"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."
Lisa Whelchel, actress and author of "Creative Correction: Extraordinary Ideas for Everyday Discipline" (Focus On the Family/Tyndale House), defends the practice.
"A correction has to hurt a little," she said. "An effective deterrent has to touch the child in some way. I don't think Tabasco is such a bad thing." Her book suggests a "tiny" bit of hot sauce be used, and offers alternatives such as lemon juice and vinegar.
Discipline involves "drawing a line to protect the child," Whelchel said, "and if they cross that line, there will be pain." Whelchel said she believes that disciplinary methods should be left up to parents -- who know their child best, are devoted to the child's well-being and can administer punishment with love.
But Betty Jo Zarris, manager of Virginia's child protective services program, said: "We have to have some community standards for what's appropriate to do to children. Common sense would tell you [hot sauce] is not appropriate for a child. The common man on the street would know this is offensive."
The Hot Tongue
DeLorme remembers being "at the point where I would try anything" with her 2 1/2-year old son, whom she described as "a disciplinary challenge." She learned about the use of hot sauce from a friend.
She now uses the pepper sauce, or the threat of it, when her son hits or bites his 5-year-old sister.
"He is better behaved as a result," DeLorme said. "He'll say, 'Please don't give me hot tongue, Mommy,' and [the threat] interrupts his behavior. We'll talk about it, hug and make up. That's what usually happens."
In those rare instances when the threat is not enough, DeLorme pries his mouth open and puts one drop of sauce on her son's tongue. "I don't feel like I am physically hurting him," said DeLorme, who described herself as "opposed to spanking and physical violence."
Like some other parents who use hot sauce, Crosen believes it is an appropriate punishment for "defiant talk. . . . I use it when the mouth is the offending party. He needs to learn to control what's coming out of his mouth. If it's his tongue that gets him in trouble, it's his tongue that gets punished."
As a Christian, she believes that "children need to respect and obey [parents] or they won't learn to respect and obey God. God won't hot sauce you, but you need to learn consequences."
Like DeLorme, Crosen reached a moment with her son where she thought, " 'That's it, I have had it' -- I needed something drastic to get through."
Crosen allows the hot sauce to sit on her son's tongue, then gives him milk and crackers to wash it down before having him explain why he was disrespectful.
Crosen said she thought a lot about whether to use hot sauce and ultimately decided to do it because they felt that teaching consequences would help their children in the long run, Crosen said.