We are delighted to recognize National Spank Out Day, April 30, with an interview with Nadine Block, cofounder of the Center for Effective Discipline.
There is a fine line between physical punishment and child abuse, at least as the law sees it. Just where does the line lie between the two? Most people who use physical punishment will tell you that spanking, whether with the hand or another object, is considered safe if not done in anger or excessively. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. The law protects adults from assault – otherwise known as hitting – even in prisons, which are clearly meant to be a punishment. Why not the same for children?
At the center of the annual SpankOut Day April 30th is an equality movement with the goal of giving children the same rights that adults enjoy. But it’s not as simple as telling parents and schools to stop spanking. Changing from a punishing mindset to one where children are given the same respect and courtesy as adults – where parents’ goals are no longer to force and coerce but to preserve a trusting, compassionate, forgiving bond with their children – takes a complete overhaul of personal, and societal, beliefs. Nadine Block, cofounder of the Center for Effective Discipline (CED) with Bob Fathman, the organization behind SpankOut Day April 30th, gives us an inside look.
The good news is, the alternative to physical punishment is a much larger array of discipline options that are far more effective at influencing a child’s behavior while eliminating the need for fear-based parenting approaches where the parent must always be in control and the child must always obey, or else.
RITA: Good day, Nadine! Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. Let’s start by exploring how you first became interested in promoting positive discipline for children, particularly in advocating for an end to physical punishment?
NADINE: My journey to promoting positive discipline for children was a long one. It really began with the education I had in training to be a school psychologist. One cannot study learning and behavior without becoming opposed to physical punishment of children. It is harmful and ineffective in the long term.
My eye-opening experience was observing a school paddling. I was a school psychologist called in to the principal’s office to witness a school paddling in a Columbus, Ohio [USA] suburb in 1981. I was shocked. I had never seen children being hit with instruments – not in my home or my one-room rural school in Wisconsin [USA].
I was familiar with spanking. In the l960s, I had three little boys, all under five years old at one time, who I spanked a few times reflexively and in frustration when they were toddlers. I didn’t like it.
I read Baby and Child Care by Dr. Benjamin Spock to help me raise our boys. At that time, Dr. Spock said a little spanking was OK. The public firmly approved: 95% of adults in a national survey said that sometimes children need a good, hard spanking.
Later, Dr. Spock said that he had traveled to countries where children were seldom hit, and they were growing up healthier than our children. He was on our EPOCH-USA Advisory Board when he died in 1998. He changed his mind about spanking, and so did I. The public is changing, too. Now, about 50% of adults respond affirmatively to the statement that children sometimes need a good hard spanking.
RITA: What led you and Bob Fathman to found the Center for Effective Discipline?
NADINE: We wanted to end school corporal punishment in Ohio.
I learned that many children who were paddled ended up injured and needing medical care. Bob’s first-grade daughter was paddled in her suburban school for circling instead of underlining on a school paper. Physicians at Columbus Children’s Hospital (now Nationwide Children’s Hospital) were upset because they couldn’t find a way to deal legally with school-padding injuries. They had a protocol for dealing with the same kind of injuries parents might inflict but educators were protected by law.
Ohio was one of only three states that did not allow school districts to ban corporal punishment. We decided we would end corporal punishment in Ohio schools. I was asked to lead the ban effort in Ohio and to establish the Center for the purpose of informing the public about the effects of corporal punishment and alternatives. Bob served as the president all of those years. I was the executive director from 1987 to 2010 when we merged CED into the National Child Protection Training Center.
RITA: Can you share some of the CED’s accomplishments?
NADINE: We got four bills passed restricting corporal punishment in Ohio public schools, culminating with a complete ban in 2009. Ohio became the 30th [USA] state to ban school corporal punishment. We established www.stophitting.org to provide information about effects of corporal punishment and alternatives to its use. We organized and published a research report written for the general public on effects of corporal punishment and alternatives, which has been endorsed by more than 70 organizations including the AMA [American Medical Association], AAP [American Academy of Pediatrics] and National PTA [Parent-Teacher Association]. It can be downloaded at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital website.
In 1998, we established SpankOut Day April 30th, which brings attention to the need to end physical punishment of children and to promote nonviolent discipline. We have given more than 600 small grants to nonprofit organizations, churches and schools to hold informational events on effects of physical punishment and alternatives on SpankOut Day.
RITA: What is the CED’s vision going forward?
NADINE: The Center for Effective Discipline is going forward to bring attention to the need to end physical punishment of children and to promote nonviolent discipline. As part of a broad-based organization, the National Child Protection Training Center (NCPTC), we have an opportunity to spread our work to a larger audience. NCPTC has training programs that reach college and university training, law schools, religious organizations and law enforcement groups.
RITA: Tell us more about SpankOut Day and what parents and professionals are doing to bring awareness to the need to end physical punishment of children?
NADINE: Modeled after the Great American SmokeOut, we ask those who still use physical punishment on children to seek out programs in their communities and information sites like Attachment Parenting International (API) to learn more about alternatives to hitting children.
Organizations can seek grants for informational programs, which are available annually. The brief one-page request for grants is posted October 15 of each year on www.stophitting.org for the upcoming year.
Parents and professionals can share information on positive discipline with others – books, pamphlets and on websites such as Attachment Parenting International and CED. SpankOut Day April 30th is a reminder to each of us that we should not use corporal punishment on children, that we should educate ourselves about alternatives, and that we should support efforts to legally end its use.
RITA: Thank you, Nadine, for your time and wonderful work in strengthening families. Can you share about how parents can overcome the challenges of learning to change their discipline methods from corporal punishment to a positive model?
NADINE: Most communities have programs that provide information and encouragement on positive parenting. Parents need to treat with caution parenting programs, sponsored by some churches, that teach hitting children, even babies, with implements. API and CED are good sources for information about effective nonviolent parenting programs and reading material that can help parents find alternatives to corporal punishment.
Making a change from corporal punishment to positive discipline is difficult, especially with older children. Sitting down with older children and talking with them about what you are trying to accomplish can help move the process forward. Children usually want to help.
Realizing you are not perfect and probably can’t make the change overnight will help you endure in your efforts. Apologizing to children for mistakes helps them see that you are trying to change. It gives them a model for what to do when they make mistakes.
Giving older children a voice in establishing rules and consequences can prevent discipline problems that formerly might had led to corporal punishment. That not only works with teens but also with younger children.