To spank, or not to spank?

Effie2 (2)I recently came across a social media post that opened with the following phrase: “Have to laugh at people who are against spanking.” The post stated that spanking leads to a child learning respect and boundaries with the absence of any trust issues and hatred toward the parent, and so on and so forth. It concluded with: “Repost if you got your butt smacked and survived.” I couldn’t disagree more. My feelings were a mixture of appall, irritation and sadness. And no, I didn’t feel like laughing at anyone!

In the role of parents, we are our children’s first and most important role models. We are our children’s leaders, their advocates. When leaders say one thing but do another, they do erode trust — an essential element of productive leadership. I believe that the most effective teaching by a parent is accomplished by setting a positive example for the child to witness and learn from.

Actions are more powerful than words, and our kids observe us conduct ourselves in this world. Whether we offer help to an elder crossing the street, are courteous to the cashier at the supermarket or show respect to our own parents — whether we shout profanities at our fellow drivers, mistreat those who work for us, or bad-mouth our family and friends — each of our actions signal to our kids what is appropriate and acceptable behavior.

effie teddybear for spanking postWhen we spank our child as a consequence of unwanted behavior, what are we communicating to that child? What are the messages that child may be sensing? We teach him — by our own example, through our actions — that it’s acceptable to manage anger and discontent with violence. Furthermore, we may be encouraging a cycle of violence as we are providing him with improper tools to handle his anger and other intense emotions.

There are many adults who were physically punished as children and are supportive of physically punishing their children, reasoning that they “survived.” The above-mentioned post has more than 24,000 likes, and that number keeps growing. To them I say:

  1. Good for you that you survived!
  2. Most of us don’t want to simply “survive” in this life. We want to thrive!
  3. Children can be damaged in many ways and spend much of their adult life untying the knots their parents had created for them — unleashing themselves from all the pain and humiliation inflicted upon them at an innocent, young age.
  4. I have to keep in mind that many people lack personal introspection and insight.

It isn’t easy being a parent. It is blissful and rewarding, but it is also challenging and exhausting. Once my second child became a toddler, I thought I crossed my biggest parenting hurdle: 5 years of sleepless nights and the suffocating dependency. I’m now realizing, I crossed a moderate hurdle, only to face the biggest one — thus far — namely, disciplining! With one of my kids being strong-minded and defiant, I have experienced fury and other emotions I wasn’t aware existed in me. I am flawed; I crossed the line I set twice — not my proudest moments by any stretch of the imagination. I have ample sympathy for parents who struggle with discipline — every single day!

There is overwhelming evidence that physical punishment is both ineffective and harmful to child development. Instilling fear in children serves no purpose and creates feelings of shame and humiliation. Fear has been shown to lead to an increased risk of future antisocial behavior, including crime and substance abuse. Studies show that spanking and other physical punishment techniques can create ongoing behavioral and emotional problems. Harsh, physical punishment teaches children that violence is the only way to solve problems. Furthermore, controlling or manipulative discipline compromises the trust between parent and child, and harms the attachment bond. You can read more on about Attachment Parenting International‘s Seventh Principle of Parenting: Practice Positive Discipline.

In any event, I don’t need experts or studies to tell me that inflicting physical pain on my kids is wrong, on so many levels — I view it as common sense. The key principle I impart on my kids is: “Treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself.” It’s fundamentally the way I would like my kids to carry themselves in our home as well as in the world. Hence, I don’t hit my kids — spanking is just a label for a form of hitting — as I don’t enjoy being hit myself.

Needless to say, the parent is the authority figure in the family, but that still doesn’t justify acts of aggression.

We don’t exist in a Utopian world and there are the occasions when — sadly — aggression and violence are necessary in society, but this is another conversation. But aggression and violence does not have a place in the home: the one place children ought to feel secure, loved and protected — not shamed, not humiliated.

The goal of discipline — the word’s Latin root meaning “to teach” — is to change behavior. It’s a sign of strength to examine ourselves and our parenting approaches, striving to improve and evolve. So, let’s lead our kids and teach them to adjust their behavior with a gentle approach and maybe, just maybe, we the parents need a dose of discipline, too.

Spanking and the Golden Rule

By Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker, cofounders of Attachment Parenting International and coauthors of Attached at the Heart

“Adults teach children in three important ways: The first is by example, the second is by example, the third is by example.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

barbara nicholsonAt one point in our own lives, we have spanked at least one of our children, later learning more positive parenting tools.

People believe in spanking children for many reasons. We often hear the common rebuttal, “I was spanked as a child and I turned out OK,” or someone’s personal beliefs may incorporate the use of spanking to teach lysa parkerobedience and respect. We’ve heard many teachers say that when the use of paddling was taken out of schools, violence and chaos in classrooms increased — though that doesn’t hold true, because violence is a problem even in schools where paddling is still allowed.

For those who spank, it doesn’t mean you are bad parents or that your own parents were bad because they spanked you as a child. You’ve likely heard the adage, “You do the best you can with what you know at the time.” The good news is that there is so much more that we know now about child development and brain development that there are many more options for parents and caregivers that really do work so much more than spanking ever did — and keeps everyone’s dignity intact.

We certainly don’t intend to offend anyone’s beliefs or ideas about how to raise their children. What we want to do is plant the seeds of possibilities with you by looking at this issue in a different light.

We promote positive parenting practices that require that we see the world through the eyes of our children, rather than treating them like little adults. When children feel understood and disciplined with dignity, then they begin to learn their first lessons of empathy and compassion for others. Very simply, the Golden Rule applies to children, too: Treat your children the way you would want to be treated if you were the child.

Of course, as parents, we wish could always handle every situation perfectly, but we are all trained on the job. At times we lose it; tempers flare, we yell and spank. When that happens, it’s important to repair any damage to the parent-child relationship: Take time to reconnect, talk about what happened and apologize after everyone has calmed down. Talk about how the situation happened and what you can do together the next time a similar situation occurs. If it happens too often, then consider other professional resources for help and guidance.

It helps to have a mental plan for redirecting your anger and frustration. Try using these three reflective questions to help guide you in how you determine your course of action:

  1. Am I treating my child the way I would want to be treated?
  2. Will my words or actions strengthen my relationship with my child?
  3. Will my actions give my child an opportunity to learn from this experience?
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