Slapping a Child in the Face: Is It Ever OK?

As a child, I was spanked. Not often, mind you. But I certainly got a whoopin’ on my buttocks for major offenses.

My parents never made idle threats to me. If I got a warning about my behavior, I knew immediately to knock it off. Or else.

What comes to mind today is that I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old, but I still remember it clearly as we were at a restaurant. I was not behaving correctly, and my parents warned me to stop it or I’d be taken out of the car for a spanking.

Well, I didn’t listen, and out we went to our station wagon, where I received a big spanking.

Some say spankings do more harm than good. There is certainly evidence of that, yet I turned out just fine.

I’ve spanked each of my daughters on the rarest of occasions, only when they were much smaller and their behavior warranted it. These days, they’re big enough to get consequences like losing their tablets or having to do extra chores.

Here’s my story:

I remember when my eldest decided to throw a tantrum in the middle of a shopping mall while in China. She was about 2 years old, and we wound up spanking her there while Chinese people gathered around and stared. They were not upset with our disciplinary action, merely looking at the interracial couple struggling with a child who wouldn’t behave.

However, a mother beating a child is very serious, though I don’t liken spankings to beatings. However, the effects of slapping a child in the face are far more severe than a whack to the tush with your bare hand.

Hitting a child in the face may seem extreme, but I’m not a mom to teens, not yet, anyway. I’ve heard from friends of mine with surly teenagers, though, and talking to them made me wonder, is it legal to slap a child in the face?

The answers might surprise you!

Are parents allowed to slap their children?

Unbelievably, you can slap your child, though it depends on where you are in the world. A case got a lot of attention from a 14-year-old girl who called 911 because her mom slapped her. Officers later determined the mother was disciplining her child, and no charges were filed.

I don’t seek to judge people here, but it’s probably a good idea to avoid hitting a child in the face at all costs. The younger your child, the more damage you could do; surely, there are other ways to discipline your kids.

I guess I view spankings differently because your rear end is naturally cushioned. The face has less padding, and with eyes that can become damaged, noses broken, and teeth knocked out, slapping poses more risk of serious injury than a spanking.

Is slapping a child abusive?

Slapping a child in the face is known as corporal punishment. No state in the US where it is completely illegal to hit your child. But the jury seems to be out on whether or not it’s abusive.

It really depends on who you ask, though most experts agree that physical aggression toward a child that involves hitting, shaking, pinching, kicking, throwing, slapping, or burning is abusive behavior. Spanking and paddling are looked at differently because they are considered reasonable and are less likely to cause damage.

Whether you agree with it or not, though, is another matter. If you think spanking and slapping are awful ways to discipline, the answer is simple…don’t do them!

Can you go to jail for slapping your child?

Again, I’d like to reference the 14-year-old girl who called the police on her mom because her mom slapped her. The mom didn’t get charged or taken downtown or anything.

I suppose if the police came and determined you were an abusive witch that was consistently hitting your child in the face, they might cart you away, but no laws say you MUST go straight to jail for slapping your child, at least here in the US.

Can smacking a child in the head cause damage?

Now, here is why I’d hesitate to slap either of my children (or anyone else’s child, for that matter) in the face. Slapping or smacking the face can cause brain development problems, so says a study by Harvard in an article from the Daily Mail.

In the study, the researchers looked into corporal punishment and smacking in relation to 147 children. They discovered that it could affect brain development in a very similar way to more severe violent acts.

Perhaps your teenager seems sturdy enough, but young children are at an even greater risk for damage. And let’s not forget the permanent damages you could do if you burst a blood vessel in their eye, break their nose, or knock out teeth with your slap.

Is it legal to slap your child in the face?

Again, it depends on where you are in the world regarding corporal punishment. It is banned in 43 out of 196 countries. You are not legally permitted to slap your child in the face in most of Europe and South America.

The US is not among the 43 countries that ban corporal punishment. It’s not the only country, though, as the UK, Canada, Australia, and South Africa don’t have any laws on the books about it (at the time of writing this).

Bans against slapping and corporal punishment have been proposed in some US states, such as California and Massachusetts, but nothing has been cemented. It’s hard because there is a thin line between corporal punishment and physical abuse. Generally, though, for the 50 states, most agree that it is acceptable for a parent or legal guardian to issue corporal punishment with a spank or an open-handed slap.

Using closed fits or hitting your child across the face with an object differs and varies by state. Oklahoma allows you to use a switch to whip your child only with regular force.


Except for New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, Australia generally allows parents to hit their kids with implements! Teachers too! They can do so if it doesn’t leave a mark with blood or bruises.

Can a school, nursery, or person providing child care smack my child?

Now here’s where things get dicey…it is permitted in many states for your school to smack your child. Corporal punishment is still used to discipline children in schools in some parts of the US.

kids sitting on blue carpet

An article by NPR mentions surveys where roughly 75% said it’s OK to spank a child. Though, to be fair, it says nothing of slapping. The majority of this is about paddling or spanking. Corporal punishment at school is legal in public schools in 19 US states. You should look at your state’s laws and ensure you understand them.

Reasons to Avoid Hitting Your Child

Again, I’m from the spanking era. I had a happy childhood though I remember the few times I was spanked. I was amply warned about the punishment and chose to ignore it.

My parents never slapped me, though, and I’ll let you know if my girls ever get mouthy enough to get an open-handed slap when they are teenagers.

For now, though, there are reasons to abstain from smacking your child, so please weigh in on them.

Hitting teaches hitting

I always talk about how kids model our behavior. If you want your child to do something, let them see you doing it. Unfortunately, this means anything negative you do will be copied, thus the case for not hitting your children because they will become hitters too.

They may be too young to understand

Teenagers surely know, but what about your toddler? Your toddler’s mental development isn’t all the way there yet. So unless the punishment befits the crime, you might want to try another way with your little ones.

They won’t learn conflict resolution

We’ve got a whole generation of new adults with no idea how to resolve disagreements or politely listen when someone has a differing opinion. Our kids need us to show the way to practical problem-solving. This way, they’re less likely to repeat the bad behavior.

It destroys your bond

I’m not talking about that one spanking here and there. I’m talking about a constant corporal punishment-based way of discipline. When you do this for every offense, your child becomes fearful of you and how you will hurt them.

It forces them to store negative feelings

Again, if your child does one awful thing like I did here and there and gets a spanking, it’s not likely to cause problems. But if this is the norm for you, it could make them hold anger and frustration inside. This will erupt years later, in teens or early adulthood.

There is a risk of injury

If you let your own anger get the best of you, you can damage the spinal column when spanking. And I’ve already mentioned how slapping a child in the face can cause other physical damage.

Might doesn’t always make right

But hitting your child sends that message. They may then pick on younger kids in the same way and find intimidation tactics to work in their favor rather than logically thinking and talking things out.

If you’ve spanked your child and are feeling guilty, learn more about the other ways to discipline her.

Be a Role Model

Start now with your kids and be a role model. It’s hard work; it really is. But when you make mistakes, tell them. “Mommy should’ve handled it this way instead. I’m sorry I upset you. Can you forgive me?”

enjoying family time

And when they do bad things, we need to sit them down after they calm down and talk about expressing themselves appropriately. My youngest still gets upset sometimes, so I have to wait until she’s calmed down to show her how we can effectively express our anger.

Emotions are important, and they’re ours. Acknowledging your child that their emotions are OK is something you need to do. You do not have to accept negative behavior, but if you can turn this into a teachable moment, do it. Your child will always remember that lesson and use it when they’re struggling through something later in life.

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