19 October 2007

The One about Spanking

I know that some people have reacted and commented on the last post I made-- especially my own guilt about wanting to spank Little Man. I really appreciate those comments, because they always make me reexamine my own beliefs and my own decisions.

I think I need to clarify some of my comments though.

I think that we all have to make our own decisions about parenting and discipline-- only we live with our children. I know, in my own situation, that the moments I've wanted to smack my child doing so would have only made me feel better--and then very soon after, worse.
I know that developmentally, a child Little Man's age isn't really able to control his impulses-- it's why they do things over, and over, and over, and over, and over--until they can control their impulses, I don't think that a little (or big) smack can be effective. That urge to keep trying things is natural, and fear doesn't stop it. I don't think toddlers know what they're feeling half the time. Most of the time tantrums are just an overwhelming rush of desire and angst and fear all rolled into one. They seem so out of control because they, literally, are.

J and I have thought long and hard about the way we want to discipline our children. All I ever knew was discipline that involved a swat on the behind occasionally. I didn't really even buy into the whole time-out thing until somewhat recently. But as I think back over what I remember of the discipline of my childhood--and, really, I wasn't disciplined all that often-- I realize that spanking loses its effectiveness. I can remember the moment when it stopped being effective for me: my dad threatened to hit me for something and I thought to myself, "go ahead...I don't care." Maybe I said it out loud, I don't remember. But he didn't carry through. I don't think I was ever threatened with a spanking again...

The thing about spanking, I think, is that it is founded on fear rather than respect. I don't want my children to fear me. I want their respect, but like anyone else, like anything else, respect is something that has to be earned. I believe that parents earn that respect through consistency, stability, and the unconditional love they give their children. J and I decided that we want to think of discipline as a way to educate and guide. Yes, there will be punishments. Yes, it will drive me batty not to smack him sometimes. But in the end, I know that hitting him will make me feel awful--absolutely awful. I don't want to hurt the thing I love most. So, for me, I want to choose a disciplinary style that I don't feel bad about. I have no qualms whatsoever about sitting him in a corner or boring him silly. That I can do without guilt.

I like to think, in my infinite wisdom, that my instinct not to hit is the right one. But the American Association of Pediatrics backs me up on this. They state in their "Guidance for Effective Discipline":

Despite its common acceptance, and even advocacy
for its use, spanking is a less effective strategy
than time-out or removal of privileges for reducing
undesired behavior in children. Although spanking
may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior,
its effectiveness decreases with subsequent
use. The only way to maintain the initial effect of
spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate
into abuse. Thus, at best, spanking is only effective
when used in selective infrequent situations.

They also say
• Spanking children ,18 months of age increases the chance of physical injury, and the child is
unlikely to understand the connection between the behavior and the punishment.
• Although spanking may result in a reaction of shock by the child and cessation of the undesired
behavior, repeated spanking may cause agitated, aggressive behavior in the child that may lead to physical altercation between parent and child.
• Spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in preschool and school children.
• Spanking and threats of spanking lead to alteredparent–child relationships, making discipline substantially more difficult when physical punishment is no longer an option, such as with adolescents.
• Spanking is no more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches, and reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use. Timeout
and positive reinforcement of other behaviors are more difficult to implement and take longer to
become effective when spanking has previously been a primary method of discipline.
• A pattern of spanking may be sustained or increased.Because spanking may provide the parent some relief from anger, the likelihood that the parent will spank the child in the future is increased.

Now I'm a scholar by trade. I know what goes into research and I know that when a study is published by a large scientific organization, I'm going to tend to trust it. I know that a mother's intuition is worth something, but I also know that there are a lot of times that it can be wrong.

Looking back over my childhood, the patterns that the AAPA discuss seem in many ways eerily familiar. I was never abused--never even close to being abused--not even in the same ballpark, but there is a point when physical punishment ceases to be effective. It's usually that same point where your kid has access to a car, access to friends with cars, and access to a whole other realm of dangers. That's not really the time that I want to be figuring out a back up.

I don't doubt that spanking works.... for a while. But then suddenly, your little man is 6'3" and the trusty old belt just doesn't seem like it's gonna do the trick any more. And then what??

For me, for us, spanking is not a discipline I'm willing to fall back on. I want to give my child the gift of a violence-free childhood. They do exist. J had one--and because of it, he doesn't have the slightest impulse to swat little man. For him, hitting seems so foreign, so strange, so unnecessary.

I want it to be unnecessary. We both know that it's much harder not to hit. You do have to repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat, because there is not immediate shock. It takes unending patience (something that I most certainly do not and will not ever have) to commit to this form of child-rearing.

I read once somewhere that Time-outs only work if there are also time-ins. But in a world of rushing around, stressful jobs, and limited patience, putting time in is extraordinarily difficult and exhausting. But it's work I'm willing to do. It's work that I believe needs done.

Do I think that spanking is wrong? Unequivocally, yes. Am I going to judge people who do it? Probably, but I'm sure they also think my time-outs are ridiculous. Such is life. Can I change people's minds about spanking? I don't think so. It's like J says, changing someone's mind about the way they were raised is like trying to change someone's mind about religion.

I'm just thankful for my own conversion.

1 comment:

Mad Grad Mom said...

Oh, ld, I feel ya! Spanking is such a difficult topic, especially since we were brought up in that period just before spankings went out the window.

You are right that a toddler often doesn't know what he's thinking. Their little lives are filled with big impulses, even bigger emotional swings, and the insuppressible desire to test test test.

Together, these characteristics often produce untold amounts of frustration in moms and dads. I know; I felt it just this morning when Skeeter landed one on my left eye during early morning snuggles. But, when I yelped, SuperDad drug his sleepy behind up out of bed to defend my honor by making Skeet sit time out. Time outs work wonders for us. The closer Skeet got to the time out chair the further his bottom lip stuck out. He knew where he was going and he realized what he had just done was bad. He felt embarrassed. That's a way better punishment than a physical consequence which means nothing more than "My mommy just hurt me." After all, he got in trouble for socking me. Who the hell am I to tell him not to hit by hitting?

Now, I'm not advocating that shame is a good form of discipline, but in cases like these, his shame comes from the realization that he hurt his mommy and he has to think about that rather than think about the throbbing pain in his rear from a swat.

And, yes, time in is important, too. We're busy. There's no question about it, but the time I put into playing with my son when he's behaving and talking to him about the consequences of his actions when he has misbehaved is going to save me a lot of hassle when he gets older. I don't want his fear; I want his respect. And I want to raise a child that deserves the same respect in return. After all, it is my responsibility to teach him to be a good human being and it's a lot easier now than it will be when he's a teenager.