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Janine Murphy-Neilson's picture

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I am very surprised that in this day and age with the vast amount of research on this issue that we are still debating the merits of spanking. Last week on Facebook I saw a post that said something like “I was spanked as a kid and now I have a psychological condition known as respect for others” and oh the number of likes and comments of approval for this foolishness was frightening.

Let me tempt you with a great parenting technique. If I told you there was a technique to discipline children that studies have consistently shown was not only ineffective but had the additional benefits of increasing aggression, antisocial behavior, physical injury and mental health problems would you clamor to learn it and then defend it? Or would you reasonably assess that there seems to be nothing in that for you as a parent or for your child, nothing positive anyway. This is the reality of spanking. Former American Psychological Association president Alan Kazdin, PhD said in 2008 “We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that doesn’t work.” More recently an article in Pychology Today has said that maternal warmth and caring does not balance out the negative effects of spanking. So don’t kid yourself. It is not a benign, neutral form of discipline: it is detrimental.

I have heard the arguments over the years “Well I was spanked and it was not damaging to me.” ” I learned right from wrong.” “I only spank lightly.” I can’t speak to the harm that was or was not done to you but that is really beside the point. If there is a better way that does not involve hitting your child and making them afraid of you isn’t that enough of a reason to stop? Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD who is a leading researcher on physical punishment at the University of Texas at Austin has said ” Physical punishment doesn’t work to get kids to comply so parents have to escalate it. That is why it is so dangerous. ” I would ask like to ask spankers to be honest. Have you ever hit out of frustration and hit harder or longer than you meant? Kids don’t learn from being hit; they learn to be afraid. They learn if you are bigger and have more power you can hit to enforce your rules. How does this create a healthy and cooperative environment?

I have often wondered about the logic of spanking as a discipline. How in the world do you tell a child to use their words and to not hit people but then you spank them? I always felt great about being able to say to my children “We do not hit in this family” and to know that was a consistent message that applied to everyone in the home. I have seen parents spank their children for hitting their siblings. Huh?! How is this going to work? If it doesn’t make sense to me an adult, how in the world does this make sense to a small child? How do you spank but then try to teach children that it is all right for a parent to hit you but it is not ok for a boyfriend to hit you. I don’t get it. Shouldn’t we do our best to give kids as consistent a message as possible about respecting their bodies and the importance of other people doing the same? I can honestly say I don’t ever remember needing to discipline my kids for hitting each other or their friends. Is this coincidence? Maybe. Did I just luck out and get kids who don’t hit? Maybe. Or maybe, hopefully, creating an environment that is respectful and caring has rubbed off. I can not imagine hitting my children.

I assure you I did not want to raise entitled brats and I will say with confidence that I did not. The great news here is that you can raise respectful, rule abiding, empathetic people without spanking. I would never have believed that teenagers could be delightful and fun to be around but my teenagers and their friends have showed me that this is very possible. Now again I’m not saying my kids are trouble free and that not spanking has been the key to this. But I do believe there is great value in treating people with compassion and dignity, especially small and vulnerable people. I don’t want to be hit. I don’t need to be hit to follow rules and be an accountable person. Why is it different for children?

What is required in effective parenting is clarity and consistency. I have seen many discipline issues arise from a lack of these. Children need rules and expectations that are clear. Much can be accomplished with children if you talk to them and let them know what you expect and what the consequence will be for not complying. And do your homework. Learn what is reasonable to expect at certain ages. Don’t take a two year old to dinner at a restaurant with nothing for them to do and expect them to sit quietly for an hour and a half. That is your error not theirs. For small children you need distractions and plenty of them. Have a bag with multiple activities for them. I was at a car dealership waiting for an oil change and saw a mother spank her two year old more than once for not sitting quietly on the couch. It was crazy, this mother had nothing for this child to do. Even I had a bag for myself full of newspapers and magazines to kill the time. If I need distractions surely a two year old does too.

I think spanking is lazy parenting. It is easier to just whack a kid then to take the time to think about what your rules are and then to communicate them and to follow through consistently with consequences. It is hard work to return a screaming child to time out repeatedly. But if you can teach children that you are a reasonable person who will assert your parental power to instill consistent consequences they will come to respect you. And when children respect you they want to cooperate and your life will be much easier.

Try it. The benefits of a peaceful household are many.

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