I linked to an article on spanking and it's correlation with aggressive children in this week's Tuesday Tours. I don't believe spanking is an effective or humane way to raise a child. I know many disagree with me (as can be seen from the comments section of the article I posted), but here's why I don't -- and never will -- spank my child.
1. It is abused. No, I didn't say abuse, I said abused. The arguments for spanking usually ramble something about how when done correctly, it can be an effective tool for...blah, blah, blah. The truth is, rarely is spanking done in a calm, collected manner. Usually when parents spank their children they do it out of anger. When children stop or don't respond to the spank, parents spank harder to get their message across. It's a fine line and an easy one to step over when you don't have a clear boundary to begin with: How hard is too hard? How often is too much? How old is too old, and what age is too young? In fact, I don't think any form of discipline should be given in anger. Refraining from spanking is difficult, especially if the parent was spanked as a child, but doing so will give the parent a chance to gather thoughts and respond in a more effective manner.
2. It is illegal for adults, so why would we condone it for children? Even the death penalty in most states is performed in such a way that doesn't inflict pain on the convicted. How did we, as a society, ever decide we didn't want to harm death-row criminals, but that it should be legal for a parent to intentionally inflict pain on their children? It is a fact that judicial corporal punishment has been completely outlawed in most of the Western world, and yet corporal punishment of children by parents is still legal in all 50 U.S. states, and legal by teachers in 20 U.S. states.
3. It's contradictory. You are an example for your children; do they get to hit you when you do wrong? To hit and also prohibit hitting sends mixed messages. Often children who are spanked or otherwise abused focus physical aggression on smaller children and animals the same way they are by their parents. If we want our children to make good decisions and be compassionate toward others we have to model it, and that includes being forgiving and offering solutions when they make a mistake or are defiant.
4. Misbehavior is an effect, not a cause. Defiance often is the sign of a bigger issue -- instead of spanking, try to find out what is triggering the misbehavior. It may be as simple as wanting your love and attention -- now is that worth hitting over? It certainly isn't going to halt the behavior because the need still isn't being met. There are better ways to teach right from wrong, patience and tolerance. Actions are visual emotions -- if she is behaving negatively, she probably needs me so I need to assess what cues I'm missing to make her behave this way.
5. Spanking breaks trust. As an attachment parent, I constantly and consistently aim to instill in my daughter that she is a person. No matter how small, she has a right to an opinion and she will be treated with the love, trust and respect of any other being in our household. As such, I would not condone hitting her any more than I would my dog, cat or husband. It's devaluing and implies a structural superiority that ultimately lowers a child's self esteem and can cause insecurities throughout childhood.
6. Fear is not respect. Children should behave because they respect their parents and their authority, not because they fear punishment. If the child is too young to understand the correlation between respect and good behavior, the child is too young to be spanked anyway.
7. Spanking doesn't work. Children should have boundaries; and they will test them. How you react will determine their decision to do it again. Spanking, while potentially a short term fix because the child fears the repercussions of recreating the act, doesn't address the actual concern. If you spank your child for running toward the street, s/he learns mama/dada might hit me if I do that -- so then what happens when you aren't around? If you educate them on why it's dangerous and address the issue rationally, you will have taught them a lesson that will continue to benefit them their whole lives. Same goes for drinking, smoking and sex with teens: if they only fear the parental punishment, the likelihood of experimenting is increased; however, if you have taught them that their actions are directly affecting themselves, not you, they are less likely to intentionally abuse their own bodies.
8. I love her too much. Even on an off day, I count my blessings. Tragedies happen to children every day, and I don't want to have any regrets if something were to happen to my baby. I don't like to see her sad or in pain. I would never allow anyone else to inflict pain on my child and, by extension, I could never allow myself to do it either. Children are curious, children are rambunctious, children make mistakes -- don't we all? It's how they learn, and how we react to them -- how we read their signs and embrace their adventurous side -- will ultimately shape who they become. I know who I want my child to be. Do you?
If you find yourself struggling to react appropriately in a calm manner to your child's behavior, consider seeking anger management help through the Iowa Anger Management Directory.Alternatively, a family councilor may be able to help get to the root of behavior issues. There is no shame in asking for help, and doing so may result in a happier, more in tune family that everyone will be thankful for.