In a recent study published in The Journal of Family Psychology, it was shown that spanking children was much more common than previously thought. The study was intended to study the impact of parental shouting, but instead the audio recorders found that yelling and smacking for discipline was much more frequent, especially with tired parents and children. Another eye-opening part of the study was that children that were spanked often repeated the same misbehavior within ten minutes. So, once again we find research showing that spanking does not work. In the Little Five Points area of Atlanta, I work with two play therapists that often are hired to treat a child's behavior problems. It is not unusual to find that the parents of these children use spanking as the main discipline action, but the same parents honestly believe they are doing what works and admit to not knowing what else to do in the heat of anger.
Of course, a smack can temporarily stop an unwanted behavior, but the best discipline teaches a lesson in controlling how to react to an emotion. A smack can effectively show a child to be afraid of a caregiver or how to avoid honesty to avoid. But it does not teach consequences to behavior or how to control it. Further, it shows children that hitting is suitable to solve a problem. In fact, smacking children can result in further behavior problems such as aggression against siblings and peers, anxiety, and depression. So, the evidence and research does not support spanking as an effective discipline. On the other hand, what are parents supposed to do when everyone is tired, frustrated, and stressed and behavior is out of control?
1. Remember that your child's brain is immature. A child's prefrontal cortex that helps with decision-making & rational judgment is not fully formed yet. When you tell your two-year-old that he is too close to the fireplace for the fiftieth time in an evening, remember that his self-regulation abilities are simply not developed yet. Redirect and or distract him.
2. Take a Parent Time-Out. When you feel your anger escalating and feel the urge to smack your child, walk away and take your own time out. Taking a short break to be mindful of your emotions aids in finding out if it is your frustration, fatigue, or irritation that makes you want to lash out. You might find that your immediate anger dissipates & your child's behavior was not worth the wrath almost leashed.
3. Notice what is working and not working. If you spank your child, but his same misbehavior returns, then YOUR response to his misbehavior needs to change. Often parents say, "The more I spank her, the more she misbehaves!" The reason is that when a child is hit, it does more than sting his hand or backside. The child can feel bullied and self-worth suffers and this can show in his behaviors. A child feeling low self-esteem tends to act out for attention.
4. Discuss with your spouse discipline for your children and have a united front on what behaviors are considered unsatisfactory. It can be confusing to you and your children when one parent considers jumping on the bed fun, but the other parent considers it a terrible behavior and punishes for it. An example from my own family is that my brother played hitting and rough housing games with Dad; when he tried to play these same games with his mother (my stepmother), he was spanked for hitting. My adult brother still talks about how confused it made him as a child.
5. Consider your child's developmental stage when making discipline decisions. As we know, babies are born with their brains undeveloped and it is up to loving adults in the child's life to help develop with empathy & emotional strength and intelligence. So, punishing a toddler for putting things into his mouth is suppressing his development. However, if a five year old puts things in his mouth after being told not to, then a loving lesson can be given. The 18 -months- old toddler cannot comprehend cognitive concepts that a five year old can, so expecting the same behavior from both is unrealistic.
Spanking a child does not promote good behavior, nor does it teach the correct behaviors. It temporarily causes pain to stop misbehavior, but it also causes a distance between parents and child and, at worst, can contribute to a society of violence. When parents are committed to not smacking a child in anger and creating an atmosphere in the home that makes spanking unnecessary, they are forced to find positive reinforcement alternatives to maintain limits, boundaries, & order. If help is needed, many family therapists are adept in teaching parenting skills or use filial therapy (working with parent and child together). When parenting is better, children are better behaved. This makes for happier kids AND parents.
More parenting advice on YourTango: