One of the biggest controversies among parents is corporal punishment, also known as spanking. I’ve talked to moms who recall their encounters with their father’s belt, a wooden spoon, or an open hand to the face. They usually make light of it, that it only hurt their pride. They even say that it helped them know when they had pushed a parent too far. It was their boundary between independence and dependence.
When I ask them if they spank their own children, they turn serious. The ones who admit it tend to qualify it by saying it’s very infrequent. Or they explain how they spank— to avoid any impression that they are beating their children to a pulp. The ones who don’t spank, or don’t admit to it, offer alternatives such as time-outs, time-ins, or sending their children to another part of the house...so they don't beat them to a pulp.
What is the role of spanking, aside from an idle threat when our children are driving us crazy? I believe that we should have as many tools as possible in our parenting kit. Spanking can be effective, but I qualify that statement by saying that not all parents or caretakers are up to the responsibility. Here are my guidelines, and they have proven effective with my own children. (Yes, I have spanked them.)
•SPANKING IS A LAST RESORT. It is never the first choice in a parent’s toolkit. It is best used sparingly, and only to correct clearly willful behavior or behavior that poses a risk to the child’s safety. When reasoning and diversion and choices have not ensured the child’s change of behavior, one sharp open-handed slap on the fanny can be the catalyst for change. Willful behavior that threatens the child’s safety (or another child) includes running into the street, repetitive climbing in unsafe areas, crawling under a vehicle, throwing toys, or playing with matches.
•SPANKING REQUIRES THOUGHT. You have to understand your child and her motives before choosing to spank. If your child is developmentally delayed, she might not know that running into the street is dangerous. But if your child is obviously looking for you and watching your reaction as she runs toward the street, it can be a sign that she is testing her limits. Making a conscious choice to correct this behavior must be done with thought and calmness before the behavior occurs again. If you are already angry, then you aren’t thinking and you can’t spank.
•SPANKING IS SURPRISING. This discipline tool must catch a child off guard. The element of surprise is what creates the mental shift for your child. After rescuing your child from running into the street or stopping him from throwing a toy at another child, you should calmly bend down without engaging him and deliver the spank, followed by a sharp, “No!” If the child is older than 3, you may also explain why you spanked him. “Throwing toys is a hurting choice,” you might say, or “When you run into the street, then cars could run over you.” Your explanation can be delivered in a stern, but not angry voice so the child focuses on your words.
If the child is crying after getting a proper spanking, it has been a good learning experience. His feelings are hurt, but not his body. From this point on, the threat of a spanking can sometimes be all that is required to improve behavior. If you spank regularly, however, you probably already know that this tool is broken.
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