I have been getting more and more hits on my previous posts on spanking (see “The First Random Hit on This Blog Was on the Spanking Post (go figure)” and “Why It’s Best NOT to Spank”), so I wanted to a) let you know that the hits are accumulating and b) add to this blog’s repertoire of effective behavior management strategies. (Once people find what they like, it’s nice to give them a treasure trove of things to mull over.)
I have three immediate thoughts I wanted to pass along at the moment on the topic of spanking.
- Some people use biblical justification to spank [their children], but this is misguided.
I can quote you chapter and verse on this. Proverbs 23:13 (NLT) says, “Don’t fail to discipline your children. They won’t die if you spank them.” So to all of the parents who have spanked their children (and especially those who feel guilty about it or at least feel ambivalent about it), take this to heart. Spanking isn’t going to kill your children. They will live. But is this the standard we are going to use for our parenting practice going forward? The Bible is quite an excellent standard, but remember that there’s an Old Testament and a New Testament and that Jesus came to write on our hearts that he wants us to show mercy, not perpetuate legalism: “Then [Jesus] added, ‘Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners’” (Matthew 9:13 NLT).
So how about replacing spanking with scripts? This is especially helpful for younger children as they are getting to know their emotions (e.g., toddler and preschool age, ages 2 – 4), like when we say, “It’s not okay to throw toys when we’re mad. Let’s cool down first so we can solve our problem.”
And how about replacing spanking with conversations? This is helpful as children get older as they are developing a stronger sense of right and wrong (e.g., school age, ages 5 – 7) and can respond more thoughtfully, like when we say, “We do things the first time we’re asked around here. So what’s going on? It seems like something is bothering you.”
And how about replacing spanking with natural and logical consequences? This is helpful at all ages as is developmentally appropriate so that our children can make real connections between their behavior choices and the responsible consequences, like when we require our children to clean up (after the meltdown has passed) the messes they make during their meltdowns (see my post entitled, “How to Anticipate, Prevent, De-Escalate, Brave, and Learn from a Meltdown” for more discussion on this).
And how about replacing spanking with strategically used time-outs? Time-outs are parent-initiated and are used when a child misbehaves, and they only last as long as the minutes that correspond to a child’s age (so 2 minutes for a 2-year-old, for example).
And how about replacing spanking with time-aways? Time-aways are child-initiated and are used when a child starts to feel frustrated, angry, sad, jealous, or is tempted to misbehave, and they last as long as the child needs for them to last for the child to cool down and is ready to rejoin others, solve their problem, and/or talk about things.
Because how long do you carry on with the spankings? It’s not exactly appropriate to spank a 15-year-old child. (So why is it considered appropriate in some circles to spank a 2-year-old? Or a 5-year-old? Because they are young? Because they won’t remember? Because they are more controllable? Those are exactly some of the reasons why spanking is damaging to a child’s development, not to mention how it reveals its own limitations and ineffectiveness).
And what, then, are the parameters of “non-abusive” spanking (if there is such a thing, which I don’t think there is)? You can read all about it in some books that condone it (one of which relates to strong-willed children, which is most appalling since strong-willed children are those that stand to benefit the most from NOT being spanked). To the effect of the following: give a clear warning beforehand, spank with an open hand, spank on the rear, do so many swats that correspond to the severity of the infraction (see the problem already?), tell the child you still love him or her, and so on. This is not how we teach our children to make good choices. It teaches them how to be afraid, how to avoid getting caught, and how to suppress emotions. All of this misses the point of good parenting, it focuses on the absolute wrong thing in effective discipline, and it, frankly, damages our children in many of the worst ways. Is spanking an improvement from hitting the face and beating our children with objects? Well, yeah. But now what we’ve done is make corporal punishment more acceptable by making it more controlled. To mistreat, hurt, and be aggressive with someone (whether deliberate or not) is abusive. Just because there’s such a thing as “correct” spanking doesn’t mean that spanking is any more a “correct” response to our children than hitting them in other ways. Controlled abuse is still abuse. And spanking, unfortunately for those who brazenly stand by it (many times in the name of God, no less), is abuse, whether we want to call it that or not.
So what’s the problem, then? Is our pride getting in the way? Our anger? Our feelings of inadequacy? Our need to have better behaved children than everyone else we know? Spanking will likely get you what you want for now. But you will most certainly not get what you want later. Anyone who has ever been spanked (show of hands?) can attest to that—we may have learned how to “respect authority” in the shortest distance between Point A and Point B, but what does that even mean? Did we learn how to respect ourselves in the process? Probably not. We were bent over someone else’s knee, forced to submit to someone else’s effort to control us. Did we learn how to respect the future children we would have by experiencing what it’s like to be respected as a child? Probably not. We were probably instructed to do the same to our children as our parents did to us. And since we are now adults, we are free to think for ourselves and to treat our children the way we think is best for their well-being. Children will still need to learn how to make good choices for their own sake, and many parents who rely on spanking to teach those good-choice-making lessons are sorely short-sighted (no pun intended) in this regard.
So for those of us who like scripture verses to support our thinking, here’s a good one that reminds us that it’s more important for us to remain in control (in the positive sense) of ourselves than for us to try to control (in the negative sense) our children: “[D]o not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NLT).
And since God is loving, compassionate, slow to anger, and full of mercy, it is important that we reflect these qualities in the way we give guidance to our children. “[I AM] Yahweh! The LORD! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6 NLT).
Also, we get what we give: “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it” (Proverbs 22:6 NLT).
- Some people spank [their children] because they don’t know what else to do. There are, however, better ways (that work) to discipline our children other than being physically and psychologically hurtful.
There is no need to resort to corporal punishment just because it seems like nothing else is working to “get your children under control.” Do you really think that spanking is the answer? It absolutely is not. Children will be children no matter how hard we try to change their nature. So the way that we go about teaching them boundaries and respect is not to invade their personal boundaries and to be disrespectful to their personhood. The way that we go about teaching our children boundaries and respect is by going ahead and setting reasonable boundaries with reasonable (and natural and logical) consequences) and to follow through by lovingly, gently, firmly, but empathetically following through with those consequences. And also to model respectful behavior ourselves.
Yes, our children will inevitably frustrate us and “make” us mad (understanding that no one can “make” us mad – it’s a choice we make to get mad and to stay mad and to hurtfully act out on account of the fact that we feel mad), but this doesn’t mean that we need to take it out on them. It absolutely doesn’t mean this. So if you’re turning to spanking as a way to pacify your anger (when our kids don’t listen to us and so we will make them listen) or to appease your fear (that our children will grow up unruly and be animals if we don’t spank them), then let’s try to look in a different direction for effective parenting techniques. They exist. It starts and ends with being logical and reasonable about it. And practical. And responsive (not reactive). And patient. And assertive (not passive or aggressive or both). And confident. And caring. And collaborative. And proactive. And enlightened/educated/informed. Spanking is residue from antiquated, inferior, and ineffective parenting approaches. We know enough now (about child development, about developmental psychology, about the effects of shame on the brain and body, and about the long-term effectiveness of positive discipline) to not do it anymore.
- Spanking [anyone] is a fear-based, punitive, adversarial, aggressive, shame-drenched, and coercive tactic that has no place in a home that seeks to raise children with love and logic.
One of the concepts that did it for me in terms of decisively switching my mind to the side of “spanking is an ineffective parenting technique” is the idea that it’s not okay to hit or to be hit. This is as logical as it gets in raising children, and I would be fascinated to hear anyone try to defend spanking in light of this understanding.