Why I Choose NOT to Spank my Child
If there is anything that I’ve learned in my time as a parent, it is that people have very strong opinions on spanking. From my experience, the majority of the people I know are very, very pro-spanking.
When I was growing up, I was spanked. If I decided to sneak off to watch tv when I was supposed to be washing dishes after dinner, I was spanked. If I accidentally said the word “hell” on the school bus, and my older sister told on me, I got spanked. If I was acting out at the grocery store, all my mom had to do was give me a good stern look, and I would stop in my tracks, and straighten up. I was not abused or neglected. On the contrary, I was raised in an upper-middle class home, with well educated and kind parents. My parents were pro-spanking.
So, please, believe me, I absolutely understand, 100%, the “spare the rod, spoil the child” concept of discipline, and why people spank their children. I know it, was raised by it, and the majority of people I know still use it as a disciplinary method on their children.
To be perfectly honest, when I was an “all-knowing” adult (without children), who saw “spoiled” children in the grocery store, or at a restaurant, I would think, “Gosh, if I was their parent, I would whip them into shape! I would never let my child act like that in public!”
But here’s the thing… I had a child. I have experienced, first-hand, how much love a parent has for a child. The moment my baby was born into this world, my maternal instincts kicked in, and I swore to myself that I would do everything in my power to protect this innocent being. To put her needs above my wants, and to take care of her, to the best of my abilities.
Now, I don’t know anyone who would use spanking on a newborn for unwarranted behavior, so the whole spanking issue didn’t come up until around 15 months, when my daughter started exhibiting some more undesirable behavior. My hubby was (and still is) very pro-spanking. He wanted to “lightly pat her on the butt, to get her attention”, but it didn’t feel right to me. I started doing some research, because I didn’t have much experience in early childhood development. I wanted to know what is typical behavior for a baby/toddler that age, and what are effective and constructive methods of dealing with that undesirable behavior.
Here is an excerpt from Erik Erikson, a psychoanalyst, on the various stages of child development. 1
The second stage occurs between 18 months and 3 years. At this point, the child has an opportunity to build self-esteem and autonomy as he or she learns new skill and right from wrong. The well-cared for child is sure of himself, carrying himself or herself with pride rather than shame. During this time of the “terrible twos”, defiance, temper tantrums, and stubbornness can also appear. Children tend to be vulnerable during this stage, sometimes feeling shame and low self-esteem during an inability to learn certain skills.
Now, I took Psych 101 when I was a freshman in college, which was quite a long time ago, but I do remember that self-esteem isn’t built through physical harm, yelling, and/or shaming. As a human being I know, intuitively, that I am much more willing to listen to someone that will respect my needs/wants (however irrational), and take the time to explain why they are or aren’t plausible, rather than someone that just tells me, “No. Because I said so”.
And as an adult, if someone ever slapped me on the butt (with a hand, belt, switch, or fraternity paddle), I am absolutely certain that I wouldn’t suddenly see the error-of-my-ways, but I would be incredibly resentful, hurt, and uncooperative. And if I was much smaller and defenseless against that person, I would obey out of fear, but not out of understanding.
Here is what the research shows on the effectiveness of spanking:
– In a study of 2,500 young children, “children who were spanked more frequently at age 3 were much more likely to be aggressive by age 5”. 2 The children in this study who were spanked were “more likely to exhibit defiant behavior, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals”. This study did account for environmental factors, such as parental depression, alcohol and drug use, and spouse abuse. The study theorized that “spanking sets up a loop of bad behavior”. And that “even if children stop tantrums when spanked, that doesn’t mean they get why they shouldn’t have been acting up in the first place” and that spanking teaches children that “aggressive behavior is a solution to their parents’ problem”.
– The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking, under any circumstances.
– Another study on spanking showed that the “more parents spanked children for antisocial behavior, the more the antisocial behavior increased”. 3
– Yet another study showed that “the more children are hit, the more likely they are to hit others including peers and siblings and, as adults, they are more likely to hit their spouses”. 3
– One study by Strauss, Strassbert, Dodge, Pettit & Bates showed that “even a few instances of being hit as children are associated with more depressive symptoms as adults”. 3
– Another study showed that the negative effects of spanking aren’t limited to children, but also have implications for the parent doling out the punishment. “A landmark meta-analysis of 88 corporal punishment research studies of over six decades showed that corporal punishment of children was associated with negative outcomes including increased delinquent and antisocial behavior, increased risk of child abuse and spousal abuse, increased risk of child aggression and adult aggression, decreased child mental health and decreased adult mental health”. 3
– And in case you’re worried that not spanking your child will result in spoiling them “rotten”, consider this. Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and Finland have banned the use of corporal punishment and since, have shown low rates of interpersonal violence compared to the U.S. After 15 years of the ban, Dr. Joan Durrant studied the effects and found that the “youth did not become more unruly, under socialized or self-destructive following the ban”, but instead, most of her measures “demonstrated a substantial improvement in youth well-being”. 3
I hope some of these examples show that while spanking may temporarily stop unwanted behavior, it does not teach children why a behavior shouldn’t be done, and isn’t that the ultimate goal? To learn WHY a behavior is good or bad, not to just obey commands?
If I have convinced you, even a little, to consider a different means of discipline, here are some great methods I use as an alternative to spanking.
What I Do Instead of Spanking
- Create a “calm down” area. When children (and adults for that matter) are upset, the brains tend to lock down, and that makes it hard to listen and internalize what is being said. Creating a safe environment for children to calm down in is a great thing to try before trying to teach them a lesson. There are tons of ideas on Pinterest for calm down jars.
- Take a Mommy or Daddy Break. Kids can be frustrating. Taxing. Exhausting. If I am sitting down to start reading for a homework assignment, my daughter will inevitably need something to drink, see a bug in the living room and have a complete meltdown, and then want me to read her a book. Not necessarily in that order. She can become absolutely hysterical while in the middle of the store, because I won’t buy her a toy, and I am left completely mortified. I naturally want to scream at and punish her, but instead, I close my eyes and take 10 deep breaths. If my husband is home, I will walk out of the room, and give myself a few minutes away to cool down. It’s okay to become frustrated with your kid, but know your limits, and take a break when you need one.
- Explain what you want and why. This seems obvious but as I watched how my husband interacted with my daughter, I noticed that I am guilty of it too. She will be doing something she shouldn’t do, like leaving dried apple crumbs all over the living room floor, and my initial reaction will be to immediately shout, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”. I see my daughter’s eyes go wide, as she looks confused, and unaware of why she is being yelled at. My daughter, at 4, doesn’t understand what the problem is. Instead, a more appropriate reaction may be to point to the crumbs, say “crumbs don’t belong on the floor, they’re messy. Let’s pick them up together and clean up the mess.”
- Take a Deep Breath. Similar to the “calm down spot”, children’s emotions can take over, and they can become little (but loud) inconsolable terrors. When my daughter gets really upset, I ask her to take a deep breath, then I take one with her, so she understands what I mean. Here is some more information about teaching children deep breathing to help calm them, and improve self regulation.
- Redirection – This works better in younger children, although I have tried this technique with success on my husband :). When my daughter is fixated on something, I try to distract her train of thought with something else, to stop the undesirable behavior in its tracks. If, for example, we have other children at our house, who are playing with her toys, she may freak out because someone is touching her things. I usually encourage her to share, and then grab a book and read it to her, or pick up a coloring book, start to color, and she will usually forget about the toy and join me.
- Get Down on Their Level. I see early childhood education teachers do this frequently. When my daughter is upset, or I really want her to listen to me, I will get down on my knees, so I am eye-to-eye with her, and then talk to her, instead of literally talking down to her. I find she is much more engaged in listening, than when I have my back to her, or when I am towering over her.
There are many other alternatives to spanking, and here is where you can find them:
- Spanking Alternatives: Experts’ 8 Top Tips for Disciplining Toddlers – Huffington Post
- Alternatives to Spanking – Positive Parents
- Seven Tips for Practicing Positive Discipline – PBS Parents
- Effective Discipline Practice Guide – American Academy of Pediatrics
One Final Thought on the topic
If you tell your pro-spanking friends or family that you are not spanking your children, they will likely judge you. They will tell you that you will spoil your child, and I almost guarantee that you will hear the “spare the rod, spoil the child” phrase at least 1 time, if not 100 times. Here is a piece of advice – ignore them. You have the right to make the decisions on how to discipline your child, and if you choose to take a more positive, effective method of disciplining, that is your business, and yours alone.
Your child will act out in public. They will be defiant. They will embarrass you, and probably will do so more frequently in front of your pro-spanking friends. But here’s a secret, every child acts out, spanked or not, so don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong. If anything, feel grateful that your child is secure enough to speak their mind, and that they aren’t fearful of being physically harmed by you. Keep exploring positive disciplinary methods, until you find the one that resonates the best with your child. Love them, respect them, and teach them how to be kind, considerate, and respectful human beings.