Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Why We Stopped Spanking

My favorite label lately has been that of a "punitive" parent. Like God Almighty I swoop down upon my naughty children, punishing them with the awesome power of The Mommy. I make them feel small, and bad, and then they know that they are wrong. They become small and I become great!

Okay, so it's not really like that at all, but I think that's the impression some have of me. Because I spank? Actually, no. Because I have consequences, like time out, which some parents consider to be punishment.

I suppose people can call my disciplinary methods what they will. I prefer consequences, which I think teach, as opposed to punishments, which I believe are designed to make children feel bad. Will my children feel bad when they've done something wrong and they experience a consequence? I hope so. But the hoped for outcome is that they feel bad about what they have done. Not about themselves.

I had to think a lot about spanking. I was spanked. I know a number of people whom I consider to be excellent parents who spank. But when I began to really think about it, I couldn't continue to do so in my home.

First of all, it's hitting. I know, I know, it's spanking. But I don't think young children really sense the difference. If it's okay to hit because I'm older, bigger, or have more authority, then why shouldn't the older children be allowed to spank the younger ones? Because it's hitting. And I want to teach my children to respect each other's space, and body.

Second of all, it's a violation. Not in the way many will think. For me, having been a victim of early childhood sexual abuse, I feel very strongly about my children being allowed to have boundaries that no one is allowed to cross, regardless of age or authority. I've told my children that no adult is allowed to touch their private parts, for example. Not even a doctor, unless the doctor has my permission and theirs. I felt it especially important for them to know that their permission was needed, because it's their body. I think spanking violates that same need for controlling one's own person.

Third, the results are short lived. Even amongst the parents I know who spank, the only one's who are successfully disciplining their children don't use it as their only tool. There's talking, time-outs, encouragement for a job well-done, etc. etc. Discipline isn't just what we do when our child misbehaves. It's all of the things we do to encourage proper behavior. I thought about how I used to react to being spanked. I generally became much more caught up in how sorry I was for myself, and not how sorry I was for what I had done. Not what I want to encourage in my children. And every time I spanked, it was as if I chipped away at the connection that I'd worked so hard to achieve with them. And the behavior always returned.

  • But what about young children? They can't be reasoned with.

I agree. They really can't. This is where understanding what a child is developmentally capable of comes in really handy. Bridget is 18 months old now. She understands that when I say no, I want her to stop. But she does not yet have the control necessary to stop herself. She will no more understand my reasoning with her than she will understand why I slap her hand or bottom.

  • But a parent must be the authority.

I agree. A parent must be the authority. But we are part of a team. We're a family team. I teach my children what behavior I find acceptable by encouraging them when they've done well, giving them alternatives to negative behavior, and providing consistent consequences when necessary. My children understand that it is the parents who set the boundaries, and the parents who will insist that they be respected. But at the same time they are learning that we respect them, and are building bonds of trust that will go farther to ensure their desire to make the best choices.

  • But isn't gentle discipline just another way of saying that you don't?

Absolutely not. Finding ways to correct my children's behavior is absolutely vital to the nurturing, caring relationship that we have. It does not mean that misbehavior goes unaddressed or uncorrected. To do so would be a great disservice to my children. But God doesn't punish us. He's already taken our punishment. We still have to suffer consequences for our choices, but if He isn't punishing me, I won't punish them either. And I could never imagine Jesus spanking a child. It is He should be my ultimate example of love.

  • Slapping a hand will not damage children. Nor will spanking, if done properly.

Well, I can't refute that on an individual basis. But the more they study the long term affects of children who have been spanked, the more long term issues they are finding. Could your children be perfectly fine and have been spanked? Sure. But I've decided I'm not willing to risk it. There was a study mentioned in Dr. Sears The Discipline Book which talked about studies performed on young toddlers. It said that two groups of young toddlers (I think about 18 months old) were allowed to explore a room. One group would have their hands slapped when reaching for off-limits items, while the other group was redirected. When they studied the children again months later, the children who'd been hand-slapped were much less likely to be willing to explore their environments. For me, I don't feel that my job is to break their spirits. Even Piper, who's very passionate. My job is to turn those passions toward something positive, and encourage her to use her natural tendencies in the best way possible.

Spanking was especially damaging to Reagan. He tends to be very hard on himself. When he does something wrong, he says it's because he's bad, even though no one else has said that. He needs to hear 10 positive things for every one negative thing. Spanking just tore him down. And it most definitely damaged his trust in me. Something that I'm still working to earn back. And anyone who knows me knows that I only ever would give a "normal" spanking. Nor did it change his behavior. He just became more distant.

Giving my children lots of my time, filled with positive attention decreases their need to misbehave to get it. Telling them what I would like them to do, instead of what I wouldn't like them to do is another wonderful tool. For example, saying "Gentle touch." instead of "No hitting!". For Piper, choices are becoming great tools. Even if the choices are go to bed, or to the time-out spot. And for Bridget, lots of positive redirection, and occasionally a short time-out in the playpen.

One can discipline, without spanking, and have it be highly effective. Am I perfect? Not by a long shot. But, since I don't have perfect kids, I suppose I'm okay. And when I make a mistake, I apologize, take responsibility, and do my best to make it better. Which is exactly what I want to teach them to do.

I love the role I've been given as a mother. And my only responsibility is to do the best job I possibly can. Say a prayer for me.

1 comment:

  1. I think the biggest problem with spanking is that most people do it when they are angry and they overdo it. Not in strength, but like it is the only consequence because the bible talks about a rod.

    I spanked my son when he ran away toward a road. He wasn't very old, but it did leave an impression. He never did it again. I doubt it would have had much effect if it were our normal means of disciplining.


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