Help Me Sara: Should we consider spanking our child?

By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist on September 09, 2013
My husband and I were raised by parents who spanked. When I was 11, I started hitting back. Although we know that spanking is not the ideal way to deal with difficult behaviour, we find that this is often the only thing that works. We’ve tried reasoning with them, giving time-outs and ignoring bad behaviour, but nothing works as well as a quick smack. Is corporal punishment really so bad? Help me Sara!

Answer:

The short answer is yes, it really is bad – for many different reasons. You’re correct in noting that a quick smack does bring about much more immediate results. Typically, a child is stunned into silence or compliance, which may be exactly what your goal is at that very moment. However, the greatest downside of this is the longer term results. As you experienced, when children grow older, they begin to retaliate – not just by lashing back at parents, but at their younger siblings and peers, too. Parents’ actions speak louder than words and even without meaning to, your children will model your behaviour.

In addition, they will find ways to get even with you. They may disobey later the same day when you request that they do something for you. Or you may see passive aggressive behaviour, which means that he might drag his feet or do the bare minimum so as to avoid further punishment. In the longrun, if a child is disciplined corporally, he’s most likely to comply because he’s afraid of getting punished, not because he cares about helping you. I’m sure you’d agree that a relationship built on a foundation of caring and cooperation is preferable to one built on fear and intimidation.

There’s a lot to consider when disciplining children. First, your shortand longterm expectations. And even more important, how long do you think it should take for your child to do what you’re asking? There’s no doubt that a smack will speed things up, and that the other methods require more patience and thought, but isn’t that what parenting is all about?

Discipline is often easier if you have a strategy in mind and stay as consistent as possible. Corporal punishment falls under the reward/ punishment umbrella. Often, punishments are unrelated to the problem and perceived as unfair by your child. This is why children often seek revenge after they have been physically punished.

An alternate approach to discipline is to consider consequences for inappropriate behaviour. Sometimes consequences such as hunger, after refusing to eat, occur naturally. Other times, a logical consequence needs to be put into effect. For example, when your child refuses to stick within the boundaries of your front lawn and keeps running onto the road, a logical consequence would be to have her play in the backyard only.

You mention timeouts. These may be presented as a logical consequence to hitting a sibling, for example. In this case, your child would be asked to spend some time apart from his sibling. However, if the timeout is implemented because a child has refused to comply, for example, then this would be a punishment rather than a consequence.

You mention reasoning. This is more a form of communication rather than discipline. Depending on your child’s age, sometimes talking less is more effective.

You also mention ignoring. This may be chosen as a logical consequence for attentionseeking behaviour but may be perceived as a punishment if you have not advised your child of your intention to ignore in advance. As you can tell, discipline requires a lot of thought and practise. You may want to consider taking parenting courses and reading books such as Nelsen and Lott’s Positive Discipline.

The bottom line: Fair discipline may be harder and require more consistency to see the desired results, but in the longrun, you have more to gain than to lose.

Sara Dimerman is a Psychologist, author and parenting expert in the Greater Toronto Area. Read more at helpmesara.com.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.

By Sara Dimerman, Psychologist| September 09, 2013

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