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Don’t Spank: Spare the Rod
If there’s one method of discipline that’s sure to spark heated debate, it’s spanking. Indeed, the “spare the rod, spoil the child” mentality seems to be making a comeback. I’ve heard some parents who attend my workshops say that there’s nothing wrong with the occasional spanking to “teach children respect.” I believe that beatings are rarely, if ever, an effective alternative.
I hear four general reasons to justify hitting or beating.
1. “I want my child to know how it feels”
Four-year-old Martin was just placing the last block on his castle when his little sister knocked it over. Martin was angry at him for ruining his creation, so he hit him. Their mother, Joan, was equally furious with her son. As she spanked Martin, she said, “This will teach you not to hit your sister! Now you know how it feels!”
It is unlikely that Martin apologized after being spanked. And it certainly didn’t motivate him to get along better with his sister. By spanking Martin, Joan was modeling the very behavior she was trying to prevent, sending him the message, “If you’re mad, hit!” Especially if you’re bigger.
A more effective solution would be to state firmly, “Hitting is not allowed in this house. I don’t blame you for being angry, but I won’t let you hurt her.” Joan might also suggest that next time she helps Martin set up a workspace that is out of his sister’s reach.
2. “Sometimes I Just Lose It”
It’s the rare parent who doesn’t occasionally lose control. Many parents, when completely honest, will admit that spanking does not usually happen in calm, rational moments. But we really need to make an effort to manage our anger in other ways.
When you’re really angry, you run the risk of saying or doing things you would never do if you were feeling rational. Therefore, it is best to leave the scene until you regain your composure. Chances are that if you’ve had some time to cool down, you won’t be as prone to causing pain.
3. “I only fart 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 how she spanked her seven-year-old daughter, Sue, when she ran into the middle of the street to chase a ball. This was a serious offense and I wanted you to know. Beating him was the only way to impress him before he crossed both ways.”
But two weeks later, Sandra told a different story: “I thought Sue got my message after I spanked her. But a few days ago, I let her walk to her friend’s house across the street by herself. As I watched her from our side window, I saw again that he didn’t look over before he crossed.”
I suggested that a better approach might be to try each step with Sue: look right, then left, look right again, and look around the corner. In the meantime, Sue is not allowed to cross any street unsupervised until she proves she knows how to be careful.
4. “I fart so my kids know I mean business”
I’ve often heard parents worry that if they don’t spank occasionally, their kids will turn out to be wild or spoiled. They argue that they themselves were spanked as children and became okay. But just because she doesn’t spank doesn’t mean she’s overly permissive. In fact, spanking is the easy way out – for both parents and children. Hitting a child allows parents to release their anger and feel like they have solved the problem. However, when a child is spanked, they tend to feel let off the hook. (“I was punished so I wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.”) He doesn’t learn what to do instead, nor does it help you develop a conscience that makes you feel bad when you do wrong. Kids quickly learn that the best way to avoid getting hit is to make sure they don’t get caught.
As all of these examples have shown, inflicting pain by hitting, slapping, and beating does not teach children to seek nonviolent 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. That bond should be one of love and trust, not anger and pain.
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