Spare the Rod —- Please!

Before I had children (many, many, many years ago), I had a discussion with a co-worker about spanking children as a form of discipline. He had two very young children and was an advocate of spanking. I couldn’t imagine spanking my future child. You know how it is before you have children — it’s so easy to have opinions and give advice to parents when you don’t have children of your own, right? I respected this guy, and I’m pretty sure he was a good dad. I asked him why he spanked his kids, and he said, “It’s a good way to get their attention sometimes.”

OK, so aren’t there other ways to get their attention? He said, for example, if his 3-year-old went out into the street, he would give her a couple of swats to let her know that she’s not supposed to go into the street. She would remember getting spanked better than if he just told her to stay out of the street.

Now, I’ve seen other parents spank their toddlers and young children to drive home some kind of point, but that never made a lot of sense to me. First, a 3-year-old really doesn’t recognize that danger, which is the reason that we have to watch 3-year-olds all the time, especially when they are in potentially hazardous situations. So, I asked my friend if, because he had spanked his daughter, that would mean that he could safely leave her outside alone near a street. He said, “Of course not.”

So what difference did the spanking make? Either way, he couldn’t leave her alone near a street. The spanking wasn’t going to keep her from wandering out into danger because developmentally she couldn’t really assess the danger.

I think he may have been doing it out of fear and a false sense that somehow he could control the situation easily. That’s my armchair psychology.

After I had kids, I could certainly understand the urge to hit them, but a big, powerful person hitting a small person didn’t make sense to me.

Yes, I might teach them that I’m bigger and more powerful than they are, but don’t they already know that? I couldn’t hit a little kid.

Some people say they spank because their parents spanked them and they turned out okay. Remember when your parents said, “If your friend jumped off a cliff, does that mean you would jump off a cliff, too?” Not the best reason to do something — just because.

Recently, there have been several stories in various newspapers about spanking — in particular spanking being used as punishment at school. One was a story about grown men swatting high school girls. Yuck. What possible lesson is a student learning from this? I’m sure it’s humiliating. And I would think it would create anger in a young person — not to mention the desire to use deceit in order to avoid getting hit again.

I’ve heard people say that spanking was the only way they could control a “willful child.” I had a couple of very strong-willed children. I used to have to trick my son into thinking that everything was his idea, even when he was very young. I guess I figured out (after many, many mistakes and wrong turns) how to work with their temperaments rather than against them. It was such a relief. It took more thought and more time to figure out just the right way to deal with him, but ultimately it was much more rewarding than hitting him. And he’s a wonderful young adult today.

I read a study not too long ago about how most parents are unaware of developmental stages in their children. For example, an 18-month-old who is dropping Cheerios on the floor is not doing it to drive you crazy, but is learning something. Children don’t think like adults. I suspect that some of the frustration the drives parents to spank their children stems from a lack of understanding about either their child’s temperament and how to deal with it, or a misunderstanding of child development.

I certainly struggled with many aspects of being a good parent and made many mistakes along the way, but I never saw spanking as a way to achieve the caring, productive, kind adults that I hoped my children would become, and have become.

Categories: Editor’s Blog