Disclaimer: This post is the perspective of one local parent, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not endorse spanking as a form of punishment. You can read their position statement HERE.
Spanking is one of the topics that has recently become taboo in the parenting world. Many people have very strong emotions and beliefs about it and quickly place it into the “abuse” category. Spanking has also gotten relabeled in many circles as “hitting;” and since we teach our children hitting is not okay then we must equally put spanking in that same class. I do not subscribe to this line of reasoning. In fact, I believe that there is and should be a distinction between what we call spanking and what we call hitting. I say this because there are too many children that are hit, I have seen this in my line of work, children who are abused and have been taken advantage of by the adult caretakers in their lives. I believe that these acts are despicable and should not be tolerated. As such I think when spanking gets lumped into the category of “hitting” we are watering down what abuse is and thus missing giving a voice to those children who are not being treated with love. So that I am clearly understood, as I recognize this is a sensitive matter for many, I define spanking as an open-handed slap to the bottom or to the top of the hand.
When I was a child my parents spanked me. I was not spanked often but this form of discipline was reserved for those behaviors which were either unsafe or were deliberately breaking a rule of our household. Spanking was never a form of discipline that was unprovoked. Spanking only occurred because I did something that I was not supposed to. Now, like all children, I cried and pouted that my parents “didn’t love me;” but let’s be honest all children say this at one point or another regardless of what form of discipline you use. Put them in time out, “You don’t love me”… take away the x-box, “you don’t love me”… Ignore them, “you don’t love me.” You see where I’m going with this. I never actually doubted nor actually thought my parents did not love me. In fact, my parent’s loved me and told me they loved me an enormous amount.
Now as a parent myself, I never really questioned whether or not I would spank my daughter. Just as I never really questioned whether I would discipline my daughter.
To me, spanking fell into the category of healthy discipline.
It falls into a bag of discipline techniques that I use as a parent. As an adult and as a loving parent I am able to discern in which moments which technique is appropriate and warranted. I make these decisions because I love my daughter and discipline is part of parenting. As such, I am very intentional and purposeful on the times and reasons when I choose to use spanking as a form of discipline, as I am with any discipline that is done. Here are the basic guidelines that I use:
1. Repeated offenses where my child’s safety is in danger. I believe in natural consequences and lots of times these work on their own. For example, try to balance on a ball, you will most likely fall; run in flip flops you might trip and scrape your knees. Usually, a warning verbal explanation is given and then if the natural consequence occurs that serves to teach my daughter the “cause and effect” of that action. However, there are some safety issues I am not willing to allow for natural consequences to occur if I can help it. When my daughter was around 2 years old, she went through the phase of wanting to run away from us, in fact often she would run towards the road. We obviously could run faster than her and catch her at the time, and we tried initially in 2-year-old words to tell her firmly to not run towards to road. We also had her sit in timeout (which usually actually works very well for my daughter and I will elaborate more on later). Redirection would work sometimes but not consistently. So as her parents, we decided that if our daughter ran from us and did not stop when verbally asked to she would receive a spanking. And she did, we actually only had to spank her 2 or 3 times for this behavior before she connected the dots and stopped running away with just a verbal warning and soon after stopped altogether. The point is this, I am much more okay with my daughter getting a swat on the bottom then risking her being hit by a car the one time I do not catch her in time. The same goes for touching a hot stove, putting things in an outlet. Or like a close a friend of my mine, after seeing her 4-year daughter lean out a second story window without the screen in it.
2. Lying. Now I know that all children lie, they test those boundaries, they make up stories and it’s 100% normal and appropriate development. There is also a difference between a “white lie” or “telling a tale” and straightforward lying. Honesty is something that we value in our family and even when it is hard, it is important to be truthful. When I know that my daughter is lying, I usually give her the opportunity verbally, to tell the truth. I also tell her the reason why I am inclined to think she is not being honest. If the lie continues then she will most likely get spanked.
3. Repeated acts of disobedience after other forms of discipline have been used. As I mentioned above, “time-out” usually works very well for my daughter for most significant behavioral issues. She actually is a kid who wants to do the right thing and she always has been that way. Providing clear verbal expectations generally leads her to make “good” choices. However, there are days with she is just plain defiant. She has ended up in timeout multiple times, has been told multiple times what the expected behavioral expectations are, and we have had multiple conversations discussing how I can help her manage her behaviors and emotions more positively; and still, misbehavior occurs. At this point, spanking is used in our house. It is not a surprise, it is not unexpected. She knows this is what will occur if misbehavior continues to occur.
Spanking is not fun for me, I get no enjoyment from it, I get no sense of power, no sense of “victory.” But I do feel it is necessary at times. I believe I have a daughter who is respectful, kind, empathetic, loving, and well behaved because the option of spanking is in the “bag of discipline” techniques. She is also those things because I keep the value of nurturing just as much as the value of discipline. When any discipline occurs whether it be spanking or otherwise, shortly afterward, I always talk to my daughter and clearly explain why the discipline occurred and that I love her. In fact, when writing this post I decided to nonchalantly interview my 5-year-old daughter on the topic. Here are her responses:
When do you get spanking?
When I do something really bad, like when I am not listening or being really mean to someone.
Does mommy love you?
Does mommy love you even when you get spankings? How do you know?
Yes. Because you never stop loving me. You just want me to not do not nice things.
Are you allowed to hit people or your friends?
Is spanking different than hitting? How so?
Yes. Hitting is when you be mean to someone and push them or hit them in the face. Spanking is only on your bottom and it means just that I am in trouble.
I am not writing this post to try to convince people who do not spank to now choose to spank your children; I trust that you, as their parent, have made your parenting discipline decisions with purposeful thought. What I am asking is that if you are a parent who does not that you yourself do not demonize those parents who do spank. That you do not doubt our love for our children and that we too have purposefully made discipline decisions for our children.