I admit, it was a toss up between this and this, but spanking won. There have been similar articles popping up on Twitter, Facebook, on blogs and virtually everywhere else I have looked over the last few weeks.
First of all, let me just note that Googling spanking is a highly entertaining/terrifying way to spend an afternoon. Just in case you were wondering.
Secondly, both studies have serious flaws, (which I will get into some other time, in detail.) Mostly though, I take any “study” like that with a bucket grain of salt, because we all know you can make any study or statistic say whatever you want if you know how. The article linked above even admits that it is virtually meaningless, if you read far enough into it: “Whether or not spanking equates with dumber kids is not known, and may never be known.”
Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, we can get to the core of the issue. As you probably realize by now, I am not Anti-Spanking.
Now, before you jump all over me, I’m not necessarily Pro-Spanking either. Also, I’m definitely not promoting child abuse here. I want to be completely clear about that.
However, I don’t believe spanking is child abuse.
(To clarify, when I say “spanking” I mean specifically, an open-handed swat on the butt. Through clothing. In private. Not hitting with a spoon or switch, not public humiliation, not repeated hitting, or pinching, or hair pulling or mouth smacking or really, anything else.)
I hold the unpopular and politically incorrect opinion that spanking can be an effective discipline tool when done correctly, and within a certain age range.
(In most cases, once a child is old enough to reason with, they generally no longer need spankings, though that age varies depending on the child. And babies under the age of one or so aren’t yet developed enough to make the connection between their action and the consequence, so it wouldn’t do anything but confuse them.)
I’m not saying that I believe spanking should be a parents first, or even third line of resort when it comes to discipline. Or that it should replace other tactics in your parenting arsenal. Just that, in some cases, with some kids, it works when nothing else will.
Discipline is all about consequences. Children learn how to behave by trial and error, mostly. They do something and something else happens. When they are babies, they throw food off their highchair, just to see what happens. As toddlers, they push boundaries all the time. It’s an appropriate, normal stage of learning. And for many kids, when they do something inappropriate, all it takes is a simple “No” and a redirection for them to eventually learn not to do something. The spoken “No” is enough of a consequence to make them desire not to repeat a specific action.
Eventually, they get to a point where they can clearly understand and articulate consequences, and then you can explain the reasons why a specific behavior is unsafe or unwanted instead of just saying no.
But before that point, some kids don’t respond to the more common methods of discipline. You can say no, or yell until you are blue in the face, you can take away toys, or administer time-outs, but what do you do when nothing else works? I know discipline in general is a dirty word these days, but I certainly don’t think its child abuse to do what you have to to to ensure that your child listens to you, especially in situations where not listening is going to result in that kid hurting himself, or, you know, drowning my kid. Sometimes an “Oh no Johnny, we don’t drown people honey, it’s not nice!” just doesn’t work. Sometimes your kid needs to know you mean business. And if a spank is what it takes, then, hey, you know what? I’m not against it.
Do I think spanking causes lasting and permanent psychological damage?
No. I really don’t. Not with the type of spanking I am referring to. I don’t think kids at this age really see anything other than when I do X, Y happens. I don’t think a 3 year old is saying to himself, “Mommy hit me, I must be worthless.” I think they associate the behavior with a consequence, period, and it’s no more damaging than a time-out is. Probably less damaging than screaming at them would be.
I’m well aware that many, many people out there disagree. People think it’s never okay to hit a child, no matter what. Also, I’m aware of the arguments that claim you are teaching a child to deal with problems by using violence and/or fear. About how we are supposed to lead by example, and what kind of example is this setting?
There is a very clear difference between teaching your child to solve problems with violence and teaching them that actions have consequences, (which are sometimes unpleasant.) You set an example by dealing with your own issues with other adults in a reasonable, violence-free way. Give kids some credit. Most kids are smart enough to recognize the difference between their being punished as a consequence of bad behavior, and randomly hitting other people just for fun.
(Also, most of the time, they won’t even remember having been spanked.)
Chances are, if you are a loving, attentive parent who disciplines, and even occasionally spanks, you are a far better role model than someone who ignores their kids and lets them do whatever they want with no discipline at all. By correcting their behavior in a way that is effective, whatever way that may be, by teaching them that actions have consequences, by showing them that they cannot, in fact, do whatever they want with no repercussions, you are setting a good example, giving them much needed boundaries, (which studies show kids actually NEED) and preparing them for the real world.
Seriously-and I can’t stress this enough- you are not supposed to be your child’s best friend. You are not their buddy, you are a parent. Kids need limits. They need boundaries. They need consequences. And it’s your job to give them those things.
Discipline is important.
Let me reiterate: I am not saying that you should spank your child every time he refuses to eat his peas. Also, if you have issues with anger, and you are afraid that you wouldn’t be able to control yourself, then, please, don’t spank. You know yourself best, and if you are angry enough at your child, to the point where you feel it could escalate into something more, then walk away.
Nor am I saying you should do it at all, if you have other methods that work on that particular child. Many other things can be just as effective for some kids. In fact, for most kids, the other methods work just fine.
But for a kid who doesn’t respond to other methods? A spanking might just work wonders. (Or it might not, it all really depends on the kid)
I’m posting this, despite the hate mail-fest that will ensue, because I WAS one of those parents that said they would never spank. And then I actually had difficult kids.
I’m not trying to encourage people to start spanking either if they have other methods that are effective (But if your kid is the one trying to kill my kid with a fireplace poker, in that case, please discipline him. In a way that works.)
I’m just explaining my own point of view. I don’t think this is a black or white issue for most people. And just about every parent I know never intended to spank, and then did, and felt horribly guilty for it. (Especially those that ended up with more than one kid.)
No- It’s not a great thing-but I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world either. It’s all part of the bigger thing where we are all trying to do the best we can, trying to raise happy, smart well behaved children as best we can. And one person may not understand it or ever chose to discipline this way because their kids respond to other things, and another person, well, another person could have a different kind of kid.