No More Spanking – Part 2

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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
  • Depression
  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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10 thoughts on “No More Spanking – Part 2

  1. Another good post Trina. I think aside from giving children space to process when they are having ‘big’ emotions adults can help by naming them. I get this idea from Virginia Axline who wrote ‘Play Therapy’ and ‘Dibs in Search of Self’. In these two books Axline explains how she used her ‘non-directive therapy’. She was working with children who had been traumatized in WWII and developed this approach of non-judgmentally naming their emotions as a way to help them start dealing with these emotions by 1) identifying (her idea is they are feeling these things but might not know what they are) and 2) validating their feelings through this non-judgmental identification. Oddly I have used this approach with adults who are freaking out and it works with them too – I’ve seen the anger and energy just drain out of a person when I’ve said, “Oh, you’re feeling so angry and frustrated.” I guess no matter how old we get humans do better when they know that others understand how they feel.

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    • Thanks Jody. I agree. It is amazing how positively people will respond when treated with kindness and respect. I don’t know why anyone would think it would be different with children. It makes no sense to treat them one way when they’re young, and then turn the tables on them and treat them like “adults” when they are older. Why not be consistent? I will check out Axline’s books.

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  2. I agree so whole wholeheartedly. I had UN learn, is that a term? Well deal with it, I aint no collegian. Ha. I had to UN learn how to not raise my hand to my kids, and I am still UN learning yelling, that’s a difficult one. As my kids get older, we are getting closer and closer and it feels good. Most of our yelling is out the car window and being crazy with laughter. Thanks for the article, very cool indeed.

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  3. Honestly I have to completely disagree with this post. I have been spanked as a child and never once did anything aggressive, I excelled in school, I never put myself in danger or did anything violet. I never acted or really did anything bad. My relationships that I’m in are very healthy. But I was only spanked when I was bad. Not over trivial things, but showing me no, I can’t be a spoil brat and throw a tantrum over stupid things. After that I wasn’t spanked. I’d get upset with myself and not do that anymore. There was no reason to be spanked afterwards because I listened. My parents are kind and loving. I was punished with getting yelled at, and when I was very bad in my young age, I was spanked. I was never spanked after the age of 5 or 6. I had good parents and was taught better. From my experience I believe spanking is alright if used not excessively and in the right content. Many friends of mine were spanked when bad, we all are not trouble makers, and all did well in school. We love/d our parents and held no grudge. How is spanking doing all these things you say? The only way I can ever see this post being true is that people are spanking their kids too often, not enough love and hitting them too hard(bruises). Otherwise, I see no problem.

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    • Your reaction is a common one, Lindsey. “I was spanked and I turned out okay,” and there are many reasons why people respond this way. Your defense for getting spanked is that you did not exhibit overt side effects from being spanked by saying things like you are not a trouble maker, you did well in school, you stopped “being bad” because you listened, etc. There are millions like you, including myself. The message I am trying to convey is that hitting a child, for any reason, is inhumane, it is wrong and whether it is visibly apparent or not, it does cause emotional damage. You mentioned twice in your comment that you were punished when you were “bad” or “very bad,” but you did not give specifics for those “bad” behaviors. The perception exists that when children do not act the way parents want them to act, they are misbehaving (or ‘being bad”), when actually, those behaviors are completely age appropriate. It is hard to admit we might be damaged and it is uncomfortable to suggest that we disagree with how we were raised by our parents. Aggression can be internalized and a child who is spanked will not necessarily act out aggressively, but can also become fearfully submissive which will indicate their “bad behavior” has been corrected. It may work in the short term, but not in the long term. We are a society that evolves and embraces change. Abolishing corporal punishment in this country would be a positive change. There are loving ways to communicate with a child that will prevent them from becoming a “spoiled brat.” Millions of loving parents believe they are doing the right thing by spanking their children. It is my goal, and there are many others like me, to increase awareness and change that perception. For many of us, that starts with forgiving our parents, educating ourselves in the practice of positive parenting and implementing those positive parenting techniques.

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      • After reading Lindsey’s comment I wondered, what kind of information is out there to answer her question of what harm does it do? This, http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/pdfs/Summary of research on the effects of corporal punishment April 2013.pdf is dizzying in the direct effects on the child. What’s missing is the anguish that must be felt by a loving parent who believes physical discipline is ok, who then uses it at a time when they are frustrated and/or angry and accidentally causes injury to their child. Outlawing corporal punishment would help not only children but parents as well.

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      • Thanks Jody. That’s a great website with a lot of information. I’ve perused it many times. It makes me very sad that so many in our culture who were hit as children believe they deserved it. That’s how embedded corporal punishment is in our society. The bottom line that people do not seem to be grasping is that corporal punishment is a violation of a child’s basic human rights. Period. I totally agree with you. Eliminating it would be better for BOTH parent and child. Thanks for the comment. xo

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    • Lindsey,

      The answer to your question is right there in the subtleties of your comment. You were spanked when you were “bad”. Note that you didn’t say it happened when your parents felt you were misbehaving, but rather when you “were bad.”

      These are terms that balanced, healthy adults never apply to themselves or to others around them… except, unfortunately, to children. Trina, in her (very unnecessary) apology above said, “I screwed up” and not, “I was bad.” When a public figure messes up, she or her apologizes (or fails to apologize) for the action, not for having “been bad.”

      This cuts to the heart of a lot of problems we’re failing to work through these days: racism, sexism, and xenophobia (often founded on essentialism), but also the impossibility of talking about racist, sexist, and xenophobic comments made by people who don’t realize it. When you say, “That comment was racist,” people immediately jump to, “I’m not racist!” in precisely the way you jumped to “when I was bad” rather than “when I screwed up.” All the angst we feel about identity—and all the money we waste on buying pop music and fashions that bolster our chosen identities—probably are rooted there, too.

      Indeed, your defensiveness of your parents betrays the simplified thinking that this kind of discipline engenders: you seem to be arguing against the idea that your parents were “bad” by offering evidence like, “they didn’t beat me excessively” and “they loved us”… even when Trina has framed the discussion as being about decisions and their relative positive or negative consequences, not how the decisions reflect on the moral essences of the people making them.

      Let’s be honest: your parents didn’t just spank you because you “were bad.” That’s a ridiculously simplistic analysis to apply to human behaviour. Since your parents are human, they are capable of doing things out of a whole range of motivations, as well as out of multiple motivations at once, and like all humans, sometimes things not in their better nature get the best of them. They spanked you, surely, because they perceived your behaviour as unacceptable… but also, I hate to break it to you, probably because they were exhausted, and frustrated, and aggravated, and culturally permitted to spank you instead of sitting down and talking with you about your actions and why they were unacceptable, and could spank you with impunity, and because they were several feet taller than you, and because they’d probably taken for granted some vague notions about the intellectual and moral capacities of children under the age of six, loosely based on Piaget and all that.

      The bottom line that that cultural enfranchisement. When your mom is elderly and enters her second childhood, will you spank her for misbehavior? Would you tolerate an employer spanking you for slacking off at work? I don’t think so. I think it’s a form of disrespect we reserve for children, because of all people on this planet, children are–across all cultural lines, across all boundaries–the least respected. Coddled, perhaps, spoiled, sometimes, but almost never authentically respected.

      The prevalence of corporal punishment for kids, and for the constant justification of it, is also hard to dislodge because frankly human beings, deep down, have a slight sadistic streak in them that they dislike and feel guilty or ashamed about; they try to repress it, but it gets the better of them at times — like in moments of exhaustion, stress, emotional crisis, and so on. The painful divorce (like the one Trina talks about a bit elsewhere here) puts this kind of sadism of display, but so do spouses from time to time, and parents in their occasional outbursts of vindictive outlashing, and friends occasionally. Work relationships can be rife with undertones of this vindictiveness too, though it’s more disguised outside a family setting.

      (Commentators from Carl Jung, to marriage counselor David Schnarch (http://www.gordsellar.com/2013/01/05/normal-sadism-weak-boundaries-why-korean-society-is-so-unhappy/) to war veteran Karl Marlantes (in What It is Like To Go to War) all talk about that shadowy, sadistic side of human nature, and emphasize the people who insist most stridently that they’re not like that (again, “I *am* not like that”) are the most frightening and dangerous people, because they can’t admit it and thus can’t really learn to master it.)

      This sadistic streak doesn’t erase a capacity to love: saying “My parents were loving,” doesn’t make it impossible that your parents were also occasionally abusive of their power over you, or made bad decisions about how to discipline you and set boundaries for you. Certainly, “I was punished with getting yelled at, and when I was very bad in my young age, I was spanked,” sounds as if the choice they made did negatively affect you: it left you feeling as if it’s fundamentally normal for people who disagree with your behaviour to shout at you and punish and even hit you, if you’re smaller or less powerful than they are.

      I say this as someone who was raised the same way, and who, as an expectant father, is committed to not replicating it. Not because I think my parents were bad, I don’t doubt that they loved me as best they could and tried to do a good job with me. They did better than they experienced as kids, certainly: I was never beaten with a cane till bruising, like my father was as a child. My parents sacrificed a great deal for my and my sisters’ well being and even just for my happiness. But nonetheless I think some of their decisions, although they were very “normal” in the time and place where I was raised, were nonetheless unhealthy and affected me negatively, both when I was young and even up to the present, and I am committed to making different decisions.

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      • Thank you for such a thoughtful and well written comment. I think one of the key elements to changing emotionally and physically abusive parenting strategies is to acknowledge that what our parents did was wrong, forgive them and make different choices. That is a hard thing to do. But it must start somewhere. This issue has been one of the hardest for me to write about, because the last thing I want to do is hurt my parents. I love them and I have zero doubt that they love me. But if nobody speaks about it, change will never happen. And it must happen.

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