Basic Orientation
Book1: R-E Living & "Homo Rationalis"
Book2: Humanianity
Book3: Mind-Body Problem
Book4: (Future Possible Development)
Child Rearing Issues
01 Never Punish Children
02 My Posts On Spanking Thread
Philosophico-Religious Issues
Psycho-Socio-Cultural Issues
The Twelve Articles
Relevant Autobiography



What follows are some of my posts on a long running discussion thread regarding spanking. The interchanges on that thread tended to be highly hostile, and some of the individuals put my posts on "Ignore," very few people engaging in dialogue about the actual issues I was raising. Those against spanking labeled those in favor of choice regarding spanking as abusive, and those so labeled responded back with ridicule, sarcasm, and various forms of ad hominem personal attack. There seldom seemed to be any actual progress in thinking more deeply about the issues. And my posts were very infrequently responded to in any meaningful way. I, of course, believe that the difficulty in discussing this issue comes in part because of how we are reared as children. And I believe that how we are reared as children is a major determinant of much of our PSDED, from the interpersonal to the international. Here are some of the posts:


Our species is faced with growing problems that threaten our existence (at least as we have come to know it). We are going to have to come to agreement about some things, and those things are going to have to be correct. Therefore, we must do that which is most likely to lead to our having increasingly accurate beliefs.

One of the most effective ways to make our beliefs more accurate is to share and compare them with those who disagree, analyzing where differences of opinion occur, and assessing those alternatives using the rules of logic and the rules of evidence, called (in my terminology) "friendly debate."

However, we have a problem. The problem is that each of us has a set of "belief systems," or set of interconnected beliefs (about the way the world works and about what we should do), and some of these belief systems are used by us for comfort and/or joy. Consequently, we tend to value these belief systems highly, and don't want to have them challenged. We dread experiencing doubt about those belief systems. Therefore, we don't want to engage in exactly what is needed, namely, friendly debate.

Instead, when difference of opinion with regard to a cherished belief system is observed, we do almost whatever is necessary in order to avoid friendly debate. We ignore the presence of the difference of opinion, simply not talking about it and pretending it doesn't exist or inwardly discounting it and explaining it away. Or we take the postmodern approach of saying that there isn't any Absolute Truth, just your truth and mine, and if your truth works for you that is fine--we will just agree to disagree and move on. If that doesn't work, we enlist the aid of people who believe as we do, in ridiculing and attacking the other person, hoping to drive him or her away through psychic pain. If that doesn't work, and it is possible to ban the other person from the group, we do that. If that doesn't work, we become increasingly hostile, even to the point of physical attack, perhaps murder. All over this planet we are killing people because they have different belief systems. And we are getting better and better at it.

I believe we should try to turn this around. I believe each of us who understands this problem should develop a personal valuing of friendly debate, and attempt to engage in it with others who are willing. More specifically we should avoid personal attack, even if attacked.

In this thread, and in the thread that is now Part I, we see endless mutual personal attack, with only occasional in-depth exploration of difference of opinion. Yet the issues we are discussing are extremely important, and developing accurate beliefs in this area will be of benefit to many, many people.

My own belief, shared by almost no one, is that our routinely using punishment (any punishment, not just spanking) is one of the main reasons that we engage in such frequent and severe efforts to achieve dominance over each other (through personal attack), just as has been done to us in our childhoods in the attempt to make us obey, making interpersonal relationships extremely difficult to maintain. We have been punished over and over for our mistakes, and we therefore know that we must avoid admitting making them, just as the parents of many of us have been so reluctant to admit mistakes to us (or anyone else). Efforts to give personal feedback ("criticism") are frequently met with hostile rejection (and mechanisms such as "Well what about YOU?"), or, in the case of children, telling them "Don't talk back!

Yet how beneficial must it be for a parent to admit to a child that the parent has made a mistake and is going to work toward correcting it and becoming a better parent, along with asking the child for his or her feedback? Isn't this a wonderful model to set, the attempt to learn from one's mistakes, the valuing of feedback, and the effort to become a better person? Is that value not what we wish all of our children to live by?

Yet there is severe pressure on parents to be nothing less than excellent, so that contemplating the idea that one's belief system in the area of child rearing may be inaccurate, such that there may be even better ways to do it, is one of the most difficult ideas to contemplate.

I believe it would be good for us all to try to exclude from our discussions personal attack. There is a wonderful opportunity here for all of us to learn from each other about something extremely important to our species. Each of us in this way can work toward making the world a better place for everyone, even if only in a small way.


Everyone seems to agree that severe spanking, such that it leaves a mark, makes the child feel so bad that it is considered "abuse" and should not be done.

Okay, now suppose we make the spanking less and less severe. At what point does it no longer become something that should not be done? How bad is it okay to make the child feel?

Just about everyone seems to feel that the child should be made to feel a little bad, at least. But if we make the child feel worse and worse, at what point are we making the child feel too bad? Where is the dividing line, and how can it be determined?

And should we make the child feel bad only with pain? Or only with shame? Or only with fear? Or only with guilt? Or should it be a combination of pain, shame, and fear, but no guilt? Or pain and guilt, but no shame or fear? And should the pain be the worst part, with only a little shame? Or should the shame be the worst part, with just a little pain?

But everyone, except me as far as I can tell, believes that children should be made to feel bad, punished in some way, either with spanking, taking something away, grounding, shaming, frightening, etc. Everyone, except me as far as I can tell, believes that if the child does certain undesirable things, the parent should think up a way to make the child suffer, not a lot, but not too little--just the right amount.

I strongly believe otherwise, and work with parents to develop an entirely different model of child rearing that does not involve thinking up ways to make children suffer in order to control them. No inappropriate behavior should be overlooked. But making children suffer as a response is, in my opinion, neither necessary nor desirable.

So I go much further than MG and others, who are against only certain ways of making children suffer, or are against making them suffer only beyond a certain amount. I maintain that there are better, more effective ways of helping children to acquire self-control and a good set of ethical beliefs and rules of conduct. Those ways are, however, complicated, principle-driven skills on the part of parents, skills that do not come naturally.

Punishment comes naturally to group animals like ourselves, where power hierarchies are established, involving patterns of dominance and submission. It is only we humans that can do something better, and it is my hope and prediction that there will come a time when our cultures recognize that fact and consider child rearing to be an occupation that does indeed require training and certification, with necessary continuing education, just as is required of other important occupations. (We are nowhere near that time, however, since there is no generally agreed-upon set of principles of child rearing.)

But I think it is possible for parents to recognize that they should indeed become as familiar as possible with the complex issues being studied and the trend of the results of those studies.

Some have commented on how long this discussion has gone on for. I think that is so because deep down everyone realizes that the issue is extremely important. Also, I think the reason people attack each other so much is because of the connection of the idea of winning and losing, dominating and submitting, with the sharing and comparing of differences of opinion. And I think that punishment during childhood plays no small role in that connection. Difference of opinion between parent and child is to a certain extent expected to be resolved not by reason but by force, physical or psychological, and then as adults, difference of opinion continues to seem to elicit dominance-submission patterns of interaction. And in a forum like this, no one needs to submit. He or she can ultimately, if need be, simply ignore and/or leave.

I am especially heartened by seeing some be able to look at both sides and recognize the complexity of the issues, and be desirous of sharing and comparing their ideas with others with the goal of increased knowledge and wisdom.


You write:

[To avoid the "if you don't punish your children they'll run wild" and to answer others who feel it would be impossible to do without punishment, perhaps you would be willing to give an example... and this is a simple one, but a common occurrence: A child is misbehaving, screaming and yelling, throwing a tantrum in a store, then tries to run out into the parking lot. What should the parent do?]

I fully understand how reasonable your question is, but unfortunately it is not answerable. To attempt to answer it would be to disregard the very point of the alternative ("rational-ethical") model of child rearing, that child rearing is an extremely complex process, best done according to well-understood principles expressed in the development of hard-to-acquire skills (since they do not come naturally and sometimes run counter to what comes naturally). In the standard model of child rearing, behavior you described represents disobedience that must be stopped. In the rational-ethical model of child rearing, such behavior would be a dramatic symptom indicative of a major problem necessitating work over months or possibly years. I will try to become clearer.

Your question is somewhat like one of these: "Suppose you found your living room filled with smoke. What would you do? Open the windows? Put fans in the windows?" Or, "Suppose you started having rather severe abdominal pain. How would you relieve the pain?"

The rational-ethical model of child rearing is not a list of gimmicks or techniques to "get the child to obey." It is based upon the continuous process of coming to understand all aspects of the child's development so as to optimize the directions that development is taking. It is using an understanding of human behavior to provide the best environment for the child to enable the child to achieve his or her potential to the greatest extent possible, including the potential of being free of disabling dysphoria.

So the behavior you describe means something is seriously wrong. But what? Well, how do we know? We have almost no information.

In the standard model, no more information is needed. Obviously, the child needs a good "whupping" to let him or her know he or she can't behave that way. But why does the child not know this already? And why is the child wanting to do it in the first place?

But wouldn't it make some difference if, instead of this being the behavior the child has manifested almost every time he or she has been in a store, this is the first time the child has ever manifested such behavior? Would it make a difference if the child behaved this way frequently at home and now was beginning to behave this way in stores, versus the child being quite "well-behaved" at home, but behaving this way only in stores? Or what about if the child was known for very good behavior at school, but behaved this way at home? Or vice versa?

Another way of looking at the answer to your question would be to say that it is most likely that the reason the behavior has occurred is because the standard model of child rearing tends to run into difficulty and ultimately produce behavior of this sort, so that the answer is to change to the rational-ethical model, which takes months or years of effort to learn and get good at.

So now suppose a parent becomes convinced of this, and is trying to approach such problems in new ways. How would the parent start, given the current situation? Now the problem here is that what specific, concrete action one might think of might be doable by one parent in that specific family situation, but be impossible in another family situation. (This is in addition to the obvious factor of the child's age, a variable not given in the example.) So whatever example I gave would, I am absolutely convinced, be met with replies showing how ridiculous that would be, because what if.... And the principles that one tries to follow cannot always be applied very well because of the specific characteristics of the situation(s) in which one is trying to apply them.

But we can say that, ideally, the child should not be taken into stores if the child is not ready, and that much work needs to be done at home to get the child ready. Such behavior should not be allowed to occur with no action taken to correct the problem(s) causing it.

And the work at home should involve practical applications of the principles involved in optimal use of reward, teaching, and modeling for identification, not, I would maintain, clever use of punishment.

In sessions with parents, we would spend several such sessions talking about all the ways of understanding and responding to the processes going on in the child and in the family (or school, peer group, etc.) that are resulting in the observed behavior. And we would devise concrete applications of the principles to the specifics of the total situation, as best we could. And we would do this over and over. My observation is that after a year or two of work, parents will say they are really becoming able to understand what is being worked on, and some have said they wished they had been aware of these things at the beginning, rather than now, when so little time is left to make a difference.

But even when parents understand, and are beginning to use, the principles, they still have to battle within themselves the naturally occurring but non-helpful responses to behavior of the child that stimulates the motivation to dominate. This is no different from people being unable to back out of struggles for dominance in general, manifested everywhere, even in threads like this. Parents have built into themselves the strong feeling that the parent must always "win." The child should not be allowed to "get away with" anything. The parent must demonstrate that the parent is stronger than the child. As has been written in this thread, the child must be made to genuinely sob. And so it is not surprising that a man once told me he knew the exact day that he became a man-the day he beat up his father. There could be no clearer example, I believe, of the importance of optimal modeling for identification.

We will always basically be chimps, but we can use our tools (language and rules of logic and rules of evidence), that no other species have, to control and go beyond our basic animal nature. Around a century ago, Harry Stack Sullivan, a psychiatrist, said something like, "We are all inferior charicatures of the people we might have been." It is an urgent need of our species, I believe, to move along this developmental line toward a much better way of life than we have ever known. And I would like to be a part of that effort.


You write:

[When my son was 3, I remember a day when he was being a typical unruly 3 year old. He had been misbehaving throughout the morning and after repeated requests that he stop acting that way, we sent him off to his room for a sort of "time out". He refused to move, saying instead; "I'm not even afraid of you". "What was that?" I asked. As his mother held her breath, pleading in her mind for her son NOT to repeat what he just said, he did just that, "I'm not even afraid of you". At 3 years old, my son had "challenged" me to see "who was boss". I'm 6'5" and pretty fit. My son is big for his age and at 3 he was as big as a 5 year old. This little boy is undoubtedly going to be bigger than me when he grows up. I had to make a decision. He wasn't going to understand that everything I do for him was meant to guide him to grow into a good and decent human being. He sure wasn't going to listen to me rationalize WHY he should listen to what his parents tell him to do either. So I scooped him up like a football in one arm, carried him up the stairs into his bedroom and swatted his butt. As the tears streamed down his face, I asked him, "Are you scared of me now?" "Yes!", he replied, wiping away his tears.]

What you describe is quite understandable. It is normal and natural. It is consistent with what I call the "standard model of child rearing." I advocate for an alternative model of child rearing that I believe much more reliably produces an optimal outcome. It is not based upon forcing the child to obey. It avoids punishment, which indeed often accomplishes what the parent wants in the short run, but often leads to much pain, suffering, disability, and early death in the long run, this fact not being recognized because what is happening is assumed to be an unalterable fact of life. The alternative model, instead, makes use of optimization of reward, teaching, and modeling for identification, the three "higher levels" of child rearing. (All four levels are present in all child rearing to some extent and in certain ways, but there can be drastic differences in the way these processes are carried out.)

So if we look at your narrative, I immediately ask myself why a three-year-old child is being called "typically unruly." What kind of behavior are we talking about? If the behavior is indeed typical, then it must be normal for that age child. Our goal, then, should be to help the child develop increasingly mature behavior, in a process that does not have negative side effects. And behavior that is "unruly" presumably would be behavior that is inconsistent with certain ethical rules of conduct. What are those rules of conduct? Has the child learned them? It is extremely important for the child to be able to put into words behaviors that are appropriate and inappropriate. So what has been the process so far in helping the child to learn those specific rules?

"Time out" is usually considered an effort to avoid punishment and allow emotion or strong motivational states to subside, but it is almost always, in actuality, by virtue of the significance of it to the child, a kind of punishment. And although I am not convinced that it would be the wrong thing to do in a particular case, the important question is what the additional procedures will be to allow a positive learning experience to occur with regard to the problematic behavior that made it necessary.

You write, [He refused to move, saying instead; "I'm not even afraid of you".] For me, this is a very striking sounding of an alarm that something has been going very, very wrong. The child uttered a very striking, unusual sentence. Does this not sound like something the child must have heard said at some time? Where does it come from? And why is the child doing this? Is this the way we would hope a child would think about human relationships? Is this how we want our world to be? (Indeed, I know that this is the way the world is to a great extent, but can we not aim for something better?)

It is impossible to describe specifically how one should respond to the situation at this point, because there is insufficient information about the whole past history of the child rearing process and what has been talked about with the child already, etc., in addition to insufficient information about what the child was actually doing. However, I could imagine myself (in your place) saying something like, "Well, of course not! I don't want you to be afraid of me. I don't want anyone in this family to be afraid of anyone else. We all need to work together to make this a good place for all of us. The reason that I was sending you to your room was to help you to calm down, so we could talk about what was happening and why we were disliking what you were doing. You have really been good at times at controlling yourself, something all kids have difficulty doing, and I wanted for us to talk about what seemed to be going wrong, so that you could get even better at self-control."

I fully understand that, in the standard model of child rearing, what I have described doing would be considered ridiculous, because children must be taught to obey and not talk back. But I want the child to be obedient because it is the wise thing to do, rather than simply to do the wise thing because it is the obedient thing to do.

You did indeed accomplish the short-range goal of increased obedience. And indeed this child may turn out to have a very good life characterized by responsible behavior and good self-esteem. However, it is also possible that there are problems developing which can become quite distressing at some later point in life, especially the teenage years. And have we not heard things like, "I just don't understand it. He always seemed like such a nice child (or person)." Unfortunately, we humans are more complex than it is easy for us to understand. Things can be going on underneath the surface, so to speak.

I don't believe what you described will necessarily have awful consequences. One incident can be relatively insignificant compared to one's whole childhood (though sometimes it can be quite significant). But I think it is possible to increase the odds of having a good outcome. And we all well know that there is a relatively high incidence of bad outcomes of child rearing. So I am advocating that people question what they have been taking for granted. Is this not something that is often productive of increased wisdom and more effective decision-making?

I thank you for having offered the example for us to think about.


You wrote:

["The child uttered a very striking, unusual sentence." Actually, WVF, I don't think that it's unusual at all. Children, especially bright ones, challenge authority at various stages in their lives.]

I was really meaning unusual for this child, as seemed obvious from the reported responses of the parents. I do question the assumption that more intelligent children are more likely to challenge authority. They may just do it in different ways. Every time a child openly disobeys, this is a challenge of authority. And I believe this is seen at all levels of intelligence. And when it is happening a lot, it tends to be, I think, in the lower echelons of society, where, if there is any difference in intelligence on the average, it is probably lower.

You wrote:

[My brother was about 3 when he was caught, again, sliding down a steep and long flight stairs on his tummy, yet again. Doing that had already resulted in a trip to the ER for my other brother, btw. When my Mama heard him bump-bumping down the steps, she went to the bottom of them, yelled up at him to stop and said, prefacing it with his full name, which always bodes ill, "I TOLD you not to do that!" He stopped, looked at her, and winked, then proceeded to continue sliding down them. She had already done time outs, corner sitting, etc., and so spanked him. He did it once more a few days later, was spanked again, and decided it wasn't worth it. ]

I fully understand that this narrative seems like (child rearing) business as usual. Such child rearing is according to very simple principles. But I do not believe it is optimal. Note that the previous punishments had not seemed to work all that well. Adhering to the principle that one must win out over the child seems to result in escalating punishment till it is severe enough to produce submission, and some children seem to catch on that they can win out over the parent by driving the parent to inappropriate behavior.

You wrote:

[My daughter, age 3-ish and attending a very touchy-feely-mellow Montessori daycare at the time, stood in the hallway with her little white sandals, curly blond hair, pink summer outfit with ruffles on the butt, hands on hips and feet planted firmly, and, when I said, "I TOLD you to get in there and take a nap!" said, "Mommy, you go to HELL!" From the look on my face, she immediately realized she had made a mistake, and ran and jumped into her bed and pretended that she was snoring in and breathing out audibly. I was collapsed in the living room, face jammed into a couch cushion, trying to keep from laughing loudly enough for her to hear me.]

So it became a game enjoyed by both. And the involved teaching (and rewarding) seemed to be that of helping the child to become verbally aggressive, suggesting that such was valued by the parent. Where did those words come from? How did the child (age 3) learn to say, "Go to hell!"? I would be concerned about such a development, and would feel a great need to understand it and do something about it. But my goals would be different.

You wrote:

[Of course what he described won't have awful consequences. Cubs and puppies challenge the adults in all species, incuding human animals, and if we are to be effective parents, we must maintain the pecking order.]

Exactly. This is a clear statement of the primary principle of the standard model of child rearing, which is our human version of what comes naturally to all higher animals. What I maintain, however, is that it is possible, and desirable, and even increasingly urgent, for us humans to make use of our capabilities to go beyond our basic animal nature and develop a model of child rearing that leads to a much better way of life, with drastically less resulting pain, suffering, disability, and early death.

You wrote:

[But I disagree with your statement, "we all well know that there is a relatively high incidence of bad outcomes of child rearing." On what basis do you make that statement, and what is meant by "relatively high?"]

You are right that my "relatively high" phrase is quite ambiguous. I guess I mean relative to what the incidence could be. I also recognize that I cannot justify to you my sentence, because it involves making an assumption that I make but that I realize you (and perhaps most) probably don't make. I look at the awful stuff that is reported in the media, from intrafamilial to international, where we have done things we really should not have done and could have refrained from doing, and I attribute that primarily to our child rearing processes, just as I do most of the mental health problems that a large segment of the population has. I realize that you do not make that assumption, because you are assuming that that is just the way we humans are, something that has to be lived with.


You wrote:

["So it became a game enjoyed by both." How on earth do you draw that conclusion?]

I call the game "Taunt the Monster." Children love the game. Make the monster mad, and then run and get away. Your laughter seems to indicate your own admiring enjoyment. And I doubt that she believed that you believed that she had instantly fallen asleep. And she was also playing "Grown-Up," doing what only grown-ups are allowed to do, according to her observations. Of course I could be wrong in any of this, but I really think that your explanation of the interaction is oversimplified.

You wrote:

[She saw that I was angry (disapproved) and realized that her behavior would not work, took her nap, and never did it again (well, until her teens when they are all insane). Are you suggesting that I should, instead, have spanked her instead of merely allowing her to go ahead and do what she was supposed to?]

No, I don't believe in punishment. What you should do would depend upon your goals for her, what kind of a person you want her to become. And you would use reward, teaching, and modeling for identification, in a skillful way, to accomplish those goals. And indeed the teens are when dormant problems are most likely to surface. But we tend to make the assumption that teens are supposed to manifest major difficulties, rather than that those difficulties reflect in part the negative side effects of some of our naturally occurring child rearing methods.

You wrote:

[And in reply to your sentence beginning with "Exactly." Denial of nature and natural processes and outcomes is never a real answer.]

I'm not sure what you mean by "denial." But I do believe that we can, do, and should modify our basic animal behavioral tendencies. This is probably what is meant by becoming "civilized." What I am saying is that we need to do much more of this, especially in the area of child rearing (and anger prevention).

You wrote:

[We adapt our responses to our cub's natural defiance, of course. We also do not abandon them when they're weaned or sit by and watch while they put themselves in danger once they're no longer infants. I maintain that your model is, like a diverted river, not going to work the way you want it to in the long run.]

That may indeed be true. But I would have much more confidence in what you are saying if you actually knew what "my model" consists of. It is not easily understood, and requires a fair amount of study. It certainly does not include "abandoning" children or failing to protect them.

You wrote:

[Hm. "... relative to what the incidence could be." is, of course, a supposition, a theory, and parents dealing with children in the now may well find that it does not work. I also note that "what it could be," under your experimental child rearing methods, may be worse than it is now.]

That certainly is a possibility. But I am convinced that it makes things better, because I have seen it turn deteriorating family situations around, with marked improvement in child behavior and satisfaction on the part of parents. I have not found that parents find that it doesn't work, but I have found indeed that some parents cannot learn the model because they are so committed to winning the battle with their child and/or feel too (irrationally) guilty when contemplating that there might be a better way than the way that they have been using ("Then we must be bad parents...").

You wrote:

[Please do not tell me what I am assuming. It is presumptuous and at least partially factually incorrect.]

I was only telling you what I believed you assume. All of my statements are simply my opinions, and I welcome feedback if my opinions seem incorrect. So if I was indeed incorrect in my impression as to the assumption you are making, could you clarify what I am incorrect about, and why you believe that is so?

(The statement of mine that the above refers to is as follows: [I also recognize that I cannot justify to you my sentence, because it involves making an assumption that I make but that I realize you (and perhaps most) probably don't make. I look at the awful stuff that is reported in the media, from intrafamilial to international, where we have done things we really should not have done and could have refrained from doing, and I attribute that primarily to our child rearing processes, just as I do most of the mental health problems that a large segment of the population has. I realize that you do not make that assumption, because you are assuming that that is just the way we humans are, something that has to be lived with.])

I can indeed see how perhaps you are not making the assumption that I described above, though you still, I believe, are not making the assumption that I am. I am interested in what your opinion actually is regarding this.

Thanks for your dialogue, and for the personal example you shared.


You wrote:

[I scowled, head lowered and one eyebrow raised (like my Mama) and pointed to her room and she ran in and got in her bed. She did not know I was laughing. She never did it again. For it to be a "game," wouldn't it have needed to continue?]

Not necessarily, in my mind. Also, there is no way for me to know whether the same pattern of interaction did or did not occur in other ways, but not recognized as examples of a repeating pattern. Nor do I believe that this pattern was necessarily dysfunctional or continued in a dysfunctional way or produced dysfunction in later life. But I do know that there can be rather complex patterns of interaction among people that they do not have conscious awareness of, and that this includes interactions between parents and children. And I do know that some of these patterns can be non-optimal.

You wrote:

[I have read your posts and followed your links. One basic problem with so many of the theories is that they are formed sans stress.

Relate it to Massad Ayoob, who developed his "Stressfire" method for police officers, because shooting at paper targets once a year doesn't really train you for anything but shooting paper targets once a year and not for the cascade of emotions, peripheral blindness, adrenalin rush, shaking, sweating, auditory exclusion, etc. that will happen in a real confrontation.

All of those child-rearing theories come up against real life and real interaction among individuals and stop there.]

I absolutely agree with you in one sense.

A person can read a chapter, or even a book, on child rearing and still not be able to implement what is advocated. That is because the interactions that take place between parent and child (or interpersonally in general) are highly resistant to change, for two reasons.

First, almost any pattern that one wants to change to one more optimal is a pattern that has already been reinforced by large amounts of repetition. It has already been done countless times.

Second, most such patterns are occurring because they are some variation on what comes naturally to all higher animals, or at least those close in species, or especially within our own species. It takes much focused effort to modify behavior that comes naturally.

So we are talking about learning a new skill that at the same time will be replacing one that (1) has become automatized and (2) is consistent with what comes naturally. That is no easy task.

So what is needed is more than just reading a chapter, or a book, but instead placing oneself in a training program, either on one's own or under someone else's (group or individual) supervision or coaching, and working diligently at developing the new skills.

And there is a general process that occurs in a successful effort of that sort.

First, the new model or paradigm is studied in the sense that words are defined and principles are learned so that they can be repeated verbally quickly and easily from memory, with increasing understanding of what those words actually mean.

Then, situations and interactions that have already occurred, and have occurred according to the old pattern (to be replaced) are reviewed retrospectively so as to be understandable in terms of the new model or paradigm, with the result of increasingly becoming able to imagine what would have been a more optimal way to have responded if one were indeed following the new model or paradigm.

After doing this for a while, it starts becoming possible to do that imagining in actual, real-time situations, such that one can indeed modify one's response at that time. Needless to say, such modifications will only gradually get better and better.

But after some time of doing this, it will become increasingly likely that the new responses will occur automatically rather than the old ones, even though there will be slip-ups and reversions to the old way, indeed most likely in the more complex and "stressful" situations, ones in which the naturally-occurring motivational states are unusually strong.

But all of this is no different than learning a martial art. One can read a chapter or a book about a kind of martial art and be totally unable to implement it. But that obviously doesn't mean that ultimately being able to do so is impossible.

The thing that defeats most people from learning more optimal child rearing is the belief that what is involved is the use of some gimmicks or techniques that are easy to implement once one gets the idea and recognizes their value. If indeed someone does do that, he or she will still be operating within the model that he or she has always been using, the new techniques simply being add-ons. That's why I say that my offering what I believe should be done in some particular concrete situation would not be particularly helpful. Taking one concrete method derivable from a new model and attempting to apply it within an old model will very likely be unsuccessful. And that fact can easily be recognized.

But the presence of "stress" itself does not make the learning of the new model impossible. When I am teaching the new model, I am doing so within a highly stressed family. That's why they are coming. (And I do recommend that they read the write-up weekly, underlining things they wish to be discussed in sessions.)

You wrote:

[My daughter is 39 this year and I could not hope, in my wildest dreams, for a better, more caring, loving, socially conscious, humane being to inhabit this planet. In fact, my son, 33 this year, also fits that description. In other words, I know that my method worked. And, obviously, so have the methods of millennia of parents.]

And indeed what I say is that the standard model, conscientiously applied, can work very well, but it also can work poorly, and sometimes so poorly that the results make it into the media. So I regard it as a matter of luck as to whether the standard model, conscientiously applied, is going to get a good result or a bad one. The fact that the standard model does at times, even if fairly frequently, yield a satisfactory or good result is in no way evidence that it is the best model.

And I believe that the creation of human adults is one of the most important things we do, fully warranting search for the best model. In the field of medicine, we are not satisfied with methods that work most of the time while also producing some bad and even tragic results occasionally, if there is indeed a better method that avoids those adverse outcomes. Why would we settle for less in the occupation of child rearing? Why should not those who are rearing children be highly motivated to study continuously what they are doing, always looking for even better ways, and making use of the ideas of others that seem to be of some possible value? Such continuing education is required in the field of medicine.

You raise some important and good questions. I hope that I have replied in an understandable and helpful way. Thanks!


I so much agree with you.

My religion (Humanianity) leads me to believe that I should do my part to make the world a better place, within my sphere of influence and within the limits of my capabilities. My sphere of influence is quite small, and maybe always will be. But what is important is what I do within that sphere. (Of course, I also believe that I should maximize my capabilities, by taking care of my body, brain, mind, and possessions.)

I believe that we humans are just beginning, just beginning, to emerge from out of the animal life on this planet into a far better way of life than we have ever known (but can indeed begin to imagine).

I think that, quite obviously, most of the pain, suffering, disability, and early death that we humans undergo is in part, if not entirely, induced by ourselves, by our own decisions. We could decide to do far better than what we actually do.

Our basic animal nature, produced by natural selection and therefore promoting the survival of our species, has nothing at all to do with quality of life. We are still basically chimps, and we will always be. But, on top of this basic animal nature, we are able to build a supervisory structure (both individually and socially) that improves upon our non-optimal, naturally-occurring behavior. We are beginning to do so, but we have much, much more to do before we have done most of what we are actually able to do.

Thus, because of the evolutionary development of our prefrontal cortex and probably other parts of the brain, we can not only become increasingly civilized but also even change what being "civilized" actually means.

So I imagine a time in the future when we will no longer be doing all these awful things, and will have a much better life than we have ever known. I call it the time of "Homo rationalis," as if we will be almost like a different species, different from "Homo sapiens." True, we will not see this in our lifetimes. But that does not mean it is not going to happen. And if that time comes, those living at that time will be very grateful to those of us who have worked toward that goal, even if they don't know of us individually. Additionally, those of us who do so should observe, most likely, an improvement in our own lives and in the lives of those within our sphere of influence (at least close to the center of it).

So I believe I should advocate that we explore this possibility. It can only happen if we indeed do explore it and advocate for it.

Obviously, in order for us to behave so differently than our basic animal nature would have us behave, we have to start early in this programming process, in what we call "child rearing." That is why one of the chapters in my (free) book is entitled "Rational-Ethical Child Rearing," and presents (and advocates for) a model of child rearing that is drastically different from that which our basic animal nature has us use (the "standard model" in my terminology, or the "authoritarian-ethical model," referring to material earlier in the book).

So I maintain that in our future we will come to the conclusion that our natural tendency to punish our children for "disobedience" actually is a primary cause of much of the pain, suffering, disability, and early death that we currently must endure. And I am therefore against, not just spanking, but any kind of punishment.

But I am not advocating just that we stop punishing our children. Doing that and nothing else would produce, I believe terrible problems. I advocate that we rise above our basic chimpanzee nature and study child rearing scientifically, the way we study other things, and learn non-natural but much more highly effective methods of child rearing based upon a good understanding of the principles involved. We can do much more than we customarily do in the "higher levels" of child rearing (higher than punishment), namely, reward, teaching, and modeling for identification. These can be done far better than they are usually done, but for this to happen, we will have to be willing to study child rearing much more thoroughly than is usually done.

So I believe there is possible truth in the idea that stopping spanking children can lead to children running wild, not just because of the loss of efficiency in dominating children and making them submit and be obedient, but also because stopping spanking may make it difficult to bring about such obedience, resulting in a marked increase in frequency of other forms of (less effective) punishment, this additional punishment producing even greater problems, especially by virtue of the enormous amount of chronic anger produced in such children.

We are a very punished and therefore angry species. In contrast to other species, we have to mold the naturally-occurring behavior of our children into that which is acceptable in our highly unnatural environments, and since we therefore have so much molding to do and, in doing so, rely so heavily upon punishment, the anger produced is enormous. It is no wonder that we are so mean and cynical and even at times paranoid, and have such difficulty maintaining relationships.

I would be interested in knowing what you think about the above. I also would be interested in knowing more about what is in your book. Is it possible for you to post the table of contents and maybe present some of your basic principles or ideas? I would be interested in knowing whether some of what you advocate for is what I call "Rational-Ethical Anger Prevention" and/or "Rational-Ethical Belief Management" (chapters in my book). As you probably know, my ideas are presented (free) in some detail at It would be interesting to share and compare our ideas.

Again, it seems to me that we think quite a bit alike in some areas. Thank you for your post.


There is a basic division, I believe, between two different orientations to the pain, suffering, disability, and early death (PSDED) that we bring upon ourselves.

One orientation is that the PSDED is just a necessary evil that we have to endure. I will label this orientation as the "cynical view."

The other orientation is that we can and should do better. I will label this orientation as the "idealistic view."

Idealists will complain about the cynics. Cynics will laugh at the idealists.

I am an idealist. I believe that we are capable of doing far, far better than we have ever done, because we have started using, more and more, certain capabilities that other species don't have, that allow us to rise above our basic animal nature. (For certain reasons, I label us at that time in the future, if and when we get there, as "Homo rationalis.") However, in order for this to happen, we have to recognize that there is a possibility of doing it, we have to want to do it, and we have to put forth effort (rather than waiting for someone else to do it). And indeed I see the cynics as holding us back, as they express their viewpoint of hopelessness and ultimate doom. (For instance, I have heard people say they are unconcerned or even glad these awful things are happening, all of which are predicted in "Revelations," as part of the glorious end times.)

I know I could be wrong. But I also believe I could be right. If there is indeed even a small chance of us becoming "Homo rationalis," I want to be among those who have worked toward that goal.

(BTW, the emergence of "Homo rationalis," as I use the term, is not a genetic evolution to an actual new species. It is a psychosocial change to a new way of living that would be possible for us even today, if we had been reared to live according to it, in a culture that already lived that way.)

The cynics say, "That could never happen because...." The remainder of the sentence is some variation on "...we just aren't that way." In other words, cynics consider that the way we have always been, and thus the way we are now, is evidence that we cannot change to something better. A cynic 200 years ago would laugh and say, "Of course we can't get into a vehicle and travel 60 mph down the road. We would skid off into the woods, and we would scare all the horses."

Now I have my own ideas about what becoming "Homo rationalis" will involve. I try to study what leads to most of our human-induced PSDED, and think about what would make that no longer happen.

I would have a hard time identifying any more important factor than anger. I have written elsewhere the following:

[It is my contention that the motivational state of anger and the behaviors (decisions) that are produced in response to it play the primary role in most of our human-induced hardship and tragedy, from the personal, interpersonal, and family level all the way to the global level. They are operative in most instances of breakdown of marriages, parent-child relationships, employer-employee relationships, and intimate relationships in general; "sibling rivalry"; meanness, teasing, bullying, and scapegoating; destructiveness; "adolescent rebellion"; child abuse and elder abuse (by both children and adults); rape; cruelty to animals; sadism and torture; self-injurious behavior and suicide; harassment (sexual and other); discrimination, "bashing," and persecution; conflict, inefficiency, passive aggression, underachievement, and absenteeism in our schools and in the workplace; lawsuits and protests; theft and vandalism (including production of computer viruses); public and domestic violence, battering, and murder; "wilding," rampaging, and rioting; serial killing, mass murder, and assassination; and revolution and war (including terrorism, purging, and ethnic cleansing).

It is also my contention that anger and related phenomena are an underlying factor in much illness and premature "natural" death. Anger has been shown to have deleterious and potentially fatal effects on the cardiovascular system and the immune system. Anger also produces fear, or anxiety, in others and in self, and this anxiety produces many of the other symptoms and complications seen in some of the psychiatric disorders, which may in turn carry a substantially high mortality rate. And since the status of our primary relationships is one of the most important determinants of our physical and mental health, the appearance of anger in those relationships, heralding potential or actual relationship breakdown, represents a major threat to our physical and mental health.]

So what do I believe is the answer to the problem of anger, which is part of our basic animal nature? We have to rear our children in such a way that they learn the very best ways to supervise their own basic animal nature and thus to reduce or eliminate anger. They will have to learn how to respond when they are experiencing anger and how to respond when someone else seems to be experiencing anger, even toward themselves. They will have to learn how not to be hostile, and how to respond to someone that is being hostile, even toward themselves. They will have to learn these skills especially from their parents, who will of course model such behavior for them. And so those adults must indeed believe that it is worthwhile to learn those skills, and to actually be good at them.

But I am fully aware that there is no such understanding currently in our culture. We love to be hostile. We thrill to the display of skilled hostility. And we refer to individuals who are non-hostile with derogatory adjectives and adjectival nouns. Well, perhaps some of us don't, but the vast majority currently do. For some, skilled physical hostility is valued, learned, taught, and modeled. For others, skilled verbal hostility is valued, learned, taught, and modeled. And those of us that advocate for non-violence, non-vengeance, and non-punitiveness may actually be killed by those who disagree.

So those few of us that believe in being non-hostile will have to expect being laughed at and even attacked. And we have to decide whether it is "worth it" to try to live as we believe we should and to advocate for what we believe.

I think that this thread, underneath it all, reflects this basic division in orientation. Those who believe that this is as good as it gets at times laugh at those who believe we can rear children without deliberately making them suffer (i.e., "punishment"). Child rearing is seen as being no different, basically, than what other species do in relationship to their offspring, nor, they may say, should we expect otherwise. (In this thread, some have justified punishment by pointing out that other species do it.) Indeed, most of us tend to civilize our children by, ultimately, domination, reinforced by effective hostile behavior (even though that behavior is sometimes presumed not to be hostile). And punishment almost always adds even more anger to the world, often leading to vicious circles of hostile interchange and spiraling escalation, sometimes to the point of tragedy.

And sometimes the anger that punishment produces is not evident because the display of that anger has in turn been punished. Such anger may remain beneath the surface and produce, in addition to painful emotional states, distressing behavior that reflects its presence even if the behavior itself is not obviously overtly hostile. And for some there is a vacillation between total lack of hostility and intense outbursts of uncontrolled rage, especially perhaps during substance-induced disinhibition.

Now I do know that what we naturally do does not always have such obvious, awful effects, but I also believe that we simply remain unaware of how much we are all victims of processes that generate anger, because those processes are so normal (statistically) that they seem unavoidable, as if they have a life of their own. And as I quoted above, I believe that we simply have come to accept much PSDED, that is produced primarily by anger and hostile behavior, as being unrelated to anything we can really do something significant about.

Our situation (of not adequately understanding) can be viewed as similar to an analogous one. The scientist can create an enclosure into which are introduced some rats. The rats live out their lives as rats do, enjoying satisfying their basic drives. Then the scientist can begin making the enclosure smaller and smaller. Ultimately the rats begin attacking each other. And every rat knows exactly what the problem is--that other rat.

It is only we humans that can study ourselves and learn how we are victims of processes that are not obvious but that we can actually gain some control over (if we don't kill ourselves first). We have to get a better overview of who we have been and who we are capable of becoming. Getting that better overview is being idealistic. It is the idealists, working toward their ideals, that will help make the world a better place, better than what has been imagined to be possible by most.

So I believe that our best chance for a good future is produced by a balance between idealists and cynics that favors idealists. (But I also know that some idealism is inaccurate and prone to cause PSDED, so the role of the cynic, to challenge the idealist, is indeed important.)

I recognize that it is incredible to most that child rearing can be carried out according to principles that include the avoidance of punishment. But throughout this thread there is an obvious awareness of the potential for punishment to become clearly harmful. There is much discussion as to how one can arrive at ways to carry out punishment that avoid such harm. People vary with regard to where they draw the line between non-harmful and harmful punishment, for instance, with regard to kind, severity, and frequency. And they try to identify ways of punishing that prevent its harmful effects (such as doing it as a "loving" act that is not contaminated with anger). But very few are willing to consider the possibility that our normal and natural tendency to punish may be something we really need to learn skillfully to completely avoid, as a part of avoiding hostility and anger in general.

It is good to see some here indeed pointing out that just because we believe something now does not mean that it has to be so, and that having an open mind, open to the consideration of ideas alternative to those of oneself, is a step in the direction of doing one's part to make this world a better place for everyone, now and in the future. I want to be one such person. I want to be an idealist with an open mind, willing to contemplate that I can be wrong, but advocating for what I so far believe is an enormously important set of ideas for us all.

And it is especially heartening to see some here able to contemplate non-punitive child rearing, and it is also heartening to see some (on both sides) able to refrain from hostile counterattack. Objective, open-minded study is what is so needed in this world.

Regarding this specific topic (the possibility of non-punitive child rearing), the real challenge is to take hypothetical situations that would almost routinely involve punishment and contemplate how they could be handled without punishment but with skilled reward, teaching, and modeling for identification. Indeed, as has been suggested, having a child rearing book club, in which various proposed systems are scrutinized for ideas, would be one way to proceed.

It has been pointed out that optimal parenting involves, insofar as possible, not placing children in situations that they have not yet developed the skills to handle properly. When this situation has happened, it is possible that (1) avoiding it was impossible or (2) the parent has made a mistake. In either case, punishing the child seems non-optimal. The fact that the child knows that he or she should not have behaved that way can result in the behavior being viewed (1) as disobedience to be punished or (2) as evidence that the child was manifesting unusually strong motivational states and/or insufficient skills necessary to prevent such behavior. The latter, I believe, is the best way to view the situation, making it a technical problem in child rearing as opposed to simply defiance of authority, a personal affront to the parent. If indeed defiance of authority is present as a major motivational state, then there is a very important problem in existence that is perhaps long overdue for attention.

Non-optimal behavior should always, IMO, be regarded as reflecting a problem needing attention. Making the intervention something that the child values and enjoys, rather than something the child dreads and hates, is the goal, in behalf of the higher-level goal of helping the child to develop a strong motivation for self-improvement that is not accompanied by scars in self-esteem and vulnerability to extremely painful emotional states later in life. A child, indeed any of us, should feel good about having learned from our mistakes.

Are there other idealists here?


You wrote:

[I have personally tried the spanking method and have found that it doesn't work. Taking away privledges and favorite toys is the best method for me. My son has actually typed and printed his own set of rules and that is what we go by. They are all within reason of course. Bath/shower, snack, teeth brushing are all done before 9PM bedtime.]

As you may know, I advocate non-punitive (but skilled) child rearing, and teach an alternative model of child rearing, alternative to that which comes naturally. What you have posted ("My son has actually typed and printed his own set of rules") is relevant.

In the model of child rearing that I advocate, the goals are significantly different than those in the standard model.

In the standard model, a primary goal, perhaps sometimes even the most important one, is obedience. Many posts that advocate spanking have inherent in them the assumption that obedience is the criterion used to justify the procedure. The emphasis is on how to get the child to obey. For instance, a non-optimal behavior of the child is described with the question as to how one is going to get the child to stop engaging in that behavior. What if method A and method B have not brought about obedience, what is one to do then? The assumption is that the parent knows best (probably true, of course), so what remains to be accomplished is that the child must be made to do what the parent wants. The assumption is also made, I think, that if the child obeys the parent enough times, the obedient, correct behavior will become automatic, and the parent will no longer have to tell the child what to do. (Now you and I know there is much, much more to parenting than just this, but I am calling attention to a central assumption in most child rearing that is especially relevant to the issue of spanking, and punishment in general.)

Now what I believe is a more optimal goal in child rearing is the development in the child of a motivation for self-improvement along with an acceptable set of ethical beliefs (about what he or she "should" do), as well as a strong "ethical sense" (the motivational state produced by the activation of an ethical belief). The important notion here is that the motivation for doing the right thing is coming from within the child, not from within the parent. Metaphorically, it is the child himself or herself that is holding the remote control, not the parent.

So in the child's mind, there is a great difference between doing what the child has determined to be the right thing to do and doing obediently whatever the parent has determined is the right thing to do. The child may indeed do the right thing in both cases, but the experience for the child is different, as are the future consequences.

It is not surprising, I think, that effective ethics is so missing in such a large percentage of the population. People are easily able to justify doing things that they really believe are not right (as determined by others), and to behave as if the most important thing is not getting caught. And children, as they leave the nest and the control of their parents, are at great risk for making bad mistakes, for instance, finding someone else to look up to and obey, that person not necessarily having the ethical philosophy that parents would wish. (Mob behavior may also be an example, with obedience to the wish and pressure of the group.) And along with this continuing conceptualization of the importance of obedience to escape punishment is an almost paranoid view of any authority, accompanied by a primary value of "freedom," the ability to escape the necessity for obedience. This "paranoia" toward authority of course predisposes the individual to antisocial behavior.

So the question is, "What are the necessary procedures, as a part of child rearing, that will foster the development in the child of the child's own motivation for self-improvement, for doing the right thing, along with wisdom in determining what the right thing to do actually is and the strong need therefore to do it?" And what such procedures are there that have minimal negative side effects (such as low self-esteem, demoralization, fear or anxiety, and chronic anger)? All of these issues are involved, I believe, in what has come to be called "positive parenting."

Children take pride in their own projects, if they are allowed to have any. They look for areas of autonomy, where they can say that what they are doing, or what they have done, or what they have accomplished, has been under their own initiative. At least, that will certainly be so if they receive (informal) reward for such behavior. If they simply have obeyed their parents, then the parents get at least some of the credit, if not all of it (including the demonstration of power). If children have thought up something on their own, and are aware that others are impressed, their self-esteem will be enhanced as will be their devotion to whatever they thought up. Note that we are talking about internalized control (self-control), produced by skilled parenting behavior (skilled child rearing).

So you can see that I believe that what you have described, about your son having developed his own set of rules, is going in the right direction.

In the model I advocate for, the family works together to figure out the best ways for everyone in the family to feel as fulfilled and "happy" as possible. Everyone is concerned that no one suffer unnecessarily, because this is what the parent(s) stand for and because it is in the child's best interest as well as that of everyone else in the family.

The child's opinion is important and is listened to. If the child's opinion does not seem right, then friendly debate about the issues takes place. Now this doesn't mean that a vote is taken (though if the parents think that is appropriate it may indeed be done), or that the child is in charge. The parent is always in charge. And the parent may ultimately have to make a decision that the child is not in agreement with. But, in this alternative model of child rearing, the parent also feels an obligation to continue the discussion (maybe repeatedly) until agreement is arrived at. If the parent and child do not agree about what is the right thing to do, then an extremely important problem exists that won't simply go away because the child has obeyed the parent. (A problem exists no matter who is actually right.)

And indeed the parent may feel it appropriate under some circumstances to tell the child that the parent still does not agree with the child, but that it would be worth trying what the child is advocating to see if it indeed might work, and if not, what could be learned by virtue of it not working. And always the child's constructive efforts to participate in the effort to make life good for everyone are what should be rewarded (informally).

(In the above, I allude to the difference between formal and informal reward. Formal reward, such as money, tokens, treats, "privileges," etc. is quite problematic, probably should be avoided except as a part of a well thought out formal procedure. On the other hand, informal reward, such as praise, gratitude, affection, interest, applause, etc., is essential, and when given in response to appropriate behavior is very valuable.)

(And of course such reward must still be done skillfully. The right things should be rewarded, and sometimes this can be difficult to figure out.)

So it is the skilled use of friendly debate and other procedures that I refer to as the "teaching" level of child rearing (the "levels" being punishment, reward, teaching, and modeling for identification), that is so important in helping the child learn how to do ethical reasoning. The "family meeting" is an important component of child rearing, and is probably the best venue in which to foster the active participation and initiative of the child, giving the child experience in problem-solving, including ethical reasoning, friendly debate, and the opportunity to learn to adopt another's perspective.

At any rate, I guess you can see why your description of your son making out his own list of rules caught my attention.


You wrote:

[This long thread about spanking is so silly. Spanking isn't right or wrong. It is a form of discipline that some parents choose to use. Some parents use spanking a shocking deterrent so the child doesn't hurt himself in the future. Sometimes a parent just thinks his/her child might need a good old fashioned spanking. Other parents like to use time-outs, groundings or deprivation as a means of discipline. Both forms of discipline are effective and it is a personal parenting decision. It isn't right or wrong]

I have a different opinion, as follows.

"Discipline" is often a euphemism for punishment. (By punishment I will mean anything the parent does to purposely make the child feel bad because the child has done what the parent doesn't want, in order to reduce the likelihood it will happen again. So there is formal and informal punishment, the latter being scolding, etc.)

Spanking is just one form of formal punishment. Almost everyone who opposes spanking recommends substituting some other punishment, formal or informal, for it, noting that there are many ways to make a child suffer that do not involve hitting, etc.

I, however, am among the very few who believe that it is possible, and desirable, to rear children without resort to punishment of any sort (spanking or other, formal or informal).

While I recognize fully that it is normal and natural to punish, the reason I believe it is not also good is because of the negative side effects. I believe the unintended consequences of our use of punishment are widespread and severe, leading, often indirectly, to an enormous amount of pain, suffering, disability, and early death (PSDED), related to physical and mental illness and to unfortunate and often tragic interpersonal and even international predation and conflict.

Almost all of us consider punishment to be normal, natural, and necessary, and we consider the above mentioned sources of PSDED to be just a part of life that we have to come to accept and make the best of. Almost no one imagines it to be possible that one day we may stop doing the awful things we do (to ourselves and others). We have never seen that happen, and we conclude that it therefore can never happen.

I say that we are already substantially different than our hominid ancestors and all other species on this planet, due to language and science, and that we can go further and change our ways of behaving, including child rearing, such that we get much better results (with far, far less PSDED).

But in order to do that, we will have to acknowledge that child rearing is a complex occupation just like the practice of medicine, and that to do it optimally requires training and continuing education.

This runs counter to what we currently want and believe. We see our children as our own possessions, and we demand to be left alone to rear them the way we want, within some fairly wide limits.

And simply ceasing to punish, without also using reward, teaching, and modeling for identification in highly skillful ways, I believe would not be beneficial, or even possible.

If what I have said above (about the enormous effect our child rearing has on the lives of everyone ) is not so, then our current attitudes about privacy of child rearing are indeed perhaps acceptable.

Furthermore, before we can require training in child rearing, there will have to be agreement on the part of a trusted source of knowledge as to what optimal child rearing consists of, and this is not available today.

In view of that, all we can do is debate the issues and advocate for what we believe in, and hope that more and more people can tolerate contemplating the possibility of being incorrect in what they currently believe, as opposed to ignoring, attacking, and even killing those of different opinion.

When I am about to die, I hope that I will be able to feel good about how I have lived my life, and my current belief about the criterion I will use then is how much I will have contributed to my species (within my sphere of influence) in return for all that it has done for me. And I hope that my advocacy for non-punitive child rearing will ultimately, among other things I do, turn out to have been a valuable contribution.


First let me clarify that although I am going to express some differences of opinion, I am not being critical of your child rearing. I am trying to clarify what I mean by an alternative model of child rearing that one has to be trained to use. On the other hand, I think we as a species are just beginning to move toward this alternative model, so we see signs of it in what is otherwise the standard model, the one that comes naturally. And I see it in what you are doing. I think you are a highly dedicated and good parent, using the standard model but increasingly becoming aware that there is an alternative. So please be assured that I admire your child rearing and recognize how much you have to deal with, both currently and historically.

You wrote:

[It is simply a part of life that one must learn to follow rules and/or laws without always knowing the reason they have been put into place- it's everywhere you go. School, the workplace, recreation, society- life.]

Absolutely. But that is not a reason to forgo opportunity to help children learn the necessity for rules and to learn how and why they are developed, nor is it a reason to deny children participation in the effort to make the family a better place, through creative rule-making, when such opportunity exists.

I don't think you mean that because children won't be able to participate in rule-making in much of adult life, they should be denied such opportunity in the family so that they will get used to how it feels. I'm sure you agree that such logic would advocate stealing from and lying to one's children so they will be prepared for such outside the home, and that you would not advocate for that as a teaching method.

You wrote:

[But, I do want my children to have an understanding of how we run our own household and why. Besides that, I am not only grooming them for making thier ways in the world later, but for also perhaps being parents themselves. There is so very much they will have to learn on their own, but I would like to smooth as much of the way as I can, or at least give them techniques/ideas/knowledge to draw upon when they need it later.]

Yes! That's why it is so important to do that which will interest them in the parenting and rule-making process, and helping them to take pride in their increasing skill at participation in group decision-making.

You wrote:

[There is so much uncertainty everywhere one goes, in so many ways.....I think they should at least be able to understand the 'working's of the family, for our home to be one place that they don't have to be frustrated by seemingly pointless rules or expectations, and to know fully what's expected of them and why. Whether they like certain rules or not, letting them know why they are there is a good start with that.]

Agreed! Now what I am advocating is going as far in that direction as possible, and that is what is usually not done. For instance, most would not agree with me that if the child doesn't like the rule, there is a very important problem that should be worked on. To give a flavor of this, I can imagine a parent saying something like this (in language appropriate for the child's age), "Okay, I understand that you don't think the rule is a good one. I am trying to be as good a parent as I can be, but all of us can make mistakes. So even though I think I'm right, I could still be wrong. And I am glad that you are letting me know that you don't agree. That means we have more talking to do. I need to understand why you don't agree and where you think my thinking goes wrong. So let's keep this on our list of topics for the next family meeting. We can both do some thinking between now and then and share our ideas during the meeting. Of course right now I have to keep the rule because I believe it is the right thing to do, but if you can show me a better way, I will want to change to that. So again, thanks for letting me know how you feel and what you believe."

You wrote:

[Of course, I must admit I have been guilty at times of the age-old blanket response in moments of frustration or impatience or hurry- "Because I'm your mother and I said so". And sometimes that's simply the case, in more minor issues. If one of my children wishes to spend the night at a friend's house and I say no, the child might become upset or ask 'but why not?" Simple--because I said so. There are not always simple little reasons or answers for everything, and it's not always conducive or appropriate to sit said child down every time I make a decision and have a discussion as to why I said no (or whatever, depending on the situation).]

That is perfectly understandable. There is a time and place for such discussions, the "family meeting."

And of course there will be times when the parent feels a strong need to set a rule or make a specific decision, and yet can't easily put into words why. This can easily be explained to children. But in addition, to tell the child that you are worried because you can't explain clearly and that you want to discuss it further so that you will become clearer, and that you could indeed change your mind if your child convinces you are wrong, and that you will value such help from your child, will be an entirely different experience for your child. It will be modeling for identification the very skill that you would hope your child will develop, the ability to examine one's own beliefs and one's ability to make use of feedback from others.

You wrote:

[But for formal rules that are always in place, they do know the reasons for most of them.]

Yes, but what I am adding, that is not expected in the standard model, is that the goal always should be agreement. As long as there is disagreement, there is a problem, a very important one. If parent and child disagree (and it is not just a semantic confusion), then one or both have to be wrong. And if the child is wrong, there is work to be done, but if the parent is wrong, there is even more work to be done. So, yes, in the standard model, parents will sometimes or frequently tell children why they are making certain decisions, but what is generally not considered necessary is that parent and child agree, or even that the child express his or her opinion (and be listened to). In the standard model, if the child obeys even though not agreeing and feeling angry, the job is done, because getting the child to obey and do what the parent wants is the primary consideration. But in the alternative model, the problem is still there, in spades.

You wrote:

[However, children are children, and as such, can be stubborn or demanding at times. Just because they know the reasons for said rules does not always mean smooth sailing, or that they like or accept said reasons.]

And see in the standard model, the parent's response is some variation on, "Well, that's just tough. One day you'll understand, maybe."

"Stubbornness" may represent a desperate effort to be heard and understood, and/or it may represent oppositional behavior, one of the most ubiquitous and dreaded negative side effects of punishment. In either case, converting a complex and important psychosocial process of enormous significance into a simple, pejorative label that implies a built-in property of the child is overlooking the need to do some extremely important work.

You wrote:

[I have been told on many occassion by one child or another, "I know that's why I'm not supposed to, but I still want to. You can change the rule if you want to, you're the mom! (Strange, since I strive to remain very consistent, and such an argument would only insure that I WOULDN'T change said rule, and they know that, Kids).

By now, you can see that I would take a different approach. I would not try to model for the child that once I have made a decision I will never be able to admit that I am wrong and will never be able to change the decision even if I am shown to be wrong. We don't want our children to be inflexible and closed-minded to feedback and to the demonstration of error, and modeling for identification is the highest level of child rearing, that which may have the most profound impact at a very deep level. That is why oppositional behavior is such a frequent result of punishment; the child identifies with the parent's need to win.

But also, there is a very, very important issue in the example given. If the child is saying that he or she knows what the right thing to do is, but wants to do something else instead (and is trying to get permission to do so), then the child is saying that his or her ethical sense is very weak (at least in comparison to the motivation to do the forbidden). In other words, "I know you want to do it. I know how exciting or pleasurable it might be. But do you not also want to do the right thing? And isn't your wish to do the right thing stronger than your wish to do something else? How strongly do you want to do the right thing?"

You wrote:

[If the reason for a rule is because something is dangerous, do the kids always care? Not if they want what they want bad enough, depending on age and maturity.]

But that "maturity," the development of it, is exactly what the alternative model is attempting to promote. In the standard model, helping the child to mature involves extra work and time and is too far down the list of priorities. So getting the child to obey is substituted.

You wrote:

[My oldest knows the reasons for his curfew and restrictions.....that doesn't mean he has to agree with them or like them. Why? Because he's a teenager. He thinks it's just 'mom worry', because he's invincible.]

And that is exactly what he needs help with. Automatically discounting the judgement of the parent as being a product of inappropriate worry characteristic of adults is an extremely dangerous tendency. That "invincibility" is in need of much, much discussion, accompanied by review of news articles. There is a difference between waterproofing your infant (teaching him or her to swim) and growing a bubble child, isolated from the real world for as long as possible and crossing one's fingers when the leaks begin.

You wrote:

[Of course, they don't protest 'in place' rules all that often, and discussing the reasons for the rules does help, in my experience, and that often quells any disagreements on the matter.]

Yes, and adds to their maturity.

You wrote:

[But just because I do it doesn't mean I think it's an absolutely necessary thing for all parents to do; rules exist everywhere, like I said, without us always knowing the reasons for them. A child shouldn't obey rules only if s/he knows or agrees the reasons for them, and I make sure my kids understand that. Kids don't always care or understand the reasons for the rules, despite discussion, but they still have to follow them.]

Yes, of course. But it is the parent's concern that the child understand, and that the child and parent agree, that is so important in the alternative model.

I would like to add that, yes, children often do not take much interest in coming to agreement about the necessity for specific rules and the reasons for that necessity. But how much of that lack of interest comes about because the child's efforts to have such a discussion are met with failure due to unwillingness of the parent to engage in such discussion? Children only get interested in doing those things that work. They lose interest in that which results in repeated failure. It is an important skill for the parent to have to do that which will make the child feel good about such discussions.

So I see you as indeed moving in the direction of the alternative model. And that is one reason, I think, that people instinctively know that you are an unusually good parent. But most people have not yet explored this line of thinking yet, and there are strong social pressures to demonstrate that one can successfully dominate one's children, even to the point of (as someone advocated here) making them "genuinely sob." And of course it is not surprising that we, as a species, have such difficulty moving away from domination of others toward a world in which we all try to understand each other and make life good for everyone. Turning out adults who are able to participate in non-hostile, rational discussion, with the wish and ability to see alternative viewpoints and to change one's beliefs according to logic and evidence, is one of the most important contributions we can make to humanity.


You wrote:

[You talk about not using punishment but this thread is about discipline.]

I can't agree. But it really depends upon how words are being used. Discipline generally seems to have to do with teaching. Punishment has to do with induction of suffering. The question is whether good teaching always, sometimes, or never is helped by the induction of suffering, and if sometimes, what criterion should be used to decide whether to do it or not.

There is no question that the induction of suffering causes learning, but there is the question as to whether the amount of learning is greater, and also whether the kind of learning (what it is that is being learned) is most desirable. As you know, I believe punishment teaches the wrong thing even if it simultaneously teaches the right thing.

You wrote:

[By the way I would consider making a child clean up their mess "drawing on the walls - they'd have to clean it off." as a form of discipline and could be considered punishment by some, show me a kid who WANTS to clean of the walls.]

You seem to be saying that some people would equate punishment with anything that a child is made to do that he or she doesn't want to do. I don't believe that is what punishment means. There are many things that we have to do that we would prefer not to do, but we usually don't refer to those things as punishment, unless we are being poetic.

You wrote:

[It seems to me all the people who don't believe in "punishment" still use it. They just call it by another name. A rose by any other name is still a rose.]

I very much disagree. I believe that many who do believe in punishment indeed often call it by a different name, most usually "discipline." But I believe it is very important to have as clear a definition as possible of punishment, so that we can be clear on what it does, and whether what it does is desirable or not.

So, the way I define punishment is that it is anything the parenting person does to the child the purpose of which is to cause the child to suffer, because the child has done differently than what the parent (for whatever reason) wants, with the rationale being that doing this will lead the child to be less likely to repeat such behavior in the future because of the child's prediction of the likelihood of a similar consequence.

But also, please note that we can do something for more than one reason.

And in the case of punishment, if we look at the punishment of people by society, we can easily see a second motivation that is gratified, namely, the wish for revenge. People want certain other persons to suffer because of what they have done, because the knowledge that they are suffering makes people feel better.

And one of the possibilities in the punishment of children is that the punishment also gratifies the parenting person's wish for revenge. The child has made the parenting person angry, and the parenting person "gets back at" the child, while usually, however, denying that such motivation is present.

But revenge is not identical with punishment. It is entirely possible to punish simply because one believes in doing so, without the presence of anger. And in this thread, people have spoken of the possibility of, and the need to avoid, punishment in the presence of anger (usually to prevent "overdoing it").

At any rate, I am opposed to spanking because I am opposed to punishment. And I don't believe that what I advocate doing in its place would meet the above definition of "punishment." I don't believe what I advocate is just "a play on words."


You wrote:

[Sometimes actions speak louder than words, especially when your toddler just almost ran out in front of a truck.]

You are correct, but what is being taught is fear of the parent, not fear of traffic.

And suppose you were to have spanked the child who ran out into traffic but said nothing at all to the child about why you were spanking--what would have been learned? And suppose, instead, you had only talked about what the child had done and why it was wrong, but had not spanked or punished in any way--what would have been learned? If you had to do one or the other of those things, which would you choose?

But you, I gather, believe that the best alternative is to do both. I don't agree. I believe the action of being spanked speaks louder than words, and that what we would really like for the child to be taught is actually interfered with. Training the child to avoid danger through learning appropriate rules (e.g., "Hold mother's hand...," "Look both ways..."), in an atmosphere that stimulates affection and a wish to please rather than fear and a wish to rebel, I think is more effective.


You wrote:

["You are correct, but what is being taught is fear of the parent, not fear of traffic." (WVF) Not if the parent actually SAYS something about why s/he was punished.]

I don't think I was real clear about this.

At the time that the parent is spanking the child, I don't think the child is thinking at all about traffic. The child is experiencing fear of the spanking parent, wondering how bad the spanking is going to be and what else might happen also. The fear the child has of the parent and perhaps the anger the child has toward the parent are the things that are filling the child's mind, and this would drastically reduce the learning about street and traffic rules and why they exist.

Think how difficult it is to study some subject when you are preoccupied with a very bad worry. Greater learning takes place when all of the attention can be directed toward the material to be learned (and when the learning is a pleasant process). Thus, being spanked at the time explanation is given, or being under the immediate threat of being spanked at the time explanation is given, will drastically reduce the capacity for much thought and dialogue about the explanation.

And if the explanation is given after the spanking, there is the question as to whether having been spanked makes the child more or less receptive to the parent's explanation. One could even imagine that somewhere in the child's mind is the thought that perhaps the parent was just giving that explanation as a justification of the spanking.

I do think spanking, if the child knows why, will indeed reduce the likelihood of the child doing it again, unless the child has become significantly oppositional (one of the dangers of punishment). But if the child is doing the right thing primarily to avoid being punished, that is not as good an outcome as the child doing the right thing because of understanding clearly the rationale of the rule and wanting to do it because of believing in that rationale.

The usual idea parents have (i.e., in the "standard model") is that what needs to happen is for the parent to talk to the child and push good sense into the child's head. The child is supposed to "listen" and agree, and to obey whether the child agrees or not, or even understands fully. It is very close to the valuing of belief as an act of obedience.

But real valuable learning is what occurs when the child does his or her own thinking about the issue, because that thinking is integrated into the rest of what the child believes and feels committed to. And the parent can foster this thinking by doing that which will promote thinking occurring in the child's mind, and that is by promoting speech, for instance, by questions and challenges to those answers. So it is the child's explanation that is so important to be verbalized, not the parent's. And when that explanation is discovered to contain error, important work needs to be done which would remain undiscovered by requiring simple silence, nodding, and obedience.

Now I know that the question will arise as to how this sort of thinking and dialogue can happen with the very young child. It is true that the very young child is primarily going to have explanation presented by the parent, but when the child can talk, the child can think. If the child is too young to understand explanation, then the value of such explanation is questionable. Under those circumstances, one has to question the use of punishment (for being uneducated due to intellectual limitation), as opposed to informal reward or child-proofing of the environment. (It is hard to imagine that the small child should be "blamed," and therefore punished, for running out in the street, if the child is too young to understand why he or she shouldn't.)

I think we have to question the role of spanking (and punishment in general), whether it is really necessary, and what the probable side effects are. But these questions are also tied together with that of what should actually be done instead. Just the absence of punishment will not clarify the question as to what the best way is to help the child develop a sense of responsibility and pride in learning what needs to be learned. Optimal child rearing involves much more than just whether to punish or not, and especially whether to spank or not.


You wrote:

[For me and my siblings healthy fear of my parents worked. There were things I knew I could not do because I had to explain myself to mom and dad. And that is alright. I never doubted their love or affection or felt I could not go to them. You seem to believe that healthy fear can't coexist with love and affection. You are wrong.]

It is not at all clear what "healthy fear" means in the above. I think the term usually refers to "realistic fear," as opposed to "irrational fear" or "phobia." It is supposed to refer to fear that one should have, because there is indeed actual danger, and therefore the appropriateness of avoidance or protective behavior.

In this context, one could ask whether one should indeed fear one's parents. If one's parents are dangerous, then indeed fearing them would be "healthy fear." But should one's parents be dangerous?

Of course I know that here we mean by "dangerous" only something like "prone to punish under certain circumstances." But if there is the choice between the child coming to fear a particular dangerous situation and the child coming to fear the behavior of a parent when in a particular situation, I would think that the former choice would be better.

One of the most important negative consequences of the child fearing the parent is the tendency not to confide in the parent, the extreme being "lying to stay out of trouble." I would prefer that the child feel quite assured that there is nothing the child can confide in the parent that will result in punishment.

I know that fear of someone can coexist with love and affection for that same person. An example might be very strong attachment to an abusive spouse, this being not too unusual a situation. But that doesn't mean that the relationship is healthy or appropriate.

In the case you describe, I think the question at least could be raised. But I know that your opinion (that children should fear their parents to a certain extent, called "respect") is the widely accepted one, and that I am very, very much in the minority.

On the other hand, I predict (correctly or incorrectly) that there will come a time when we humans will come to adopt the position I advocate for (that parents should not behave such as to make children afraid of them). I believe that the child can indeed develop wisdom, appropriate caution, and pro-social behavior without the use of parental induction of suffering (pain, shame, fear, guilt, low self-esteem, anger, etc.), i.e., punishment, and that our species will be far better off when we have learned that. The question, of course, is whether I am correct or not.

You wrote:

[A lot of our recent cultural notions have parents striving to be friends, advisors and coaches. Teaching and role modeling are important and they must be from the person who loves you, sets limits who takes the role of guiding you seriously to be effective.]

As I have stated many times, parents indeed need to be in charge. They need to set limits and adhere to them consistently. But leadership methods can be quite varied, and some methods are better than others. In this thread, we are speaking of the method of spanking, and, I believe, punishment in general (since the term "spanking" is somewhat ambiguous but produces the same effects as punishment in general).

You wrote:

[As long as everyone continues to focus on spanking we will be stuck.]

I agree that spanking is just one method of punishing, and there are many factors that ultimately determine whether the results of spanking, or punishment in general, are good, bad, or tragic.

But again, I believe that spanking, in fact punishment in general, is "high risk behavior." And I believe that the reason we do not recognize it as high risk behavior is that we do not properly ascribe the negative, and sometimes tragic, side effects of punishment to punishment, but instead just accept those side effects as a normal and unchangeable part of life. It is a little similar to our species having had to learn that lack of cleanliness has something to do with disease.

So I believe that we as a species still have lots to learn, and that willingness to consider alternatives rather than closure of the mind against opinions and evidence to the contrary, including hostile attack of those who believe differently, is crucial to our welfare.


I so much agree with your position with regard to the kind of ethics that punishment fosters, and with regard to the possibility of us humans eventually improving our lives through a different kind of ethics. As you may know, this is the thesis of my (free) book at

I would like to clarify this basic thesis.

We humans are basically like chimps, and other higher animals, with the exception that we have undergone two exponential changes making us drastically different than all other animals and drastically different than the way we were before those exponential changes.

The first such change was the development of the essentially infinite ability to use symbols and the rules of syntax, i.e., the development of language, that has made intensive empathy and highly effective cooperation possible.

The second such change has been the development of the rules of logic and the rules of evidence, giving us science and technology, enabling us to perform what formerly would have been regarded as miracles.

But language and science are tools, and they are in the service of our basic animal nature, so with them we do both good and bad things. We are therefore left with the question as to what it is that we SHOULD do, the answer to that question being our set of ETHICAL beliefs.

So, of any statement about what we SHOULD do, we can ask, "Why should we do that?" And the answer would be the "legitimization" of that ethical belief. The answer would be another, higher level (more comprehensive), ethical belief that the belief under consideration would be derivable from. The problem is that ultimately one gets to a highest, or ultimate, ethical principle, which is simply accepted arbitrarily, and cannot itself be legitimated.

So I maintain that we, as "chimps," have a naturally occurring ultimate ethical principle, namely, that [we should do whatever X wants us to do, X being whoever or whatever is most powerful (parent, leader, group, subculture, culture, deity)]. I call this the "authoritarian-ethical ultimate ethical principle" (AEUEP).

But I maintain that we are just beginning to shift to an alternative ultimate ethical principle, that will, in a third and very important way, make us drastically different not only from chimps but also from the way we have always been. This alternative ultimate ethical principle cannot be legitimated, any more than the AEUEP can. Thus, it can only be proposed, advocated for, and accepted because we like it, if we do.

I call this alternative ultimate ethical principle the "rational-ethical ultimate ethical principle" (REUEP). It is that [we should do that which will promote not only the survival of our species but also the good life for everyone, now and in the future, the "good life" meaning simply as much joy, contentment, and appreciation as possible and as little pain, suffering, disability, and early death as possible].

So within a family, living according to the REUEP, the consideration always would be that everyone in the family was, as much as possible, having the "good life," as defined above. (The family would also have concern for what it, or its members, could do for the neighborhood, or society in general.) Such a family would operate drastically differently from the way most families operate today. Maximum attention would be given to the development of those rules, procedures, and behaviors that were most consistent with the REUEP. Empathy, concern, compassion, understanding, sharing, education, wisdom, skill, and freedom from anger and unnecessary fear and sadness would be goals.

Children don't just do things for personal sensual pleasure and avoidance of fear and punishment. They also want to be approved of and to participate in a positive way in family life (unless they have become filled with chronic anger). And they want to learn about the world and learn how to do things (unless they have become filled with fear, feelings of inferiority and failure, and a dread of the learning process). And they want to grow up and be like their parents and/or other admired persons (unless there is no one to admire). So reward, teaching, and modeling for identification are important child rearing methods that can, if done skillfully, accomplish so much more than punishment.

If we come to the conclusion that punishment is not the optimal way to achieve the good life for everyone, then the REUEP would suggest that we move away from punishment, and become highly skilled at reward, teaching, and modeling for identification. And skill is something that can always be improved, through study and practice.

And all of this is consistent with my imagination of Jesus' six commandments (lost through misunderstanding by those who tried to learn from him):

Be non-hostile.

Be non-vengeful.

Be non-punitive.

Be generous.

Be rational.

Be understanding.

It will be a long time before we, as a species, have made this third exponential change (from the AEUEP to the REUEP) to a major extent, but each of us can do our part and make our own lives, and the lives of others around us, quite a bit better. That is my effort.


I posted many other times also, and the thread went on and on. At least some of us are debating the issues.