The discussions among parents about how we bring up our children tend to be pretty polarized, in my experience. There are those who use the term discipline to describe what they do, and others will propose that we can teach our kids better through showing them the way by our example – by not acting in ways that our children will mimic.
And that includes hitting or spanking. The people who don’t spank have strong feelings about why using pain to teach a child is not right, and those that do spank are equally sure that the way they do it isn’t about pain.
We don’t spank, and are pretty outspoken about it – we believe that touching our kids with intent to harm or inflict pain is not only the antithesis of the love and care we have for them, but would also be teaching them about hitting, instead of an alternative. That’s just how we roll.
I wasn’t spanked as a kid for punishment, but I do remember getting whacked on the butt once in a while – it definitely got my attention, but it also made me resentful. And then I became a dad, and saw the types of challenges that disciplining or teaching kids present, which helped me to understand how people get so frustrated or mad at their kids that they see spanking or smacking as an option. I don’t condone it or justify it, but merely acknowledge that parenting can be frustrating or maddening if we’re trying to get our children to listen or obey and they won’t.
The point in my life that made me realize that I could not hit my kids, even to get their attention, came when my young daughter was going to reach into a cage of pet rats (who weren’t too friendly) to pet them. Before I even thought about it, I reached out and popped her on the head with the flat of my hand, not taking into consideration the ring on my finger. As I connected, I knew it was a mistake, and I could tell that it was really going to hurt her. She did stop reaching for the cage, but the look on her face as she turned to me was one of hurt, distrust, and fear. And I knew that I couldn’t ever justify that type of behavior to myself again – it just wasn’t right.
A post about spanking at Queen of Spain caught my eye this morning, one both pointed and clear, with a title no less blunt than the message: Spankers Can #Suckit. She referenced a study which claimed that kids benefited when they are spanked, and are happier and more successful than those who aren’t.
And then she wrote this paragraph of brilliance:
“I’m guessing hitting your wife can have some benefits too. Keeping her in line, and what not. Hell, I would probably vacuum more often if I thought my husband would hurt me if I didn’t. Smacking your dog around probably has some benefits too, I mean…I bet you that mutt won’t pee on the carpet again if you give him a really good whack! So why not, Jr. too?”
But the real depth to the post comes in the comments, with one woman staunchly defending her spanking, another disagrees and leaves this gem: “When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault and battery. When a child hits a child, we call it aggression. When an adult hits a child we call it….discipline?”
The discussion is diplomatic and very thoughtful, and yet it raises still more questions, such as “If it’s not intended to cause pain or threat, does it still work as discipline? If it is to cause pain, what types of fear are we instilling in them?” and “If you’re just using it to get their attention, does it teach them to hit to get attention?”
Yet another commenter called spanking socialized child abuse, and made it pretty clear where she stood:
“If more people like you would stand up and call bullshit on socialized child abuse, we’d have a lot more confident happy people and a lot fewer bullies and criminals.”
I then looked up the definition of discipline, and found this:
“the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience”.
It doesn’t necessarily have to be physical punishment to be discipline, as there are other ways that kids get punished that isn’t through physical pain. Verbal punishment is often used to discipline, as is the ever popular ‘time-out’ or losing of privileges. We’ve gone the route of that last one, even though it’s still controlling our kids through controlling their stuff or their bodies. It’s a tricky road, but one we feel is better than using a physical or verbal punishment.
We also try to take great care with the words we use when talking to them. If we tell them they’re bad, instead of focusing on the positive behavior we want to see, we may actually be reinforcing the undesirable behavior, and causing them to internalize that message of “I’m bad.” Our reasoning is that we would like to use positive reinforcement and the setting of a good example, rather than the threat of punishment after the fact. It seems to work better for us.
I posted one article earlier about a spanking related study that found negative effects, but I’m sure we’ll see other studies invalidating those studies before long, such as the one linked to at the top of this post. I don’t think that we ought to read too much into these studies, however, as they are limited in their areas of focus and don’t generally include the influence of environment, media, peers, and diet on children’s behavior. I do think that we ought to mindfully choose how we are raising our children, whether it’s spanking or another type of punishment.
For me, it wasn’t a hard decision to be a non-spanker – it was simply a natural consequence of our family’s values. We choose no spanking, no threats, and no physical punishment in our family.
What’s the most effective form of discipline in your house? Is it the same or is it different from the way you were raised?
Image: HA! Designs – Artbyheather at Flickr