When my son was very small, he would not sleep. Many times in order to console him, I would put him in bed with my husband and me. But this usually meant I didn’t sleep because he would kick and thrash. I remember one night in particular I put him in bed with me and when he started to move around and whimper, I got very angry and gave him a slap on his diapered bottom. I will never forget the look on his face when he turned to me with all the hurt an 18-month-old could muster and said, “Mommy, don’t hit me.” The way he said those words had such an effect on me that I promised myself that I would never, ever hit him again. But I didn’t know what to do instead.
With the California State Legislature considering a ruling against spanking, I was prompted to take a closer look at the issue of corporal punishment.
One survey conducted by Public Agenda, a non-partisan think tank, found many are seeking alternative methods to spanking to get their children to behave. Only 34 percent surveyed said they have been successful at teaching their children self-control.
Maybe this is because they don’t know how to model it. “Violent behavior is learned,” says Emily Friedan, Chief of the Division of Community Pediatricians of Western New York. “It can be prevented from the very beginning, and prevention must start with the adults who fill children’s lives.” On spanking, her advice is straightforward: Don’t discipline with physical punishment. Doing so teaches children that the people who love them are the ones most likely to hurt them, that physical force is justified, and that violence is an acceptable way of solving problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents develop methods other than spanking in response to undesired behavior, adding:
- Spanking is harmful emotionally to both parent and child.
- While stopping the behavior temporarily, it does not teach alternative behavior.
- It also interferes with the development of trust, a sense of security, effective communication and the development of internal controls or self-discipline.
- It also may cause resentment and harm the parent/child relationship.
Steps Parents can Take
Before a parent can stop spanking, they have to acknowledge that they may be striking out at their children because of their own frustrations. They may be having a terrible day and end up taking it out on a child. So when it comes to learning alternative forms of discipline, first and foremost, parents need to find ways to control their own anger. Some steps towards accomplishing this include counting to ten, taking deep breaths, and walking away so you can buy time to figure out what to do next. Try not to discipline out of anger. Once you calm down, you can work on age-appropriate consequences.
Some Alternatives to Spanking
- Rewarding and encouraging positive behavior – Catching your children doing something “right” will lead them to repeat it
- Adjusting your expectations – If you find yourself frequently frustrated, consider whether you are expecting too much from your child
- Letting go of an issue – If the issue is not that important and the struggle is harming your relationship with your child, you can choose to let it go for a while. Pick your battles!
- Using consequences – Instead of spanking you can get your children’s attention by taking away privileges.
- Taking a break to help your child and you to calm down – You can revisit th issue when cooler heads prevail.
- Discussing with your children ways to deal with a problem – Children are more cooperative when they have a say in setting the rules and coming up with solutions.
Parents can learn about child development to understand normal child behavior and hone their communication skills. Harsh words and name calling during discipline, while not physically painful, can be just as harmful emotionally as spanking.
These alternative methods for handling anger and discipline require effort on the parents’ part. Spanking is a quick, knee-jerk reaction, while thinking about discipline takes time and can be difficult. But it is worth it: effective discipline encourages a healthy relationship between you and your child, which is what parents want and children need.
Parenting is the hardest job in the world and there are no quick fixes. It is a 24/7 job requiring tremendous patience and constant giving of yourself. As parents, we may “lose it” at one time or another and hit or slap our children. For me, I didn’t want that to become my established method of discipline. Fortunately, I took parenting classes and worked hard at developing healthier ways to raise my children.
By the way, my son eventually started sleeping better and we have developed a relationship over the years that I wouldn’t give up for 1,000 restful nights.
By Claire Gawinowicz, Certified Parenting Educator
- Kids Are Worth It! : Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline by Barbara Colorosso
- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
- For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violenceby Alice Miller
- The Case Against Spanking: How to Discipline Your Child Without Hittingby Irwin Hyman
- Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse by Philip Grever
For more information about why not to using spanking as a discipline tool, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
For information about what you can do as an alternative to spanking, preview or purchase the following books.
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