- Family and Parenting»
- Parenting Skills, Styles & Advice
This is an excerpt from an upcoming book: "Stacked-Relational Consequences: a Child Discipline Workbook"
My Own Childhood
I was a kid of the nineteen sixties. Old enough that many of the ‘old ways’ of parenting were something I experienced as a child, from my own parents and from observing other, extended family members or the families of friends. Though there were a few kids I knew that had it rough at home, most of my peers were being raised pretty much the same as I was, with the same kind of discipline (or so I thought). I am sure there were other children I came into contact with that were being neglected or abused in the ways kids get abused, but I was not acutely aware of such thing then.
In the nineteen sixties, parents were still primarily referencing Doctor Spock’s baby book for their child discipline (he did not advocate spanking). Just as many were still advocating spanking, but always with a condition. In fact, most adults today can finish the sentence: “Never spank a child when you are_______”. Though this is not a tome on the merits or problems with spanking, and this workbook will not end that debate, I do feel compelled to make my position known about it before you continue to use the workbook. By its nature, our position on spanking cannot be separated from our experiences of being disciplined as a child.
I do not recall being spanked as a child, though my older sisters might be able to verify that I was, but it certainly cannot have been but for three times at most. I do recall threats to be spanked, but just as many of those were playful and tongue-in-cheek. I recall seeing a child my own age being spanked by their parent (really spanked, with pants pulled down and a bare bottom), in public, in front of a group of people, and remember quite vividly being appalled and terribly embarrassed, somehow.
In my studied observation, invariably, people who proudly state that they were spanked (or ‘beaten’, or ‘whooped’) as a child and ‘turned out OK’, are not all that ‘OK’. They also do the same to their own children, and quite often their kids are a mess. Some will say that they do not really spank hard, or hurt the child, but the swat is ‘just to get their attention’. So I guess it’s alright for one adult to slap another adult when one adult is not listening the way the first one wants? Perhaps some people who were spanked as kids are ‘OK’. Good for them, but I cannot advocate spanking in any way as a discipline method for children.
My opposition to spanking is complex, and could take a whole book to explain. But the major points are these:
1. Spanking children teaches them to hit.
2. The potential cost of spanking is too high.
3. There is a better, more effective way of discipline (what this workbook is about). We will examine each of these in turn.
Hitting a child gives them a ‘meta-message’ (a deep and complex piece of information by words and deed). Now, spanking advocates say that this is the point, to ‘send a clear message’. But spanking advocates do not appreciate the ‘meta’ part of the message. When we spank a child, we are telling them more than ‘don’t do that’, or ‘correct your behavior’, we are assuredly telling the child that we are angry about their behavior, because hitting is so closely associated with anger. Even if the spanker somehow is not angry (come on now, really?), the child will still associate the spanking with anger. So what did we just teach the child? Hit when you are angry; it’s righteous and good. Also, the adult being bigger than the child sends yet another piece of the meta-message: bigger and stronger people can hit smaller and weaker people to get their own way. Or, ‘might makes right’.
The potential cost of spanking is just too high. What if the spanker violates the rule of not spanking when angry? The risk of hitting too hard grows exponentially. And what if the spanking does not yield the desired behavioral change? More spanking? Harder spanking? Use of a spanking implement? Untold numbers of children each year suffer this kind of ‘accidental’ child abuse. Some get the help they need, others suffer in silence.
Hitting and telling someone you love them tends to be quite confusing, creating attachment issues between the spankee and spanker. And this is the real tragic cost of spanking even if the child is never physically harmed or abused: there is great potential for deep resentment and attachment disruption that can severely damage the parent-child relationship, as well as the child’s future relationships due to the meta-messages.
A Better Way
There is a better way: stacked-relational consequences. This method of child discipline has components that most adults will find familiar, most notably ‘time out’, but this method uses time out in a very specific and tightly prescribed manner that avoids the potential for time out to become abusive. It teaches children that there are natural, hard consequences for misbehavior, and it teaches that a very important consequence of misbehavior is the damage it does to relationships.
This workbook contains an approach that I have used with my own kids and taught for over twenty five years to countless parents of average children, above average children, disabled children of all types, and out-of-control children. I have never seen it fail if the parent is genuinely motivated and following the precepts and directions.
You can find a bit more about the 'better way' by going to my article entitled: "A Guaranteed Discipline Method for Kids"