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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

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Corporal punishment

Do you believe corporal punishment to be an effective means of discipline? In what ways does Corporal Punishment have a negative effect on children?

Thank you

Dawn Craig

Hi Dawn,

There are several problems with corporal punishment, and you can Google many of the studies around this.

Briefly, it is simply not effective. It "works" in the minds of many parents because they often see results – the short term immediate result of the child's compliant behaviour, mainly due to fear of more punishment. The problem is that, like with all things, children eventually become desensitised to corporal punishment and no longer fear it. Also, as long as fear of punishment is the only motivator for appropriate behaviour, what will you do when there is no direct supervision available? If a child's behaviour is motivated by fear of punishment – and she will only be punished if she gets caught – there is no need to behave appropriately if she thinks she will not get caught.

Corporal punishment teaches children to fear adults, and to be more careful about "getting caught". Nothing more.

The ONLY effective means of discipline is a trusting, loving relationship within which a child is taught how to behave effectively and appropriately by positively reinforcing appropriate and desirable behaviour. Giving children, praise, attention, prizing their efforts, etc etc.

Corporal punishment is a physical violation of a person's deepest self – it breaks down and ruptures relationships – no good can come from that.

And then many come with the argument: But my parents spanked me when I was naughty, and look how well I turned out.... The fact is, people may "turn out well" not because they were spanked, but in spite of being spanked.

Also, if corporal punishment is effective, why only apply it to children? Why not adults? We have so many "misbehaving" adults – look at the rate criminal behaviour. Many would probably say – it's wrong to hit people. But children are people too, even if they are little people.

But have a look on the internet – the evidence is overwhelming.

Werner van der Westhuizen,
SOS Children's Village Port Elizabeth

Hmmm, looks like a copy and paste from a classroom exercise? Hey Dawn how about starting us off on your thoughts on Corporal Punishment, or General Punishment, or Sargent Punishment, or Admiral Punishment (I like the ranking adjectives in front of the word punishment it suggests someone is in charge)...or punishment different than discipline, or even your own thoughts on what went on for you when you got a "smack"...or the evil eye, or the guilt/shame approach, or the silent treatment or the no discussion approach, or the phrase, "while you are under my roof!..." or the "go to your room, or you are grounded, you have an early bedtime"..."no supper for you" are to sit on the time out chair (lol) and finally ..1...2...3. To start us off my dad never got to "1" the most we heard was the sound "wha" before we scattered like the roadrunner being chased by Wile E Coyote.

Ernie Hilton

"it never did me any harm"
(except that it made me into the kind of person that thinks its alright to hit kids)

Ni Holmes


Effective for whom? If you mean can corporal punishment stop a child doing something that you don't want him to do? The answer is probably yes (for most children), at least for as long as you are in a position to assert the punishment. The problem arises when you are no longer bigger and stronger then the child and he decides to hit you back!

For me the issue of corporal punishment boils down to a question of morality. Do you believe that it is OK to resolve a conflict or difference of opinion with the use of violence. If the answer is yes then so be it.
However, don't be surprised then when the child gets in trouble in school (or life generally) for using violence to resolve conflict, children learn what they live.

In Ireland parents are allowed to hit their children provided that the hitting doesn't cross what is called a threshold of significant harm or the point when it becomes abusive (see children first guidelines at The problem is that there are different opinions on what is abusive. In my view the only time in life that it is OK to hit another human being is if they are hitting you, anything else is either an assault or an abuse (or both, depending on the context). I am aware that not everybody shares this view.


John Byrne


Just a short reply – have lots more info but little time!

In brief, corporal punishment is extrinsic and reinforces and sets up a power relationship, as well as modelling unacceptable behaviour on the part of the adult.

For effective development of positive behaviour children need to firstly know what is expected of them, know and have practiced the skills required by the world around them [if they don't know how to cope with overwhelming emotions for example, how can they exhibit appropriate behaviour, perhaps when another child or adult behaves poorly toward them], the required behaviour should be intrinsically motivated and as children can recognise, identify and deal with their responses to difficult situations with loving support then they will begin to respond appropriately.

See our training resource Supporting Positive Behaviour at which is focused on younger children and staff working with them, but many of the ideas in it can be used with older children and young people.

Imelda Graham

If you want to hit children to teach them that bullying (strong people picking on weaker people) is wrong, and that hitting their siblings is wrong, and that being cruel to the pet is wrong – then go ahead and hit them.


I hope below link Nepal newspaper latest article will also give you some reference.

Madhur Sharma

Hi Dawn,

Corporal punishment has no place in our practice. It is not an effective form of discipline as it assaults children in terms of their safety and well being (probably the reasons that they came into our care). It also possibly replicates the abusive treatment that they received from their primary care givers. It is also probably against the law!

Jeremy Millar

Hi Werner,

This is an excellent contribution. It is zen like and if only we could model let alone teach requisite variety. Still worth aiming for.

Jeremy Millar

Dear CYC-NETers,

This issue has been a bit of dilemma for me throughout my 40 years or so in the profession – the hitting of a child by an authority figure in response to a wrongdoing. The dilemma came out quite clearly when I started as a part-time teacher in a CYW program in the mid-70s and this very topic came up.

There were 2 males in the class, one of whom lost all respect for his father when the father hit him. The other said pretty much the opposite, that he finally respected his father when his father spanked him. Both fathers had not hit their sons up to that point; the students at the time of the hitting were somewhere between 8 and 10 years old I think.

Here's the dilemma. From a CYW point of view, the meaning of a behaviour is determined by the client/child ("context is everything").

So for instance, a nicely decorated bedroom to welcome a sexually abused girl to her new group home/foster home is not a "welcoming sign," it's a "trap" from the girl's point of view. In the hitting example, in the one case it's seen by the child as a negative, disrespect, in the other, a positive, a sign of respect. And it was probably a sign of acceptance in that boy's case given what I knew about his background. He had a minor physical handicap and the father's spanking seem to be a sign that he finally accepted his son as a "normal" boy rather than "a cripple."

So, from a CYW point of view, if we want what's best for the child, parental acceptance, we would have to condone the one example of hitting, and not the other, parental rejection. Just as in the case of the sexually abused girl we had to accept her sleeping on the couch in the living room (the safest place in her eyes), rather than sleeping in her bed in the bedroom (the least safe place from her point of view).

It's hard for me to see, that if a CYW was practicing what a couple of CYW friends of mine call "behaviour understandification" (following such CYW precepts as best interests of the child, context determines meaning, the child's response as a determiner of whether a particular action is positive or negative), that we wouldn't condone/accept hitting in certain situations.

Dennis McDermott
Harrowsmith, Ontario

Dear Everyone,

It is my view that in our work we should eschew violence as a form of discipline or punishment – and I sometimes think these two words are used – wrongly in my view – synonymously. So often during their early childhood the young people we live with in residential group settings have had violence inflicted upon them in the name of discipline, punishment, and indeed character building ("it never did me any harm when I was a kid"). I think it probable that they are in one way or another victims of adults who were treated similarly when they were children. Of course a number of the young people we work with have learnt from this to inflict violence upon their peers and others.

In our work it seems to me we should not be warriors although heaven knows every day at some point I can feel that warrior stirring in me. No, I think we need to be conscientious objectors. As I guess I've already intimated, declaring peace can seem the toughest thing to do but various experiences in my work – no I should in my life – have suggested to me it is closer to a right way of doing things.

If this comes over as pontification. I am sorry, please forgive me. Just to say I've gained a great deal from all the contributions to this thread.

Best wishes,
Charles Sharpe

Hello all

Yes and the discussion on corporal punishment continues. But aren't there two different topics that are being discussed here? 'Corporal punishment' and 'discipline' ... I would like to think that if we are able to enforce 'discipline' appropriately then there would be no need to discuss 'corporal punishment' as an alternative. Not that I want to side-track the discussion but rather suggest that we get the focus right. What is it that we as Child and Youth Care workers AND parents want to understand? In my own humble opinion it would be to focus on discipline when, where and how ...

If I read the example that Mark Taylor gives then it certainly does not warrant any thoughts of corporal punishment but disciplining in that moment ... I know that the reality is that some parents would have lashed out verbally or physically because THEY may not have been taught anything different when they were younger. It is for this reason that we should encourage correct disciplinary methods rather than corporal punishment.

Unfortunately I have to again mention TEACHERS or EDUCATORS who still insist that the best possible solution to the learner not doing homework, not listening or respecting others (including fellow learners) is to give the child '6 cuts'.

I have just discovered my son's (8yrs) erratic behaviour patterns are linked to him having a liver defect from birth ... it made me sit up – yes!! So now I have to consult a specialist for both the medical condition as well as the behaviour in order to help my son cope with his behaviour ... yes this is the other thing. It's not just us who struggle to deal and cope with the child's behaviour but the child as well. If there some suggestions about this, I welcome your input.

Francisco G. Cornelius

Hello Werner,

I agree with you there. This is what I have always believed in. Not only does this theory apply to parents, but to children as well. Those who have been taught that spanking is the right way to discipline children causes them to pass it on to their friends, leads them to think the only way to gain respect from peers is by being physically abusive. This circle needs to be broken, it's unhealthy and usually an act of cowardice.

Hi everyone,

One of the challenges here is that "discipline" as we understand it in the profession is simply not taught anywhere (except in our profession(s)). Parents only know what they learn from their parents. And teachers (I don't think) are ever taught about discipline. One typically hears the cry from teachers (in SA) that "now that we cannot spank the children, there is nothing we can do". And nothing is further from the truth, because there is just so much you can do. We however have to be proactive in putting this information out there in a format that is attractive to the public and other professionals as well.

I recently hear Tad James put it this way – and I found this really interesting: You can basically get anyone to respond in any way, as long as you are flexible enough in your own behaviour to evoke that response. And what this means is that we can get a child to respond adaptively any time we want – as long as we are prepared to be as flexible in our own behaviour as is necessary. The moment we say "well this is as far as I'm am prepared to go" – when we impose the limitation on our own behavioural flexibility, we impose the limitation on the behavioural response of the other person. It's an NLP concept called the "law of requisite variety". This changed the way I think quite a bit, and its a very positive way to think. It gives you back "control" of situations where you feel unable to "control" the child's behaviour (we all know what it feels like when "things get out of control") – because now I know that I just have to remain flexible in my response until I get a good response – because there is no failure, only feedback. And all feedback is information on which we can act, and if we keep modifying our response/behaviour based on the feedback, we never get "stuck".

Anyway, just thought to share this, I found it really fascinating.

Werner van der Westhuizen

I cannot see that hitting children has any legitimacy, in language or in action. (To call it corporal punishment rather abstracts and sanitises). If we, along with children and young people, believe that children and young people are possessed of inalienable human characteristics, worth and dignity, then deploying the use of pain and fear in any context is repugnant. Adults might do well to explore their own insecurities, or fears, about what children represent to them and how they act out their ambivalence. To some degree I view this argument from the inside. I wonder what it was about a fairly short, bespectacled, anxious boy that evoked such fear in the mind of a grown up that it was acted out with malevolent force over a period of time. Disguised as 'discipline', which would now attract a prison sentence of many years, it spoke loudly as the inarticulate narrative of envy, competitiveness, aggression and fear. How right you are – there are indeed 'several' problems with corporal punishment. At the very least.

Patrick Walker

Some excellent responses on corporal punishment. Thankfully, no one advised 'Instead, find something a child likes and take it away.'

While most agree that smacking is both 1) ineffective and 2) contributes to children becoming physically aggressive, I think one of the underrated problems with smacking is what too many 'experts' tell parents and teachers and Child and Youth Care workers to do instead – be consistent with discipline, by which they mean, find other ways to punish children and do so consistently, every time a child misbehaves.

It's as if anything people do to children instead of smacking is great!

These other punishments, as Ernie suggests, are they less harmful than spanking? I think they can be even more harmful than smacking because they are used so freely these days in the mistaken belief that they cause no harm. They do. They, too, are about power and control. They, too, are disrespectful. Taking children's possessions, what does that teach them about respect for others and respect for property? Taking children's freedom, as in time out or grounding, what does that teach them about respecting the rights of other people? Banishing children to their rooms, what does that teach them about their self-worth? (You are so bad I can no longer abide your presence!) These, too, teach children that people who wrong them should be punished and teach them that they must retaliate in some way for any perceived slight.

One of the problems with punishment, corporal or otherwise, is that children tend to feel one of two things: 1) I deserve to be hit or punished, in which case their self image and self esteem suffer, or 2) I don't deserve to be hit or punished, in which case the punishing adult appears to be unreasonable, damaging the adult's credibility and the relationship so that the adult is not in a strong position from which to teach.

As Werner and Imelda suggest, the only effective way to teach children appropriate behaviour is by using relationships to teach them what appropriate behaviour is and to help them to understand why it is important.

I would question Werner on one point. I think relying too heavily on reinforcing positive behaviour can have some of the same problems that relying on punishment can have – if children become too dependent on praise from adults, then they may learn to behave appropriately only when adults are present to praise them. I believe it is much more important to teach children to perceive and understand the real, natural consequences of their behaviour, then get out of their way. These consequences reinforce or punish behaviour without further intervention by adults, provided children learn to be aware of them and understand them.

John Stein
New Orleans

Hi Werner

I want to agree with you on corporal punishment. I also want to add to what you have said about the choice of punishment. Discipline is something that takes time to be taught to children. Secondly discipline is also about role-modeling positive behaviour. Most, not all, people are always on the lookout for a quick fix to a problem. Hence people will use corporal punishment. The advocates for corporal punishment encourages parents to inform a child why the child will be hit prior to the hiding. I wonder how the people felt on death row when they are informed of their demise. So I therefore wonder what the child must be going through when he/she in informed of the punishment. After the hiding parents are encourage to hug and hold the child to show how much they love them. I wonder if this can apply to a husband hitting his wife – hit her and hug her and all is forgiven.

Some people also use the bible as a reference to say that it is ok to hit children. I would like to know of a passage in the bible – and I am a born-again believer – that shows how children were punished by God. I know the bible says that no-one must hinder children to come to Him for such is the Kingdom of God. The bible verse that is often used is "spare the rod and spoil the child". Context: a rod was used as a teaching tool. Moses used a rod to open the red sea, to get water from a rock, not to hit anyone.


Alfred Harris

A lot of these comments work just as well with the word "corporal" removed. We use professional language (e.g. "consequences") to make it more palatable but we are surely kidding ourselves if we really believe what we are doing is "therapeutic" when we punish. Is it a lack of imagination or laziness or just plain ignorance that prevents people finding better ways of developing respectful behaviour?

Ni Holmes

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