Okay, I admit it. I screwed up. By using the word “bully” in the title of my last post, If You Hit Your Child, You Are a Bully, I insulted a LOT of people and for that, I apologize. In my attempt to bring more awareness to the options available to us in lieu of spanking our children, I virtually “spanked” those who do. I received multiple comments, both on my Facebook page and in private messages from some very well-meaning and loving parents (some of which turned into pretty wonderful dialogues), as well as several profane and inarticulate comments which I chose to leave alone. I recognize that there is still a high percentage of parents out there who believe in spanking their children as a last resort and who are also determined to be the best parents they can be. My use of the word “bully” was negative and did not achieve the desired result.
When I was eight years old, I developed quite an attachment to my third grade teacher, Mrs. Wells. She was a female Atticus Finch with a smile that warmed the room and eyes so big and inviting, you wanted to crawl inside them with tea and a book and hang for the afternoon. She expressed a genuine interest in all of her students, but I felt a unique bond with her. I often found myself at her desk during quiet time, filling her in on the secrets of my life. I don’t remember how it came up, but it was during this time she told me she never spanked her children. It was the first time it occurred to me that not every child got hit and that someday, I would have a choice.
I was shocked to discover in my recent research on this subject that roughly 90% of children today are still recipients of varying degrees of corporal punishment from one or both parents and it is more common than many parents will admit. Verbal abuse can be equally and in some cases even more damaging. Some side effects of corporal punishment include:
- Increased physical and verbal aggression
- Lower quality performance in school
- Lack of verbal problem-solving and communication skills
- Juvenile delinquency
- Becoming abusive or abused in partner relationships later in life
Nobody likes to be criticized, especially if that criticism suggests they might be harming (or have already harmed) their child. A few of my readers said they did not want to have to spank their child or children, but thought it was necessary as a last resort when they felt they had already tried everything else. When kids act out, they are doing it for a reason. It is imperative to get to the root of the problem and solve it before it gets bigger. Forcing them to repress their feelings and “behave” only exacerbates the real problem and creates more intense issues later on. Spanking them so that they understand the consequences of their actions does not solve the problem in the long term. It may solve it in the short term by correcting undesired behaviors, but it ultimately harms them and creates additional consequences.
Increased physical and/or verbal aggression: Temper tantrums occur when a child has either not yet developed proper verbal communication skills or has not been allowed to express their feelings. Responding to aggression with aggression only intensifies the problem and this is the worst time to exhibit our “authority” over them. These are some of the biggest challenges we face as parents, but if we can stop from being reactive and calmly sit with our child with the goal of letting them know we are ready to listen, it will help them calm down. If our child knows we want to understand their feelings, it allows them to trust us and they will begin to open up. If the outburst continues after we have conveyed the message that we want to help, calmly leaving the room while saying, “I am ready to listen when you are ready to talk and you know where to find me” sends them the message that we respect their process. I do not mean to suggest that we do not want to put an end to temper tantrums. I do mean to suggest that listening to them is a means for getting there. This also puts them in a “time-out” without labeling it as such. The label itself shifts the focus of the problem we are trying to solve and should be avoided.
Children who put themselves in danger: One of my readers used the example of boiling water, fire and a hot stove in the kitchen as an area where children need to be spanked if they continue to not hear the danger message. Of course we want and need to keep our children safe and to not do so would be child abuse. It is possible to avoid accidents in the kitchen or anywhere else if we are proactive, especially when our children are very small. Children change everything. They suck the time and energy right out of us. But aren’t they well worth that time and energy? It may be inconvenient, but if our child is not presented with the opportunity for danger in the first place, there is no issue.
There were times I wanted to scream while preparing meals for my children, because they often took ten times longer or the burner had to be turned off and turned back on again, multiple times, so I could tend to them and create activities that would distract them long enough for me to finish. It isn’t the worst thing in the world to give up on a hot meal and resign ourselves to another peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When small children are demanding our attention, they need our attention. They are small for such a short amount of time. It is over before we know it. Why not give up on dinner once in a while, focus on the little arms reaching up for you and pull out some pots and wooden spoons and bang the crap out of those pots with your child instead of cooking dinner that night. You will eventually forget about missing that hot meal. You will never forget the laughter and utter glee emanating from your children in those moments simply because you are focused on them.
Children cannot be forced to respect their parents. Respect must be earned. We earn that respect by listening to and guiding our children in ways that do not include hitting them. I was spanked as a child and I acknowledge the fact that my parents did what they were taught, as did most parents of their generation. I also gained an enormous amount of respect for my mother when, after watching the choices I made as a young mom, she came to me with regrets for having made that choice. If she could go back and do it all over again, she would have made a different choice. The fact that she came to me with that acknowledgement is what allowed me to heal and I admire her incredible courage in doing so. Life is full of changes and it is never too late to make them. If not with our own children, then why not our grandchildren or great-grandchildren? I have amazing parents who have been an integral part of raising my children and have been involved in discussions with them on topics ranging from bullies, drugs, sex and sexuality, authority figures, honesty, politics, religion, violence, spirituality, love, hate, compassion, creativity and just about every other subject you can think of. Some conversations lasted a few minutes. Others began and continued in segments over the course of weeks, months or years and some are still ongoing. My goal was for my kids to never feel judged. I wanted to understand their perspective and, consequently, they wanted to understand mine. The end result is three young adults who make very well thought out, healthy and intelligent choices for themselves. I could not be more proud.
Corporal punishment is illegal in 44 countries. The reason for those laws going into effect is because corporal punishment is a violation of basic human rights. Children are not property. They are people. As their parents, we are bigger than they are. We know more than they do. They are much more vulnerable than we are and so, yes, if we hit them, I believe that makes us bullies to some degree. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes striking a child for any reason and claims it is harmful emotionally to BOTH parent and child. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry claims the results of corporal punishment include things like an increased risk for physical abuse and a decrease in learning capacity. To not spank them is not the same as not teaching them proper discipline.
We are the earliest models for who we want our children to be. We are our child’s first teacher. When they are small, we are everything to them. To be a true hero to them is to walk the fine line between guidance and age appropriate boundaries throughout their lives. I believe the way to do that is through positive discipline.
I will never know for sure if I would have set myself on the no-spanking path as early as I did had it not been for Mrs. Wells. I like to think I would have figured it out on my own before having my children, but I feel I owe a debt to her for planting that seed. It is possible I would not have arrived there without her or someone like her. A few months ago, I posted a question on my elementary school Facebook page, asking if anyone knew the whereabouts of Mrs. Wells and found someone who was willing to pass on my information to a friend. A few weeks passed and I all but forgot about it when my phone rang and the voice on the other end was unmistakable. It had been decades, but she remembered details like the time I performed the theme music from that old tear-jerker movie Brian’s Song, Hands of Time in front of the whole school at a student assembly, and she laughed at my Wicked Witch of the West cackle and how I melted on stage in our class production of The Wizard of Oz. She remembered things I had forgotten myself. I told her my memories of what she told me when I was 8 and how it set the course for how I chose to raise my kids. I thanked her for the impact she had on me as a person and as a mother. And then we cried. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to tell her what she has meant to my life and to the lives of my children.