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Spanking, is it a viable option in discipline, or child abuse?

I’ve made the mistake of getting myself involved in this debate in places where the discussion became a bit more than heated. I’ve also taken the “I’m staying out of this” approach.

That dangblasted confounded Southern woman tagged me with this albatross and I’m going to take it for a spin around the dance floor (have I mixed enough metaphors there?) Da rules and other such stuff are at the bottom. And so, into the fray!

Let’s start out by saying – I am not anti-spanking, I don’t believe that a simple swat on the hand, or open-handed swat on a covered bottom is “abuse.”

Let’s also make clear – I was spanked as a child. Rarely, yes, but I was spanked. Never in anger, and I’m fairly certain it never happened after I was about 4 years old. Oh, and I had a very good relationship with Mom, thank you very much!

And a final thing to make clear – my children are past the “spanking age” (in my eyes) and for that I am thankful! But, yes, I did spank my children when they were younger – more on that later.

As a kid, I babysat, a lot… and I saw a lot of parenting styles, including those who spanked for anything and everything, those who never, ever, ever spanked and those who took spanking to a whole new and horrid level.

As a young woman, I worked on an ambulance, and I saw first hand the ravages of physical abuse – I saw belt marks, burn marks (including some in places that make me shudder to even think about), bruises, welts, broken bones, and even death because of abuse.

As a young parent of a curious toddler, I did what Mom did when it came to teaching my child about dangerous things – reach for the hot stove, you hear a firm “NO! HOT!” and a tap of a finger on the back of your hand. Of course, I also never let them touch the COLD stove, and as they got older, let them feel the heat of the stove as it warmed up so they’d understand “HOT!”

As my children grew, I again turned to Mom – a bottom might get swatted with an open hand for seriously dangerous activities or serious and deliberate disobedience. It was quick, it was effective and it usually only took once whereas time outs took, well, time, were often ineffective and usually didn’t work at preventing recidivism. In other words – the munchkins would keep doing what they were doing and just get more time outs.

I did use other methods as much as possible. Time outs worked for some things. I used the “One, Two, Three” technique (to great effect!) I resorted to spanking very rarely, and would never spank if I was frustrated or angry – that was time for a time out, for both child and mommy!

My then husband pretty much stayed out of the discipline issues and things were going very well (I had children who often garnered public compliments on their incredibly good behavior – thanks Mom!) But, the hubby came home one day with a book given to him by a friend at church. It was a radical, Bible-based discipline concept that he bought, hook, line and sinker. And since we were a Christian home where the wife was to submit to the husband, this was what we were going to do.

Without too much detail – the concept was spank early and spank often. It required telling a child one time what was expected, then spanking if the child did not obey. There were no warnings, no second chances. Mom tells Little Johnie, “Pick up your shoes.” Little Johnie does not pick them up. Mom immediately, calmly, and without anger gives Little Johnie a swat on the behind for disobedience, and then tells him again to pick up his shoes – oh, after lovingly telling him she loves him, and all that.

It also advocated the use of a “switch” rather than a hand (“hands are for loving”)…

In spite of my arguments against it, this was what got implemented in our home. I hated it. The kids hated it, and I did not see any improvement in their behavior, or my stress level. In fact, my stress level went up.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the kids outgrew the spanking age… where other, more creative forms of discipline are more effective.

Now, all that said, here are my feelings on the issue (I am not an expert – these are simply my feelings…):

Spanking, done correctly, is not abuse. To me, that means a calm approach, no yelling, no screaming, no name calling. It means using a hand – not a belt, paddle or “switch.” It means a light swat on a covered bottom, or lightly tapping the back of a hand. If it leaves marks, you’re doing something wrong.

Verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical and I’ve seen many parents who don’t believe in spanking are certainly engaging in verbally abusive behavior.

I also feel spanking and hand swatting has a very limited age range – from toddlers (and the lightly swatted hand) to preschoolers. I think there are so many other more effective methods for school-age children that spanking becomes less effective as the child gets older.

When a parent starts saying they have to spank more often, more times, harder, or with any implement in order to “get through” to their kid – it says to me that spanking is not effective.

For me, the key to child discipline is finding things that work and achieve the desired result, and in the cases of dangerous actions, achieve that result as quickly as possible (I really don’t want to deal with little ones reaching for the hot stove more than once, thanks…) It also means teaching your children in such a way as to maintain some level of personal sanity while not squashing the child’s spirit or curiosity.

Can you raise well behaved children without spanking at all? Sure, of course you can. It takes effort and creativity, and a great deal of patience.

Can properly administered spankings be a part of child discipline without being “abuse”? Again, sure. It takes effort and creativity, and a great deal of patience.

I completely understand the desire to not spank a child. I completely understand wanting to raise a child without ever having to use physical discipline and I do believe it is possible.

If I believe that, then why do I believe spanking can be acceptable?

Simple – not all families are alike. Not all children are alike. What works for me may not work for you and to be perfectly honest, I’ve seen some monstrously ill-behaved children from both sides of this debate. I had some rather in-depth conversations with our Child Protective Services folks – and the highly abbreviated version from them is that an open hand on a covered bottom of a toddler to preschool age child is considered “acceptable” as discipline. I should point out – these folks do not consider any form of yelling as “acceptable” discipline. Nor do they approve of “over the knee” or any other “position” for spanking – basically, if it can’t be done quickly, or requires special body positioning, there is something wrong. And guess what? I agree.

I believe in reality, I believe in understanding that no two people are alike, and that we all have our levels of tolerance beyond which we cannot be pushed.

So, one parent may be able to effectively and patiently use time outs to great effect while another may find themselves increasingly frustrated by the fact that their child seems to be spending all day every day in “time out.” At some point, that second parent is going to run out of patience. Will they “snap” and yell at their child? (Technically, an abusive circumstance according to CPS.) Will they be smart and try to find some other method that works better? And what if that other method would simply be lightly swatting the misbehaving child’s behind one time? What if that solved the problem? Is that one swat better than an entire day with the child in time out and the parent getting more and more and more frustrated?

Frustration as a parent leads to bad decisions and discipline actions made while frustrated or angry are rarely good ones.

I understand and respect the parent who chooses to use other forms of discipline, but I disagree with those who say that all physical discipline is abusive. I’m afraid, that by their definitions of “abuse” – I would consider much of what they actually do as “abusive” as well (time out is essentially the same as “restraining” a child, isn’t it?) I also understand and respect the parent who chooses to use the occasional spanking as part of their repertoire of discipline.

If I had it to do over again, would I spank my kids?

Probably, yes – I would probably still do the same things Mom did. But, I’d like to think that this time, I would tell hubby to use that book as kindling, and forget about it as a disciplinary technique.

The Parenting Meme from Hell

Miche does not spare the rod.
Jo-N wants to be her children’s best friend.
Tot’s Mom spares the rod and believes in patience.
Huckdoll spares the rod and believes there are more effective yet gentle ways to discipline than spanking.
OhMommy has spanked and never will again.
Amy spanks when necessary.
Rachel
doesn’t like spanking, but believes in Reality Discipline.
Roxy has way too much to say on both sides of the issue (as usual.)

Instructions:

1. Go to your blog.
2. Post about the topic.
3. Give me the hot, hard, and heavy linky love
4. Copy the last paragraph above and add your name and discipline style.
5. Post that paragraph onto your blog, including links. (Yeah, you will want to sharpen a pencil and stab it in your eye at this point. But, isn’t that half the fun.)
6. Go to the five, four, zero people you have tagged and leave them a comment to know they are now, it. (you’re supposed to tage people on this one, but since most of the parents I know in this blogosphere have already been tagged as “it”, and I am not cruel enough to do this to those I don’t know that well yet, I’m opting out of passing this one on.
7. Sit back and let the comments roll in.

Tagging –

Nobody and everybody. Most of the parents I know have already gotten this little disease. Those who have not yet, I don’t know well enough to pass this on to (and a few whom I am not cruel enough to pass this on to…). However, I will say this:

If you have something to say about the topic – whether you are a parent or not – please, leave me a comment, and consider yourself tagged for this meme, then go do it!