Today’s post is going to be a bit different from posts in the past. I am going to talk about something that I am very passionate about and as of late have been verbally chewed-out for and debated with. I want to talk about using corporal punishment when someone, especially a child does something that you don’t like. I understand that this is a very heated subject as well as a controversial one, but I must express how I feel about this and give everyone an insider’s view. As a child, my father spanked me, slapped my hands and screamed at me when I would do something wrong. My mother, just to be clear, never did. She was spanked growing up and very often it went too far. When my parents divorced, the way my father punished my siblings and I was no longer seen by my mother…of course until we came home. I can’t speak for my siblings, but every time I came home terrified, ashamed of myself and hurting physically, emotionally and mentally. His spankings were very harsh and over the years they quickly evolved to hitting in the face, squeezing of the arms and violently shaking. The things he yelled at me and accused me of because I touched something that was off limits or cried when I was hurting was insane.
A lot of people don’t realize that it is next to impossible to spank/hit/slap your children without anger, and anger can get out of hand very fast. Many people usually say, “oh, that isn’t me, I am very much in control”. My response to that is simply, “why do you feel you must lay your hands on a child to correct or punish”? There are other ways that work much more effectively and do not cause psychological damage, as spanking has shown to do. In a recent study showcased in Pediatrics, which is the journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics has shown a strong positive correlation between childhood physical punishment such as spanking and the incidence of Mood disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Abuse/dependence of substances as well as Personality Disorders. The study can be read here: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/130/2/184.abstract .
Besides the psychological damage physical punishment causes there are other ramifications. Some children learn that lashing out physically is an acceptable way to handle problems in the future. I have seen this in my own family. I made a promise to myself as a child that I wasn’t going to repeat what I was being exposed to, but unfortunately others in my family did just the opposite. It saddens me to see a specific family member who was a very sweet and loving child grow into a very bitter and physical individual especially when someone does not agree with them or do what they want. Frankly, it is extremely frightening to me as well. Children who grow up not repeating the physically hurtful behavior often do grow up afraid to express themselves, especially when they are hurting. I am living breathing proof of this. I was taught by my father’s beatings and berating that to express myself would result in pain and fear.
My question to parents is simple, “if there is an effective way to correct a child that does not require physical harm, would you use it instead”? Then my following statement would be, “there is, so why do you continue to lay hands on a child in a hurtful way”? If a child is screaming, instead of slapping him or her, ask them what’s wrong. Follow it up with asking them if they have suggestions for how you can help them fix what is wrong. You may be surprised, but every time I have approached an upset child in this way, they have matched my calmness and answered me. People, including children have a tendency to match your tone, your attitude and how you approach them. You scream and hit, they scream, hit and get angry. You appear calm, open and caring, they relax, open up and are more willing to solve a problem. Another method I have used in situations when a child has done something that is dangerous like run for the street, I do use a raised, firm voice to call their name and tell them to stop. Which almost every time has worked. I take their hand and crouch down at their level and again, remain calm, open and caring. I ask them why they ran for the road. After they answer I ask them if they know why I got upset. After that answer I then explain to the child on their level why it upset me and it should not happen again. Again, in my experience, this has been very effective.
Children are humans, just like adults. They get sad, angry, confused, hungry, bored, hurt and don’t feel well. We don’t spank an adult and yell at them because they are whining about being hungry, so why would you hit a child for crying because they are hungry? It’s much more effective and caring to talk to the child, just as you would an adult (but using words and terms that they can grasp) to ask what is wrong and what you can do to help them feel better. I’m speaking as an adult who has cared for children (other people’s and my own) since I was in middle school and as a person who underwent poor parenting and punishment from my father. I never trusted that my father would meet my needs nor that he cared, only that if I spoke up or acted out on something that was hurting or bothering me, I would get a beating. Do you want your child expecting to be hurt to express themselves, or do you want you child to expect you to care and help them manage their feelings and solve their problem? There truly is no need for corporal punishment, especially in children.
In toddlers who can’t always tell you how they are feeling, what’s bothering them and give you suggestions on how to fix the issue, I also have experience. I have a sweet little boy who is just about to turn two and with him (and toddlers I have babysat) I have found a few great techniques that are effective and loving. When a toddler starts to throw a fit, start with the basics. Look for something that may be hurting them physically like something they stepped on, a bug bite or teething pain. If nothing, then check the diaper, see if they’re hungry, thirsty or tired. If none of those are the culprit, hold them, kiss them and speak sweetly to them. Sometimes wanting you to hold them isn’t it either. Yes, this can get a bit frustrating if you are busy, but they need your help managing their emotions, not you screaming at them and slapping them. Sometimes all my son needs if nothing above worked is for me to say, “Honey, I’m sorry your upset.” and I will break eye contact and not pay attention to the tantrum. Every time my son has stopped after two minutes maximum, but usually under thirty seconds. When he is throwing a tantrum like this, I strongly believe that he is doing it to see how I react. In me not lashing out at him, but calmly refusing to put energy into fueling his tantrum, he trusts me and then stops.
Another technique I have been using with my toddler is helping him learn different methods of self-soothing. Self-soothing is using your senses to help put yourself at ease. I use self-soothing techniques for myself every day when I start to feel anxious. I have taught my son to run his fingers across his soft hair when he’s upset or tired by doing it to him when he’s fussing. Very frequently now I see him “petting” his own hair, or even mine when he’s upset. If none of the techniques above are working, and your toddler continues to cry and scream, there may be something going on that you can’t see like being ill. Calling your Pediatrician may be a good idea at this point, especially if they seem to be in pain. In my experiences as a parent and a babysitter, using one or a combination of these techniques has been enough to soothe a toddler and stop the unwanted behavior.
We are blessed with our babies to love and nurture, protect and teach and to enjoy life with them, not to instill fear and pain into them. There are many alternatives to physical punishment and I hope that this blog entry has opened your mind up to just a few of these alternatives as well as the dangers that lurk in using corporal punishment.