Society reaps what it sows in the way it nurtures children... ~Dr. Martin Teicher
You may have heard of the Texas judge who’s been in the news recently, because his (now adult) daughter, posted a video she’d taken of him beating her (and her mother participating and egging him on) as a 16-year-old. If you haven’t seen the video, here is a link to an article that Annie (at PhdinParenting.com/Care2.com) wrote about it. **TRIGGER WARNING** For those of you who have experienced childhood trauma/abuse, please be warned that the video is graphic, and very difficult to watch. As of the latest news, this man is not being charged with any crime.
To be frank, I don’t think spanking or physical discipline of any kind is a tool that any parent needs in their toolbox. There are far too many negatives, and no benefits to keeping such an antiquated method of discipline around, even as a “last resort”. There are far more creative and effective and less hurtful methods of guiding and teaching children available. I’ve written about things you can do instead of spanking. but I’ve sat on my hands when it comes to really speaking out loudly against spanking because… I want to believe that at the heart of most parents who say things like (as overheard on Twitter, Facebook, message boards, and real life): “I spank because… it’s necessary” or “…children need discipline” or “…their father isn’t around, so I need to keep them under control” or “…sometimes you have to get their attention” or “…I’d never hit an older child, but younger kids don’t have the ability to understand anything other than a quick spank” or “…the bible/God says…” or “…(I have to let them know) I’m the boss” or “…culturally, it’s a requirement” or “…I only spank when I’m not angry” or “…I spank out of love” or “…I only do it in an emergency”... is a parent with love for their children, and a desire to parent well. I've avoided using inflammatory language: hitting, smacking, beating, abuse, in favor of the less hackles-raising “spanking” because I recognize that understanding differences is the key to changing minds, and if someone just closes their ears to you, they're not learning, and you're not teaching.
But, when I see news like this, when I see a father on video, BEATING HIS CHILD, who is not getting punished for his actions; when I realize he’s only one of thousands (millions?) of parents who still hit their children and think it’s okay, I can’t stay silent. I can’t believe that this type of behavior still happens. I can’t believe there are parenting books still on the market advocating physical punishment as an acceptable form of discipline. I can’t believe there are still so many parents ready to defend the act of hitting a child. I can’t believe spanking is still legal. I can't believe this man isn't going to be brought to justice for what he did to his daughter.
Plainly speaking: It is NOT OKAY to hit, spank, beat, whip, smack your child. Ever.
Spanking is not alright. It’s not acceptable discipline. It’s not appropriate. It’s not necessary. It isn’t legal when it’s done to adults; it isn’t legal when it’s done to animals. It shouldn’t be legal to hit children – even in the name of discipline.
I understand we all make mistakes, we all get pushed to our limits, we may not always live up to exactly the ideal image of mother/parent that we have in our minds-eye. But, to use spanking as a deliberate and regular form of discipline is reprehensible. When you spank a child, as an adult, you are either a) out of control or b) misguided and undereducated about the negative repercussions that come from using violence as discipline.
There is AMPLE evidence that violence begets violence. Children who are spanked are more likely to express themselves through violence – that means hitting you, hitting their siblings, hitting their classmates; and are more likely to grow up to be abusers themselves.
I KNOW you don’t want this for your children. There are OTHER WAYS to guide your children, rather than resorting to violence. Really. REALLY.
You know it doesn’t feel good when you hit your child (if it does, you’re likely not reading this, or, if you are, and it does feel good when you hit your child, please stop reading, and PLEASE GET HELP NOW – talk to someone, a counselor, a friend, a clergy person, someone; your child will thank you for the rest of their lives). Maybe it hurts you. Maybe it makes you feel sick. Maybe you feel guilty or ashamed. Maybe you want to change, but you don’t know how. Maybe you feel like you won’t be an effective parent without spanking. I know it's difficult, particularly if your parents spanked you, and "you turned out okay".
The bottom line is that you don’t need to feel that way anymore because you DON’T NEED TO USE SPANKING AS DISCIPLINE anymore. You have a choice. You can change. Your children NEED you to change. You have the power to show your children that no matter what they’ve done, you still love them. No matter how angry you are, you can control yourself. You want your children to behave, but they can’t if they don’t feel good, if they don’t feel loved. When you spank your child, they don’t understand the distinction you’ve created in your mind that spanking is necessary and loving discipline, they only feel pain, fear, shame, and anger. They don’t deserve to feel that way, no matter what the misdeed. All children deserve gentle guidance in a home filled with peacefulness and love. Show your children with your own words and actions how you’d like them to live, and they will follow you. If you show them how to hurt, they will hurt.
Children who feel right, act right. Children who don’t, won’t. They can’t. If violence is what they’ve been shown and taught, then violence is how they will express themselves. Hurt and anger and pain is what they will associate with you and they may spend their lives trying to get away from it – and you. Maybe this manifests itself in “good/obedient behavior” as children, but as teens and adults, it will likely evidence as acting out, experimentation with dangerous behavior, distance, and separation. Don’t do that to your children.
So, what can you do?
1) If you can’t think of anything to do (other than spank), do nothing. It’s okay to walk away until you’re calm. Really. The message you wanted to convey by spanking, that lesson you wanted to teach? It will still be teachable after the heat-of-the-moment has passed. I suggest that a child who feels calm will be more receptive to talking about a misdeed than one who is afraid of being hit, or who has just been hit. Think about this in terms of your own life. Are you more likely to be receptive to…. a) your boss storming into your office yelling about a mistake you made, or, b) your boss telling you about a mistake you made & asking if you’d come to his office later to talk about what you can do differently next time…?
We both know it’s B. Children are no different; humans are humans, and respectful, peaceful discourse is always the better route to go. Give yourself a time out, cool off, regroup.
2) Use your words. With emphasis, but without hurt. We always ask our children to use their words instead of resorting to tantruming, screaming, yelling, kicking, biting, throwing. Yet, when you spank your child, you’re not using your words, your having a tantrum yourself – only you’re taking it out on your child. Instead of spanking, tell your child that you are angry, sad, disappointed, whatever. Say what you need to say clearly, loudly… but do it without hitting them (keeping in mind that hitting can be done with words, not just hands, so tread carefully here). Say to your child what YOU are feeling. And, like #1, if you can’t think of anything to do (or, in this case, say, other than spanking – with words or with hands), then walk away until you’re calm.
3) Take and give a time out. Tell your child that you’re going to take a time out, and ask them to do the same. This doesn’t mean forcefully lock them in their room, or restrict them to a naughty spot or time out chair. A time out is just what it sounds like: a time to step away from overwhelming emotions, to take a moment OUTside of the anger that you’re feeling. It isn’t punitive, it’s learning (and teaching!) how to separate yourself and your responses from your children’s actions. You don’t have to respond in a super-emotionally-charged way to your children’s misbehaviors – and it’s better for them if you don’t. If you take a time out to get composed and think about a measured response, you’re teaching a lesson much greater than the lesson you’d have taught by spanking.
4) Forgive. Forgive not only your child’s misbehavior – they’re just learning about this world, remember? But forgive YOURSELF for whatever you’ve done in the past. Try to forgive whatever may have been done to YOU in the past, and realize that you have the power to change, to break the cycle, starting now. I learn every day about forgiveness from my children – they are so open, so willing to accept that people make mistakes. Hug them, forgive them, forgive yourself and realize every moment is a new moment for starting anew and trying again.
Spanking is never necessary. You are the adult, you can make a choice – starting now, regardless of whatever has gone on in the past – to stop spanking, and start guiding your child with more gentleness and empathy. Your children, and your children's children are depending on you.
If you want to learn more about the effects of spanking, and things you can do to discipline your children WITHOUT spanking, here are some great starting points:
Ten Reasons Not To Hit Your Child: http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/discipline-behavior/spanking/10-reasons-not-hit-your-child
Plain Talk About Spanking: http://nospank.net/pt2011.htm
Gentle Discipline That Works: http://www.beliefnet.com/Health/2007/03/Gentle-Discipline-That-Works.aspx
Ten Reasons Not To Hit Your Kids: http://www.naturalchild.org/jan_hunt/tenreasons.html