I'm no perfect parent, so I won't tell anyone else how to go about executing one of the toughest, most rewarding jobs there is in life. My folks weren't perfect either, but I have nothing but respect for how they raised my sisters and me. They were fair and clear with their boundaries. When we pushed them, we were punished. I took the strap once. Another time I got a spanking.
These were teaching moments, and certainly not abuse.
I spanked Lyla when she was a toddler. She'd run out into the street, and I gave her three quick swats through her diaper. The message made it through, and that was the last time she's had a spanking (though Jeanne and I both use the threat of a spanking as a motivator). It's also the last time I can recall her walking into a parking lot or wandering out into the street without taking full stock of the situation.
I much prefer to discipline our daughter through expectations and respect. She respects us (and she is a very well-behaved five-year-old girl), and it's clear that she is hurt when we aren't pleased with her. We have had some good talks recently about behavior, and we're fine with taking away some of the things that she loves doing with us (trips to the beach, the movies, the park). That seems to do the trick so far.
Cris Carter made an impassioned plea on air (ESPN) the other day. He said that parents need to understand that times have changed. There are other ways of dealing with familial discipline--ways that don't include physical or emotional scarring.
I'll leave it at that. Parenting is a journey, and context changes things. To this point, I can only say that a stern word or two followed up with a heartfelt hug has been working well for us...