To Spank or Not to Spank - Why the Answer is "Not"
Why spanking does not work and what does
Overly punitive parents produce angry, defiant children. In fact, punishments of any kind do not work as a form of discipline. How do you discipline your child without using punishments? Well, spanking is never the answer. Learn why from an experienced therapist, and what you can do instead.
The Spanking Dilemma
We were spanked as children and we turned out all right! Isn't this what you always hear when a discussion of spanking or not comes up? The truth is - spanking hurts, both physically and emotionally. In my work as a therapist with children and parents as well as in my own experience as a parent, it has shown itself to be ineffective as a form of discipline and, in fact, counter-productive.
While it's true that many children who endured spankings as children grew up to be healthy, functioning adults, this does not mean that spanking is harmless, or even that it did not harm that individual to some degree. A good parallel might be that some people who smoke their entire lives never get cancer, but that does not mean that smoking is not bad for you or even that it wasn't damaging to that individual.
The first thing to consider about spanking is just common sense. Spanking is violent. It is hitting another person for punishment, or even worse, in anger. We want our children to grow up without striking out at their friends when they are angry or disappointed in them. So how do you differentiate between that and spanking? How is it all right for you to hit Suzie, but it's not all right for her to hit Janie? Because you are the parent? If you use this rationale with your child, she will quickly come to the conclusion that you and she are in an adversarial relationship, with you being the boss and she the helpless peon. Is this the kind of relationship you want to foster between you and your child?
Handy Strategies to Use Instead of Spanking
This book offers many specific discipline strategies for children from toddlers to teens. Great examples given with each strategy. Not all will work with every child, but you're sure to find good alternatives to spanking here.
How Spanking Fails
Spankings also fail as a form of discipline because they are a very poor way to teach a child anything. The physical pain, the humiliation and the sense of betrayal that a child often feels when spanked makes the focus of the incident the spanking itself. It rarely translates to a positive change in a child's behavior, and when it does, that change is out only out of fear of repeated spankings. In other words, the child doesn't necessarily learn why what they did was wrong, how to modulate their own behavior, or what should be done as an alternative to the bad behavior. Spanking can, however, create a seething pool of resentment that they carry into adulthood.
One man reported that he learned precisely two things from the spankings he received as a child. (parenting.com) The first was how to lie (it wasn't me!). The second was how to avoid getting caught for the wrong doing. Are these lessons that we want our children to learn from our discipline?
Another anecdote (from the same article) illustrates the futility of spanking, even as a tool for "serious" situations where a child is putting herself in danger. "Leslie" reports that she did spank her 5 year old soundly when he nearly darted out into busy traffic. Later she did sit down with the child and told him why she had spanked him. The next day, when the boy went to school, he said to his teacher "My Mom spanked me". When the teacher asked why she had spanked him, he said he did not know. Spanking causes any message, any possible learning opportunity, to be lost. It literally wastes a chance to teach a child what you want her to learn.
What IS Discipline?
The word "discipline" comes from the Latin word "discere" meaning "to learn", related also to the word "docere" which means "to teach". This is the best way to think about discipline. It should be the vehicle by which you teach your child and he learns. Discipline should not be about punishment! Punishment is for felons and dogs, not children. If you impose a punishment on a child, including spanking, then his focus will be on the punishment, not on what it was he did wrong, let alone learning what to do right!
A child who is spanked feels rage, resentment and humiliation. Not good feelings to have if you want your child to do some learning. Spanking distracts the child from what he should be doing - learning what it was he did wrong and how to make it right. It is a form of domination over a child, when you should be acting as the child's partner. You are both working together to help your child grow up to be a healthy, responsible adult.
Excellent Book on Discipline
This is my personal favorite book on discipline. It was my "Bible" when I was raising young children. Read this and find a new outlook on parenting and discipline. Terrific and specific examples too!
Children Deserve Simple Respect
Discipline should start with respect for your child as a person, and spanking is most certainly not a respectful thing to do. Imagine if a co-worker suddenly hauled off and smacked you because you had done something wrong at work. You would have her charged with assault! It is a crime to strike another person, so how can it be all right to strike your child? As adults, we refrain from hitting one another because it is a violent and disrespectful way to treat someone. Don't your children deserve the same consideration? Is it really different just because they are children? I don't think so.
If you are thinking "Uh-oh, this is another one who would have us let our children run wild", you're wrong. I believe in firm, decisive, and consistent discipline - without spanking. But my child doesn't respond to anything else! If that's the case, your problem lies in your relationship with the child, not in the child's behavior. In my work with children and parents over the years, I can promise you that the more punitive a parent is, the worse the child's behavior is. Punishment simply does not work.
Your child wants what everyone wants - love, understanding and help. If your relationship is based on these, and not a "me against him" dynamic, you will have far fewer behavior problems to deal with in the first place. Remember, you and your child are partners in their growing up process. You're on the same team! You both want the same thing - for your child to grow into a happy adult. Spanking simply has no place in such a relationship.
Advice from Pediatrician Ari Brown M.D.
So, What Do I Do? - Natural Consequence
What do you do when your child misbehaves? Well, the answer can be complicated and deserves an article (or several) of its own. Put simply, when your child does something wrong, she should have to experience the natural consequences of what she has done, and find a way to make it right, if necessary.
For example: your four year old is whiny and loud in the grocery store. What do you do? Calmly tell the child to stop and finish up your shopping. At this point, you only need let your child know that his behavior is not acceptable.
By the time you get home, it will likely have passed. Then you need to tell the child that his behavior was unacceptable in the store, and he will need to apologize to you. Then drop it. So, where's the discipline? Next time you go to the store, make sure you have someone to stay home with your child. He is not going. When he screams and cries to go with you, you explain that you can't have a whiny child while you are shopping. He was whiny the last time, so this time you need to go without him. It's not a "punishment" that he stays behind, it is merely because you can't shop with a whiny child. This is the natural consequence of what he did. It is not revenge, it is not an arbitrary retaliation. It is simply what happens when someone behaves in an unacceptable way in the grocery store.
The next time you are going shopping, have a talk with your child. Remember how whiny you were in the grocery store that day? I need to know that you are sorry and will not do that again if you want me to take you to the store with me. Let the child apologize, give him a hug, and take him. Chances are good that he'll try harder to control his whining this time.
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Wash, Rinse, Repeat!
Of course, letting your child experience the consequences of his behavior needs to be done over and over again in many, many different circumstances for him to learn what is expected and how to behave. It's a long process of many years, and there are many variations on this approach to use with different children at different ages that I will save for future articles. The point is that there are other ways to teach your child what is expected of her and get her to behave in the way that she should besides spanking. Next time you are tempted to spank your child, remove yourself from the situation if possible and take a deep breath. You may not know the solution to your child's discipline problem at that moment, but rest assured there is one.
Spanking is not it.
* Learn the difference between discipline and punshiment.
* How to handle your child's messy bedroom.
© Katharine L. Sparrow, MSW
*Katharine Sparrow has worked as a psychotherapist with children and families for many years, focusing on parenting issues and behavior problems.
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