Corporal punishment and its effectiveness have been part of discussion for some time now, since the new fangled parenting books hit the markets. I read parenting books with a grain of salt because there can be no one formula that we can apply for every child. Each child is different, what works for one may not work for the other. I read some anyway because I can always find a new idea that I think may benefit my children and help me be a better parent.
There are some absolute truths in good parenting, though, the first being consistency. Setting out rules and expectations and following them and holding the children up to those expectations. Of course, the expectations should not be unreasonable so the child is set up for failure. While being consistent on the core values, certain flexibility often makes the journey more fun for both the parent and the child.
I do believe, however, corporal punishment is not effective means of parenting. It instills fear and in some cases, it breeds violence. Why do we punish children in the first place? The goal is for children to realize, from an early age that each of their actions has a consequence. Good choices yield positive results and bad choices bring on unpleasant reactions from the grown ups. The end result of spanking or time outs is the same – to make the child realize that they made a bad choice. The parents take the responsibility of ingraining the socially acceptable behaviors in a child when they start toddling around. Most of the parents teach their children to keep their hands to themselves since they cross the threshold of preschool. Children are naturally physical, keeping their hands to themselves is an acquired social skill that are taught by parents and teachers. If the parent uses their hands to inflict physical pain, what message are they conveying? I have seen a father swat at his child to stop him from hitting a peer. What did the child really learn? It’s ok for dad to hit, but it is not ok for me to do the same? Prime example of double standard right there. Children may display a desired behavior for the fear of getting physically hurt, but is that desired behavior ingrained in them? Will they behave well because that is the right thing to do?
Many equate lack of corporal punishment to lackadaisical parenting. Kids get spoilt if they are not dealt with a firm hand – literally. Spare the rod, spoil the child may just be the most quoted line from the bible. I have heard we are bringing up a generation of spoilt adults because we believe in the new fangled parenting of not spanking. That, I think, is far from the truth. If a child is occasionally spanked for some misgiving, yet the parents give in to all his demands at other times, he will eventually grow up to be selfish, spoilt and yes, to some extent, violent. When it is their turn to be parents, chances are, they will continue corporal punishment quoting ‘spare the rod, spoil the child.’ I do think a parent can be strict and effective without raising his/her voice as long as they stick to their guns. Some feel a spank here and there is far more effective than constant nagging. I agree nagging is useless. the children tune you out, it falls in deaf ears but kids get used to spanking too. They know it hurts for the moment but the moment passes. So it is not really a good alternative.
Most spank their children to teach a lesson, and not to really hurt them. Ideally, if the anger element can be kept out of spanking and it made clear to the child that this kind of punishment is being meted out to him for a particular bad behavior, it MAY yield result. But there are parents who need lessons in anger management. Corporal punishment is a slippery slope then, it can lead to a trip (or many) to emergency rooms. It has happened before and happens often, unfortunately. Does spanking in childhood traumatize the child for life? Most cases, it doesn’t. They grow up and live to tell the tale. I was spanked pretty regularly, now I laugh with my mother and give her a hard time about it. She says she made a mistake when she hit me. She has realized later in life she shouldn’t have inflicted pain and I should never, ever hit her grandchildren. Yes, we see some double standards here 🙂 !
Having said all that, I know it is easier said than done. I have smacked my children a few times in their lives. I have come close to spanking them many more times than I care to remember. I have seriously counted till ten to get my anger under control. I have yelled at them, nagged them, and done everything that parents do when they lose control. I am not holier than thou, by any means. But then hated myself later remembering their scared eyes. I lost control. Moreover, I lost control on little people who are completely dependant on me. I am their protector, I would never want them to ever feel I will inflict them physical pain. I am an assertive parent and I want them to recognize my authority over them for making serious decisions but not by beating them to submission. I apologized to them and promised I will never raise my hands again. I have kept my promise.
Are my kids going to be better humans than another who is spanked in childhood? Heck no! I hope they will be happy, successful individuals and so will be the child who was occasionally spanked as a form of punishment. The choice of corporal punishment is more about me as a parent. It is about what kind of parent I want to be. The idea of inflicting physical pain to teach a point does not appeal to me. That doesn’t mean they won’t hate me till they are thirty. And the same fate awaits my fellow parent who reaches for the rod instead of taking away a favorite toy for thee days for a particularly serious misgiving. I just won’t have to say later, ‘I shouldn’t have hit you when you were a child. That was a mistake. But don’t you EVER lay on a hand on my grandchildren!’ 🙂 ! At the end of the day, not choosing corporal punishment is really about who I am and what kind of parent I want to be.