Could violence and revenge in the world be diminished if parents stopped spanking their children? According to Edwin F. Watson, executive director of the Child Welfare League of America, as recently quoted in Family Weekly, "Spanking teaches the child that violence, however mild -threatened or actual -works best in life."
Sweden's legislation making it illegal for parents to spank a child echoes current public distaste of this traditional punishment. Yet some parents feel they have a right to discipline their children in this way.
A spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Youth an Family Services says, "Parents who are tired, frustrated, and immature are more apt to spank a child. Also, spanking occurs more often when a parent's expectations are too high."
How can such parents -or even more stable ones -decide how much it will physically or emotionally harm a child?
To me, it seems difficult to draw the line between when it's right or wrong to use this form of discipline. It's really much easier to adopt a policy of no spanking. Then a parent doesn't have to wrestle with the decision in crisis situations. We've tried both methods and learned this the hard way.
When our son was three years old, he received his first slap on the bottom. I have forgotten what he had done wrong, but I remember his reaction. His surprised, red face became very quiet, and he remained solemn for hours. That alerted us to use this sort of discipline sparingly.
The next few years, occasional spanks were given for obstreperous behavior until one day our method changed. again, I don't remember the "crime" -which perhaps indicates punishment leaves a more vivid impression even on adults -but I raised my hand to administer one spank. Just as I brought my arm down he moved away, and my arm absorbed all the intended punishment plus some.
This brief glimpse into the child's perspective was enough to change my attitude, and I quietly assured him that spanking were finished for good. I saw then that spankings were doing more harm than good. It can destroy affection and leave fear, embarrassment, and guilt. If violence and revenge are to cease in our world, I reasoned, let's not kindle such actions at home.
That episode was four years ago, and since then we've stressed alternative methods of disciplining without resorting to spanking. Three familiar methods have helped us instruct rather than punish our children:
Accentuating the positive. "Use quiet voices in the car" is better than "Stop that yelling!"
When rules are borken, a warning is given. But if misbehavior continues, the hild is asked to leave the group. A "thinking chair" or a "time out corner" provides a quiet spot for reflection.
Support from relatives adds consistency. Once while grandma cared for the children, she asked them to stand at the "wailing wall" in another room until the whining stopped. It did. Children naturally want to cooperate and quickly learn that proper behavior earns the reward of pleasant company. Tolerating disruption only delays this lesson.
Natural consequences. A teacher once noted, "A child with a poor memory often has parents with goo memories." It's easy for us to deliver a forgotten book, lunch box, or homework assignment to school, but this makes it harder for the child to larn responsiblity. Coverups, lies, and cheating are dangerous methods for the family to use in order to save "face" annd escape the consequences.
Once our daughter picked up a toy while we were shopping. Several hours later , we noticed what our "little bankit" had done, and we returned to the toy shop. Inconvenience and embarrassment were the natureal consequences in this case. We ended the episode with a loving reminder of the principles we live by, but we spared her any moralizing.
An unce of prevention. . .Many discipline problems can be avoided. Creating a sae environment for toddlers avoids saying "No-No!" constantly. Minimizing delays and knowing when to stop an activity avoids frustration for little ones.