If Spanking Does Not Work in the Long-Term, Why Start Spanking at All?

Kieran 1Hypothetically speaking, let’s pretend there is a parenting practice with the following attributes:

  • while it usually results in immediate compliance, it is generally ineffective in modifying longer-term behavior (it is even ineffective from hour to hour or day to day);
  • it causes strain on the parent/child relationship; and
  • it can only be used for a few years of the child’s life, outside of those few years it is totally ineffective and/or inappropriate.

What, exactly, is attractive about that? Yes, there is that immediate compliance, but if the parenting practice doesn’t even result in changed behavior an hour later, why waste the effort?

Why not try something that actually works?

Part of the post “Undermining General Beliefs About Corporal Punishment” has stuck with me since I read it during the Carnival of Gentle Discipline. In the post, the author discussed the arbitrary lines drawn between “spanking” and “abuse,” as well as the rationales given for corporal punishment.

The part I keep coming back to is the general consensus that there is an age range in which it is “appropriate” to spank. According to the “experts” (and the spanking parents who discuss these things online), you should not spank babies younger than about 15-18 months, and you should not spank children past the age of 7 years. (1)

If you know that the “solution” of spanking is only a short-term “fix,” why do it at all? If spanking is one of your parenting tools, you will eventually have to toss it out of your toolbox. What will you do after it is no longer appropriate to threaten your child physically?

How will you relate to your kids when the threat of spanking no longer hangs over their heads?

Even if we ignore the many negative long-term effects of spanking, it simply makes no sense to rely on a method of discipline that will only work for a few short years. “Lasting authority cannot be based on fear[,]” so where will your authority lie after your children no longer fear your hand or your belt? (2)

Instead of creating a parent/child relationship based on fear and mistrust – as spanking often does – it is healthier and more effective in the long run to create a relationship based on trust and respect. Gentle discipline and playful parenting techniques are healthy and effective tools that work from toddlerhood through the teenage years.

What’s more, those few years that parents are “allowed” to spank are also the years that our children are forming lasting mental impressions of us.

Would you rather your child form an impression of trust, or of fear?


(1) I choose not to link to any of these “experts” or discussion boards because I do not want to contribute to their traffic/Pagerank. If you’re interested, I’m sure you can find several sites to this effect on Google.
(2) Ask Dr. Sears, “10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child

Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 2)

feelingsIn Part 1 of this two part series on tantrums, I talked about the reasons you might want to sometimes “ride out” your child’s tantrums. While it is sometimes therapeutic for kids to simply vent their feelings, more often parents need to work to find the source of the frustration and put a label on the child’s feelings. But dealing with tantrums is not easy, and many of us (myself included!) may sometimes be uncomfortable helping our toddler work through their big emotions.

Allowing Children to Feel Their Emotions

In Naomi Aldort’s book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, Aldort discusses parents’ “need” to stop tantrums. A parent may believe that ending a tantrum is in the child’s best interest, but it is usually based on less altruistic motives: avoiding an unpleasant “scene,” a desire for the child to be happy, the parent’s own discomfort at seeing her child in pain, or the parent’s discomfort in being out of control or in the presence of intense emotions.

But how will our children ever be able to resolve emotional difficulties and become resilient if we do not allow them to experience the full depth of their emotions? Aldort discourages cajoling or distraction by using this analogy:

imagine that you have just learned that your mother is dying or your partner is filing for divorce. In desperation you visit a friend, yearning to talk, cry, or rage in a supportive environment. No sooner do you begin letting out your emotions than your friend offers advice or suggests a distraction: ‘Let’s go to a movie, that will take your mind off of it.’ You are more likely to wish that your friend would listen to you attentively, ignore telephone calls and other intrusions, and focus on you. A child is a person with the same needs.

Aldort lists several strategies parents use to avoid dealing with uncomfortable emotions:
Continue reading Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 2)

Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 1)

Our son, Kieran, has been exceptionally tantrumless for the first 29 months of his life. Yes, he has screamed and cried. Once he fell and halfheartedly writhed on the ground. He’s even pulled the limp rag doll trick once or twice – letting his arms go up lifelessly so we almost drop him at the shock of his sudden heft. All 30 lbs of him.

tantrumsBut for the most part, we’ve not had to deal with “typical” toddler tantrums. By typical, I mean the ones harried veteran parents always stop to warn you about when they see you cuddling a sweet, drool-soaked little bundle of baby chub in the supermarket. And you would smile and nod sympathetically, edging closer to the clerk (because the parent’s wild eyes and twitchy left nostril are making you nervous) all the while knowing that your child will never be “typical.”

For 29 months we’ve been blessed with this easy-going little dude. Well, aside from the fact that he is rather attached to my side 23 hours of each day and would prefer something closer to, say, 24. But still, he’s pretty laid back. I attribute this primarily to Kieran’s extensive signing vocabulary. We are convinced that Kieran’s ability to communicate what he was thinking, wanting, and needing through sign language made his pre-verbal days pretty cakewalk.

Now that he has a great verbal vocabulary too, we still haven’t had a “tantrum,” but he is quicker to boil over with a flood of emotions when he is tired or overloaded. My husband and I have shared several bewildered glances, typically to express something along the lines of:

Where in the world did that come from?
Continue reading Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 1)

Tickle Me Not

tickleAt first glance, tickle games appear to be times of fun and joy. When you tickle a child, the child laughs. What’s not fun about that? But think about the typical tickling game:

1) it is initiated by the adult: tickle-fests are normally started by the parent. The child may run screaming and laughing away from the chasing, tickling adult. At the beginning, it probably looks like a fun game.

2) it is controlled by the adult: the child is rendered helpless under the adult’s tickling fingers. The child has less strength, less physical prowess, less control. The game stops not when the child wants it to, but when the adult decides to.

3) the child is left feeling vulnerable: sustained laughter and adrenaline from the “fight or flight” feeling brought on by the tickling leaves the child out of breath, shrieking, pulling away, or screaming “no!” or “stop!” In some instances, the child even cries or wets herself, adding to the humiliation she feels at being completely dominated and out of control. The uncontrollable laughter heard in a tickle game is usually not a free reflection of joy; it is a forced physical response. It stems from panic and anxiety.
Continue reading Tickle Me Not

Taking Care of Ourselves

park benchMany parents (myself included) are under the impression that the moment we are born into the world of parenting, our own needs and desires become secondary. That is true to an extent: parents do not make up the bulk of the nightlife scene, we often have to yield the bathroom to littler bodies, and we have less time to leisurely read the newspaper or go backpacking when children are around.

But sharing our time and space with children does not mean that we have been forced into a life of martyrdom. We have our own needs, and we need to take care of ourselves in order to parent effectively. I recently wrote a guest post on dealing with mama guilt; the first suggestion in that article was to take care of yourself.

Mothers who are stretched too thin – who run from work to their kids’ activities, who volunteer and organize, who cook and clean – without also doing something to make themselves happy, are apt to burn out. There are several reasons this is not ideal, not the least of which is that a burnt out mama is not functioning at her best.

Nor is a completely selfless mother the best role model. She is passively teaching her children that her needs are not important. Consequently, her children will not consider her thoughts and feelings either. She is also influencing her children’s future relationships. Her child may learn to always bow to the will of others, or he may never stop to think about the feelings and needs of his friends and family. Neither is a desirable outcome.

Take Care of Number One

Here are a few things I have tried to do lately to take care of myself:

  • Leaving the house for an hour or two: This gives my husband and son the chance to play uninterrupted. I can run an errand or surf the Internet alone, and my son learns that papa takes care of him just as well as mama does.
  • Stashing a special treat away: Not only does sneaking a treat give me a little chocolate “ahhhh” moment, but it has the added benefit of detracting from any potential mama guilt for letting my son eat too much sugar.
  • Indulging my vanity: I used to care what I looked like when I left the house; not so much anymore. I’m lucky if my clothes match, and I rarely do anything beyond washing my hair. But once or twice a year I have someone cut my hair. And once in awhile I color my hair from a box (I used to pay someone to do that, but I’ve discovered that’s not necessary at this point in my life). And I insist on my favorite shampoo (one big reason I’ve been hesitant to go no ‘poo).

What do you do to take care of yourself, and how often do you consciously do so?

What effects can you feel if you neglect your own needs?

Photo credit: costi

Finding an AP-Friendly Caregiver

The Sitter Who Cried “Ferber”

An acquaintance of mine recently shared a horror story about leaving her five month old baby with a sitter for a few hours. The sitter was auditioning for a role as a permanent nanny, because the mother will return to work soon.

An hour into her outing, the mother started getting text messages from the sitter. The sitter expressed concern that the baby was crying inconsolably.

The mother responded with suggestions on how to help him calm down: walking with him in the sling, rubbing his back, bouncing him gently, giving him a bottle of breastmilk, singing to him.

Her mild feelings of discomfort soon led to the first twinges of panic when she received this text:

He won’t stop screaming!

When the sitter texted later that the baby was asleep, the mother felt some relief. Until she went to pick her son up and the sitter admitted “I had to let him cry it out – nothing else worked.” Continue reading Finding an AP-Friendly Caregiver

Staying Patient

patienceLet’s be honest: toddlers and young preschoolers can wear on even the most patient person’s nerves. From the constant questions (“why?” “wat dat?” “where mama go?”) to the wild mood swings and outbursts, life with one to three year old kids can be difficult. But screaming back at your angry two year old is not going to help him learn how to handle his difficult emotions. Telling your heartbroken three year old to stop crying and “get over it” after she spills her ice cream is not going to make her feel better about the ice cream or herself. Smacking your twenty month old’s hand for pulling the cat’s tail does not teach him how to give gentle touches.

Here are a few tips for staying patient with your child (these don’t only apply to toddlers and preschoolers, but those are the ages I am most familiar with).

1. Be Silly and Play: Play is a child’s “main way of communicating, of experimenting, and of learning.” (1) Play is such an important part of children’s lives that there is an entire therapeutic technique based entirely on play. (2) And not only is it important to get regular play time in with your child, but you can also avoid arguments and stress by being silly and playing with your child when you foresee a problem. I recommend reading Dr. Cohen’s book Playful Parenting for more ideas in this area.
Continue reading Staying Patient

Toddler Ten Commandments

My husband, Tom, once remarked that he wished there was some quick and dirty parenting guide. He doesn’t have time to read all of the parenting books after I’m done with them, and he doesn’t particularly like to hear me quote entire passages. Go figure.

His wish is (sometimes) my command, so I set out to make him a list. I went back through several books I’d recently read: Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting, Lieberman’s Emotional Life of the Toddler, Cohen’s Playful Parenting, and half of Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves (I’m still finishing that one), and asked for the collective wisdom of my seasoned mama friends. I pared down a 10 page Word doc into a page and a half that I entitled “The Toddler Ten Commandments.”

There are a few corrections I could make to that title: 1) There are actually 14 “commandments” on my list, but ten just has a certain ring to it; 2) The word “toddler” could be removed from the title. Most of these will apply to kiddos of all ages, but that’s where we are in life at the moment; and 3) of course these “commandments” aren’t really that – they are suggestions, and not everyone will like all of them. I compiled them based on our experiences and struggles as parents so far. I welcome your thoughts and input on the list based on your own experiences.

We’ve printed out the Toddler Ten and taped it to our bathroom mirror and a kitchen cabinet. It is nice to have reminders every now and then! So without further ado, I give you the Toddler Ten Commandments. Please click on the links if you’re interested in reading a little more about the ideas presented.

  1. Keep your eye on long-term goals. Toddler “behaviors” will fade; what will remain is how your child feels about himself and his relationship with you, which is based on how you react to those “behaviors.”
  2. Take the child’s perspective. Sure it’s hard to be a parent, but it can be a lot harder to be a kid. We don’t mean to make children feel foolish or unsupported, but that’s just what happens when we trivialize their fears or tears by saying “shhh, you’re ok,” or “don’t be so upset,” etc.
  3. Let your child make his own decisions. Our default position ought to be to let kids make decisions about matters that concern them except when there is a compelling reason for us to override that right. We should be prepared to justify why, in each case, kids shouldn’t be allowed to choose. The way kids learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions.
  4. Reconsider your requests. Perhaps when your child doesn’t do what you’re demanding, the problem isn’t with the child but with what it is you’re demanding. I’ll give you a fluff example: Kieran (my son) and I were doing a craft last week. I kept suggesting that he cut the pictures, not the paper that he would eventually glue the pictures onto. He kept ignoring me. I realized that I was trying to impose my own vision of his artwork onto what he was doing – so what if he wanted to cut what I thought was the “wrong” thing! This same lesson can hold true in a number of different situations. As long as a child’s safety isn’t at risk, why not stop to reconsider whether you are imposing your own views and experiences onto them.
  5. Remember SALVE:
    • (S) Separate yourself and your emotions from your child’s behavior to be sure you’re TRULY about to respond to your child, and not as a result of baggage from your own life/childhood. (If it helps, run through any angry words in your mind, then get rid of them before speaking gently to your child.)
    • (A) give your child full, honest Attention;
    • (L) fully Listen, be present for your child;
    • (V) Validate your child’s feelings without adding your own (“I see you want ___,” “you were disappointed because ____”);
    • (E) Empower your child to solve the upset herself. Believe in her; don’t rush to “fix” her.

  6. Don’t say “no” unnecessarily. “Yes” should be our default response, such that you need a good reason not to go along with what’s being proposed, or to step in and forbid something.
  7. Change the way you see behavior. Try to see behavior as “teachable moments” rather than infractions that call for “consequences.” Don’t take behavior personally! A toddler isn’t trying to hurt or inconvenience you or “misbehave.”
  8. Respect your child. We can’t always assume that because we’re more mature, we necessarily have more insight into our children than they have into themselves.
  9. Keep her age in mind.
  10. Stop saying “good job.” Break the habit of saying “good job/sharing!” or “you’re such a great helper!” or “I like the way you . . .” Instead, try:
    • describing, rather than evaluating (“there’s something new on the people you drew, there are toes”);
    • explaining the effects of the child’s action on other people (“you set the table, that makes things a lot easier on me while I’m cooking”);
    • asking, rather than judging (why did you decide to give some of your brownie to Michael when you didn’t have to?”).

  11. Give her undivided attention. Don’t just occupy the same space, interact. It’s easy to feel distracted by emails or bills, and it’s fine to multi-task sometimes, but make sure your child gets a good portion of your total attention so they know how very 2010-01-30important they are to you. Give them affection without limit, without reservations, and without excuse. Pay as much attention to them as you can, regardless of mood or circumstance. Let them know you’re delighted to be with them, that you care about them no matter what happens. This basic posture is completely different from praise, which is doled out as a response to something a child does.
  12. Talk less, ask more, and wait. Step back and let your child figure things out. Wait for him to ask you for help. He may not. He may figure it out alone or he may do something else entirely, and that’s o.k.
  13. Talk about appropriate behaviors. Try “please use gentle touches” instead of “stop hitting.”
  14. Enjoy the journey – they grow up too fast. Don’t be in such a hurry!

This post was originally published on Code Name: Mama.

Plugin by Social Author Bio