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Don’t Spank: Spare the Rod
If there’s one disciplinary method sure to spark heated debate, it’s spanking. The “save the rod, spoil the child” mentality seems to be making a comeback. I have heard some of the parents who attend my workshops say that there is nothing wrong with an occasional spanking to “teach children respect”. I believe spanking is rarely, if ever, an effective alternative.
There are four common reasons I hear to justify hitting or spanking.
1. “I spank so my child knows what it’s like”
Four-year-old Martin was building the last block on his castle when his little sister knocked it over. Martin was furious with her for destroying his creation, so he hit her. Their mother, Joan, was just as angry with her son. As Martina slapped, she said, “This will teach you not to hit your little sister! Now you know what it’s like!”
Martin is unlikely to feel apologetic after taking a beating. And he certainly wasn’t motivated to get along better with his sister. By beating Martin, Joan modeled the very behavior she was trying to prevent, sending him the message “when you’re angry, hit!” Especially if you are bigger.
A more effective solution would be to firmly state, “Hitting is not allowed in this house. I don’t blame you for being upset, but I won’t let you hurt her.” Joan might also suggest that next time she helps Martin set up a work area that is out of his sister’s reach.
2. “Sometimes I just lose it”
He’s the rare parent who doesn’t occasionally lose control. Many parents, when completely honest, admit that spanking does not usually occur in calm, rational moments. But we have to make a real effort to manage our anger in other ways.
When you’re really angry, you risk saying or doing something you would never do if you were feeling rational. This is why it is best to leave the scene until you gain some self-control. Chances are, once you’ve had some time to cool down, you won’t feel as prone to causing pain.
3. “I only spank to reinforce safety lessons” Even parents who don’t usually spank say there are exceptions, especially when it comes to safety. For example, Sandra described patting her seven-year-old daughter, Sue, when she ran out into the middle of the street to chase a ball. It was a serious offense and I wanted her to know it. A spanking was the only way to impress her before she had to look both ways before she passed.”
Two weeks later, however, Sandra told a different story: “I thought Sue got my message after I spanked her. But a few days ago I let her go to my friend’s house across the street alone. As I watched her from our window, I saw she didn’t look again before crossing.”
I suggested that a better approach might be to practice each step with Sue: look right, then left, check right again, and look around the corner. Meanwhile, Sue should not be allowed to cross any street unsupervised until she proves she knows how to be careful.
4. “I spank so my kids know I mean it”
I have often heard parents express concern that if they don’t spank occasionally, their children will be wild or spoiled. They argue that they themselves were spanked as children and turned out well. But being a non-spanker doesn’t mean being overly permissive. Spanking is actually an easy way out – for parents and kids alike. Spanking a child allows parents to release their anger and feel like they are solving the problem. However, when a child is spanked, they tend to feel that they have let them off the hook. (“I’ve been punished so I don’t have to think about it anymore.”) He doesn’t learn what to do instead ofnor does it help him to develop a conscience that makes him feel bad when he does the wrong thing. Kids quickly learn that the best way to avoid getting hit is to make sure they don’t get caught.
As all these examples have shown, inflicting pain by hitting, slapping and spanking does not teach children to seek non-violent solutions to their problems. What really influences children to be responsible and considerate and develop a conscience is the strong bond they form with their parents. This bond should be one of love and trust, not anger and pain.
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