The Debate About Spanking

There is a huge debate raging these days between folks who think spanking is a parenting best practice and people who think spanking is just not cool. The folks on either side of the debate refer to themselves as either "pro-spanking" or "anti-spanking." And, each side complains bitterly about the other. Have you noticed that, too?

I have not yet found a pro-spanking argument that works for me. In fact, I haven't yet found a pro-spanking argument that raises any arguable points. But, I did a little hunting, and I found something I could have a conversation with here.

Frankly, I'm not interested in having a conversation with a pro-spanker. I don't think I could convince a person who believes in spanking as a parenting best practice that he or she is, well, wrong, and they're certainly not going to sway me. So, I'll have that conversation here for the benefit of parents who are not sure. 

I found an article entitled "8 Reasons to Spank Your Kids."  The writer acknowledges the debate, and introduces her reasons with "If you’re not spanking and you have a child who is testing you time and time again, you may want to consider picking out a switch before he (or she) ends up on Beyond Scared Straight."  She goes on to briefly list and support her eight reasons to spank. I'm not that brief. She starts with...

1.  Love.  She maintains that "you have to love your child enough to be tough and do what is necessary to get the desired result. Parent first, friend second." 

I believe that all, or at least the vast, vast majority of parents love their children. Pro-spankers seem to believe they corner the market, though, on love, and I can see where they get that thinking. This is really a debate about involvement versus neglect. If you follow this logic, neglectful parents don't love their kids enough to stay on them, to be unpopular, to do the dirty job of pushing back when kids don't toe the line. Spankers see themselves as involved and see anti-spankers as neglectful. 

Perhaps pro-spankers haven't experienced parenting that is involved AND peaceful. Violence is not the only language children understand. In fact, I'm not convinced that violence is a language that anyone really can understand. The messages that children get from violence are seldom the messages their parents really intend them to get.

One message that a child may get from being hit is that the parent is not to be trusted. And, this blows up in a parent's face when the child is older, is facing a challenge in the world, and needs a trustworthy adult in whom to confide. If the child has learned not to trust the parent, she won't go to the parent in times of great need and will be left to get counsel from people who may not have the child's best interests at heart.

Peaceful parenting is responsive, respectful, honest, and VERY involved. And, of course, peaceful parenting is just as loving as any other parenting approach. Because...really...all parents love their kids.

2.  You want to be respected. To be feared (in the sense of reverence) is to be respected. Your children should be weary [sic] of going against your rules. It also teaches them to submit to authority regardless of whether or not they agree.

Sigh. I'm trying to make this brief. I disagree that fear equals respect. Children learn how to respect by being respected. Young children learn the language that is spoken at home. If a child is spoken to disrespectfully, she will adopt disrespect as her first language. Not that she can't learn a second language, but when children are ordered around, spoken to harshly, and just disrespected, they have no choice but to speak that way. Until, someone smacks them. And, then they learn that you use fear and violence to control other people. What could go wrong?

And, the writer's second point about teaching children to submit to authority unquestioningly has not worked out well for younger folks, either, making them more susceptible to abductions and other predatory threats. I'm pretty sure I don't want my son submitting unquestioningly to authority regardless of his gut feelings. And, you probably don't want that for your child, either.

3.  You want to teach them how to make good decisions. Our destinies are determined by decision-making. Children have the option to obey or face the consequences, and they need to know consequences hurt.

Well, I certainly agree that childhood is a great time to learn to make good decisions. Childhood is a time of contemplation, experimentation, and exploration. We actually learn to make decisions by...making decisions.

Sometimes we learn best by making bad decisions. And, there are consequences to bad decisions. Some consequences are more painful than others, and the involved parent can advise a child accordingly. If the parent is trusted (see #1, above), the child is likely to take what the parent says into consideration. Or, the child may just need to check out that beehive a little closer. And, then the child learns that you stay away from beehives. And, that, my friends, is the essence of "natural consequences." Kids are not stupid. They learn from their mistakes. We all do. 

When a child experiences the sting of a natural consequence, the involved parent is there to comfort and support the child, not to humiliate, shame, and heap further unnatural consequences onto an already hurt child. And, so, the trusting bond is strengthened. Children learn better in this environment and learn to make good decisions.

4.  You want them to have self-control. When you are aware of what is on the other side of making a poor decision, it is easier to exercise restraint.

We agree on wanting our kids to have self-control. We just disagree on the path to get there. 

Spanking and punitive parenting in general cannot lead to true "self-control." Punitive parenting leads away from self-control and encourages children to go underground to get what they want and need. They learn that lying, sneaking, and cheating are the ways to be autonomous. And, autonomy is what we are all craving; it is a powerful human need. Actually, I believe that autonomy is a powerful need of all sentient beings, but I digress.

5.  You want them to be accountable.  Every decision has an outcome, good or bad. Just as your reward your child for the good, you must also acknowledge and address the bad.

Accountability is something we learn by witnessing others being accountable. We can be accountable in a trusting environment (see #4, above). 

And, I take issue with the notion that a best practice in parenting involves rewarding "good" behavior and punishing "bad" behavior. Rewarding and punishing interfere with a person's development of intrinsic motivation, which interferes with self-control (see #4, above). If you say you want your child to develop good self-control, you undermine that goal by spanking, rewarding, and punishing.

6.  You want to set standards.  Children need limits to learn how to grow up with restraint. They will never be able to do whatever they want. Teach them to live by the rules set in place.

...said no innovator EVER. 

Life offers us plenty of limits. True innovators blaze trails to surmount those limits. We celebrate innovation. Why shut that down? Is that what we really want?

7.  You see strength not weakness.  Western parents seem to assume fragility rather than strength. Spanking your child properly is not going to damage their self-esteem. Accepting mediocrity and dismissing poor behavior teaches them to indulge in being weak.

Au contraire...spanking OF COURSE negatively affects a child's healthy self-esteem! Children believe that they deserve the treatment they receive. A child who is spanked and punished believes not that what they did was bad, but that THEY are bad. I believe that is the definition of damaged self-esteem.

You don't strengthen a seedling by stepping on it. You strengthen a seedling by nurturing it and protecting it and NOT HARMING IT. 

Peaceful parenting is not equivalent to accepting mediocrity.

And...spanking "properly"? Is there a proper way to spit in one's face? I wonder. 

8.  It works best. Some kids need it, period. When time-out, talking and taking away toys doesn’t [sic] work, you have to get that butt.

No. One. Needs. Hitting. Period.

When time-out, talking (I bet she means "lecturing") and taking away toys don't work, that's because they don't work. They're also not parenting best practices. 

Children's behavior is all about getting needs met. Children behave in ways that are designed to get us to show up and help them. When we don't respond, they get more assertive and more emphatic. It looks like "bad" behavior, but it's not.  It's need-getting behavior. Children need parents who can interpret their behavior and respond appropriately to help them get their needs met. 

The only time you "have to get that butt" is when you're playing a raucous, hilarious, joyful game of tag with your kids!

Please let me know what you think, if this stirs anything up for you, or if you’d like an example of what I’m talking about.  And, please feel free to share this with anyone you think would enjoy or benefit from reading this.

For more help in your peaceful parenting journey, browse around this site where you can learn more about classes and group coaching and individual coaching.

Thank you so much for reading!!

Be well, and be kind,

The Peaceful Parent Whisperer
Helping Heal & Transform Parent-Child Relationships
845 . 657 . 3111

P.S.  If you're reading this the day it's published, which is March 31st, 2015, there may still be time to sign up for the Making the Switch to Peaceful Parenting teleclass.  It starts today at 2pm.  Go here to register.  If you're reading this later, you may still be able to get in on a class, go to the Upcoming Events page to find out if a class is starting soon.