Letter from a strict mother

We tend to think of the current stormy debate about spanking children as something new, but the truth is, the practice has always been a contentious issue, as can be seen from this archived article from the San Bernardino Sun newspaper in California, published on August 29, 1932. It is headlined ‘One Mother Has Entirely Wrong Idea’, with the strapline ‘Parent Tells of Spanking With Ruler, Hairbrush’.

By Garry C Myers, PhD
Head Division Parental Education,
Cleveland College,
Western Reserve University

Frequently I am exceedingly distressed to learn from the large number of letters I get from my readers that I am supposed to have said many things I have never said, some that I have tried very hard, indeed, to condemn.

A mother writes, for instance: “Dear Dr. Myers. As a mother, under 30, of four children, viz. one girl aged 4 and three boys ages 2, 5 and 8 years, I find your articles extremely interesting. I agree with you fully on the subject of spanking, although I have been criticized at certain times by my husband, for being what he terms too severe.

“Of course, the boy of 2 years receives more spankings than the others, and I give him about 20 or 25 rather sharp spanks with a very light ruler.

“With the 4-year-old girl I use the same procedure: however, I give spank her with a very light hairbrush. I usually give her about 20 or 40 rather light spanks with it.

“On the boy, who is 5 years old, the same procedure is followed: however, I give him usually about 40 to 50 fairly light spanks with the same hairbrush, making sure that I do not spank him, as well as any of the others, on or close to their spinal column. He requires a spanking, perhaps, a little more often than his sister; however, one usually lasts him at least a week, and sometimes longer. The oldest boy is 8, and perhaps he is getting almost too old to punish in this way; however, he is still a little stubborn, and there are times, but very rarerly, when nothing else seems to do him as much good as a sound paddling. I usually give him about 60 to 75 spanks with the same hairbrush, giving him a little harder spanks than I do the rest, and then I don’t have to repeat this for a long time, for at least a month, and sometimes six weeks to two months. I try never to threaten, but in case I do, I believe in carrying it out, and also believe in giving them what I promise, whether good or bad.”


Answer: On two occasions I said as vigorously as I was able that I objected to using the hairbrush as a spanking device and to anything except the bare, flat hand applied low on the child’s fat thighs. I have also said from time to time that as soon as the child learned to accept authority that we should abandon physical pain entirely as a means of punishment, that, as a rule, this should occur before the child is four or five.

Of course these children are yours, and you are responsible for their upbringing. From practice they may have acquired pretty thick and tough skins. I admire your being definite and your general purpose to make them mind. But, really, mother, without announcing the fact to them, I am sure you are going to abandon spanking wholly with the older ones and gradually abolish it for the younger. They will need some punishment, of course, but you can cut down all punishment more than half.

When you are sure one of them needs punishment, make him sit on a chair or on the floor at a certain place in the room 15 or 30 minutes by the clock. Use more praise when they do right. Limit punishment to a few things clearly defined in your mind and theirs. Now they have accepted your authority, your biggest problem is to build up comradeship with these children so you will be a pal to them through adolescence.

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