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Every time I write in my column that spanking is violence, I am taken to task. One reader wrote:
“You do your readers a serious disservice by using such polemical and inflammatory language to describe an effective and widely-used parenting tool. Proper use of spanking is not an act of violence, anger, or aggression. It clearly illustrates to the child that actions have consequences in a manner that the child readily understands…We have a 5-year-old son. He is not spanked often, never in anger, and always with a clear understanding of the behavior that led to the spanking. We have found spanking to be both an effective deterrent to future misdeeds, and as a means of firmly capturing his attention.”
My answer: Hold your hand next to your son’s hand and compare the size. Then compare your son’s hand to the hand of a one-year-old. If that baby took his toy and your son hit the baby to inflict an “effective deterrent to future misdeeds and as a means of firmly capturing his attention” what would you do? Is such hypothetical behavior aggressive violence?
In my view, whenever a bigger person hits a littler person it’s aggressive violence. You don’t leave a mark? Bravo! You are controlled — and smart enough to avoid accusations of abuse. You never hit in anger? Ah, your spanking is a coldly calculated act. You model behavior that teaches your son adults hurt children deliberately. You want to effectively deter unwanted behavior in your son and teach him consequences? Can you find no way to do this other than spanking? How limited your knowledge of children and parenting skills must be!
I could not agree less with your point of view.
Corporal punishment is the use of physical pain in response to undesirable behavior. Spanking, but one form of corporal punishment, is defined as striking a child with the open hand on the buttocks or extremities to modify unwanted behavior without inflicting physical injury. 90% of families report the use of spanking at least some of the time. I have rarely met a parent who doesn’t admit to at least one swat across the behind (me too!).
I oppose spanking for the following reasons:
Spanking gives the child this message: it’s OK for big people to hit little people. I abhor this message, especially today, when violence pervades our culture. You don’t hit your boss or a colleague to effectively deter unwanted behavior do you? Why hit a child?
Spanking models aggressive behavior as a method of resolving conflict and is associated with increased aggression in children.
Spanking doesn’t work. If the undesirable behavior persists or recurs, in order to maintain the initial effectiveness of the spanking, parents have to increase its severity which can escalate into abuse. One study compared 3-year-olds who did not comply with a time-out, half of whom were spanked and the other half kept behind a low barrier. Spanking was not any more effective in correcting the child’s misbehavior than the barrier.
Even if a spanking does get the child’s attention, parents must remember that discipline has two goals. The first is to stop the child from doing something dangerous, hurtful, or annoying — compliance right now. The second goal of discipline is to teach the child how human beings behave when the parent is not around — self-control in the future. An angry or hurting child isn’t learning effectively. Although spanking may result in immediate cessation of a behavior, spanking is not effective as a long-term strategy. Also, repeated spankings may result in agitated and aggressive behavior in a child, and reliance on spanking often makes other discipline strategies harder to use.
Spanking — and “verbal spankings” like put-downs — makes the child dislike the parent, perhaps only temporarily. But this removes from their armamentarium the best thing parents have going for them: the child’s loving desire to please the parent they love.
Spanking children under 18 months can not only cause physical injury, but the child is too young to understand the connection between the punishment and the behavior. Spanking older children often escalates in frequency or severity, when the child’s perfectly normal, though obnoxious, behaviors become more troubling to the parents.
Spanking breaks the 11th Commandment: Respect thy children so they will learn to respect themselves, you, and others. We don’t hit or hurt those we respect.
Spanking is NOT the only method of discipline that establishes parental authority, acts as a deterrent to undesirable behavior, or gets the child’s attention. I am convinced it is an impoverished viewpoint that holds that nothing short of hurting the child will teach the child who’s boss. There are many effective discipline strategies that parents can learn to use. (See Heins ParenTips on Discipline.)
I teach parents four simple strategies:
1) KNOW YOURSELF. Understand your own feelings about discipline, and if you are ever so angry you want to spank, take a parental time out.
2) KNOW YOUR CHILD. Read about child development so you have an idea about what to expect from your child. Spend time with your child so you can understand and work with your child’s personality and temperament.
3) ACCEPT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AND LET YOUR CHILD KNOW YOU ARE IN CHARGE. It’s your job to be in charge.
4) LEARN EFFECTIVE DISCIPLINE TECHNIQUES.
Parents who understand and follow these suggestions can discipline their children without spanking.
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