I heard a comedian the other day, who really made a good point. He said essentially this: “My friends are always questioning my choice not to spank my kids. They’ll often say, “Never? You’ll never spank you kids? There’s no situation where you think you might need to spank your kids?” When I say I’ll never hit my wife, nobody says, “Never? You’ll never hit your wife? There’s no situation where you think you might need to hit your wife?” This logic got a good laugh from the crowd, and I think it was spot-on.
I was teaching a group of care-givers recently and was surprised as I realized that while they were each aware that spanking was not acceptable in their professional setting, there was definite support for spanking at home. And so our training took a sidebar. We talked about what spanking teaches children, and I thought I’d share the same with you.
“Hitting is Acceptable Communication.”
I heard one proponent of spanking say, “Sometimes you just need that spankin’ to get their attention.” Do you want your child to get people’s attention by hitting, or by using words, eye-contact, and soft touches? Whichever you choose, be sure your behavior is likewise.
“Do as I Say, Not as I Do.”
We’ve all seen it. The Grand Pooh-bah of all inconsistencies. “Stop hitting your brother!” ….followed by a smack. How can a child make sense of being hit for hitting? How can an adult say hitting is not allowed, when they themselves will hit? Spanking, particularly for physical aggression, is hypocrisy and will send confusing messages at the very least. Very likely, it will also degrade your position as a trusted adult and mentor.
“Might Makes Right.”
For some children, spanking sends the message that it’s not OK to hit…..unless you’re bigger/in charge/ a grown up. Consequently, many children will feel justified “spanking” other children when they are the older one, the bigger one, or simply want to be in charge.
When you spank, are you truly trying to guide the child’s behavior, or are you reacting to your own urges and overpowering anger and frustration? Responsibly guiding a child can never be done out of anger. That doesn’t mean we don’t feel angry, but anger can’t be the source of our action. Guidance has to come from love and respect and a desire to shape positive behavior. Not a desire to punish with pain. Some may argue that spanking is not the same as hitting, but a child won’t likely know the difference.
Abuse and Bad Practice
There are two over-arching premises in opposition to spanking. One is that it can be abusive, and the other is that it is simply bad practice in terms of its effectiveness in teaching children correct behavior.
I was spanked on occasion as a child, and I certainly don’t think I was abused. But I do know that some people believe they are “disciplining” their children when they resort to abusive tactics in the name of “spanking”. That line can often be so small it’s nearly invisible. It’s best not to start something that could easily get out of control. Something you will inevitably regret.
But even if you are quite certain you would never spank out of anger, never cross that line into abuse, spanking is simply not good practice. If you’re trying to teach good behavior, can that ever be accomplished by using broken tools?
Spanking a child does nothing to teach a child good behavior. It doesn’t build problem-solving skills, or communication skills, or magically instill them with the ability to share. It teaches them only that they are “bad”, that they need to be “punished” and that your protection and love is conditional.
As the comedian above pointed out, many people are skeptic when they hear a parent will not spank. They envision a passive, laissez faire parent with an unruly child as a result. But it isn’t a lack of spanking that causes poor behavior. It is the lack of tools. Spanking is a broken tool. But it’s a tool many people cling to because it’s the only one they have. Once parents become aware of a full assortment of tools they can use to effectively guide child behavior in a positive way, they can be more confident as they lay their broken tools aside.
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Top photo by DAVIDKNOX.