Happy Parenting: Why Spanking is Outdated and Harmful to Children

My husband has always said, “I cannot think of one thing my child would do that would be so bad that  I would ever hit them. I’m a grown man, they are a child.”  He also will typically go on to state, if I ever did spank them, it would be out of anger and that is simply wrong and selfish.

Any discussion he has with parents that spank- he asks them: “Tell me one good thing that results from spanking your child that talking to them [or disciplining other ways] couldn’t result in?”

He is typically met with no response.   I think he sometimes hears, “It never hurt me any” or “It stops them” sometimes.  No, really, I would stop if I was hit too.  Great response.

“Thirty-two countries prohibit physical punishment of children by parents or caregivers, but the practice is allowed in the United States and Canada. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly recommends against the use of physical punishment as a form of child discipline.” [2]

Unfortunately, one of our [update 5/5/16: former] presidential candidates openly admits to spanking his children. Ted Cruz stated, “You know I’ll tell you, in my house, if my daughter Catherine, the five-year-old, says something she knows to be false, she gets a spanking.” [3]

Why one would seem so proud of this fact, I’m unsure of actually.  A grown adult spanking a child is one of the most uncomfortable sites that I witness a few times a year.

It saddens me for all the tools available to us today, we resort to this notion of physical aggression towards our youth for discipline and somehow twist it into a conservative “value.” There is no value in hitting. Period.

The following is what occurs in our home if our child lies to us:  We give him the opportunity to tell us the truth. If he does not, we ask him again what he said and we make him repeat it until the lie eventually turns into him confessing the truth.  We tell him we appreciate him telling the truth and we are proud of him for that.

We explain to him lies hurt people and the truth is important and it feels better to tell the truth.  Then we give him a consequence (no treats for 3 days, for example).  He actually takes this fairly well, he understands.  Our 4 year old rarely lies to us as a result.

We are also sparing him the damaging effects of physical punishment.

“We find children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time,” says Joan Durrant, the article’s lead author and a child clinical psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba. ” [1]

img_1196This is a topic I have shied away from for a while now. First of all, I know many parents that spank or justify spanking in certain situations.  Secondly, I could not write this article without explaining that I did it myself- once.

Yes, public confession time. I did it at a desperate and exhausted moment and it proved to me – spanking is often done as a last resort when the parent can no longer intelligently control their emotions.

It may also be a parent’s default tool, I don’t personally know parents that use it as a default, but when I see a parent spanking their kid for “not walking fast enough” at the grocery store- that is probably that parent’s main method of control. It saddens me. Even if done later or not out of anger. If we are not angry anymore at the child- why not just talk to them?

Don’t forget that word control either, we will revisit that word.

The few parents I know that do confess to spanking, typically justify it as “it never hurt me any as a child” or  “I never do it when I’m angry” or “I only do it when they need to learn something isn’t safe, like running in the street.”  I’m not sure how a spanking drives home the point to a 2 year old not to run into traffic, but hey, say what you need to yourself to sleep at night.

Back to my parenting horror story:

I had been back to work for just 3 days from maternity leave (my daughter deciding she wouldn’t drink a bottle all day long didn’t help my stress levels), navigating pumping at work, how to be a working mom again, and my husband had gone to the ER at 6pm with extreme abdominal pain.

Two hospitals later he found out he needed an emergency appendectomy. This was on the eve of my parents leaving on vacation and my mother in law was visiting us without a car.

My amazing parents delayed their vacation to drive my mother in law to the hospital at like 4 a.m. so I could stay home with the kids and she could be with her son during his surgery. My father in law drove up from Kentucky also to be here to help us.

My husband had developed an infection, so I was very worried. I was utterly exhausted from a lack of sleep the night before and constant worry. I’m not a crier but I did that day, a lot.

My daughter had just gone to sleep for the night and I was exhausted. My son, who was a little over 2 at the time, knocked over several glass picture frames on our entertainment center in a moment of intentional misbehavior.

Why we had glass frames within a toddler’s reach is beyond me? So really who was to blame there?

I picked him up in case anything was broken and in a moment of  pure emotion, I spanked his little behind. Naturally, he stopped, he cried, and he said “Mommy why you hit me?”  Broke. My. Heart.  I started crying and hugging him and of course he hugged me back so tightly. He forgave me. My mother in law walked in to me crying and holding him and patted my back and reassured me my husband was doing well and it would all be okay.

 I had completely broken the value system my husband and I had set before we ever had kids.   I get a pit in my stomach whenever I think of it. I’ve told a few friends who remind me I am human and I had extenuating circumstances and not to feel guilty. I’ve since moved on from the guilt, chalked it up to a big parenting mistake.

We had decided not to spank for several reasons: We didn’t want our emotional responses used to discipline. We wanted to be the parents that communicate with our children verbally to teach them behavior.  We felt it was an outdated method (we had no clue so many parents still did it actually!) My parents never once spanked their three children, so I had no exposure to it.  My husband felt spanking in his childhood was ineffective. Of course, generationally there were not the parenting tools available today and the studies had not proven its dangers yet.

Why encroach physical punishment on a child doing what children do? Exploring, misbehaving, testing, throwing a tantrum, pestering their sibling, acting out when they are hungry, tired, or bored.

How does physically invading one’s bodily space and making them feel unsafe help them learn things like self-control, expressing their anger verbally, or overcoming frustrating obstacles by trying again?

It doesn’t.

Life can be tiring and daily stressors easily accumulate and manifest into a swarm of emotions for parents (and our children).

Allowing those normal emotional responses to develop into a physical form of disciplinary action is mere selfishness. We have to take care of ourselves as parents to avoid those emotional pitfalls.  Exercise, time to ourselves, relaxation techniques, and educating ourselves in various parenting techniques can help us be better parents.

Using outdated notions of discipline and some sort of parent/child power hierarchy won’t cut it in the new age of parenting. I’m not talking about our children running all over us  and I’m not talking about parenting by being a “friend.”

We are not doing our children a disservice by teaching them to be loving. We are doing them a grave injustice however by teaching them it’s okay to cause harm.

I have seen too many social media blog posts about how we are turning our children into pansies or a spoiled generation and I simply don’t agree with the notion that tough love or spanking is necessary. Also, at what age is spanking crossing the line.  You wouldn’t want your 12 year old daughter struck by her boyfriend or her father, correct? Why is this okay for her to be struck as a 5 year old? It simply does not make sense!

Spanking: Yes, it stops the child. If you were struck, you would stop too.

The irony of hitting a person to teach them not to do something seems about the most unintelligent and archaic notion of guiding our children to do better.

There I said it, that may strike some as judgmental, but this is an opinion piece (albeit I quote some great sources) and that is my opinion. Spanking is an unintelligent and emotionally charged means of stopping a behavior.

Childbank.org statistics show that college educated adults are less likely to spank their children. Interesting, but these are still surprisingly high numbers in my opinion. Of course, I’m not saying people who spank their children are un-intelligent people.

What I am saying, is spanking is an outdated and archaic notion of discipline. There are more intelligent and creative means to get your point across.

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Remember that word “control” from earlier? Parenting is not to “control” our children, parenting is to “guide” them. If we raise another human under the guise that we can control them, as parents we will run into a world of frustration during their later formative years.  We will also run into difficulty allowing them become an adult with their own volitions and respecting their life decisions.

As parents, we guide, we feed, we nourish, and that baby plant of ours is transplanted into the world to grow more on their own, away from us. They take the lessons and values they learned, but ultimately we have to respect they are a separate entity.

We have found in parenting that guiding, communicating, time outs for more serious offenses, and positive behavior reinforcement, and sometimes threatening and/or taking away privileges like dessert or toys works with our 4 year old. He is 4, we expect him to behave as a 4 year old, but we also expect him to learn from us.

Is this approach involved? Yes, it takes time, creativity, energy and quick thinking, often on the fly.

Our children know they are safe, they can tell us the truth, but there will be consequences.

Does our 4 year old still haul off and shove his sister sometimes? Yes.  He knows there are consequences and we see him understanding more every day how to better control himself.

All you need to do is look at the facts:

“…none of more than 80 studies on the effects of physical punishment have succeeded in finding positive associations. “If someone were to hit us to change our behavior, it might harm our relationship with that person. We might feel resentful,” says Durrant. “It’s no different for children. It’s not a constructive thing to do.” [1]

A child is not spoiled by not being spanked, they are guided away from negative behaviors instead. They don’t avoid the poor behavior to merely to avoid physical punishment out of fear of harm. They avoid it because they have learned it is frowned upon and it’s “not right.”

As parents, we should not allow our daily stresses to manifest into a discourse of violence   Yes, I say violence.  Hitting or spanking is a violent attempt at controlling another’s behavior and in the long term it’s ineffective and damaging:

“There’s neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there’s also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.” [1]

The magnitude of tools we have at our disposal in this generation is vast: time out chairs, links upon links to parenting articles, Super Nanny tips, Kids shows about every behavior topic imaginable, smart phone apps,  encouragement charts, and shockingly enough- getting down at eye level and talking to our children (post tantrum or tirade of course).

Even prayers with your child to “do better staying calm tomorrow” or “be nicer to my sister tomorrow” can be used as a tool if you go that route. We encourage our 4 year old to state “I am so mad.” We acknowledge what is making him mad and we give him tips on how to change that response for next time.

“When children see someone resolve conflict with aggression, they are more likely to learn that behavior,” says Durrant. “Two-year-olds are the most aggressive people in the world. They don’t understand the impact of their behavior, and they can’t inhibit themselves. So the more a child sees someone resolving conflict with aggression, the more aggressive they become.” [1]

Could your child still turn out the aggressive type even without being spanked? Of course. There is a litany of factors in our brains that affect how we deal with stress. Could a child that is spanked turn out to be the next great peacemaker in the world? Of course.

Same as I don’t want to “turn on” a genetic predisposition for cancer by feeding my kids preservatives, dyes, and chemical-laced foods, I don’t want to turn on any predisposition for aggression.

Spanking  children leads to chaos in the home, regret, repression, guilt, and yes, more aggressive behaviors. If spanking is so effective, why the need to continue spanking?

As my husband says, ““I cannot think of one thing my child would do that would be so bad that  I would ever hit them. I’m a grown man, they are a child.”

If my child hits me or his sister, it make NO sense to hit him back.  Do the thing that they just did to teach them not to do it? HUH?

To quote Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland:

Alice: If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary-wise; what it is it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

I almost didn’t add this next part because I didn’t want to come across condescending or prideful:
“Our children are well behaved.”  They are 2 and 4 and do normal misbehaviors for their age.  So if you see me at the grocery, yes one very well could be having a tantrum or whining! We are not perfect! Even I whine when I’m hungry, tired, or have a headache.

They are also very different personalities, so we didn’t just “luck out” and have two calm kids. Our parenting style is pretty calm and I think that leads to relative peace in our household. Our oldest is thoughtful, very insistent, and likes things done a certain way- his way. Our youngest is spunky, willful, and vocal (LOUD) when she wants something.

However, we are guiding and teaching them to behave properly. That is our JOB as parents. Make them feel safe enough in a calm environment to make mistakes and learn from them.

If we justify spanking our children, then as a nation, we are taking the easy approach to parenting and possibly causing our children long term damage. I beg the parents of our country to find a more intelligent and mindful approach to guiding our youth.

There is enough violence in the world without contributing to it.

 


Sources:

  1. Rochman, Bonnie. February 6, 2012.  Why Spanking Doesn’t Work.  Healthlandtime.com

2. Bennet-Smith, Meredith. October 22, 2013.  Study Links Spanking to Increased Aggression, Language Problems. www.huffingtonpost.com

3. Bump, Philip. January 9, 2016.  Ted Cruz Spanks His Daughter and Republicans are Okay with That.  www.washingtonpost.com

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