Stress Less Parenting

Bringing the joy back to parenting your children.

Is It Okay to Spank?

on May 31, 2012

• 94% of 3- and 4-year-olds have been spanked at least once during the past year, according to one study.

• 74% of mothers believe spanking is acceptable for kids ages 1 to 3, says another study.

• 61% of parents condone spanking as a “regular form of punishment” for young children, according to a different study.

Clearly, the majority of parents say they spank their kids.

Meanwhile, for decades a long and distinguished list of experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics has denounced spanking as ineffective, even dangerous.Ineffective because it only teaches a child to fear his parents, not to respect them, or learn better behaviors. It erodes the bond of trust between parent and child. Children experience it as frightening and it temporarily changes their brain chemistry. Dangerous because using force can injure a child and warp his understanding of how to interact with others: namely, that it’s okay to hit someone to get your own way. And experts warn that children who learn this antisocial lesson are more likely to exhibit violent behavior later in life.

So why is there still a massive disconnect between what experts advise and what parents do? And what can we do instead?

“But timeouts don’t work for my child.” Frustrated parents often say this to justify why, although they don’t want to spank their kids, they have to. My response? Of course it doesn’t work! But neither does spanking, and those are not your only two choices. Timeouts, like spanking, really teach nothing about making good choices and regulating one’s behavior and emotions. Also in this category: taking away some random treat or privilege.

What does work is natural and logical consequences. Redirection still works for toddlers. When they are reaching for the breakable vase, hand them a soft toy instead. When they are running into the street (apparently the context in which even “non-spanking” parents spank) the most obvious thing to do is to run after them and remove them! Want to “make an impression” so that they will be frightened enough not to do it again? Think again. Spanking will make them fearful of you, not the street, and is likely to have a diminishing effect the more often it is administered. Talk to your child and tell them not to do this and why. This is an important safety concern, so if they do not comply, the logical consequence would be to limit your child’s access to the street: use a stroller, play in a fenced area, hold hands, carry the child. “But she grabbed for the electrical cords!” parents tell me. I tell them, “Child-proof the cords!”

Another reason I think many parents spank is because it seems easier. I say this without condemnation. Remember, the name of this blog is Stress Less Parenting, not Stress More Parenting. I don’t do anything the hard way! But, I take a long view of my role as parent and my relationship with my child. I truly believe that the ease of spanking now would be more than offset by difficulties later, and likewise any extra time and effort required now to respect my daughter and her boundaries, while enforcing rules and expectations with love and consequences, will be more than offset as the years go by and parenting becomes easier and more joyful as we settle into our natural roles with each other and grow comfortable and trusting with each other’s expectations, and my daughter learns to regulate herself more and more. In only three years, I’m already seeing this happening. It takes longer to make a change than to establish a pattern right from the start, but it can be done.  If you need help with ideas, call me anytime!  A joyful, stress-less relationship with your child awaits you!

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