If Not Spanking, Then What?
Seems like almost every parent today knows that spanking is verboten. Everyone except that parent who says, “My father spanked me, and I turned out fine.” To him I want to say, You don’t remember how you felt while you were being spanked—the terror, the helplessness, the anger.
Working with parents for 40 years has demonstrated to me that parents spank because they don’t know what else to do that “really works.” It is out of their simmering frustration that they resort to harsh physical actions like spanking, slapping, even pinching, or holding a shoulder just that much too tightly. But it’s all spanking. And it screams helpless parent, regardless of the child’s age, tot or tween. You are showing your weakness.
Children do not need to cry, to be hurt, to be shamed, or to shout “uncle” in order to learn the lesson you are trying to impart. The discipline (from the Latin root word which means learning or teaching) that is needed should be just that–the lesson that teaches not to do that again. It is a lesson that cultivates self-discipline. The child needs to learn; he doesn’t need to be hurt or humiliated. In fact, a child in those heightened emotional states will not learn. Rather, he will be focused on his anger at you, what a mean, bad daddy you are, not even thinking about what he did.
Here are some tips for what to do when you feel like spanking:
- Get a grip on your own anger. Grit your teeth and admit that you feel like walloping your kid. Then commit not to do it.
- Remind yourself that this is an opportunity for you teach and for your child to learn. Often children have to do the wrong thing on their way to doing the right thing. And yes, for that there is a consequence.
- Let the child know that whatever the behavior was, you are stopping it. Remove the child from the scene of the crime.
- Say as little as possible. “There is no throwing balls in the living room!” using your low, slow, icy voice. Mean business.
- Remove and isolate your child to a safe place away from you and the scene. No words.
- The key is to DISENGAGE. Do not give your attention of any kind, negative or positive. Nothing.
- When you have both come back to planet earth, even as long as an hour later depending upon the age of the child (the younger the child, the shorter the time), do your revisit.
- Have a short, direct conversation (and it may be one sided) about what happened and what will happen as a result.
- For children seven years old and younger, have your logical consequence ready to impose. (Logical consequences are directly related to the misbehavior.) You showed me that you do not know how to use balls responsibly. So, you will not be able to use balls of any kind for the rest of the week. If necessary, be prepared to take the rest of the family out to play ball. He’ll feel it! So sorry you can’t play with us
- For children older than seven, in addition to the logical consequence, there might be a removal of privileges, or he might have to earn the money to help pay the cost of replacing the window. He gets it.
- Know that it takes time for the lesson to take hold. Much like microwave cooking, it needs a standing time to begin to sink in.
- There is no one size-fits-all answer. Your response must be crafted to the particular child and the infraction.
- Remember, parenting by imposing fear is neither healthy nor effective.
You and your child need to be on the same team. You are both trying to get him to the same place, the place of making thoughtful, good choices for himself. And the very first chance you get, catch him doing the right thing. Praise works better than punishment and a whole lot better than spanking.