What are you teaching your child?
Spanking is one of those hot button parenting topics and most people have a strong belief for one side or the other. When considering discipline methods, I always talk to parents about these three things:
- What are you teaching your child?
- Are you modeling the behavior you want your child to emulate?
- What's the long term impact/consequence of the discipline method you're employing?
Discipline comes from the word disciple, which means "to teach." So it's important to consider what your discipline methods are actually teaching your kids. When you use spanking as a discipline method, you're sending the message that big people can hit little people, and hitting is a way to resolve problems.
If you spank your child when you're angry, you're modeling that when you're angry it's OK to hit. If you're using spanking as a disciplinary method but then get upset with your child for hitting you, a friend or their sibling, they're getting a mixed message.
Young children particularly are unable to discern why it's OK for you to "spank" but not OK for them to hit when they get upset or their sister isn't doing what she's supposed to be doing. It sends confusing messages.
While spanking may get the immediate response you want, the long term consequences may not be what you're hoping for. Spanking begins to instill fear in a child and it teaches them to be fearful of their parent(s) rather than teaching them to consider their behaviors and take responsibility for their actions.
If used frequently, spanking can begin to create a sense of revenge in a child where they seek ways to get back at you. Something you intended to use as discipline begins to create the very behavioral problems you're trying to discourage.
Spanking is also a form of hitting and shows a lack of respect for another person. If you expect your child to respect you, it's important that you extend the same to them. I often hear parents say, "I was spanked as a child and I turned out OK." But it's important to understand that we have a lot more information than we had even five years ago about the brain and how it works.
When a child is in fear, they can't think rationally or make good decisions. Utilizing the information we have now to be better parents and raise healthier children is just like using the advances we've made in medicine and technology. Why would we use a more dangerous and less effective medication for treating cancer when we have newer and safer methods? The same is true for parenting.
Research has shown repeatedly the ineffectiveness of spanking as a discipline method. It can damage your relationship with your child, create fear and mistrust, and ultimately resentment. The best and most effective parents are connected to their children. If your child is afraid of you, it makes it hard for them to feel connected to you.
So if you don't spank, then how do you discipline? Giving children choices and consequences, and employing natural and logical consequences is an effective discipline method that teaches children responsibility and self-control for their behaviors.
For example, parents can say, "Sally, I know you want to play with your brother's toy, but it's not OK to take it away from him while he's playing with it. You can choose to give it back to him, or you can choose to go to your room and lose your TV time for today. It's up to you, so you decide."
When a child does break a rule, giving them a natural consequence is an effective way to teach them a lesson. I worked with a child years ago who was caught spray painting on a brick wall at school. For his consequence, he had to spend a Saturday at the school removing all the paint from the entire school and then had to spend five days after school helping teachers clean their classrooms. He learned his lesson and that was a much more effective learning experience then grounding, spanking or yelling.
Of course, we're all human and as parents we aren't perfect. We all lose our cool with our kids at one time or another. What's important is what we do after what we've done. When we make a mistake as a parent, it presents a perfect opportunity for us to model for our children how one takes responsibility and apologizes for their mistakes.
When our children see that we can take responsibility for our actions, then we're teaching them how to take responsibility for theirs.