I was reading a friend’s post on Facebook yesterday. She had posted something to the effect of some kids these days behave so badly that they need a good spanking. This, of course, sparked quite the controversy, as there are two basic camps for parental discipline: pro-spanking and gentle discipline. I have had the opportunity to witness and observe the results of both styles with my children and wanted to write about some of my observations, and some of the misconceptions that people seem to have.
First I’ll start with gentle discipline since that’s what I started with on Lilly. For four years I was essentially single parenting her (my ex was present in the household and we were technically still married but he was not “involved”), and I used this style of discipline on her. Telling her “It’s not okay to hit Mama”, and redirecting her to other activities instead of tearing up paper and books all over the place, trying to make a game out of cleaning up the humongous mess she made, trying to cuddle her to sleep instead of letting her cry or run amok and refusing to sleep… These were the techniques I tried. What were the results? Well, she managed to destroy every book and piece of paper she came in contact with… even a book advertised as “toddler proof”. I debated sending a picture of the destroyed book to the company and suggesting they re-advertise. At four she was still hitting me and biting me when she didn’t get her way. She screamed bloody murder when she didn’t want to go bed so we ended up sleeping around the clock – some days we were up during day light hours and some days we were up all night. When she started to get sleepy then we’d go to bed. In short SHE was calling the shots and I believe she knew it. There were no real consequences. She didn’t come when I called her unless she wanted to (imagine how dangerous this could be if she were near the road and I couldn’t get to her in time). She had no respect for me. She wasn’t a “bad” child, but she had no discipline, and no self-control. She was very self-indulgent. Yes she was sweet. Yes she made me smile all the time, but a person is not in a good mood all the time, even when one gets one’s way all the time. She had her days and when she did, they were BAD.
Then I met Shane. He was appalled that she was still hitting me and biting me and after we had been dating some time and were engaged, I told him I was ok if he wanted to try to discipline her. After all, I thought, maybe it was just the lack of a father figure. He illustrated to me that spanking could be done in a loving manner. I had never known this before. When she would hit or bite me, he would give her a short spanking and then explain it was not ok to hit and bite her mother. I doubt she enjoyed being spanked, but she quickly got over it and was happy again. Even with him, giving him hugs and telling him she loved him. I’ll be honest I had mixed feelings, and what I was seeing was counter-intuitive to everything I’d read about spanking. What was missing? Well for one, the anger was missing. He didn’t spank in anger. Only with love. He was firm in his position and did not let her cry her way out of discipline or manipulate her way out of the consequences of her actions. And afterwards he was willing to hug her and let her know he still loved her. As time has gone on I have learned a lot. For one, her behavior has improved SIGNIFICANTLY. She is basically a well behaved kid. She still has some areas we’re working on, such as perfecting her manners (yes ma’am, no sir) – although these are not “spankable” offenses. That was another thing I learned – spanking should not be the “go to” method. It should just be another tool in the bag of disciplinary tools. There are many tools. Spanking is one. Time outs are another. Natural consequences are yet another. There are others and each tool has an applicable time and place. One good time to use natural consequences is when my children refuse to listen when I tell them to put the chair on all four legs. I tell them again and again to put it down. Now I COULD spank them for that, but they wouldn’t really learn. I could reason with them but they don’t listen. So I let them. And then they fall out of their chair. As they are crying and picking themselves up, I comfort them and say, “This is why I told you to put the chair on all four legs”. Then the next time they listen when I tell them to put the chair down.
People like to object to spanking, stating that you wouldn’t hit your spouse or co-worker just because they didn’t do what you wanted them to. This is true, but it’s not relevant to the spanking argument. For one, discipline of any sort is not about “making someone do what you want”. It’s for correcting disobedience. Just because my children don’t do what I want doesn’t mean they’re being disobedient. David screams bloody murder when he doesn’t get his way. I mean the boy could break crystal with his voice I bet. I most certainly don’t want him to do this, but he’s not being disobedient. However when I tell him to stay out of the trash, and he pauses for a moment, looks at me, then turns back and overturns the trashcan anyways, he is. One situation requires correction, the other is just a developmental behavior that, although pisses me off to no end and aggravates me like crazy, there’s nothing I can really do about that other than to tell him to stop it. Or try and figure out why he’s screaming but sometimes it’s “just for fun”. So to say that you hit a child because they don’t do what you want is not saying you discipline your children. That’s not discipline. That’s just being a bully. Discipline is about correct an incorrect behavior. It’s about correcting disobedience (age appropriate of course – after all I can’t get upset if my baby doesn’t understand what “pick your toy up off the floor” means… he’s still little. If my three year old doesn’t do it however, that’s different because she DOES know what it means). The other flaw in that line of logic is that generally your spouse or co-worker isn’t behaving like a child does. They’re not hitting, biting, screaming and throwing themselves into the floor because they didn’t get their way. They’re probably not throwing food all over the floor, or pushing people because they’re mad. They’re probably not completely ignoring those in authority over them (aka for the co-worker their boss). And if any of these things were happening, imagine what would be the consequence. If you were at work and all of a sudden one of your coworkers started biting people when they got mad, would they really be your coworker much longer? Most likely they’d be arrested for assault and even worse things would happen in jail. If they were ignoring their boss and doing what they wanted (reading, playing computer games, talking on the phone, etc) instead of what they were told to do (their work!) then what would happen? They’d get fired. There ARE consequences. And the consequences generally fit the general scope of the the “crime”. I mean honestly if someone was going around pushing, kicking, and hitting people, what’s going to happen? They’d either get arrested or people would start hitting back. I would be surprised to find otherwise. There WOULD be physical repercussions for it. And with that being said, which is worse…. a spanking as a child to correct the bad behavior of hitting and biting, or going to jail as a result of continuing to behave that way in adulthood? Some people may argue that the child will outgrow this behavior, but I would argue this is not necessarily so. Some children might, but if all children outgrew this behavior, we wouldn’t have gangs, and bar brawls, and street fights, and all other manner of violence in this world. It’s not valid to say that children outgrow their violent self-interested tendencies without discipline.
And quite honestly gentle discipline doesn’t always work. Think about this in adults. If you have an adult who is absolutely hysterical and won’t listen to anything – how many times have you heard, or seen, either in real life or tv, that person getting a quick slap on the face to bring them back to reality? Sometimes that is what people need to listen – a quick burst of pain. Not always of course. You can no more apply a blanket solution of spanking to every solution than you can apply a blanket solution of redirection. Neither is appropriate in all cases. Imagine children that can climb… and get into things that you believe you’ve put out of reach – dangerous things. Is a simple “no no!” or redirection – is that really going to get across the message of “NO! You don’t mess with this because you can HURT yourself!” Case in point – David is 11 months old. He knows how to move chairs and climb into them. He is almost as tall as Jordan who is two. This means if the idea came into his head, he could climb into a chair and get into the knives on my counter. Yes they’re put “out of reach”. Yes I keep the chairs away from the counter. But what if I have to run to the bathroom. I suppose I could take him to the bathroom with me but really that’s not always practical. To me it makes more sense to instill a sense of not getting on the counters at all. Imagine how it would be when he hits 2 or 3 and can reach even further? Sierra (3) can get stuff off the top of the refrigerator. What am I to do? Keep every dangerous thing under lock and key, as heights don’t work? That wouldn’t work because both Jordan and Sierra are incredibly mechanically inclined and are able to operate a lock and key. A combination lock then? Maybe. But I think that’s going to extremes. I think the better action is to curtail the behavior that would necessitate such dramatic action. After all, no one is going to molly-coddle them when they’re tempted to shoplift just because they want something from a store. They need to know that they cannot have everything they want.
There seems to be an assumption that if you spank your children you are trying to control them, and that you don’t love them. I am honestly not sure where this has come from. First off you can attempt to control your children without ever laying a hand on them. Surely people have heard of mastermind criminals who manipulate others into doing their dirty work and they never directly commit the crime themselves? As it is with parents. They can be controlling without spanking. And conversely you can spank without controlling your children. Discipline isn’t about control. It’s about teaching respect and obedience and correct behavior. Similarly there is no direct relation between spanking and love. A child can be spanked and not loved, a child can be spanked and loved, a child can be NOT spanked and not loved, and a child can be not spanked and loved. These are mutually exclusive behaviors. There are many children who aren’t spanked, but who aren’t loved. They’re neglected, left to their own devices, and basically ignored by their parents. Then there children who get spanked but are loved, kissed, hugged, played with, and who are all smiles 99% of the time because they are truly happy.
Then there is something that apparently psychologists are trying to claim that children are suffering trauma because of childhood spankings. I call b.s. on this. There are SO many things that affect our psyche, I think it would be impossible to say it was one thing that has caused issues. To me, saying that spanking causes trauma is akin to saying that video games create murderers. If that were true then there would be a LOT more murderers out there. After all there are a LOT of people who play video games. I play video games but I certainly have no designs on going out and killing people. There are other things to consider before saying that spanking is the cause of a child’s trauma. For example – maybe a parent was an alcoholic. Maybe they were neglected and left to their own devices. Maybe they were yelled at and verbally abused. Maybe they were controlled and this created a bitter response in the child. There are any number of things that could cause childhood trauma. Just because a child was also spanked, it’s not exactly fair to say that the spanking was the cause of the trauma. Now, I would wholeheartedly agree that it contributed if it was a beating. Beatings are very different from spankings. There’s an element of anger and controlling feelings with a beating.
Finally, not all children respond to disciplinary techniques in the same way. There may be some extra sensitive children with whom gentle discipline would be entirely effective. Then there are other children who are so strong-willed and headstrong that saying no without following up with a consequence would have zero effect. Children whom redirection would simply be seen as “I’ll play with this other thing later”. When I used to call Lilly to me and she wouldn’t come and I would get up and go to her to redirect her, all she learned was “Oh if Mommy calls me, I don’t have to listen because Mommy will come to me when she gets tired of talking to me”. In cases like these other tools must be used, or the child will have no discipline. The child will run amok with a strong sense of entitlement and self-interest. Another real-life example that I know of is a child who is now almost thirty who was not allowed to be spanked. As a result he grew up defiant, disrespectful and disobedient. Even well into his twenties he would mouth off at his mother, and he still lived at home with no driver’s license, no job, and no prospects. He had no college degree and was a high school drop out with no GED. When his mother asked him to do a simple chore (one of the ONLY things he was actually asked to do around the house was to unload the dishwasher) he would throw a big hissy fit about it. He felt that he was entitled to sleep till whenever he wanted, wake up, eat whatever he wanted (he’d throw a fit if his mother bought the wrong kind of food for him), and play video games that his parents paid for all day long till he wanted to eat or sleep again. He felt the world owed him a living. Compare and contrast this to his brother who is 9 years older and did not have the same upbringing – he was spanked when he misbehaved. This one became a man as a teenager. He had a young family and went out to work his butt off to support his family, working two jobs sometimes just to do what he knew was right. Turmoil happened but he continued to persevere and work hard to do what needed to be done. He had honor and integrity. He took initiative to correct problems before they became problems. He didn’t feel the world owed him a living. He felt he had to work for his living. Night and day, two brothers. And a completely true story.
As a Christian, I like to think of discipline from a Biblical perspective. God often had to discipline His people. And He used a variety of tools. Sometimes he used natural consequences (allowing enemies to capture them), “time-outs” (exile), and sometimes He used more corporal discipline (death, disease, etc). But always He loved His people and let them know. But just as children (and adults honestly if we were to admit it) are stubborn, so were the Israelites. When we are stubborn and don’t listen to discipline, we become more and more hurt and our consequences become bigger and bigger. If my children won’t listen to reason, and if they won’t pay attention to redirection, then something further is needed to get their attention. Sometimes a spanking is the only thing that they will listen to. I could take a chance that they would outgrow their behavior, but then I might have 4 rebellious teenagers on my hand that are very poorly behaved. Time will tell what my current style of parenting will entail but I suspect it will have a successful outcome as I am trying to model things after my understanding of the Bible. Spanking is not the first tool of choice, but it is a tool that is sometimes necessary. I don’t want to have to spank my children, but I want less for them to be unhappy and running around out of control. Sometimes the choices are not as black and white as people like to make them appear.
The conclusion is that it’s not fair to say or insinuate that spanking is a tool of evil. It just simply isn’t always. It can be used as such, but then again, I have seen time outs turned punitive as the child was forcibly placed in time out and it was done in anger. There was no love or gentleness. There is no blanket solution for discipline, and to say that one particular disciplinary technique works on all children of all temperaments is folly. Successfully disciplining means doing so with love and firmness, and utilizing all the tools available at the times they are appropriate. Most important, is letting your children know that even though they have to be corrected they are still loved.