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To Spank or Not To Spank

“Mom, come on, we were supposed to be home an hour ago. Damn it!” (slap!)

That day in the supermarket was one of the most humiliating moments of my life. That slap got me to stop complaining alright. But how much damage did it do to my self-esteem?

When my own kids were little, I did give them a smack on their bottom every now and then. My upbringing showed me that this is what parents do. It gets the kids’ attention and emphasizes the point. Right?

But, somehow, I never felt comfortable with spanking. One day, I whacked my daughter on the back of the head, once, not very hard, but still, it stopped me in my tracks. I thought, “What am I doing? What if I actually did some damage here?” And then I wondered what message I was sending my kids. That’s it’s okay to hit? No, that is not at all the message I want to send to my children. I want to teach them that hitting is unacceptable behavior at all times. We don’t hit our siblings. We don’t hit our parents. We don’t hit our friends. We don’t hit.

I did some serious thinking about spanking. And I asked myself some questions. Does spanking do any good? Is spanking necessary? Or are their alternatives?

I did a little research. Dr. Fitzhugh Dodson says in his book, How to Father, “Punishment is a very ineffective method of discipline…for punishment, strangely enough, often has the effect of teaching the child to behave in exactly the opposite way from the way we want him to behave!”

The Committee on Violence from The Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University says, “From a review of the literature, it is concluded that physical punishment by parents does not inhibit violence and most likely encourages it.”

And a quote from a Newsday article written in August, 1978 goes like this: “Researchers believe that one in five parents have suffered…abuse at the hands of their children, an expression perhaps of the adolescent turmoil that can bubble over; objects lobbed at their heads, shoving, pushing, furious verbal abuse…there is “stark evidence” that physical abuse of the parent is actually learned at the knee of the parent.”

My sister work for years helping women coming out of battered women’s shelters. I don’t need to go into all the different ways that violence permeates our society. You just have to turn on the TV or open a newspaper to hear the details. It is possible – in fact, I think it is quite probable – that it all begins at home with our upbringing.

So how do we stop this habit of striking out? How do we catch ourselves in the moment? I’ll tell you what worked for me. I made up my mind that no matter what, I wouldn’t hit. Period. NO MATTER WHAT.

There’s got to be a better way. And as I perused parenting books, I found some very useful alternatives.

First, there is Time Out. This technique is very effective. Placing my child in his or her room for 2-5 minutes (depending on his/her age) produces a very clear message that their behavior is unacceptable.

Second, you can give yourself a time-out. Sometimes it’s the parent that needs a little time for reflection and de-stressing.

If your child is determined to argue with you all day (and many of them do), you can just say, “No more arguing. It’s just going to be this way. End of discussion.” This worked wonders for me.

Distraction works. Bargaining works. Taking a walk. A hug. A touch of humor. Use your imagination. Just give up the spanking or hitting of any kind. It’ll make the world a better place for all of us.

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