Spanking as a form of discipline continues to be a hot topic of debate, both among parents and in the public forum. Is it right? Is it wrong? Does it have lasting effects? Is it considered okay in certain situations? Is it an effective form of discipline?
From a parenting standpoint, we believe spanking is not, under any circumstances, an effective form of discipline. Here’s why:
First, when physical punishment occurs, both the child and the parent are typically in a heated emotional state. This is the least effective time to teach children, and it is certainly the least effective time to expect children to learn and retain what the parent is trying to teach them. What the child learns from a spanking is, “Ouch! I don’t want to go back to this place.” So although spanking may cause children to associate a particular behavior with negative feelings such as physical pain and/or humiliation, they are not being taught and they are not learning any alternative positive behaviors. This can be a problem down the road.
At Boys Town, we ask parents to discipline their children through teaching. This involves calmly discussing with children what they did wrong and what they could have done differently, and giving a negative consequences such as an extra chore or losing a privilege. Then, we have parents watch their children’s behavior, try to “catch them being good” and give praise and positive consequences to reinforce their positive behaviors and good decisions. The Boys Town Model® would tell you that if you calmly teach children how to make the right decisions and praise them for those decisions, they will continue to make the right decisions. Spanking a child teaches none of this.
Another drawback to using corporal punishment like spanking as a form of discipline is that children are great modelers of behavior. In other words, “a child sees, a child does.” By spanking children, parents are teaching them that when they are frustrated with a situation or not getting the outcome they want, it’s okay to hit. Well, what do you think a child will do the next time he doesn’t get a toy he wants or someone sits in his seat? It’s easy to see how this behavior can result in a serious cycle of aggression.
The bottom line is that a gentle pat on the bottom to get a child’s attention is the most physical discipline a parent should ever use. Spanking to punish is not an effective way to address or correct a child’s problem behavior, or teach a child a positive alternative behavior.
While we believe the Boys Town parenting approach is the ideal solution, we know that in the heat of the moment with an unruly child, it’s sometimes hard to get there. We have all been in that situation: You’re frustrated. You’re angry. You want your child to know how upset you are.
But next time that happens, try this: Tell your child, “I need a minute,” and walk away. (Believe me, children will know you are serious when you say you “need a minute”!) Step into the other room and take several deep breaths; think about what you are going to say when you go back to your child and focus on the right way to approach the situation. Then return and calmly discuss with your child why you are upset and what he or she did wrong. Give your child time to answer and express his or her feelings, then discuss what your child could have been done differently. If necessary, give your child a negative consequence like an additional chore or taking away something he or she likes for a specific amount of time.
Over the next few days and weeks, watch your child to see if he or she is making better decisions based on your discussion. Every time you see your child make a good decision, point it out and praise him or her. Make it a habit to praise your child for five good decisions for every time you give him or her a negative consequence for inappropriate behavior.
In the end, children respond better and learn more from this positive style of parenting. And trust me, you will be happier with yourself if you approach discipline situations with a level head instead of an open palm.