As a parent, I’ve found that one of the most polarizing subjects regarding child rearing is spanking. So of course I had to share my two cents.
I was raised by parents who followed the old biblical teaching of “spare the rod, spoil the child.” Which means, of course, that I got a lot of spankings. I can speak intelligently on the qualities of different spanking implements—how much they hurt, how long they hurt, what kind of marks they leave, etc.
Before I had Kaia, I always thought I’d be a mom who spanked. Not necessarily because I was spanked and I turned out all right, but because I truly believed that children who were not spanked were disrespectful and out of control, like many of the privileged children I observed in supermarkets and parks and other places where they acted out much to their parents embarrassment. I never saw a threat for time out stop a single fit. I never heard a stern word uttered that had the immediate effect of a swift hit to a child’s behind. That is, until my older cousin had kids.
One Thanksgiving, we were all visiting my grandmother and while I don’t remember the crime, I do remember my little cousin Scottie being sentenced to the punishment: time out in the kitchen. Time away from his family, whom he only saw a few times a year. Time out from the laughter and the storytelling and the fun. Scottie, who had to have been around seven at the time, cried like he had been taken to the bathroom and his mom had taken a belt to his behind. He sobbed for the duration of that time out. And that day altered my perception of non-violent measures against child misbehavior.
While time out worked on Scottie on that day and at that time, my cousin is not the poster child for the effectiveness of time outs. Scottie and his sister, who are now adults, have been witnessed disrespecting their mother—raising their voices, ignoring her requests and, as a whole, doing whatever they feel like doing, regardless of what she asks, pleads or requires of them. But the funny thing is, the same can be said of many young adults I know, whether they were spanked or spared.
It seems that the proverbial rod doesn’t make a lick of difference when it comes to the deference of children to adults. And if spanking has little to no effect on the long-term behavior of a child, what is the point of doing it? Some would argue that spanking does have an immediate effect when a child is misbehaving, but there are other things that spanking does too.
Why Spanking Hurts
Spanking, according to the research, teaches children that hitting is an acceptable response when someone does something they do not like. According to the American Psychological Association, it can cause increased aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and even language development delays. It can also teach children to fear their parents and inhibits trust. Instead of correcting the behavior, it could just teach the child to behave when the disciplinarian is around and misbehave when nobody’s watching. And, I hear it can make boys develop fetishes, because inadvertent contact with their testicles can cause sexual excitement. And while I get that ladies love the fantasy of Fifty Shades of Grey, I wouldn’t want to make my kid a freak.
Experts on the other side of the issue believe that an occasional, open-handed swat to the behind is OK, provided it’s delivered at the time of the incident, after exhausting non-violent means of punishment to no avail, and on a child aged 2 to 6. But I am still in the non-hitting camp. I am, however, still learning about more productive and less potentially harmful ways to correct my child’s behavior, since a lot of the techniques we employ as parents are determined by how we were nurtured.
No Pain, No Gain?
My favorite alternative is not technically a method of discipline. I am molding my child into the type of person I want her to be primarily through positive reinforcement. It’s how I potty trained her, how I teach her manners and how she’s learning to share. Rather than berate her for mistakes, I make a huge deal when she, and others around her, choose to do the right thing.
And when she’s not doing the right thing? We talk about it. I take her aside and force her to pay attention (i.e., look at me), and tell her I don’t like what she’s doing and I need her to stop. Sometimes we discuss why it’s not a good idea. Sometimes I just tell her not to. Yes, my child is only two, but you’d be surprised how much a two-year-old can understand and process. And after those talks, she always asks “Are you mad at me mommy? She knows she’s disappointed me and wants our relationship back on an even keel.
I find that most of the time, it’s really my fault when she misbehaves. Generally it’s because she’s sleepy, hungry or in need of attention (Read: Mommy’s on the phone, cooking dinner, on Facebook, etc.). So prevention is the best medicine. However, she is still a toddler, and some toddler behaviors are hard wired. When she’s whining, I pretend I don’t understand what she’s saying. Typically she stops and speaks normally. When she’s having a tantrum—which has only happened once or twice so far—I let her. And when she’s done, we talk about it.
I recognize that as she gets older and asserts her independence more, that will also mean testing her boundaries and limits. And misbehaving may become more frequent. But a lot of a child’s behavior has to do with temperament, and I happen to have a pretty happy and relaxed child.
For all my high minded ideals and judgment about spanking, I have to admit, that I’m not perfect. Yesterday, Kaia bit me on the leg while I was getting her ready for bed. I didn’t think; the pain just caused me to react and I hit her. She cried and I felt awful. But afterwards, I comforted her and we had a talk. I explained that mommy was very sorry and I made a mistake. That it was never OK to hit and that I wouldn’t do it again. I said that she should never bite anyone and that she was wrong, but mommy was wrong too. Then we played a silly game. After playing and laughing, she told me that she was “happy now” and that she felt so much better “because me and mommy not fight anymore.”
Oh, and for those who strictly follow the biblical teachings, you should know that historians are now saying that “the rod” could have referred to the way shepherds guide their flocks of sheep. So instead of advocating violence, the bible could have been teaching us to provide appropriate guidance for our children.
Food for thought…