A recent post on spanking sparked some lively comments to The PediaBlog:

I’m absolutely shocked to hear that 57% of parents spank a 3-year-old teeny tiny body. I’m also more shocked when I speak about my children misbehaving and there is always that one person in the group who tells me if that were their kid they’d give them a whipping. So I tell those people they are crossed off my babysitting list.

 

This reader took issue with my statement that “spanking is bullying, plain and simple”:

Really?! This is a form of “bullying”? I think this world has started to use this term a little too loosely. We have to give to every child a trophy in little league or it’s bullying. God forbid we teach the child to play better or that life isn’t fair and you aren’t always going to get everything handed to you.

The enabled fear of my dad was enough to change my whole behavior with one threat: “WAIT UNTIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME.” Why? Because I knew what happened: no empty threats — I got smacked and I learned he meant business and don’t do it again. These kids [today] basically laugh in your face and know no one is going to do anything. I know your parents couldn’t have possibly brought you up this way!!

 

My parents never spanked me.  Not once.  (Of course it probably helped that my mother had a degree in Childhood Psychology!)

Another:

I do look back at the way I was raised and remember getting “spanked” with a belt. It was life changing for me. I do not see my parents as abusers at all — but for me it was something that changed who I was. My sister was fine. It all depends how the kid experiences it. So not worth it, even if I thought it worked.

 

One more:

Just because I don’t spank my kids doesn’t mean I sit there and do nothing when they misbehave. I am a very firm mother and my kids know I mean business. I put them in time-out and it has worked beautifully so far. Dr Ketyer, do you have suggestions on alternatives to spanking and bullying children other than time-out? I would like to hear a follow up to this from you sometime.

 

Look.  I know it’s hard to be a parent.  You can read every book on the subject, talk to every “expert” or watch every video dealing with effective parenting.  At the end of the day you’ve just got to face it: we’re all just winging it!  Rest assured: no one is perfect. Parents get cranky too, just like the baby with heartburn from reflux; the toddler who missed her nap;  the preschooler who struggles with separation anxiety; the child who sees and feels his parents’ marital discord; the teen who doesn’t recognize when he’s hungry (like this).  When we’re tired, hungry, or angry (or anxious, depressed, or in pain), we don’t think clearly.  We’re likely to “lose it”.  And these are the times that someone — a loved one, a friend, a perfect stranger, ourself — invariably gets hurt.

Perhaps I’m naïve, but I believe that no one has the right to hurt or humiliate or demean another human being for not being perfect, no matter how cranky or irritated they are.  When it comes to children — especially young children who sometimes communicate with bites or hits or head-butts better than words — physically intimidating them by biting or hitting them back, verbally belittling them, or emotionally abusing them is worse than wrong.  How that can be acceptable to anyone is beyond me. Just because your father did it to you doesn’t make it right.  When the one person a child should unconditionally trust not to hurt or abuse them does so, you can expect the scars created to run deep and be permanent.

So where is the evidence — other than the anecdotal tales that being spanked was good and “I learned he meant business and don’t do it again” — that spanking actually works?  There is none. None at all except for people who, by trying to defend the indefensible, repeat these tales often enough until they sound true.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement — “Guidance for Effective Discipline” — in 1998 (reaffirmed in 2012) that dealt specifically with what works and why, and what doesn’t work and why not.  It’s a fairly long read as AAP policy statements go, but it’s really worth it for anyone who thinks that hurting the ones you love somehow sends a positive reinforcing message to them.

We’ll delve into this policy statement next week, so stay tuned. It’s an important topic, so let The PediaBlog know how you feel about it.

 

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