Jennifer Roback Morse

This is a man of good sense. I happen to have an article by Dr. Larzelere and some co-authors in my filing cabinet. It compares of a variety of disciplinary strategies: reasoning, and two types of punishment, non-corporal punishment, such as time-out, and non-abusive corporal punishment. He concludes that parents should try reasoning with a child first. If “that tactic does not receive appropriate compliance, then parents should back up the initial tactic with a slightly more aversive tactic (e.g. non-corporal punishment such as time-out). Only for continued defiant noncompliance should a parent resort to nonabusive corporal punishment as back up .... (Other authors) have shown that a back-up such as a two-swat spank is necessary to make time-out effective with the most non-compliant preschoolers.”

In other words, if you are dealing with a sweet, even-tempered child who wants to please, you can reason with them and they will comply. But there are some little stinkers who need something a little firmer.

When Dr. Larzelere wrote the above article, his affiliation was listed as "Boys Town." Presumably, he observed some troubled kids during his time there.

In my experience as a foster parent, I too, observed some troubled kids. There are indeed kids who will not comply with adult instructions, no matter how nicely you talk to them. (Parents who talk too much have been studied too. The experts call them "natterers.") The presumption that spanking is always and everywhere a form of child abuse assumes that the harm the child endures in the spanking is more serious than the harm he endures by being allowed to continue in his defiance. Failing to set limits on a child’s behavior is itself a form of child abuse. Going through childhood undisciplined is not in any child’s interest.

The essence of Sally Lieber's proposal is that otherwise competent parents will be presumed abusive if they swat their children. The parents can be put in prison for a year. The kids will be put into the already overcrowded and ineffective foster care system. The parents of difficult children will be the most likely to run afoul of these rules. Being in foster care is certainly a more traumatic experience than being swatted on the bottom.

All because some adults pretend they can’t tell the difference between a swat and child abuse.

Perhaps the voters will give Assemblywoman Lieber a time-out until she calms down.

Jennifer Roback Morse

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the author of Smart Sex: Finding Life-long Love In A Hook-up World. She blogs at

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