A few months ago, I was at a “mommy’s night” house party with some women I don’t know very well. As the wine flowed, so did the conversation, each of us bringing to the table our recent anecdotes, exciting stories and frustrations. At some point, one of the women started in on how much her children were annoying her lately. She related stories of back talk, open defiance and sibling in-fighting, and we all nodded our heads sympathetically. Then she said something that made my blood run cold: “My hand actually hurts from all the spankings I’ve had to give lately.”
As I sat there, stunned, the other women began advising her on better techniques for hitting kids. One of the ladies suggested that by hitting her kids on their clothed bottoms, she was having to put more force into it. Her solution? “Remove the pants so that you don’t have to hit as many times, and it will actually hurt the child more.”
The conversation continued with much discussion of the merits of spanking. One woman even admitted she happily allows other parents to spank her kid. She looked each of us in the eye and said, “If you see my kid acting out, you have my permission to bust his ass.”
I didn’t stay long to that party.
Then, a few days ago, I saw this article about a spanking bill in Kansas.
Democratic state representative Gail Finney of Wichita put out a statement Tuesday after media stories about her legislation, which would expand on current Kansas law by allowing teachers and caregivers to spank children up to 10 times, possibly causing redness and bruising.
The legislation specifically would allow for spankings “up to ten forceful applications in succession of a bare, open-hand palm against the clothed buttocks of a child and any such reasonable physical force on the child as may be necessary to hold, restrain or control the child in the course of maintaining authority over the child, acknowledging that redness or bruising may occur on the tender skin of a child as a result.”
What? Forgive me, but what? How is this law supposed to benefit anyone? I assume it is proposed in an effort to protect children from excessive abuse. And since all US states allow spanking (31 states ban it at school, only), maybe it is a good idea to put parameters on it, right?
I mean, anyone could google How to Spank a Child and find a treasure trove of techniques for “proper” punishment. This WikiHow article explains in 12 Easy Steps How to Include Spanking in Child Disclipline. It includes such advice as “Earn the respect of your child by being fair; you must also convince your children that if they are openly disobedient, the discipline will be quick and certain.” It also urges you to “spank in private.”
The aim of the punishment is to teach the child that they have done wrong, not to humiliate him/her.
Okay, this is what really bothers me. I’m of the opinion that spanking – the kind that is seemingly “okay” in this country (ie open hand on clothed bottom) doesn’t really hurt children. I do this to my son when we are playing, all the time. I smack his butt again and again while laughing maniacally, and he giggles and squirms and yells, “MORE!” And I’m not really holding back, either. I hit hard.
But if I was to take away the laughter, take away the fun, and apply the same amount of force behind each swing, while telling him he is in the wrong? I’ve no doubt that the swats would become suddenly painful to him. Not necessarily physically (though I’m sure they’d seem so) but mentally. It is to humiliate a child to hit them. And this is seen as okay.
Never mind how it would be if we were to do this to an adult. Could you imagine your spouse pissing you off one too many times? I could just see the reaction if I grabbed my husband, bent him over and spanked him because he refused to close the toilet seat when he was done with it. Or – since that is ridiculous – let me paint a more realistic picture for you. Spanking a child is the equivalent humiliation to telling your spouse they are worthless. That they are small. That you are smarter and better than they are. In short – it is abuse.
In trying to understand the idea behind spanking, I came upon this article titled 8 Reasons to Spank Your Kids.
You have to love your child enough to be tough and do what is necessary to get the desired result. Parent first, friend second.
So basically, loving your child isn’t about being a provider or protector to them – it is all about using physical force to get them to do what you want them to do.
To be feared (in the sense of reverence) is to be respected. Your children should be weary of going against your rules. It also teaches them to submit to authority regardless of whether or not they agree.
Fear is NOT equal to respect. I speak from experience here. My father ruled with an iron fist (and a belt), and it was not respect any of us felt for him – but loathing. Fear made us hate. It also made us realize that pain was fleeting. I’d wager kids act out more once they recognize that spanking is all you have. When it stops working – and I promise it won’t take long – you will be forced to hit harder, maybe stop using just a hand and introduce a belt or a stick or a closed fist. How far will you take it to prove that you are the dominant one?
And let’s talk about the idea of teaching a child to “submit to authority regardless of whether or not they agree.” What will you do when you’ve taught your child this idea so well that when some other authority figure (a teacher? a doctor? an uncle or grandparent?) proposes something sexual to your child? When they say, “Don’t tell anyone or I’ll hurt you,” and your child closes their eyes and does what they’re told because they have been told to accept authority and discipline no matter what?
Children have the option to obey or face the consequences, and they need to know consequences hurt.
I am in total agreement that children need to have consequences for their actions. I believe wholeheartedly that there is a course of action that must be taken when a child is deliberately defiant of a parent. We do not make rules lightly – usually we make them with the safety of our children as our primary concern. So it’s baffling to me that anyone would choose to physically or mentally hurt their child in order to protect them. Frankly it makes no sense.
Surely a better way of dealing with it is to take away a favorite toy or place them in a time out? Get down on their level and speak to them face to face, explaining exactly why you are upset with them. Kids understand a lot more than we give them credit for. And yes, I realize that it is next to impossible to use logic with a two year old. But it is a lazy parent that uses violence to prove a point.
Before I go any further, I must admit that I have several friends and family members who regularly spank their kids. These are rational, wonderful people who have proven themselves as logical thinkers and givers of time and effort to making the world a better place. Being a parent who chooses to spank their child does not make one a bad person. But when speaking to them about their decision, I have found one theme that runs through each of their admissions: Guilt.
Without fail, each of them has said to me that they feel guilty for spanking their kids. They wish they knew of a better way to get through to them. They admit that they are driven to it out of desperation. They are at their wit’s end, and it is the only thing that works. They have tried time outs, they have tried distraction, and they have tried positive reinforcement. They have even tried ignoring the bad behavior and only responding to good behavior. But again and again they feel cornered and forced into spanking to get their kids to behave. A close friend says, “It hurts me more than it hurts them, anyway.”
So why do it? Why hurt yourself and feel guilty for something that isn’t actually working? After all, the bad behavior continues, obviously, or they’d never have to spank again, right?
The truth is that whether you spank or not, whether you use positive reinforcement or not, every child will go through phases in his or her life where they disobey, defy and act out against authority. You try and teach them through your actions and your words how to behave, and maybe it takes them time to get there – but they do.
My three year old took well over two and a half years before we could get him to sleep in his own bed. We tried everything we could think of. We tried different routines, we slept on the floor of his room, we bribed him, we gave him a television, treats and even his own phone to try and keep him in bed. But it took forever. My one year old son managed it before his first birthday and now sleeps 13 hours a night. What did we do differently? Nothing, really. We just put him in his bed and didn’t let him out. It took two nights for him to realize that he got a much better night sleep in his own bed than on his lumpy mother.
The point? Every kid is different, and nothing lasts forever. The terms “terrible 2s” and “horrible 3s” were coined for a reason. Kids test boundaries and push your patience to the limits because that is how they learn about the world. Your explosive outbursts (including spankings!) are painful but also interesting. When your reaction is less effusive, they soon lose interest.
In essence, spanking your kid for being a normal kid is lazy parenting at best and morally wrong at worst.
What do you think? Do you spank your children? Do you think it is right or wrong?
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