Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Spanking: Will the Debate Ever End?

Why do parents spank? In most cases it is because they love their children and really believe spanking is the best way to teach them to improve their behavior. In other words, they believe spanking = good behavior.

The sad part of this equation is that it is not true; and parents who believe in spanking don’t do the necessary research to prove or disprove their hypothesis. Actually, short-term results fool them. Spanking usually does stop the behavior for the moment. However, short-term research never tells the whole story. What about the long-term results?

There is so much research conducted in University settings by trained researchers (buried in academic journals) that has been proving for years that spanking is not effective long-term. In fact, the research proves the oppositethat the long-term results of spanking are increased violence and aggressiveness. So why do parents keep insisting that spanking = improved behavior? It is a mystery to me.

Parents would learn a lot if they would do some basic research just five minutes after they spank their children by asking, “What were you thinking? What were you feeling? What were you deciding?”  Most parents don’t even consider that their children have thoughts and feelings; and that they are constantly making decisions about themselves, about others, and about what they are going to do in the future. These “decisions” are being made even before learning verbal language as “a sense of.”  For example, even a one-year-old has a “sense of” being safe or not safe, and makes “sense of decisions” such as, “All I need to do is cry and Mommy will rescue me.”

Make some guesses about what your children are thinking, feeling, and deciding while being punished. My guess is that their thoughts are somewhere on the continuum of, “I am bad,” or, “You are bad,”and many thoughts in between. Their feelings may range from hurt to angerand many feelings in between. Their decisions (even when they are not consciously aware of them) usually fall into one of three categories, “I just won’t get caught next time,” “I will get even,” or, “I must be a bad person.” I doubt that these thoughts, feelings, and decisions convey the results parents hope to gain by spanking.

One reason parents are reluctant to give up spanking is their fear that the only alternative is permissivenessleading to spoiled brats. They have reason to be concerned. The thoughts, feelings, and decisions pampered children make are not any healthier than those made by punished children.
The question that would be more helpful to parents and healthy for children is, “What else can I do, instead of spanking or permissiveness, that will encourage my children to make healthy decisions leading to valuable social and life skills for good character?” If parents were willing to research this question they would find many alternatives. My favorite is engaging children in focusing on solutions. Punishment focuses on making kids pay for what they have done. Focusing on solutions focuses on changing behavior for the future. This is just one of my 52 favorites in a deck of Positive Discipline Tool Cards.

All of these tools are designed to meet the 5 Criteria of Positive Discipline:

1.     Helps children feel a sense of connection? (Belonging and Significance)
2.     Is kind and firm at the same time (Respectful and Encouraging)
3.     Is effective long-term, (See the following two criteria)
4.     Teaches valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, cooperation)
5.     Invites children to discover how capable they are?  (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy)

Isn’t this what you really want for your children?

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