was spanked and all it taught me was to be scared of my parents.  They were always complimented on my behavior and I knew not to misbehave in their presence.  But that isn't love; that is fear.  Hitting (which is exactly what spanking is) doesn't teach a child anything but who is physically stronger.

As a parent and a teacher, you can also see the effects of hitting your child in the classroom. They rarely answer in class unless they are certain of the answer and don't take many opportunities to learn by trial and error if it may show that they didn't know something.

HMMMM - JT - Sep 7th 2010

Not sure I want to get into any debate.... but here I go! I did not get spanked much and I did (do) not spank much and by what I mean by a spanking is 2 or 3 swats on  the behind. And yes sometimes the Gkids get a swat or 2.

I remember being spanked when I was young and yes it made me feel loved and secure. I was raised by the Bible and in the Bible it says spare the rod and spoil the child. I was spanked in school also ( yes I am that old! )

My ex's Dad did not spank, but he would make his children stand in the corner for hours! That is more humane? To humilliate a child?

His kids didn't run wild in the grocery store like so many kids today do and destroy things and we did not either.

But back to the subject of toddlers..... I do not think a SWAT on the backside is bad.... I do not BEAT my Gkids... they seldom even cry and yes it does hurt me more, because I do not like causing pain to anyone but sometimes a swat or 2 is what the doctor calls for at the time..... BUT... they also get lots of hugs and love and we have lots of laughs.

I have watched those "nanny" shows that do the time out thing ONLY. And perhaps that works, but there are times that it does not work. I do have my gkids take a time out if they are too wild .... like jumping off the walls etc. at an inapropiate time.... Like when Granny has company.

I think the key to disaplining children of any age is consitancy (sp). If you tell the child I am going to take you to get ice cream.... then do it.... If you tell the child if you do X then you will have a time out or be swatted or etc. whatever method you use... take away a toy etc...THEN DO IT!

All through life we have rules and laws that we have to follow. Regaurdless of age and as adults it is up to us to teach children to repect the boundaries.... perhaps that will keep them out of jail when they get older... but the self disapline must be taught at home and start at a young age.

I personally think WORDS can be way more abusive than a few swats.....AND I MEAN Swats.... not a BEATING..... there is a differance. Or even lack of words..... when was the last time you told you toddler they were GREAT and SOOO Smart? See there little face light up?

Tell a Toddler that they are BAD and watch their little face drop..... instead I tell mine that that is not acceptable behavior and we do not do things like that. Or I do not like what you just did or said.....

But yes I am for spanking and if done properly and with love you do not have to do it but a few times... I THINK there is a differance between spanking and abuse.

Have you hugged your kid today???




One Million Years BC, and all that ... - JR. - Sep 3rd 2010

Hello, Allan,

I think that you have raised an issue as intractable as our old friend, "Is Alcoholics Anonymous a Good Thing". 

When I was a wee chiseller, there was a lot of spanking about; you were spanked by your parents, you were spanked in school, and you might get the occasional clip around the ear in general - and nobody passed much comment on it, al long as the spanking was moderate and proportionate to the "offence".  I do not recall enjoying being spanked very much - but I am not sure that it did me much harm, either.  The only possible harm I could identify would be in making me more withdrawn than I otherwise might have been.  But, then again, I think I was naturally withdrawn; and the instances of possibly harmful disciplinary practices that stick in my mind are more those of non-corporal punishment involving, for example, verbal, rather than physical humiliation. 

More generally, there seems little doubt that parents have been applying moderate corporal punishment to their offspring since our bonobo-like ancestors came down from the trees - and this seems to have done little to stop us from becoming the monstrously dominant species on the face of the Earth that we are now.  Might this not suggest that this is a natural practice that (whatever its effect on individuals at the time) has utility in the development of human society in general ?  Just a thought.

Yours from the Top of the Tallest Tree,


Spanking is good? - Allan N. Schwartz, PhD - Sep 3rd 2010

Thank you for the comments that have been posted thus far. However, I want to remind readers that the topic of the article deals with spanking toddlers. I most protest to those of you who defend spanking that there is no way that spanking a toddler makes any sense whatsover.

In addition and with regard to older children I must remind you of the plain fact that abused children defend their abusers. I am not suggesting that those of you who were spanked and defend it were abused. However, I am asserting that the same concept is in effect. "They love me, that is why they spanked me. They are my parents and could do no wrong."

Dr. Schwartz

Love And Respect - - Sep 3rd 2010

We loved and respected the parents that spanked us.  Go back in time to when spanking was considered a part of discipline and you will find that far fewer people needed therapy/medications to direct their life path.

I disagree with you disagreement... - - Sep 2nd 2010

I find it horrifying when I hear parents say it hurts them more than it hurts the child when they spank... or that they do it out of love...  Wanting to cause pain to your own child (or anyone else's for that matter), for any reason, is NOT LOVE.  There are much healthier and less physically and emotionally destructive ways to discipline your kids.  I am 30 years old and I still remember the one time I was spanked as a child and the horrible feeling it left me with.  There is no way your children can feel love from you while you are causing them pain and DISRESPECTING them.  I also find it "funny" when parents say that spanking has caused their children to respect them.... That is NOT RESPECT, that is FEAR.  Yes, you can make your children do what you want by spanking them, but its not teaching them to make good decisions on their own, its just teaching them to do what mommy/daddy says or else.  My parents raised me with actual respect and I have grown up to be a very responsible person, with good values and a very good relationship with and respect for my parents.  NO FEAR INVOLVED.  They didn't need to make me afraid of them, because they taught me to be respectful and thoughtful and to make good decisions.  My fiance on the other hand was spanked by his mother while he was growing up and now has severe self-worth issues, depression and is not close to his parents at all...  Please think about what you are doing to them before you take an action like that....  On the surface they may seem fine, but deep down that is really damaging and actually it's somewhat obvious in the fact that you say your children now think that is the way to relate to their own children.  This is exactly what the point of this article was, negative patterns being passed down and repeated through generations of families.  Think back to when you were a child and spanked... Did you feel love and respect from/for the person spanking you? Or were you afraid of them?  Seriously think about this... and whether this is really what you want for your children and grand-children...  

I turned out fine - VC - Sep 2nd 2010

Well said JT. I was smacked as a child and turned out fine, my perents did an excellent job of raising me and im following in their footsteps with my own children

I disagree - JT - Sep 2nd 2010

I have to disagree 100 percent....  I was spanked and my children were spanked.... but it had nothing to do with anger.... I NEVER touched my children in anger.... and I was never spanked in anger.... My children come to me now as adults and thank me for the way I raised them... unlike their "friends" my children were taught values etc.... and responsibility.....

There is abuse and I think VERBAL abuse is more damaging than a  spanking.... you did wrong and you are going to be spanked.... and believe me it ALWAY hurt me more than it did them.... but I believe spanking is a good thing.... IF  DONE WITH LOVE.....

Low self esteem comes from parents telling you that you are no good ... not from parents saying you did wrong and lets not let this happen again....

My grown children still love and respect me and want to know MOM how do I handle this..... spanking is not the first option.... but when time outs and taking toys away don't work.... yes I spank.... I spank my Gkids...


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