Do you ever feel at your wits end or like you just don’t know what else to do? Do you feel like spanking is the only thing that gets their attention and compliance? Have you ever sat down to honestly and rationally think through why you choose to or not to spank, and if your reason for spanking is actually supported and accomplished by spanking?
The most common reasons parents spank
- Kids need to learn to listen or do what they are told. Lack of compliance to a parent’s direction is the most common issue I see for which parents spank. I hear cries of, “They never listen” or stories of defiance. I hear the stories of kids refusing to clean their room, take out the trash or go to bed. A recent study that listened in on parents in real time found that most often spanking was a quick go to discipline for even small infractions such as turning pages in a book when it wasn’t time to turn the page yet. I have even seen parents spank for normal kid behaviors like loud play in the house, walking too fast or too slow, or when kids do not immediately respond to regular orders. To learn specific ways you can encourage listening and compliance in your kids without spanking go to “Getting Kids to Listen: 7 Ways to Reinforce Active Listening at Home.”
- Kids need to learn they can’t hit or hurt others. Most parents have a “zero tolerance policy” for aggressive behavior. When kids get rough and start hurting their siblings or others, parents put on their “I mean business” face. I think part of the reasoning for spanking in regards to punishing aggressive behavior is “an eye for an eye” philosophy. We also feel like we have to do something, but we’re not sure what else to do. To learn specific ways you can teach your kids that hitting is not okay without spanking go to, “How to Teach Your Child that Hitting is Not the Answer.”
- Kids need to learn who is in charge. Kids love power struggles. Struggling for independence and autonomy is one of the major developmental challenges that every kid faces. Parents often think that if we aren’t harsh or “strict” that our kids will be spoiled, rude, entitled and disrespectful to other people and specifically to authority.
- Kids need to learn right from wrong. Parents often feel compelled to spank or use authoritarian, harsh punishment in regards to issues of morality. When Kids steal, lie, or are cruel to others, we worry about them growing up to be criminals. We feel that spanking provides an abrupt, immediate mode of correction. We hope to nip it in the bud so our kids will grow up to be “good people.”
A false notion:
The tendency for parents to default to use spanking is fostered by the false idea that spanking helps kids learn what we desire and intend to teach them. Spanking certainly does teach something, but it does not generally teach what we want them to learn. I believe that most parents are well intentioned when they spank, but the road of good intentions never leads where we want it to lead.
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My experience as a parent and counselor has lead to overwhelming anecdotal as well as research evidence that spanking perpetuates a cycle of rebellion, aggression and animosity rather than cooperation, kindness and respect. The main point that parents are seeking for when they spank their child is usually to teach their child and help them be a more competent individual. This is precisely why spanking doesn’t make sense.
The 3 TRU reasons spanking doesn’t make sense as discipline:
1. Spanking doesn’t Teach what we want it to teach: What do they actually learn by spanking? You may teach them to surrender against their will as a fight, flight or freeze sort of reaction, but it will not teach respect, skills or morality. You can do a quick Google or Bing search of the terms “spanking study” and find out very quickly the things that spanking does teach. It teaches them to be reactive and defensive rather that to listen, comply and cooperate. It teaches that aggression is an acceptable way to express anger and solve problems rather than teaching them to constructively express emotions and find proactive solutions. It teaches them that they are either powerless or that they have to use rebellion, as well as physical aggression and power to gain power and control of their own life rather than encouraging positive choice, decision making and shared power. Ultimately, it does not teach them right from wrong but that making mistakes and getting caught hurt. They learn to evade correction or blame.
2. Spanking does not build the Relationship: How do you feel toward someone when they hit or smack you? If you think back about your experience when you were a kid, if you were spanked, what did you think and feel before, during and after a spanking? I really doubt you felt loved and appreciated. I doubt it was a source of trust and connection. Think about how you would interact with someone now if they were to hit or spank you. Would you continue to be their friend? Would you continue to confide in them, trust them and seek advice from them? I would not. Our relationship with our children is one of the most important elements of having real influence in their lives for good.
3. Spanking does not help you to Upgrade Yourself: Spanking has always seemed to me to be very hypocritical. In essence, we say to our child, “If others don’t do what you want, you shouldn’t hurt them, but if you don’t do what I want I can hurt you.” The Comedian Bill Engvall illustrates this well in his “Here’s your sign” comedy sketch. In the routine he talks about how stupid people should have to wear a sign that says, “I’m stupid” so that you would know not to rely on them. He recounts a scene from his front yard. He tells about his son playing in the yard with a neighbor when he sees a little scuffle break out. He hurries over to his sons side and grabs him and takes him aside. He sets his son down on the lawn and says, “Son, we don’t hit” while simultaneously giving him a thump on the back of the head. He said, “My son just looked up at me with a look that said, Here’s your sign!” Finding alternative solutions to problems and ways to teach important principles to our kids can take a lot of personal strength and self regulation as well as time and energy, but as we do, not only is our teaching and relationship improved but we are individually improved as well.
3 Ways to teach/discipline that do make sense
1. Teach During the good times: Set aside moments everyday to teach your children a positive principle or skill for listening, solving problems, making plans for compliance, honesty, goal setting or any others that come up on a regular basis. Teach these principles and skills in times when your child is happy, positive and receptive. Teach them in fun ways that apply to their age level.
2. Teach by personal limits and boundaries: Just because we don’t spank or yell or use harsh punishment does not mean that we allow our children to walk all over us. Set clear limits and boundaries. Help them understand the natural consequences of their actions when they overstep boundaries. Require them to do things for themselves when they are capable, even if they don’t like it. Don’t allow them to hit or hurt you.
3. Teach by Natural Consequences and Love: Every choice has a cost associated with it. Sometimes the cost is cleaning up a mess made, paying for something ruined, not being able to move on to play or a meal until a chore or responsibility is complete, or just the negative feelings that accompany a bad choice. Most limits and boundaries that are set also have a consequence for overstepping them. It’s important to allow kids to experience the consequences of their own choices but to empathize with them and recognize that those limits, boundaries and consequences are not always desirable or pleasant for them. It’s important that we act in loving and understanding ways. Whenever children become upset and suffer due to natural consequences, find ways to reconnect and help them learn to proactively problem solve for the future.
Regardless of whether you were spanked or not, let’s all take a serious look at what it is that we are really trying to do when we discipline our children and honestly ask, “ If this is what I want for my child, does spanking really make sense and if not, what can I do instead that will accomplish the objective?” I think we will all find, if we are honest, that spanking just doesn’t make sense for teaching our kids the things we truly want them to learn, for building solid, positive relationships with them and for building and improving ourselves. Remind yourself often to be TRU in each of your interactions with your child and you will find a far better path reveal itself for you and your child.
Question: What are your thoughts and feelings on the subject of spanking.