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Religious Tolerance logo

"Hot Saucing" as a method of child punishment

"Dr. Phil" & other "Hot Saucing" opponents.

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Hot saucing opponents:


Dr. Phil McGraw, host of the Dr. Phil program, has taken a strong position against the use of "hot saucing."

On his 2010-NOV-17 show, he featured Jessica, a mother of six young children. She was frustrated at the behavior of her seven-year-old adopted son, Kristoff. She had tried many types of disciplinary methods, all of which proved to be unsuccessful. Her latest technique is to scream at the boy, pour hot sauce on his tongue, require him to hold the sauce in his mouth for a while then spit it out, perhaps 20 seconds later. She finishes by placing him in a cold shower. These techniques haven't worked either. So she had her daughter videotape a discipline session and sent it to Dr. Phil who invited her on the show. On the show, Dr. Phil told Jessica:

"I don’t care how many things you’ve tried or how many times you’ve tried them, it is not justifiable to default to what you’re doing, because it is child abuse"

Attorney and child advocate Areva Martin said:

“Dr. Phil, no one in this audience can stay in our seats. We’re just appalled at this. We’re looking at this little boy who seems so sweet and innocent, and we’re looking at this behavior as moms. We're just shocked. [Addressing Jessica:] I know you’re frustrated, but you’re the adult in this situation. Plain and simple, this is child abuse."

As a result of being on the show, Jessica was charged with misdemeanor child abuse, a violation of the municipal code in Anchorage, AK.

On his 2011-FEB-18 show, Jessica returned. After reviewing the home-made video made by Jessica's daughter, Dr. Phil said:

"Anyone would look at that and say that that is absolutely outrageous. It is over the top. That is totally over the top. That is totally unacceptible.

Robin McGraw, Phil's wife, was crying and unable to look at all of the video. Some in the audience were outraged; some were crying.

Dr. Frank Lawlis, chairperson of the Dr. Phil Advisory Board, had visited Jessica in her home at Anchorage, AK after the show:

Dr. Lawlis arranged for an evaluation of Kristoff in a Dallas, TX child neurological assessment center. It appears that his current behavior is a continuation of a survival technique that he had used while in the Russian orphanage. He stole food and lied there in order to help himself and his twin brother survive under brutal and harsh conditions. He had never experienced family life earlier in his life. 1

The most shocking part of the program, to me, was the finding of several national polls on hot saucing that followed the first episode on Dr. Phil. They found that one third of American adults thought that hot saucing is OK as a disciplinary technique. Yet when Dr. Phil asked the studio audience how many approved, not a hand went up. He asked how many in the audience had had their mouths washed out with soap when they were children. About one in four raised their hand.

bullet Tim Kimmel, an evangelical Christian, is executive director of Christian Counseling Associates Inc., in Columbia, VA . He does not approve of hot saucing. His belief is that it is "biblically supportable in principle...[but] the inordinate pain and cruelty ...wipes out anything that makes sense." He is the author of "Grace-Based Parenting" 2

Publishers Weekly's review of his book indicates that:
"He says Christians frequently believe that the battle for a child's heart and soul is fought on the outside-with rigid rules and boundaries, when in fact just the opposite is true. He underscores the importance of communicating the unconditional love that Christ offers and affirming this timeless message of grace to one's family. ... Kimmel asserts that this 'radical' mode of parenting will meet the three essential needs in kids' lives: for security, significance and strength. He assures parents that these needs can be met with grace-laced love, purpose and hope."

When interviewed by the Washington Post about hot saucing, he said:

"Just because something works, that doesn't mean it's a good idea.....Fear can be very effective as a discipline technique, but it's overkill. You haven't corrected the problem, and it means nothing in terms of building character. Our job as parents is to build character, not to adjust behavior....The tongue doesn't do the lying, the heart does the lying. When you direct a form of discipline to a body part that created the problem, it's like in [other cultures] when they cut off your hand for stealing." 3
bulletRandell Alexander, a child abuse expert with the American Association of Pediatrics, said: "Somebody advocating hot sauce -- that's emotionally and possibly physically abusive." He said that compared to washing a child's mouth out with soap, using hot sauce "takes it up a notch." because it is an effort to intentionally inflict pain. 4
bulletCarleton Kendrick, a family therapist from Boston, MA, is vehemently against hot saucing or corporal punishment of any kind. He said:
"There's no room for pain and humiliation and fear in disciplining healthy children. I think it's a rather barbaric practice to say the least. The state of Virginia, for instance, calls this practice bizarre and finds it an actionable offense."
He regards hot saucing as: "at the very least....ill-informed." 5
bulletDr. Bob Fathman, a clinical psychologist, wrote to ABC News:
"I am extremely disappointed, outraged in fact, that you have a story presenting a person who favors putting hot sauce on the tongues of children. ...Hot sauce can cause gag reflexes and tears to the throat lining. Shame on all of you who ok'ed this story. ...You have undermined the work of child abuse professionals across the country." 5

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This topic is continued in an later list

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "11/17 Mommy Confessions," Dr. Phil community, at:
  2. Tim Kimmel, "Grace-based Parenting," W Publishing, (2004). Read reviews, read sample pages, and/or order this book safely from online book store.

  3. Alison Buckholtz, "Feeling the Heat. Some Parents Apply Hot Sauce to a Child's Tongue as Punishment. The Practice Has Some Experts Burning," The Washington Post, 2004-AUG-10. Page HE 01. Online at:

  4. Bo Emerson, "New flavor to punishing kids: Sting of hot sauce. Drops on tongue popular option. Parenting experts call it distasteful," Cox News Service, 2004-SEP-02. Published in the Toronto Star, 2004-SEP-03, Page D3.

  5. "Stinging Debate -- Parents Divided Over Practice of 'Hot Saucing' as a Form of Discipline," at:

Copyright © 2004 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2004-AUG-28
Latest update: 2011-FEB-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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