Frank Relationships: Corporal Punishment w/ Robert Larzeler, Ph.D and Lisa Fontes, Ph.D.

Monday, Jan. 25th 2016 12:01 AM

Lisa Fontes

 Children can drive parents crazy. But how should parents respond to undesirable behavior? Is spanking the answer. A part of the answer? Or an absolute no-no? We’ll find out what the pros have to say … on this edition of Frank Relationships.


Guests: Robert Larzelere, Ph.D and Lisa Fontes, Ph.D.
Date: January 25, 2016

Frank: Children can drive parents crazy. But how should parents respond to undesirable behavior? Is spanking the answer? A part of the answer? Or an absolute no-no? We’ll find out what the pros have to say… on this edition of Frank Relationships.

Yes… As always, those are my babies. Thanks for getting daddy’s daughter on the show today.

Welcome to Frank Relationships where we provide a candid, fresh and frank look in the relationships with goals of acceptance, respect and flexibility. I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at

You can also find me on ABC’s Good Morning Washington most Friday mornings during the 9 o’ clock hour. If you’re listening to the show on Blog Talk Radio, please follow us and if via iTunes, please subscribe so that you can effortlessly get each show each week. Also, if you’re enjoying the show and of course you are, please share with your family and/or friends on your favourite social media platform. We are looking to add new friends to our social media family over the course of the next week so please help us, help our community by spreading the word about the show.

Greetings to my co-host, Kweku.

Kweku: Good morning, family.

Frank: What’s happening?

Kweku: Ain’t nothing, everything’s good. I can’t wait to tell about this topic.

Frank: Yeah, Kweku has a special place in today’s conversation. He’s working with young people, young offenders but sometimes and I’m sure there’s some correlation between being a young offender, possibly child abuse, possibly parenting, just all kind of good stuff that the pros may weigh in on but a lay person like myself may have an opinion or two and somebody who’s also a pro like yourself. So…

Kweku: Or possibly a recipient.

Nancy: Yeah.

Frank: I know your momma. Nancy Goldring, how you doing?

Nancy: Yes sir. I’m great, Frank. Thank you.

Frank: Are you a parent Nancy?

Nancy: I am not.

Frank: You are not a parent?

Nancy: I am not.

Frank: How about you, Kweku?

Kweku: Absolutely.

Frank: How many?

Kweku: Three times over.

Frank: Ah, I got five.

Kweku: Yeah, I know.

Nancy: Wow.

Frank: Alright. So between the three of us, there are eight children. Jeff? You got any kids?

Jeff: I got two.

Frank: Alright. Between the four of us here in the studio, we got ten.

Kweku: And some add-ons.

Frank: Yeah.

Nancy: “Some add-ons…”

Frank: Nieces, nephews, all kinds of…

Nancy: Yeah.

Kweku: Got shoes or whatever those are…

Frank: Right, right.

Nancy: Yes.

Frank: What’s going on in the world of relationships? Anything in the news?

Nancy: Boycotting the Oscars, the flint water crisis…

Frank: What’s any of that got to do with relationships? “Boycotting the Oscars”?

Nancy: Well, that’s a relationship. Thats a relationship that actives have with their peers.

Frank: And Will has with Jada?

Nancy: True.

Frank: So…

Kweku: I was going to mention that.

Frank: Yeah. So what? Will has…? I don’t know if the boy has got to do with it but Jada—

Kweku: Oh he’s not going to para—

Nancy: He better not be.

Frank: Okay, okay. Jada Smith has—

Jeff: Oh he wasn’t nominated for a concussion.

Nancy: Right, right.

Frank: Okay, alright.

Kweku: Was it just that movie?

Nancy: Yes, yes. And he was…

Kweku: He was mad about that? Okay.

Frank: Was he nominated for Ali?

Jeff: I believe so.

Frank: I think he was.

Nancy: I believe he was.

Frank: And he did a good job in thata movie but anyway, his wife has really been vocal and boycotting. Maybe, there’s a relationship there for sure. I guess they got a roll together.

Nancy: Absolutely.

Kweku: Yeah, exactly.

Frank: I read something that said Will’s interview on Good Morning America or something he was on yesterday was very benign. He was just being politically correct the whole time. Not even taking a stand, just trying to keep the pay check as well.

Nancy: Wow.

Frank: What I read—I mean, I didn’t see the interview but whatever.

Nancy: Okay. Right.

Frank: Well, we’ve got two powerhouse intellectuals and experts on the topic of the day this week. Our first is the recipient of the 2011 regents distinguished research award for college of human sciences. He’s an endowed professor of parenting and a researcher from the Oklahoma State Univeristy. He’s been published in a laundry list of articles on parental and physical discipline and has a strong perspective related to the use of corporal punishment when dealing with children. He is Dr. Robert Larzelere.

Our second guest is a doctor of Psychology and a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She’s dedicated two decades to making the mental health, social service and criminal justice systems more responsive to culturally diverse people. She’s written numerous journal, articles and chapters on Child Maltreatment and teaches courses on child abuse. She blogs for psychology today in the Huffington Post. She also trains parents and professionals all across the USA and around the world on raising children without violence. She’s Dr. Lisa Fontes.

So, if you want to know the various styles of parenting, what these experts thought of the Adrian Peterson case, and the relationship between race and the term or concept around abuse, then stay tuned as your Frank Relationships team talks corporal punishment with Dr. Larzelere and Fontes. Welcome to the show, folks.

Lisa: Happy to be here.

Robert: Good to be here.

Frank: Well, as you know we talk about relationships and all issues related to it. as we start, let’s get started with what advice can you give to a 25 year old couple that has a baby due in two months about corporal punishment in the life of their unborn infant?

Lisa: I’d like to let them know that the number one best way to raise a well-disciplined child is to establish a strong relationship with that child. Speak with the child about your values and set clear limits. It’s totally possible. I’ve got three kids myself to raise children who are well-behaved without hitting them. In fact, they’re more likely to be well behaved if they know the difference between right and wrong and hitting people is wrong. So that’s where I’d start.

Frank: Can you give me a quick concept on what well-behaved looks like to you? Because I don’t know if any parent really believes their child isn’t well behaved especially at a young age where we’re talking one, two… So help paint a picture for me and the audience.

Lisa: Sure. Well well-behaved doesn’t apply to children who are 1 year old. Children who are 1 year old really can’t control their impulses and it’s really our job to keep them safe at that age. But when we’re talking to an older age, it would be a child who is curious but generally does what’s expected of them. Children will test limits at times and we can’t expect 100% perfect behavior from them at all times just like we don’t expect 100% perfect behavior from ourselves at all times. Sometimes we grab that shelter top cookie and though we wish we didn’t.

But generally it would be a child who knows the difference between right and wrong and does what they should and is respectful to their parents, and is respectful to older people. But I really think it’s up to each caretaker to decide what their expectations are for their children as long they’re developmentally appropriate. Sometimes you run into problems because people want their kids to behave in ways that really just aren’t reasonable for that age. For instance, a lot of people would like their children to toilet train at 1 or 1 1/2, well, it’s not usually realistic to expect that. So you’re just going to have conflict if you expect that.

Frank: Dr. Larzelere? What’s your advice?

Robert: Well I agree that parents—what children need from parents is a right balance between love and limits. That love without limits is not the best for the child even though at that time it may seem a well intention and obviously limits without love, just being punitive and not showing your love to your child is going to be harmful to them as well. You had your question asked about a child about to be born.

Frank: Yes.

Robert: And the first thing is to care for their needs to establish loving relationship then when they develop their own independence and start expressing that, that’s when parents have to start dealing with discipline. I’ve done some research on that recently and was surprised to find that first of all, the most effective thing parents can do with toddlers between ½ and 2 ½ is—whenever possible—try to find a compromise. So that way, you’re letting them influence the conflict, the thing you’re seeing different ways at that time, they can express their independence but your requiring them to do that in a way that it’s acceptable for you.

Lisa: Can I get an example—

Robert: Pardon me?

Lisa: Can I get an example of that compromise—that what would that look like and tell me if this is what you mean… So for instance, if you know your child needs to get dressed and ready to go to day care or grandma’s house or whatever you might say, would you like to put on your blue sweater or your red sweater? The sweater needs to go on but we’re giving the child the opportunity to choose, to have a little voice in which sweater they’re putting on. So rather than stuffing them into a sweater, we’re giving them some a say but we’re not allowing them to question the need for the sweater or not.

Is that the kind of thing you mean?

Robert: Yeah, that would be one example I think. Or another example might be… It’s time to go to bed and they want to keep playing and maybe you’d say “Well we’ll set the timer for 10 minutes and then help me set the timer here. And when it goes off then you go get ready for bed.” Now if they have to make the bus to go to school, then you can always use a compromise like that but when possible, it’s a way to let toddlers express their newfound independence but in a way that’s coordinated with other interests around them.

Frank: And it sound like that also helps to establish reasonable expectations in terms of the parent. The parent isn’t expecting too much but has every bit of say and is helping to frame the conversation with some flexibility.

Robert: That’s right.

Lisa: Exactly.

Robert: Example of the balance between love and limits where limits would say “No my way of the highway” and that’s not allowing the child to develop their own perspective and express that in appropriate ways. But if you just want the child to everything they want all the time, then they’re not learning to express their independence or way that’s coordinated with other people or around them.

Now apart from that, I found what I’d expected which is that with an easily managed toddler, just reasoning and just way of compromises, that that’s the second best thing to do but it’s the worse for the oppositional defiant toddler. And the roles reverse for the oppositional defiant toddler needs some clear—

Frank: Boundaries.

Robert: —consistent consequences like time-out or single warning, time-out and if they don’t cooperate time-out then two swats spanking or something to enforce the time-out would be important but that doesn’t have to be used very often and then… But those kind of negative consequences are the least effective for the easily managed child.

Frank: Yeah.

Robert: So even with the oppositional child, you want to try to use reasoning as much as possible. You want to use the mildest discipline tactic that the one that teaches the most as much as possible to work toward a theme in your program which is to teach them to have the most [unclear] relationships with people around them that na fit their particular situation.

Frank: You mentioned—

Lisa: And I have to disagree there. I think there’s no circumstance in which we should be hitting children and maybe that research looks at immediate compliance will the child do immediately what is asked of them. But I’m really interested in the long term relationship and a long term well-being of that child.

Frank: And what do you see as the difference? What is if you give a two swat spanking to a toddler that age or young person that age—what do you see as the long term result?

Lisa: Well, there’s a couple of ways to answer that. There’s some research that shows that spanking—I’m not talking to physical abuse—but spanking is correlated with some harm. First of all, sometimes with spanking become abusive and sometimes it hurts the relationship between the parents and the child over the long term.

As a psychologist, I’m looking at not only is this child going to behave in this moment but when this child is twelve and thirteen and they’re having to make moral choices, they’re being offered drugs, their friends are shoplifting, whatever. Will that child confide in the parents or is the child too afraid of their parents to confide in them. We also see higher levels and I’m looking at the research of [unclear] of mental health problems, aggression problems, and criminal and antisocial behavior in people who experience corporal punishment, not everybody.

Many of your listeners, most of your listeners have experienced corporal punishment but it is correlated. And I also just want to mention that the act of hitting a child is saying to a child it’s okay to hit. I want to teach my child it is NEVER okay to hit another person. So I have to demonstrate to my child that mommy could get angry and handle her anger, that mommy can get her way in the world through her words.

Frank: What if the parent isn’t angry?

Lisa: Well if the parent isn’t angry then it’s the perfect time to use words to express what they want. I mean, if we don’t want our children to hit others, we can’t hit our children. Children do what we do, not what we say. So you do get a situation where the parent is whacking the child and saying “Don’t hit your sister.” What is that child really learning? The child is learning it’s okay to hit. The parents—

Nancy: The child is learning that if I hit, I could get hit. So if you’d say to me “Don’t hit your sister,” and you hit me, I’m saying “Woah, okay because I don’t like this. I’m not hitting her.” I’m looking back at the few times that I had a spanking and trust me, they were sufficient. I mean, I don’t remember more than three and the things that I was being spanked for I didn’t do again. And I didn’t feel even now if you asked me which is I don’t have any children, would you spank a child? I thought about it when I was reading the material and I said well, the first thing that popped into my head was “spare the child, spoil the child.” And then I thought well I don’t want to spank them BUT I understand that there might come a time when—

Frank: Some physical conversation is important.

Nancy: —some physical conversation is important. And I looked at— Go ahead.

Lisa: Can we look at that first second? I mean physical conversation. We don’t allow people to hit their classmate,their neighbours and their spouses. So why would we use a term like physical conversation when we’re talking about hitting a child?

Nancy: Because those people have already been civilized, haven’t’ they? This is all about creating a civilized human being and then the question becomes—what is civilized? And according to whom?

Lisa: Right, sure. And I won’t argue with you about your experience but I don’t think you became the person you are because you were hit three times as you say.

Nancy: No.

Lisa: I think you became the person you are because of all the wonderful parenting you’ve experienced in care taking and support by your community and so on and I think that they probably could have dispensed with those three times in which you were hit and you would be just as terrific as you are today.

Frank: I received spankings when I was a child occasionally and I can truly say that I don’t have a problem with it but the other side is, I also got into skirmishes with friends when I was a child. I can’t really say that it’s accurate that we don’t allow classmates to hit classmates, that we don’t condone it and we certainly address it when it comes up but it is—there are things that people can do that would reasonably result in them getting hit even in classroom situation. There are some nasty things that we can do to one another. I can’t really—I don’t really agree with you Dr. Fontes.

Lisa: I’m sorry I’m not following your logic. Maybe you can explain that a little bit more—I mean, kids getting hit in schools by their classmates or teachers or by police officers as we seen this year, is not a pretty picture.

Frank: It definitely isn’t pretty but it’s real.

Lisa: It’s real, right. So I would want to raise my children with no violence so they won’t be subject to that and they won’t subject others to that. so I’m curious about what your thought is about why thatis a good thing. I’m not understanding.

Frank: I think it’s a reasonable thing. I think it’s a part of reality. Violence in our world is possible and to walk around thinking that someone cannot or should not hit you. In some ways, it takes you away from reality, it takes you away from the possible of things that could happen to you and it takes you away from being—putting your mind in a place where you have to deal with this. It is—

Lisa: Sexual abuse is also reality but I’m not going to sexually abuse my children so that they know that it’s a reality. You know what I mean?

Nancy: Okay, let me ask you this doctor. I get completely what you’re saying. Are you—I’m playing on a completely different idea—are you suggesting that because your children are not raised in a violent environment, that by extension they are less likely to encounter violence in life?

Lisa: Right, yeah that’s a great question. The research shows that children who experience corporal punishment at hoe are more likely—not a 100% likely of course—but more likely to be involved in a violent marriage or relationship later in life—

Nancy: Okay.

Lisa: —and more likely to be involved in violence in the schools and in other settings. If we talk about the home thing first, by hitting a child we’re saying to that child “it’s okay to hit people you love under some circumstances, it’s okay to hit people in the home, love and hitting and hurting go together.” That’s the hidden message when we hit a child and research shows that they get that message. On some level for some people, they carry that into their adult relationships. Not everyone, but of course we don’t know which of those children who are hit will carry that into their adult relationships.

Kweku: I work with juveniles and I work with people call [unclear / parish juveniles or judacadus] and so forth, and I have children of my own but what research are you aware that has been done this far as children’s living situations where Frank just mentioned about environment and—there’s certain environments that children grow up in that some would say there has to be a quicker response to certain situations. So in my mind, I’m thinking some kids, you may not have a time based on your situation or your circumstances. You may not necessarily have time to have that teaching moment where you have to have like a—from my experience, you see parents who—let’s just say toddlers who might jump out in the middle of the street, it’s almost like a reaction “Get back here,” a little pop on the legs you jump out in the street then you’ll get hit by a car. There’s not really time for teaching lessons.

My experience, I’ve been in homes just certain situations—I don’t necessarily agree, like I’m not an advocate for a spanking or anything like that. I’m just saying as far as research is concerned, different situations and different circumstances and the way people live seems to have a major impact on corporal punishment and how it’s applied.

Robert: Let me… I previewed all the literature on this and it’s important to distinguish between more versus less effect of ways to spank, how to use it in a loving [unclear] child relationship in an effective way. If it’s non-abusive like to open handed swats [unclear], for 2 to 6 year olds, to enforce milder discipline tactics when children are still defiant. So if you try and put them in time-out and they won’t cooperate with that, then use a two-swat spanking. That’s shown effective, more effective than 10 out of the 13 alternatives that’s been compared with.

Frank: Such as what? What might some alternative be that have stood the test of that comp—

Robert: That compared favourably with that?

Frank: Yes.

Robert: Well the only one that’s been—it used to be that’s what’s like all just trained parents of 2 to 6 year olds to do. They still teacher them to use time-outs, traditionally they would use this to swat spank to enforce cooperation with time-out in 2 to 6 year old children. Since that’s fallen disfavour, they use the only thing that’s shown to be equally effective and that is to put them into a safe, isolated room for one minute and then try to get them to cooperate with the time-outs here again.

So that’s the only thing that’s been shown to be as effective as this what I call “backup spanking” which is used to enforce milder discipline tactics such as reasoning, ore time-out.

Nancy: So what happened to time-out?

Lisa: Can I address quickly this question a little bit more directly? Before we move on, is that alright?

Frank: Please.

Nancy: Sure.

Lisa: Yeah, so it was a great question and you asked about people living in different situations and a child running out to the street, touching a hot stove, whatever, kids they’re curious, they’re active and they get into situations which are dangerous. So let’s just say two things—one is every moment is a teaching moment. It’s not whether we have time or not. So if I grab a child and swat that child at the bottom, I’ve taught them something in that swatting. If I grab—

Frank: What are you teaching?

Lisa: Well, I think a few things… My words might say I’m concerned about you, I care for you and I don’t want any harm to come to you. So [unclear / sloughing] is something a little bit different and part of that lesson is it’s okay to hit people. If I grab my child who’s running out in the street and say “Oh! Sweetheart you cared me! You could be hurt by a car! That’s so dangerous!” I think I’ve taught the lesson to not run in front of a car without also accidentally teaching that it’s okay to hit.

Frank: I don’t think you—

Lisa: I have 3 kids myself growing kids and I can tell you that it’s entirely possible to raise great children without hitting.

Frank: I don’t think you were fair in your recap of what you’re teaching. So you said, my words are saying this but the swatting teaches this. But in your—they’re clearly multiple things that could be taught. So you said your words were saying this but you didn’t say what your words were teaching or if they are teaching and it’s very possible they are, and you focused on the action and what you thought the action was teaching but the words in talking is an action also. Can you give me a few more things than just the one thing that you said in terms of the swatting that may be being taught in that moment?

Lisa: Well, I mean I don’t want to demonize that kind of action. If a parent grabs their kid, whacks them on the bottom and say “Don’t run out into the street.” I’m not going to say that person’s a terrible parent, I mean that parent looks tight or frightened or whatever and has the best intentions in the world. But on some level, if it were me and I have done that, I would afterwards say to the child “I’m really sorry I hit you.” I don’t think anybody should hit anybody. We really should use our worse just like they teach you in preschool and not hit other people. But I was so scared because it’s so dangerous what you did at that moment that I hit and I don’t think I should hit you. We don’t hit each other in this family.

Nancy: Have you ever had that conversation with one of your—okay.

Lisa: Oh yeah. I have. So my first child I had when I was very young. I was living with other students at the university in a house and complex. Everybody was hitting their children a bit and—

Frank: Help us paint the picture—how young were you?

Lisa: I was 24.

Frank: Okay. That’s not TOO young.

Lisa: No, I wasn’t 18 and I had my second child at 25. My first child, I swatted her hand a few times and she reached to the record player—if any of you remember record players?

Frank: Yup.

Lisa: And said no. I didn’t really feel great about that. My second child, who I had when I was 25, I never hit and then one day when she was about 3 ½, in the morning she wasn’t getting dressed, she was I guess what Dr. Larzelere would call defiant but I would say to being a 3 year old, and she was dawdling. I really needed to get her off to school because I needed to go to work and we had house guests. I was feeling overwhelmed and I gave her a little puff on the cheek. She drew herself up to her however many inches she was and went to our house guest and said “Mommy hit me.” And I was very embarrassed—I’m still very embarrassed but I said to her “Malena, I am so proud of you.”

Frank: I know a lot of house guest…

Lisa: …uses the right thing to tell when somebody hits you. No one ever has the right to hit you and I’m sorry I did it.” And then I gave her the whole long boring lecture about you have to help me out in the morning, this isn’t going to work and she got it. I never hit her again and I’ll just going to [unclear] here my son who’s 19, I never hit ever.

Frank: You said something a few minutes ago and you talked a little bit about love and hitting and a household going together. What I got was that you felt like it doesn’t, like in a good household or an ideal household, it doesn’t go together. When at some level, what are you teaching a child if someone in that household does hit the other? Are you teaching them that if someone does that, they’re not loved or that this isn’t a loving household? And are you teaching them that hitting is a reason to basically shut doors related to loving one another?

Lisa: Well I do think hitting people you love is wrong. So if my child is in relationship with somebody and getting hit, by that person, I hope they will shut that door.

Frank: Well what about in that household as a child?

Lisa: I don’t think people should hit children. I’m not saying it’s always abuse—abuse a different thing legally—but I don’t think people should hit children. So… or anybody. I don’t think bosses should hit employees, I don’t think rich people should corp people and I fairly don’t think people should hit small little people who are dependent on them. So I’m not telling your listeners that everybody who hits kids is abusive by any means. I’m just saying that it doesn’t seem to be the ideal thing for children. It gets themto obey in the moment but over the long hall, it doesn’t help the relationship.

Kweku: Dr. Larzelere? Excuse me. I’m curious about your system. Did you mention two swats to the butt?

Robert: Yeah.

Kweku: Can you explain a little bit about that?

Robert: Well this is the way psychologist train parents of 2 and 6 year olds who are oppositional defiant to improve their behavior…

Frank: Did it work?

Robert: They still do this. In fact, that Dr. Fontes says the parent-child interaction therapy is one of the best ways to help of use of parents learn how to discipline or tell them more effectively. When that was developed, they had a consistent one warning that if you don’t cooperate, you have to go to time-out and they’re given a chance to go to time-out. If they don’t cooperate the time-out chair then traditionally, through the mid-’90s, they would back it up with two swat spanking. This is with 2 to 6 year olds children and they would quickly learn to cooperate with the time-out chair so then the parent could phase out the spank back up and then parents could use time-out chair in response to lack of cooperation when they needed to.

Now, that’s been replaced with this brief room isolation in a room by themselves as an enforcement for lack of cooperational of time-outs here. So… but the two things were shown to be effective and when major [unclear] in the African-American community, they talk about how they think spanking should best be used. That’s what I hear them saying is they want [unclear / nippings in the bud], they want to stop problems when they’re small and when children are young so that way they’ll listen to cooperate appropriately and that they said it prevents them using various kinds of verbal hostility which has worse effects on children than non-abuse of spanking ever does.

Frank: We’re talking with doctors and professor Robert Larzelere of the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Oklahoma State University and Lisa Fontes of the University of Massachusetts Amherst about corporal punishment.

If you’re listening to the show live on Friday, January 22nd from 7am to 8:15am EST and you have questions for our guest, please call in at 202-652-0708. That’s 202-652-0708.

One of the things—we’ve used a few terms and one is corporal punishment and another is spanking. Is there a difference?

Lisa: Spanking is one form of corporal punishment. Corporal punishment can be defined as using physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain but not injury to correct or control the child’s behavior. So spanking is one form of corporal punishment. People hit and hurt their kids in all different kinds of ways that’s not necessarily spanking. Not all spanking is abusive but unfortunately sometimes, spanking or corporal punishment becomes abusive because the parents or the care takers lose control and accidents happen.

A friend of mine, her mom slapped her in the face and her mom’s fingernail caught in her eye because she turned her head and she ended up being blinded in that eye which detached the retina. So even mild forms of corporal punishment unfortunately can occasionally lead to injury. I’m sure some of your listeners have experienced that as well.

Nancy: Well…

Kweku: I never had my eye pulled out.

Lisa: [unclear] ….black and blue mark, you know…

Nancy: Okay. Now, here’s my only concern. You have caught us some statistics earlier in the show about what happens, what kind of people we create when we spank but there was certainly an article submitted to us to prepare for the conversation that demonstrated quite clearly that atleast there is a study done I believe, a Swedish study where they banned—

Frank: Scandinavian.

Nancy: —Scandinavian, I’m sorry.

Frank: Yes.

Nancy: Where they banned spanking and the outcome was unconscionable. The kinds of children that were created in a society where spanking was banned.

Frank: Are you familiar with that Dr. Fontes? I know Dr. Larzelere is very familiar with it.

Lisa: I’m not familiar with that particular study so I can’t speak to it. I can tell you though hat there are 48 countries around the world, most recently Peru, Beijing, countries all over the world that has need illegal hitting children in all context including in the home. It’s seen as a human right issue. Adults can be hit than children also should not be hit. So it’s seen as a way to protect children from violence. The US isn’t there. we’re not going to be there for a really long time but it’s pretty exciting on the idea that the most vulnerable among us should be more protected rather than less protected.

Frank: Dr. Larzelere, would you talk about that study?

Robert: I’ve been interested in that because as Dr. Fontes is correct, that that international movement do that and Sweden is the first to ban spanking in 1979 and they enforced that more vigorously than almost all the other countries do except with exception of Norway. So I’ve been tracking these kind of records in their criminal records and the latest results is from 1981—well let’s see… In 2010, children at the age of 7 were 22 times more likely to be abused by someone in their home and it be a criminal sold in the record then was the case in 1981, just two years after they banned spanking. There are 24 times more likely to have a criminal sold by at the end of another minor and there are 73 children under the age of 15 or 73 times more likely to be raped.

Frank: Wow.

Robert: Than was the case in 1981.

Frank: What could—

Lisa: I think that that was a very, very misleading statistics. In 1981, people were not reporting rape with children, they were not reporting physical abuse of children, the internet did not exist. I think those are very, very misleading figures and I respect your work Dr. Lazeler but I’m really kind of shocked that you put that out there—

Robert: Well I think I’d like to have some—

Lisa: —at this point in time. I mean, in every country in the world, reporting of this crimes had gone up in the last 30, 40 years. So to single out this one country and say “Oh it was because corporal punishment was banned, that’s really misleading.

Robert: No, I’m not saying that—

Lisa: That’s embarrassing. I’m sorry—it’s really—that’s wrong.

Robert: Well I was just reporting that I would’ve expected that attempted rapes would go up atleast as much and more but that is not going up as much. So—

Lisa: No. [unclear]

Robert: I agree that there are many things that could cause those increases but—

Lisa: Yes, there are and they’re all over the world. It’s not just in Sweden. That’s not appropriate to report here. That is very misleading.

Frank: Well what conclusions are you drawing, Dr. Larzelere? What conclusions do you draw from what you just noted?

Robert: Well let me… I would do the post talk under Jerry Patterson. I did one under Mary Strauss as well. Both Jerry Patterson and his group in Oregon are committed to not using spanking. They were asked to help Norwegian parents improve their spanking by training them in their version of parent-child interaction therapy. So I asked her about spanking bans. She felt that the spanking ban in Scandinavian countries that’s enforced to the extent of this, that that makes parents less effective. They can’t say no, their children just rule the house—atleast that’s true in the clinical cases they saw.

So she felt that the spanking bans did more harm than good and this is the professional, that the top clinical psychologist in helping parents deal with out of control kids. She’s opposed to spanking in Sheffield. Spanking bans are detrimental. So I just don’t rely on these statistics or when these kinds of things come together. I think it’s something that has to be looked at. We don’t want to undermine appropriate parental discipline just because of that. I have a lot of respect for you and if you can raise children that are well-behaved without really spanking, that’s great and the more parents who can do that, the better. But for oppositional kids, sometimes they need non-abusive consequences but they need clear consequences for more oppositional kids.

Frank: You’re listening to Frank Relationships and we’re talking to doctors and professors Lisa Fontes of the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Dr. Robert Larzelere of the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Oklahoma State University about corporal punishment. Dr. Fontes is a fomer clinician and a current trainer on how to raise children without violence. Dr. Larzelere is an accomplished researcher from the Department of Human Development and Family Science at Oklahoma State University.

Dr. Fontes, please tell our listeners what you’re up to and how to find out more about your work.

Lisa: Well, the easiest place to find out more about my work is on a webpage I’ve set up. It’s And what I’m up to these days, I’m doing research on cultural issues and interviewing children for child sexual abuse. I’m doing work in Chile and Gayana, sometimes in Puerto Rico in terms of improving on systems for children who’ve been sexually abused. I have conversations with people all over the country with parents, police, with psychologists, mental health professionals and social workers in terms on how to make their services better for people from culture-diverse groups.

Can I say about one more thing I’m up to?

Frank: Of course.

Lisa: I’m working with the district attorney of Dane County, Wisconsin and African-American man named Ismael Hossein. And he noticed that of course there were racial disparity in the Criminal Justice system that too many African-American in jail. One of the reasons was that many were jailed of felony assault of their children.

Okay, I’m not talking about a swat on the bottom. I’m talking about causing felonious injury of their children. He wanted to reduce that. So he has started really groundbreaking campaign to reduce corporal punishment throughout Dane County with the knowledge that reducing corporal punishment will reduce those times that it ends up being abuse.

They’ve got pitting zones in hospitals and then the courthouse, they’re doing parenting groups, black pastors are getting together and talking about ways to reduce corporal punishment in their communities. It’s really a very exciting initiative completely—I would say revolutionary and I’m really proud to be part of that.

Frank: Dr. Larzelere, if our listeners have questions, how can they reach you?

Robert: Well I suppose the best thing would be just Google my name if you know how to spell it, L-A-R-Z-E-L-E-R-E. So and then you can get my information here at Oklahoma State University and if someone wants to email me, I’d be glad to send the many information that I have.

Frank: Adrian Peterson, the case that came up regarding the running back in the NFL, believe for the Minnesota Vikings, how do you guys weigh in there? Let’s start with you Dr. Larzelere.

Robert: Well clearly this is a case of abuses was shown and I guess—one thing I respect Dr. Fontes for is she’s trying to work with all families of all kind of background to help them retain the strength of that particular culture but without being abusive and she would draw the line at no spanking whatsoever. I think there’s some place for having appropriate spanking and limiting at people giving parents more options where as in restricting non-abusive option that have worked for generations.

So I think for black fathers like Adrian Peterson, we need to explain o them how they can carry the strength of black parenting historically to have the combination of firm discipline in a loving relationship without risking the kind of abuse that he resorted to at that time.

Frank: And Dr. Fontes? How do you weigh in?

Lisa: Well, if we look at the fact that we know them—

Frank: Which are what?

Lisa: —if people remember it and this is all I got from the news. I don’t have any special source, okay? So Adrian Peterson’s son was 4 years old and he pushed his cousin because they both wanted to use the Playstation. So he Peterson wanted to teach his son not to push and in order to do that, he stuffed his son’s mouth full of leaves and stripped him and hit him with a switch, bent him over, hit him with a switch, bloodying his legs, his rear end and his scrotum.

I think we can all agree that that was abuse and that’s certainly not what Dr. Larzelere is advocating for. Brutal abuse—I mean if you think of somebody who weighs five times as much as you, stripping you naked and beating you, stuffing your mouth with leaves and beating you—that child must have been afraid he was going to die. I think the problems is if the society, we allow people to hit and hurt children, some people are going to take it too far and that’s my fear.

So I’m not advocating a ban, a law banning corporal punishment right now but I am advocating that people tried to practice nonviolence in their life with their partners, with their children, with the people in school and at work, with their neighbours. I think that would prevent some tragedy like this from happening.

Frank: You noted, Dr. Fontes, you’re not advocating that right now. Are you not advocating that right now because you don’t think the landscape is there for it but if you believe that what actually the law, the legislation would actually go through, you would advocate for it?

Lisa: No, I don’t want more people in the Criminal Justice to do the opposite. I want to see fewer people end up in the Criminal Justice system. So I really think it’s a question of changing hearts and minds about how we value children and how we care for our children. Fortunately, there’s a lot of people from all social groups who are working to protect children in every way that they need to be protected—quality schools, adequate housing, a decent income for their parents and being protected from physical violence at school and at home.

I don’t know if your listeners know this but there are only 2 states in the country that prohibit corporal punishment in all schools. In 48 states, you can hit a child in a private school or spank a child in a private school. And who are these children who are getting hit in school across the country? It’s black boys who are getting hit. If they don’t need these additional burden, they don’t need—for me, it just makes life that much harder to get hit at home and to get hit at school. And so, I want to give them every advantage rather than disadvantage because you know, it’s pretty hard in this country right now for black boys.

Frank: We have a caller. Caller, you have a comment or a question?

Caller: I do. Hi, Good Morning.

Frank: Good Morning.

Caller: And thank you for your [unclear], they’re very interesting. I have children myself and I do spank them and I believe in healthy spanking, especially in today’s society. It’s tough out here and as a parent, I believe that healthy spanking, healthy corporal punishment should be done at home, not outside the home. I don’t want anyone in a school or in another setting disciplining my child that way but I believe that children—there’s boundaries, we have to teach them those boundaries at home and I don’t know… I can only speak for my children and the children in my life but they push boundaries to the absolute limit—ABSOLUTE LIMIT. You know, you can try all the time-outs and talks but I think there are times when a tap on the bottom is absolutely necessary.

So I just want to hear your thoughts about—I understand Dr. Fontes you don’t believe the spanking is necessary ever.

Frank: Ever.

Caller: You should never hit a child. But I do believe in the idea of healthy spanking. I do believe in teaching your children boundaries as he is with spanking occasionally. We could all agree that abuse is not what we’re talking about here. That’s definitely not what I’m talking about but I do think there is a space for healthy spanking. So how—

Lisa: Can I as you a question? You sound so reasonable and—if it’s working so well, why are they continuing to push the boundaries?

Caller: Well I think just because like you said, they’re curious children and they’re going to see and this is in home—they’re going to see how far can I push [unclear]? What for the other reaction. And I feel like if you—

Lisa: So teach them.

Caller: —don’t teach them how far they can push at home, if you don’t teach them that at home, they’ll get out into the world and then that will be a justice system issue or something much bigger because they didn’t earn it at home.

Lisa: I can hear your concern for your children and clearly, you’re doing what you’re doing with all love, with love in your heart and concern for their well-being. I bet if you set yourself a challenge and yuo set yourself, can I raise these kids without corporal punishment you would be able to do it by using your words to teach them boundaries and the difference between right and wrong, you’re not. You’re making the choice to tap them on the bottom and that’s your choice—it’s legal.

Caller: Right.

Lisa: But I have full confidence hearing you that you could do it without it.

Caller: Thank you Dr. Fontes. One of the things I’d like to mention and I’d like you to weigh in on is I grew up old school where we in the African-American community say I received whooping, okay? Which is not even a spanking. A whooping is something—a whooping is something else. Not Adrian Peterson abuse but a whooping. I grew up, me and my siblings were all responsible, great people. Like we’re great people and I look back on those whooping now and laugh about them, and I appreciate them now. How do you weigh in? A child can be “receive whooping” and still be great people because we learned those boundaries at home. How do you weigh in on that, Dr. Fontes?

Frank: Thanks for your call.

Lisa: I think you’re a great person not because you were whooped, but because of all the other great things that happened to you. You know, people who did receive corporal punishment as children or whooping, it takes a great deal of courage to say “I’m going to try something different with my children.” Sometimes people feel like they’re being [unclear] to their parents or rejecting of their parents or their culture—if they say “I’m going to try something different.” But I talk about it, it’s like I make some of these issues for my kids that my parents need for me exactly as they made them and some recipes I changed and some foods are not going to serve them at all. But doesn’t mean I’m rejecting my parents or my people. I’m making choices about what I want to transmit to the next generation. I think those are the choices with parents that we have to make on a daily basis.

Frank: Dr. Larzelere, you noted that corporal punishment is used more effectively in African-American homes than in white American homes. What are the differences and what have you noticed?

Robert: I just noticed that a [unclear] of studies consistently found that up through—that’s not so true in a very recent study. You get the—but in older studies from several of them, spanking was the use—with things like more aggression in school later on in African-Americans even though it was in Anglo-Americans. Why is that? We basically have guesses, I think one is it was more accepted I African-American community and so it was seen I think my children as evidence of love and concern for children, typically which or if it might be perceived more as rejecting the child in Anglo families. So that might be one factor.

Of course, the negative consequences for child acting disrespectful to a police officer, that can have more negative consequences for an African-American boy than for an Anglo boy. So I think the consequences of the lack of respect for other people has more consequences and that may be one reason why firm discipline looks like it’s used more effectively. It has better outcomes in African-Americans on average than it does in Anglo families. Of course in both groups, everybody knows that any kind of disresponse can be used more effectively and more lovingly than misuse of any discipline tactic and of course that goes with spanking as well.

Nancy: Question: are either or both of you the products of spanking households?

Robert: I remember being spanked myself and the ones I remember always had an element of unfairness to them about five times.

Nancy: Five times… Five times more unfair than [unclear] said… Okay.

Robert: And with our own children, I heard some of you say you were spanked but not very often and if it’s—I think that’s often a sign, assuming it’s not used abusively to define that it’s used effectively where parents are trying to use everything else they can to teach appropriately, to use milder discipline tactics but only use spanking when it’s age appropriate for persist and defiant. I tried to do that as a parent so my way of doing that was just a count and when I got to 3, then the spanking would ensue and I got a lot of action on 2 ½.

Nancy: Dr. Fontes?

Lisa: I remember being spanked once. My brother was spanked more but not a lot. The spanking was not good for my brother. My brother was a sensitive boy and had certain issues that I think my parents didn’t understand so well. My father spanked him to try to get him to do what he wanted, maybe to try to toughen him up a little bit. I think it was really not good and I remember sometimes people say they laugh about the punishment that they got, maybe because of the humiliation experienced at that time or whatever. I’m not exactly sure why we would laugh but sometimes if we think about what our siblings went through, we don’t feel necessarily so much like laughing. I remember my brother’s pain and it’s something felt very, very wrong about that situation that my big dad, almost 200 lbs., 6’3” would be spanking my brother who was a little guy. He was a child, he was tiny, he was 4th or 5th of his size—like why would this big person be hurting and it wouldn’t be qualify as abuse. It was spanking. Why would he be hurting, making my brother cry who I love so much? It’s affected me profoundly.

Frank: If I were to tell my child to go stand on the wall for whatever amount of time—10 minutes because of something that I thought that they did that was inappropriate or—would that be considered corporal punishment?

Lisa: Corporal punishment happens to the body. So no, corporal means “body” so that would not be considered corporal punishment. But I want to make clear that I’m not advocating time-outs as the solution. I’m advocating a really string parent-child bond as the number one way to set limits to the child. Children who are connected with their parents want to do what the parents want. So the number one thing and it’s like 95% of the disciplinary strategies you want to call that in establishing a strong bond with your child.

Number two is what I would call toddler reinforcement and I don’t mean you give them an MnM every time they do something right but you notice what they’re doing right. So “Thank you for that big hug when I came in the door. That made me so happy,” “Oh I love the way you shared your toy with your sister. That’s really great. That makes me proud of you,” “Oh could you help me set the table? Thank you for helping me set the table.” Do the positive reinforcement—that’s number two.

Number three would be distraction. So if it looks like things are getting bad, change the way things are going. Be escalate and the scores and tiniest category would be some form of punishment. But in raising my son, I would say maybe five times in his entire life I had to do anything that would be called a punishment. And it was just like—“You know what? Could you leave the room for a little while because I don’t really want to hear it anymore.” And that was enough because our bond was so tight, we were so close that he really wanted to do the right thing.

Now some children who has been labelled here defiant or noncompliant might experience in the world is that children who behave that way have often really been raised to behave that way. Of course the parents didn’t mean to but that’s what happened. With loving parenting, they can get into a different dynamic with their not in a power struggle. That would be my goal—not to impose other forms of punishment on the child but to be on the same team as them, on the same side of them and let them know that.

Frank: Either of you, can you speak about the correlation between negative things down the road such as suicide or violence in couples and corporal punishment.

Lisa: Sure. So [unclear – Liv Kirshof] has analyzed all the research on corporal punishment—all the good research on corporal punishment and she found that there’s one positive effect which is if the child will comply immediately with corporal punishment. I think that’s where Dr. Larzelere’s research focuses so that’s fine. But she also found 11 negative effects, the likelihood of physical abuse by a parent that children don’t have the internal moral compass so they will not do what they’re not supposed to do because they don’t want to get hit not because they know it’s wrong. A poor relationship with the parent has greater likelihood of mental health, aggression, [unclear], antisocial behavior in childhood and adulthood and a greater likelihood of abuse of their own child their selves.

Some research has found that people who were corporally punished as children, not necessarily physically abuse, not just abuse but if you receive corporal punishment, have a greater likelihood of depression and of course depression is correlated with suicidality. What’s the message that we convey to a child when we spank that child—you’re bad, you’re guilty, we’re not connected at this moment because it’s a separation. A parent has to sort of turn off their empathy in order to hurt the person they love so much. And so, somebody who’s experienced corporal punishment at the moment they’re experiencing it often feels great shame, guilt, humiliation and those don’t have good long term consequences.

Nancy: Okay, question for you though… Now, I’ve read somewhere else in the material that parents who don’t spank are more likely to be verbally abusive so…

Lisa: That’s actually incorrect.

Nancy: Is it?

Lisa: To do spank are more likely to be verbally abusive. There’s a correlation between spanking and verbal abuse. But I certainly wouldn’t advocate for being negligent with children. I mean, we have to establish clear loving limits.

Nancy: But I guess where I’m standing is that there’s a conversation about oppositional defiant children and what to do with them versus what to do with the maybe a child who’s less oppositional and defiant, and I found myself saying well are these children born or are they created?

Frank: And Dr. Fontes I believe is saying that they’re created. Dr. Larzelere, what do you say?

Robert: Well that’s one reason I did research on parents with toddlers because atleast they’re having much time for them. Of course all parents are learning to parent for the first time, it’s a first child. But still at that age, it was interesting that—first of all, different things work for different kids and mothers take the kind of non-compliance into account so they don’t have these one size fits all kind of thing.

So what I found clearly is the sensitive child, the easily managed child can be harmed if parents resort to any kind of negative consequence even time-out for a child before you can appropriate cooperation by talking with them, by finding acceptable compromise and by means like that. But the child who is consistently oppositional defiant, they needed [unclear], they needed you to find an acceptable compromise too but you also needed—now this only worked if they used it only 1/6 of the time that if they needed some negative consequences, the oppositional defiant kids needed 1/6 of the time and that consists of a single warning, a time-out and with that solve the situation gray, a few of them might need something like a spank or something else.

Different things work for different kids. Spanking was used rarely but it was used most effectively—non abusive of course—to enforce a milder thing like time-out or reasoning. Oppositional kids need some consequences but they also need the reasoning. They need to compromise as well because you’re trying to teach them to learn to have a positive cooperative relationship with you as a parent and with their siblings and you want to use talking as much as possible, you want to use the mildest consequences when that doesn’t work and reserve non-abusive spanking just to enforce that when it’s absolutely necessary.

Frank: One thing I want to get in before we wrap up is—what is non-abusive spanking? Just so our audience is very clear, there’s a way to spank so that it doesn’t get in the hot water?

Robert: Well the clearest case, the way parents, the way psychologists train parents how to handle these oppositional defiant kids was two or three swats of an open hand to the rear end. This is for 2 to 6 year old children. So that’s the clearest case of non-abuse. Now the in-between from there to what’s clearly abusive is a grayer are and so it’s not quite so clear in that gray area.

Frank: I’ve read something about the extremities.

Nancy: Oh the legs?

Frank: The legs, yeah the legs and arms and bottom. Is that accurate?

Robert: Well that came from—there’s been one scientific consensus conference on this sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1996 and that was in the definition they used for spanking.t hey want to define what type of corporal punishment we’re talking about and of course they said it was physically non-injurious and administered to the open hand to the extremities or buttocks. So I think what they hand in mind was slapping a child’s hand, I don’t know if they also meant slapping the child on the thigh or not—

Lisa: But we should say the American Academy of Pediatrics has since based on their research recommended that paediatricians help parents use methods other than spanking to educate their children, that spanking has harmful side effects and that it should be avoided.

Frank: Okay.

Lisa: So if we’re talking about that, we do need to say that the bottom is better padded and it’s not near any sensitive organs like the brain so that’s why people choose the bottom—they’re less likely to break a bone or something. But sometimes children are actually—when my colleague shows a flight of a child who died because he was swatted so hard once on the bottom by his big father. So just—as soon as we introduce psychical force, the possibility of abuse pops up.

Frank: But isn’t—you’ve said that something along those lines a few times or throughout the show, can’t you take it to the exact other extreme as soon as you start to become non—I don’t even know what to say—non-something… Can’t that be taken to the extreme also? They’re extremes no matter which direction you go.

Lisa: Sure, I mean people have to be able to set limits with their children if that’s what you mean. Ignoring your children or letting them run the household, that’s not going to work. So I agree with you on that. you don’t want to go to that extreme either. Unfortunately, some parents who really love their children and want the best for them, end up physically abusing them or end up damaging their relationship with their children. I mean this idea that you can use corporal punishment from 2 to 6, and then when the child turns 6 ½, all of a sudden you’re going to figure something else out. I think that’s an illusion. I’ll say to parents who are hitting a child, “What are you going to do when your child is taller than you? Are you still going to do this?” And they say “Oh no, I’ll do something else then.”

Frank: But some—

Lisa: Well start that something right away.

Robert: Can I comment on that?

Nancy: Sure.

Robert: Well this kind of spanking that’s been shown to be more effective than almost all the other alternatives is backup spanking. So what you’re doing there—

Lisa: It is not been—

Frank: Well let him finish.

Robert: …using spanking to enforce the milder discipline tactic so then you don’t have to use the spanking. You can use a time-out if that’s what you’re enforcing. Time-out enforces verbal corrections. Use learning to use words so whatever—if a parent uses spanking or other kinds of negative consequence, it always ought to be enforcing milder discipline tactics that you are going to rely on more as the child gets older.

Frank: And I—another thing I’d add to what you were saying, Dr. Fontes was just as some parents take it too far on the abuse side, their parents that take it too far in terms of letting their kids run the house too.

Robert: Right.

Frank: So there is some gray that is worth investigating and worth paying close attention to. But Dr. Fontes, you recently published a book “Invisible Chains, Overcoming Coercive Control In your Intimate Relationship”—admittedly, it sounds like my kind of book, but would you tell us about it a little bit before we wrap up?

Lisa: I’d be happy too and I’m happy if you want to invite me back and we can stick by a little more.

Frank: Okay.

Lisa: But the book speaks about those aspects of relationships that may or may not include physical violence but in which one partner typically the man controls the other. So some of the strategies of coercive control include manipulating, isolating, sexual coercion, and other kinds of techniques of domination and that’s what I’ve been blogging about for Psychology Today.

So it’s called coercive control, sometimes physical abuse is part of that, sometimes physical abuse is not part of that and it’s a violent form of relationship in which one person does not have the freedom to really live their own life. I hope your listeners will look up the concept of coercive control. I think it’s the new frontier in understanding why domestic violence happens and really how does safe domestic violence so we’re not just looking at the blows but we’re also looking at ways in which people don’t allow their partner to be themselves and to be a free human being.

Frank: I hope that they will too. Dr. Larzelere, do you have any project that you want to note?

Robert: Let’s see… I talked about the most recent one, the research with toddlers. Let’s see… So that’s the biggest thing. The other thing is I—I guess one reason I come to feel that spanking can be used in appropriate ways is because I’ve done research for 20 years focusing on what alternatives could parents use instead and as I’ve said, it’s hard to find an alternative for persistent oppositional defiance that works more effectively than this kind of backup spanking.

Frank: You’re listening to Fran Relaionships. We’ve been talking to doctors and professors Robert Larzelere of the Department of Human Development and Human Science at Oklahoma State University and Lisa Fontes. She’s with the University of Massachusetts Amherst about corporal punishment.

Dr. Fontes, last time, please tell our listeners how they can find you and your services.

Lisa: They can Google my name “Lisa Fontes” and I have a website and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and really happy to correspond with people.

Frank: Dr. Larzelere?

Robert: Same, Google my name “Robert Larzelere” and I’m at Oklahoma State so anybody can contact me when they would like to.

Nancy: Great.

Frank: Along today’s journey, we’ve discussed the difference between corporal punishment and spanking, Adrian Peterson, and the correlations between spanking and negative behaviors in the future. I hope you’ve had as much fun as I’ve had learning about corporal punishment and the wisdom of our esteemed guests, Dr. Lisa Fontes and Dr. Robert Larzelere.

As always, it’s my wish for you to walk away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that I hope you create a relation that’s as loving and accepting as possible.

Let us know what you think of today’s show at, on Twitter at @mrfranklove or at If you’re listening via Blog Talk Radio, make sure you like us there and if via iTunes, make sure you subscribe so that you can receive each week’s show each week.

This is Frank love.


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