Should A Parent Hit Their Children? Discipline Advice for Parents with Toddlers
Corporal Punishment: Yes or No?
Corporal punishment - the process of hitting or otherwise using physical punishment as a disciplinary tool - has become controversial where children are concerned, mostly because science suggests it's ineffective, yet parents still continue to hit their children.
I have no intention of using physical punishment on my two-year-old now or at any time in the future. My wife is of the same mind. However, not hitting a two-year-old is easier said than done and sometimes parenting presents unexpected challenges to one's intentions. I'm human, after all, and two-year-olds are frequently infuriating. Like, mind-numbingly, lose-your-mind maddening.
For instance, my son has taken to biting me when I'm carrying him up to his room for bedtime and occasionally at other times as well. It's really hard not to react when your kid bites you. I mean, I think the natural reaction is some kind of slap or push or something. Does anybody just sit there and take that? Of course, the little one is just testing and may not know that what he's doing hurts a lot, but still, you get bit and you react. To make matters worse, sometimes I'll flick him with my fingers and he'll just laugh and I'll be like "Oh, great. Now it's a game." There's also the part of your brain that tries to figure out whether he is intentionally biting because he knows it hurts and it'll get some attention or is he just trying to figure out what's going on? I can then rationalize my own physical reaction by concluding that he does, in fact, know what he is doing. If it's a phase, it's really hard to tell in the moment.
Then there was the other day. I was moving some stuff in our basement and I happened to have a fairly heavy file drawer in my arms when Tyler comes over and just maniacally starts pulling papers out of the drawer and throwing them. He doesn't usually do this. I later realized that he was probably just tired or hungry (which is frequently the reason for misbehavior, I find). Nevertheless, I was pretty irritated, particularly because I didn't want to drop this heavy thing on him or on me. My reaction was to whack him on top of the head with my open hand. I really didn't do this particularly hard, just enough to startle him, which made him cry of course. The whole episode got him so worked up that he also threw up a little bit.
Needless to say, after the crying and the barf, I was ashamed. I figured I was well on my way to the worst father of the year award or something. Either that or somebody was going to come over to the house and revoke my parenting license.
So, is hitting a child ever the right thing to do? Generally, I would say no, but as my mother has always told me, if your kid is running into the street, you really need to make the point that running into the street is not a good thing to do and make them scared that if they do it again, you're not going to be happy. The point is, there are many situations with a young child where you have to upset them to make them realize that whatever they're doing is not okay. Of particular note are those instances where they're endangering themselves. It's just essential that they have a negative association with whatever the bad thing is. Still, it's a parenting conundrum and many parents are against hitting no matter what the situation. Yet, what if a smack is the thing that keeps the child from running into the street the next time?
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The key with corporal punishment is that it not be done as a result of the frustration of the parent and that is very hard. In other words, I think if a parent hits a child because it makes the parent feel better, then something is wrong. That's not discipline, that's abuse. To be totally honest, I'm not exactly sure why I've hit Tyler the two times that I have. Usually, it's not all that hard, certainly not enough to hurt him. But am I doing it because it does him any good or because it makes me feel good? Do I hit him because he needs it or because I need it? Is it born out of love or impatience? Child-rearing requires a whole lot of patience and when we parents smack our kids, we're usually out of that patience. I know I am.
While I would rather not spank Tyler either since I think there are alternatives to physical punishment, I do not have any qualms with parents who decide that's how they want to discipline their kids. A kid can be just as terrified of a parent who screams at him as one who hits him. A spanking isn't necessarily worse than screaming and as long as the parent has presented the cause and effect to the child, it's not being done out of frustration.
The thing that gets me about physical punishment is looking into his little eyes and seeing him scared of me. Sometimes he should be, but if physical punishment becomes the norm, then we're teaching our kids that that's a way to solve problems.
I was watching Tyler at daycare the other day interacting with the other kids. One of the little girls tried to kiss him. The boy next to him tried to kiss him too. Then he kind of pulled Tyler's ear. Then the little boy ran by the little girl and she shoved him to the ground. Then she swatted him. Tyler just watched, looking at me and smiling.
He's such a sweet kid. He deserves a dad with patience.
(contains Foul Language)
I wrote this article quite a number of years ago and now I have two children. The older one is five-and-a-half and the younger one is three-years-old.
As I've grown as a parent, I've had less of an urge to hit my kids, though the thought does cross my mind from time to time. While I haven't hit my older child since I wrote this article, I do grab him by the arm fairly hard occasionally when I'm exasperated. Interestingly, he's taken to yelling more loudly than is necessary when this happens, which has taken both me and my wife by surprise, particularly in public. My general feeling about all this, is that my desire to hit and my exasperation over discipline tactics has lessened over time.
I did whack my youngest on the tush for the first time just recently. We were in the garage and he went to the back of the garage while I was at the front and pressed the button to lower the garage door, which almost clipped me. I hit him because I didn't want him to associate doing that as anything fun, since he could have really hurt me or his brother. I felt okay about this move since I didn't do it out of anger.
Ultimately, raising kids is very difficult. When you're a parent, controlling one's anger can also be an immense challenge. Kids will exasperate their parents in almost every way imaginable. Most of the time it seems, at least to me, that a physical reaction can be avoided.
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