Yesterday I was on a parenting forum and came across a piece of advice that sent chills through me. A parent was having problems with his young child who was hitting in school and this was one of the responses:
“…If that doesn’t work get on the corporal punishment bandwagon. You don’t have to like it for it to work, and if you have no other options you need to teach him that violence is returned in kind. Do NOT do this without holding him afterward and telling him you love him etc, and do NOT do it angrily. You have to be a cold executor of the sentence who is following precisely the rules as they have been laid down (you’ll have to lay them down first). This removes any personal emotional motivation from you as he sees you, and lets him see action=consequence. I suspect you’ll have trouble with this, but remember to use it as a teaching moment to help him use the pain to focus and discipline himself. You’re not there to mete out punishment and the will of god, you’re there to cause a positive change. Minimal spanking with essentially zero pain (other than showing your disappointment physically) can be effective for children much younger than yours.”
Well, that brought back memories. I was spanked. So many people talk about how they were spanked and they turned out fine. I wonder if they remember their spankings. I know I do. I remember feeling frustrated and confused. I remember feeling overpowered and humiliated. I remember wanting to avoid what I had done to get myself into the situation. But I don’t ever recall thinking that they were right and I had learned a lesson in life.
I was spanked with a wooden rod on my bare bottom. My parents felt this was the godly method of discipline. They were avid followers of Dr. James Dobson, a well-known advocate of corporal punishment. When you read some of this man’s writings, he almost sounds loving and sincere. But he just doesn’t make any sense.
Let’s look at his principles of discipline, as listed on his website:
Be willing to let your child experience a reasonable amount of pain or inconvenience when he behaves irresponsibly. —The New Dare to Discipline, p. 116
I agree with this: “Be willing” – yes, but do not intentionally inflict. “…experience” – yes, this is about experiencing the consequences of actions. “…pain or inconvenience” – yes, but this should be relevant to the behavior. For instance, if your child is running around the pool and slips and skins her knee, that is her consequence, nothing further is needed. If your child is being rude at the dinner table, send her away – she is not behaving in a manner suitable for being around others, so she shouldn’t be allowed around others. These are natural consequences that are matched to the behaviors. To create a consequence of physical pain, such as a spanking for talking back, is illogical and teaches little to nothing.
Parental warmth after discipline is essential to demonstrate that it is the behavior–not the child himself–that the parent rejects. —The New Dare to Discipline, p. 36
I can’t help but wonder how confusing this message is. If someone just hit you and then hugged you and said they hoped you understood why they hurt you and how it was your fault, would you really feel good about that? Anyone who has experienced domestic violence will realize how this makes no sense whatsoever. When someone violates your body, you feel shame and confusion. When they subsequently tell you they are sorry for doing so and yet they love you, but you really need to shape up because you are the cause of it, that is not helpful and does not create a healthy feeling of trust or love.
Parents cannot require their children to treat them with dignity if they will not provide the same respect to them in return. —The New Dare to Discipline, pp. 25–26
Where is the dignity and respect in bending someone over and striking them on the rear end? Are the children allowed to do the same when the parents misbehave? This is humiliating to the child.
Give your child an exposure to responsibility and work, but also preserve time for play and fun. —The New Dare to Discipline, p. 155
I completely agree with this one.
If the strong-willed child is allowed by indulgence to develop “habits” of defiance and disrespect during his early childhood, those characteristics will haunt him and his parents for the next twenty years. —Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, p. 90
This is an over generalized statement. First of all, a strong will is an admirable quality that should be encouraged. A strong will leads to perseverance and resilience. Why wouldn’t you want your child to have this quality as an adult? You need a strong will to resist peer pressure, to survive difficult circumstance in life and to overcome obstacles. Using such negative words like “indulgence,” “defiance,” and “haunt” are scare tactics. Persistent children can be very challenging to raise. But they are not dangerous to themselves and they are not inherently defiant or disrespectful. We, as parents, need tools to manage them through childhood, without destroying their persistence. You can teach a child to negotiate with respect WITHOUT shaming him for having his own sense of self and direction.
Two distinct messages must be conveyed to every child during his first forty-eight months: (1) “I love you more than you can possibly understand,” and (2) “Because I love you I must teach you to obey me.” —Dr. Dobson Answers Your Questions about Raising Children, p. 16
I agree with the first message. I think the second one is far less important. Obedience is really overrated. What about teaching a child to think for himself? What about teaching him skills and language to effectively communicate and engage with his world? What about teaching him to trust me, his parent, so that he cooperates with me? I do believe I am in charge and I have no problem with giving consequences, but I don’t want to raise robots who follow with blind obedience. Someday it won’t be me they are blindly obeying. And then what?
The proper programming of the conscience is one of the most difficult jobs associated with parenthood, and the one that requires the greatest wisdom. —Emotions: Can You Trust Them? p. 44
This really bothers me. “Proper programming”? Again, are we raising robots or teaching and guiding human beings?
The strong-willed adolescent simply must not be given large quantities of unstructured time. He or she will find destructive ways to use such opportunities. Get that youngster involved in the very best church youth program and other healthy activities you can find. —Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, p. 150
Every adolescent, not just the much-aligned “strong-willed” teen, should be kept busy and involved in healthy activities. And not just church. They should be active in sports, arts, work, community service, etc. A strong will in adolescence is a protective factor. A strong will helps a child resist peer pressure, one of the most influential factors during that period of development. However, if you have spent your child’s entire life battling her, she may finally exert her will against YOU. That could, in fact, become an issue. Really think about that.
A child’s will is a powerful force in the human personality. It is one of the few intellectual components which arrives full strength at the moment of birth. Whereas the self-concept is delicate and wobbly, the will is made of steel. —The Strong-Willed Child, p. 76
This is just bizarre. It seems that the doctor is determined to teach parents that a child’s will is really to be feared and certainly to be bent, if not broken. What happens when she grows up? When she faces difficulty, peer pressure or her life doesn’t go as planned? Will she just do as she’s told or fall apart? A child’s will is her gift. Not only that, but a child has a spirit and a soul at birth as well. This is a human being we are talking about, not a lump of clay or a pet. Again, wouldn’t it be better to teach our children with love and compassion, rather than force?
Children naturally look to their fathers for authority. —Straight Talk to Men, p. 65
This is just a biased opinion. It certainly isn’t true for my family or many of my friends and relatives.
The parent who is willing to bail his child out of every difficulty may be doing him or her a devastating disservice. —Dare to Discipline, p. 103
This is very true. So shouldn’t you be teaching your child how to think through decisions early in life? How to make choices? Coloring on the wall means you lose your crayons and clean the wall. Doesn’t that make more sense than getting hit on the bottom? The child has the opportunity here to actually think and learn. Do I really want to draw on the wall? I like having my crayons and I don’t especially like cleaning up my mess. Maybe that is a bad idea. How does spanking teach a child there are consequences to actions other than pain? How many adults are getting physically struck for their daily mistakes?
Love in the absence of discipline will not produce a child with selfdiscipline, self-control and respect for his fellow man. —Dare to Discipline, p. 10
This is true. When you understand that the original meaning of the word “discipline” means “to teach” then you can understand that you do not HAVE to strike a child to discipline a child.
Discipline and love are not antithetical; one is a function of the other. —Dare to Discipline, p. 18
Yes, you must teach and correct your children. However, hitting and discipline are not the same thing.
The parent must be convinced that loving discipline is not something he or she does to the child; it is something done for the child. —Dare to Discipline, p. 18
This is a difficult concept to sell. Parents do know, intuitively, that striking their child isn’t quite right. That’s why many feel so badly doing it. But teaching a child, whether through correction or allowing her to experience the natural consequences of her actions, is an absolute must of growing up.
When a parent loses the early confrontations with the child, the later conflicts become harder to win. —Dare to Discipline, p. 21
Well, this is certainly true. This is why you want to choose your battles very carefully. And avoid conflict as much as possible. You are not engaging in a war. You are raising a child. Big difference. When you have full control of your child’s world, why resort to inflicting physical pain? Is that really the only way to win?
One of your most important responsibilities as parents is to establish an equitable system of justice and a balance of power between siblings. —The Strong-Willed Child, p. 132
I disagree. The more you interfere between siblings, the more resentment you create. Now I realize why I had such hatred for my little brother growing up. My parents were constantly trying to interfere and “balance the power” even when we were just playing. Rule #1 says to allow kids to experience their consequences. Why not just allow them to experience their relationship with their siblings as much as is reasonably possible?
To a power-hungry tyrant of any age, appeasement only inflames his or her lust for more power. —Parenting Isn’t for Cowards, p. 168
This is appalling. These are little humans. To encourage parents to view their precious little children in such a negative way is entirely unfair. Children aren’t “tyrants” and they aren’t “power-hungry.” They are little people trying to do their best with little experience and few skills. Our job is to love them, teach them and help them grow.
While yielding to the loving leadership of their parents, children are also learning to yield to the benevolent leadership of God himself. —The Strong-Willed Child, p. 171
Does god bend you over and cause you pain to teach you a lesson? Or does god simply ask you to say sorry and try to do better while you fumble along and learn from your mistakes? I don’t see god forcing people to yield. God seems to allow people to figure things out for themselves. How does spanking even come close to the way god treats people?
We should make it clear to our children that the merciful God of love whom we serve is also a God of justice.–The New Dare to Discipline, p. 228
This is just simply not true. I am not a Christian but I know the doctrine. The Christian faith states that if you ask for forgiveness, you are forgiven. It’s that simple. God does not insist on retribution or punishment of any kind. That is old testament philosophy and was tossed out with the teachings of Christ. God only threatens to punish people who do NOT ask for forgiveness. So how does this fit in? The parents are allowed to make mistakes and simply say sorry and be forgiven but the children must experience pain in order to receive same? It’s not consistent with the faith being taught.
I see a lot of spanking advocates who are adamant that spanking is NECESSARY for children to grow up properly disciplined. I might have grown up to believe that, too, since I really didn’t know the difference. But I worked as a live-in nanny for two years, caring for two toddlers and I learned a valuable lesson.
When you are raising somebody else’s children, five days a week, 12 hours a day, you don’t have the choice to spank them. You are required to find alternative methods of discipline. I realized that I was able to teach these toddlers to be polite, gentle and well-behaved using positive discipline methods and no spanking whatsoever. So if spanking is NOT required to get children to cooperate and behave, then WHY DO IT?
Who knows if spanking really causes harm to kids? I don’t know. I do know that it is not necessary and it makes no sense. When my kids make a mistake, I want their consequences to be relevant to their mistake. If my son is being antisocial, then he doesn’t get to socialize. If he doesn’t do his chores, he loses his privileges. When my kids were little, if they were fighting over a toy, the toy went to time-out, because it “was causing so many problems.” When my son was 4 and took something of mine, I took something of his. Don’t you think feeling the pain of losing something you care about is more relevant to understanding stealing than getting hit on the rear end?
I can assure you that not only did spanking NOT teach me right from wrong, it failed to teach me how to think or how to make decisions. While it taught me to obey my parents (which I already wanted to do anyway) that is a useless skill in the real world. My goal as a parent is to teach my children to be high-functioning, successful adults. Obedience has no part in the adult world. That’s a convenience of childhood. I want my kids to follow my guidance and instructions, but I also want them to know how to make decisions and to think for themselves. Since I know I can teach these skills without striking them, why do it?
I think the real questions to ask about spanking are: what lessons are we REALLY teaching? And, is that truly what we want to teach?
Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are always welcome!
- 5 Non-Spanking and Incredibly Brilliant Ways to Discipline Kids (defusingchaos.wordpress.com)
- To Spank or Not to Spank, That is the Question (askmamashoe.com)
- Spanked! Why We Should Want To Be Better (chaoslaughterharmony.wordpress.com)
- Spanking: Punishment That Teaches Respect (elevenamproject4.wordpress.com)
- Why I’ll Likely Never Spank My Kids (30sandbeyond.wordpress.com)