I Spanked My Child and Feel Guilty. Where Do I Go from Here?

Let’s face it: your children are going to test your patience. But how are you going to react?


Spanking a child as a disciplinary action is grounds for a heated debate. Some parents believe spanking is fine and it won’t harm their children. In fact, those same parents think that’s the only way to get their child to learn respect.

Parents who are on the other side of the fence choose not to spank their children – They believe that there are more productive ways to discipline a child. There are going to be different views no matter where you look or who you ask.

spanking kids survey
Source: Wait But Why

The very same parents who say they will never spank their children may have done so in the past but quickly learned that sort of discipline doesn’t work for their family, or maybe they didn’t like the feeling they got once they spanked their child.

So, if you’re one of those parents who lost their patience and needed to address the behavior promptly and spanked your child, there’s no need to feel guilty. You likely just learned what works best for you now.

No matter which disciplinary technique you choose, as long as you have your child’s best interest in mind, either way, you’re a good parent. Each parent just wants to do what they feel is best and nobody else can tell you what’s best for your child. Spanking a child once isn’t going to harm them, but long-term spanking may or may not cause long-term effects.

The Debate Among Professionals

It’s not just parents that can’t agree on this subject – Professionals, even pediatricians can’t come to the same agreement. In a 2012 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was brought to the public’s attention that physical punishment, such as spanking, has a link to several mental health issues.

American Academy of Pediatrics strongly discourages spanking, even though during a study they found that a significant number of American parents have spanked or slapped their children. This study was called, “Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative U.S. Sample” and it examined whether long-term physical punishment including, hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing or pushing could be linked to mental disorders.

Canadian researchers examined data based on an epidemiologic survey spanning from 2004 to 2005. It was founded that harsh physical punishment was associated with an increased risk of the child developing anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and drugs and alcohol abuse.

In fact, researchers realized that two-seven percent of all mental disorders stemmed from enduring physical punishment.

Up for disagreement: The American College of Pediatricians states that disciplinary spanking by parents can be effective when used properly. In fact, they believe that the public is misinformed when it comes to research on the harmful effects of spanking.

In a report published in January of 2017, the American College of Pediatricians stated that research that claims spanking is harmful is misled. They believe the studies are flawed. According to them, there is a problem with the evidence and whether the aggression in the child came before or after the spanking. Basically, they feel there is not enough solid evidence to accurately conduct a study and make such claims.

As you can see, it’s going to come down to whether you feel it’s a good disciplinary action or not for your family. If you feel guilty at the thought of spanking your child, then you may want to seek out other effective ways to discipline.

Alternative and Effective Ways to Discipline

Time Out

Of course, there’s controversy on this, too. However, if you word it just right – Your child will realize a “time out” is literally just taking time out to sit and realize what they just did. It’s a chance for them to collect their thoughts, emotions, and to calm down.

The length you choose for a time out is up to you but make sure you stay consistent, so your child realizes you are in control. According to HeatlhyChildren.org, a basic rule of thumb is using the child’s age and an additional year.

To make it even more effective, once your child’s time is up, sit down or kneel down to their eye level and ask them if they understand what they did wrong in a calm way.

Take Away Their Favorite Toy

If your child is not listening and you gave them the “three strikes” take away something they love. However, keep in mind, you should take away something at that moment, especially if the child is young.

For example, if this behavior happens in the morning, take away something they love in the morning, avoid taking away the TV in the afternoon. There would be too much time in between, and the child wouldn’t likely connect the behavior with the consequence.

Natural Consequence

This type of consequence is when your child will experience what will happen when he or she isn’t behaving. For example, if your child keeps messing around with their dessert at the table and you have explained that throwing or playing with food is not okay, they will lose their dessert.

It’s not recommended to take away food completely if it’s a main meal, but if it’s just dessert – It’s not a necessity meal.

What The Experts Say

“It’s a very controversial area even though the research is extremely telling and very clear and consistent about the negative effects on children.”

Sandra Graham-Bermann, PhD


“Physical punishment doesn’t work to get kids to comply, so parents think they have to keep escalating it. That is why it is so dangerous.”

Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD


“Many of the studies tend not to differentiate between parents who spank frequently and forcefully and those who do so occasionally and moderately. So results get lumped together, with different definitions of “spanking” carrying the same weight.”

Diana Baumrind, PhD


“Many parents who were spanked as children tell us that they do not remember why they were spanked, or what they learned, but that they sure do remember being spanked, how it felt and how angry they were.”

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton
Heather Burdo

Heather is a freelance writer from New York. She has a passion for health and parenting. Heather has written for the Gluten-Free Living magazine, Mom.me, Project Eve Moms, and others.

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