The Sun-Sentinel, July 20, 1998

Instead of spanking, turn the other cheek

"You going to hear the Chalk case?" the Broward Sheriff's deputy asks as we ride the courthouse elevator to the sixth floor. He is referring to Zimbalist Chalk, the father accused of child abuse when he spanked his then-10-year-old son with a belt, leaving wicked-looking bruises.

"Humph. I got spanked when I was a kid. My mama would beat whichever end was up," he says with a derisive snort. "Where were you all (reporters) when I needed you?" The lawyers and prosecutors, cops and bailiffs packing the elevator chuckle and nod, reminiscing about their own less-than-fond memories of childhood discipline.

"My daddy would say, 'Go outside and get a switch.' And you'd better not come back with a puny one, either," one woman says to a swelling background chorus of, "Oh, yeah," "mine, too," and "I remember that." In fact, by the time the elevator reaches the sixth floor, most have shared their version of punishments meted out throughout childhood:

Don't make me take off my belt and beat your behind.

Go get the hairbrush so I can wear your bottom out.

Get the ruler.

Go get the paddle.

The Bible says to spank

Inside courtroom 6750 last Tuesday, the jury is ready to render judgement on Chalk for whaling on his son's bare butt after the boy disobeyed orders to stay away from a dangerous lake near their home: Not guilty.

"Thank you, Jesus," breathes Ethel Chalk, Zimbalist's mother. She sobs softly, burying her face in the shoulder of the young woman beside her. Found guilty, her son would have faced up to five years in prison. Now Chalk bows his head, covers his face with his hands. Tears threaten to spill, his bottom lip quivers. But he gathers himself, pulls himself together.

"We're a Christian family," is how the Chalks describe themselves. "The Bible says 'spare the rod and spoil the child.' "

Once outside the courtroom, elated family members pull cell phones from bags and briefcases, and begin dialing, relating their happy news to friends and relatives as they leave the courthouse, and this nightmare, behind them.

All spanking is not bad

I watch the jubilant family leave, and confess to mixed feelings.

I won't lie: I've spanked. To borrow my mother's expression, I'll "warm up" a misbehaving child.

On the other hand, I haven't spanked in a good long while. Frankly, I use my hand, and it stings. It literally hurts me more than it hurts them. In the end, I've worn myself out with all that huffin' and puffin' and wrestlin' and carrying on. Besides, spanking my hardheaded oldest taught me it doesn't always do much good, isn't always the best answer.

The skinny on spanking?

Donna Davies, a clinical psychologist in Fort Lauderdale with expertise in abuse issues, says all spanking is not bad. "Is there a reasonable way to use corporal punishment? Of course," she says. "A swat on the behind can be most effective on some young children to get a point across."

But: Never spank in anger. Only spank a rear end. Switches? Belts? Cords? Never, ever. "And if it hurts your hand, you're spanking too hard," Davies says. We spank because we were spanked, without giving much thought to how we want to raise and discipline our children.

"Most importantly, know the temperament of your child. For some children, a strong look or the thought of disappointing their parent is enough to bring them into line. The goal," she says, "is to have a good relationship with your child, so spanking doesn't often or always have to be the issue."

Deborah Work's column appears on Mondays. Share your comments at her Web page at (

Return to Newsroom Index or to Table of Contents.