Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why Spanking Isn't For Us

Growing up, I was spanked. I was spanked very hard. These spankings with the belt would often leave welts. Over time, these spankings slowly turned into physical hitting with hands on my head or face. Each time I was spanked and eventually hit, I wanted to rebel. I wanted to run away.

Before having a child, I did support spanking and the reasons behind it. But since my son was born, I cannot imagine spanking him-even in the right ways. Don't get me wrong, though-I do not believe it is wrong to spank and I do not condemn other parents who choose to go that route with their kiddos. To each their own.

But, for me, I have chosen, personally, to go with the attachment parenting style. Trust me-I never thought I would be an "attachment parent" with now my co-sleeping, still breastfeeding, and babywearing self. Some may call me a hippie, but I don't think I would have it any other way.

Attachment parenting is about raising children using parental methods that strengthen relationships, foster empathy, and teach nonviolent communication. Spanking may get the appropriate behavior that you are hoping from your children or make them obey, but it does not secure attachment or meet the emotional needs of your child. 

When my son misbehaves or does something he is not supposed to, we redirect him to other things. It is just as simple as spanking. And my child is one of the most bubbliest, loving creatures I have ever met!

Even though I choose to not spank, I DO believe in disclipine-just other proactive forms.

I saw this quote the other day that really got me thinking:

"When a child hits another child, we call it agression.
When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility.
When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault.
When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline."

So, what is the definition of a "spanking" anyway?


verb (used with object)
1. to strike (a person, usually a child) with the open hand, a slipper, etc.,especially on the buttocks, as in punishment.
2. a blow given in spanking; a smart or resounding slap.

But wait.. spanking is not hitting, right? It is just "striking" or a "blow" to a child. Interesting...

The goal of attachment parenting is connection, not obedience. 

If you do choose to spank, here are Dr. Sear's "8 Admonitions to Parents Who Chose to Spank":

1. Examine your overall parenting style
If you are generally a nurturing parent practicing the attachment style of parenting, an occasional spanking is unlikely to damage your child or relationship—but it’s unlikely to help it either. If, on the other hand, you are practicing a more restrained style of parenting, spanking will be another obstacle that prevents you from knowing your child.

2. Examine your relationship with your child
Do you generally feel connected to your child? Do you feel that you have a handle on why your child behaves the way he or she does and can anticipate the undesirable behaviors before they begin? Do you know what triggers undesirable behaviors and what fosters desirable ones? Do you see signs that your child feels close to you: eye contact, approaching you, putting his arms around you, wanting to be picked up, enjoying being with you, and being able to communicate with you? If this is true, then an occasional spanking is unlikely to harm your relationship. If, however, you have a distant relationship and don’t feel connected to your child, physical punishment is likely to increase the distance between you.

Here is a story from a mother of two of my patients. She is an intuitive, loving parent with a strong connection to her children, and she has a huge repertoire of alternatives to spanking.

“There have been a few times when we have had to spank our kids, and it was when they were between three and five years old. It was three or four times for our daughter, maybe once or twice for our son. I don’t like to see tantruming children flailing out of control. They need something to help them get control back. So on the few occasions that they were literally out of control we’ve used spanking. I can remember when one of them was throwing a tantrum, my husband said, ‘I have to swat your bottom to help you stop.’ It shocked him and he was able to regain his control.”

Other parents would handle this differently and would not respond this way to tantrums. Yet these parents know their children and know their own tolerances for “out of control” behavior. One comment I do have is that the reason the swat worked is that it had shock value, meaning it was the first (and rare) occurrence. It got the child’s attention because these parents saved it for the one situation they personally could not tolerate.

3. Determine where spanking fits in your overall discipline package
Do you raise your hand in the swatting position or grab the wooden spoon as a knee-jerk response the moment your child misbehaves? One way to tell if you are a reflex hitter is if your child flinches anytime you move your hand suddenly upward in his vicinity. Reflex spanking is rarely helpful for several reasons: It’s done out of anger, you may spank harder than intended, and you don’t allow yourself time to try alternatives. If you resolve to put spanking way down on the list of correction techniques, you will have to try alternatives first rather than immediately click into “hit mode.”

4. Don’t spank in anger
If you are an angry person given to impulsive hitting, realize you are at risk for spanking abusively and dangerously. Some children have a way of pushing “hot buttons” in adults, and some adults have very sensitive buttons. Examine your feelings during and after spanking. Do you spank to punish your child, or to vent your anger? Who’s the spanking for, you or your child? Says Martha: Martha’s Comments: “Previously, when I did spank our children, I never felt right about it. I didn’t spank because the behavior was so bad, but because I had been inconvenienced, and I was taking it out on the child. I used to slap our first two children in anger, and as I slapped I could see in my mind’s eye how I had been slapped by angry adults as a child. It was those flashbacks that made me realize how wrong I was for me to hit our child.”

When you are angry, you are likely to spank too hard because you are out of control. (Seeing you out of control traumatizes them as much as the spanking.) Spanking in anger leaves the wrong impression on children’s minds. They may be so bothered by the anger in your eyes and face that they don’t realize the reason or the justification for the spanking. As a result, the punishment has no teaching value. A proper disciplinary action should improve the relationship with your child by creating a feeling that the parents are fair and consistent boundary setters; the child can depend on them to be in charge when he himself is out of control. Spanking, especially in anger, disturbs the trust between caregiver and child. In our family, we have found the best way to avoid spanking in anger is to mentally program ourselves against spanking. We have resolved never to spank. This preprogramming against spanking will override the reflex to smack a child, and give us time to think about what type of correction is best in this situation. Programming against spanking is a sort of safety valve that keeps you from possibly hurting your child.

5. Do not violate your child
Removing underwear in order to spank bare skin is a humiliating invasion of personal and private space and sexually threatening and confusing to the child. So firmly resist the traditional image of the bare- bottomed child stretched across your lap.

Should you use your open hand, paddle, or a switch to spank? Use of any one of the above will not cause permanent physical harm if you avoid too much force. The one tool we definitely advise against is a wooden spoon because we have seen bodily injury result from this club-like instrument. Any spanking that leaves black and blue marks (bruising) is wrong whether you use an object or your hand. Keep your hand open and flat—a fisted hand will be too forceful and damaging. A child old enough to spank (see number 6) will also understand that your loving hand is holding the spanking tool. The hand-versus-object debate is meaningless to him.

6. Explain the spank
Spanking without an explanation contributes little to discipline. In fact, studies have shown that calm spanking preceded by a rational explanation does less harm and more good than spanking without such reasoning. Explaining the punishment can be therapeutic for both the spanker and the spankee. It helps you decide whether or not your action is appropriate. It makes it less likely that the child will repeat the misbehavior, gives your child a chance to make a judgment about the fairness of the action, and preserves the self-image of the child by treating him as a rational person. The child will feel angry and humiliated about the spanking if he feels that there is no reason for it.

Getting the child to understand why he is being spanked helps to clear the air of angry feelings and contributes to his gaining self-control. If during your explanation you either begin to realize that you have the facts wrong or your heart is telling you there is a better way to deal with the situation, by all means switch to another corrective action and make a mental note to give this whole thing more thought.

A child under three will not be able to fully understand your explanation; he’ll just know he’s being hit and it has something to do with his being bad. He’s probably also too young to separate his person from his action, so he’ll think he’s bad even though you are telling him “that was a bad thing to do.”

7. Ask yourself, “Is spanking working?”
Evaluate your discipline techniques every month or two, especially physical punishment. Which ones are working? Is your child misbehaving less? Is your relationship with your child getting better? Is your child’s self-worth increasing? If the answers to all the questions are “yes” then you are on the right track. If any disciplinary action is not working, drop it. If you are spanking harder and more often, this technique is obviously not working and you need to consider alternatives. You need to consider other modes of discipline if you find your child is misbehaving more. Change what you’re doing if the distance between you and your child is increasing.

8. Examine the time you spend with your child
Is much of your quality time with your child spent punishing? If this is so, you are likely to have an angry child and a weak parent-child relationship. The joys of parenting and the stages of growing up are too precious to waste on such negative interaction. Consider changing your approach; spend a lot of time with your child just having fun. Let your child help you work around the house or run errands. Tell him you enjoy his companionship. As your child realizes how much fun it is to be with you, he will translate this into behaving well—which can be fun, too.

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