Friday, 3 May 2013

We are Like Giants - Spanking Kids

We are like giants to them.
I play in a social sports team - all nice people, most are parents. I like them. I don't necessarily agree with their views though, but how often does a group align?

A few weeks ago we were warming up on the sideline and the conversation revolved around funny things that happened while they were hitting their kids. One example is the belt recoiled and the buckle smacked the dad in the nuts.

They all laughed and made comments like "better not put that on Facebook!" as though they knew hitting their kids wasn't right. But they did it anyway.

Sleepy Dad has never hit his kids.

When the Little Dude was 18 months old, he had a play date with a friend. The friend did something wrong (?) and his mother smacked him and he cried. The Little Dude looked at me, aghast, with an expression saying "What the hell? Did you see that? Could that happen to me?"

A child may learn what is wrong by being hit, but not why they were wrong.

All of the people in my sports team go to church, a modern protestant church. They are taught to hit their kids because of the apparently inerrant bible. There are several passages in Proverbs instructing people to hit their kids. Proverbs was supposedly written by King Solomon.

If we read further into the bible, we find that Solomon's son, Rehoboam, grew up to be one of the wickedest, most abhorrent kings in history. He treated his people cruelly and narrowly escaped with his life when his own people turned against him. (1 Kings 12)

Not a very good endorsement for bronze-age philosophies on child-rearing.

These are weapons, not tools of discipline.
When I first thought about discipline for my children, I automatically thought of spanking. I was disciplined this way - wooden spoons, kettle cords, hair brushes; whatever was at hand - it was how I was shown to discipline. I am a staunch pacifist and didn't want to teach my kids that violence is the solution to a problem. It was from here that I decided I would not beat my kids.

If a co-worker does something I don't agree with, I won't hit her to make her come around to my way of thinking. If Athena disagrees with me about something, I won't hit her into submission. If I hit you, I will go to jail. Why do we hit our children? These are the smallest, most vulnerable people in our society and they are the only people that we are actively encouraged to beat.

When I was a small child, I spent a lot of time with one of my cousins. We sometimes (or more often) got in trouble and would cop a hiding. We would come up with schemes to make the smacks hurt less. The first technique was to hit your own leg afterwards, to take the pain away from your bottom. Fail. The second attempt was to laugh while being hit because laughing would make the pain more bearable. You can imagine how this played out with a mad adult trying to maintain authority over a cackling child who needed to be taught right from wrong: the smacks became harder and harder until my cousin couldn't help but bawl. Megafail.

The solution, we found, in the end, was to lie. We would flagrantly lie to our parents to avoid a beating.

I don't want my children to lie to me. Beating my child will lead them to fear me and lie to me. Not respect me, or love me. In all things, I hope to raise my children to be fearless.

Dress-ups should be for fun,
not protection!
I have heard people say "I was smacked as a kid and I turned out alright." If you think that hitting children is an acceptable way to teach them right from wrong, you didn't turn out alright.

Studies have shown that one-in-three boys have a genetic predisposition that will almost certainly cause him to engage in criminal behaviour, antisocial behaviour and substance abuse later in life if subjected to physical abuse.

Discipline of children in the Sleepy household works on two levels. Where appropriate, time-outs are used. This is the first punishment when talks break down. The next level is what we call "working in the kid's currency". We find something that is of value to the child and use it punitively. e.g. confiscating a treasured toy for a day, only to be returned if he is well behaved for the intervening time. On a few, rare occasions, we have had to confiscate two toys. Now the threat of confiscation is enough for behaviour correction.

These techniques are working for us at the moment. We may have to modify this regime over time if their effectiveness starts waning.

You can teach a child right from wrong without flogging them. A child behaves well if they feel valued and that they have a good standing in their social environment. Nobody feels valued when they are on the end of a hiding.

Young children are disciplined to teach them what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour in their society.  Ultimately they need to learn how to make sound moral judgments, and this is where they absorb wisdom from a parent's example.


  1. Intersting take on discipline, I can definitely agree with the sentiments.

    As a child, and then an adolescent, I feared my parents, and as an adult, I still shy away from any conflict even if it is verbal or I know I am in the right.

    Best thing I can do is to resolve not to become like my father.

    I was hit with many objects but the worst one was getting a hand mirror smashed over me.

  2. I was hit as a kid, as was my now ex husband. I will admit I did use physical punishment as that is how we were both raised but the more I looked into it and the more I learned about my own children the more useless and horrible I saw it to be.

    I want to have a relationship with my children where they aren't lying to me. All my relatives and I used to lie to our parents to get out of being hit. If I parent the same way my parents did, I am encouraging the same behaviour I did and they disapproved of. I am not fostering a good relationship.

    This is a great article.

    I was actually able to get a clause in my parenting agreement with my ex making any form of physical punishment illegal, so while I won't know if my ex does hit my kids unless my kids tell me, he risks a lot if he were to ever hit our kids. (There is also an AVo, so big issues for him if he breached.)

  3. Every time my dad beat me I thought "I speak English you know, perhaps you could make your point without the belt" I was like ten when I thought this. I don't spank my son and he is turning into one of the best people you could ever hope to meet.

  4. Thank you thank you thank you for this eloquently written and lovely explanation of the alternatives to spanking and corporal punishment as a method of discipline for children.

    I grew up in a physically abusive household--I was fortunate to have several years of counseling and positive life change before I became a mother. I walked into motherhood pretty convinced that the generations of my family that had each in turn beaten children had effectively destroyed my family's legacy understanding of how to use physical punishment, likely forever. Additionally, as the first generation to possibly break the cycle, my then husband and I decided that we would not use corporal punishment as a discipline tool for our daughter.

    We used time outs, and yeah, and for better or worse, I have been known to shout when angry. While those who view this as even "too much", quite frankly given my legacy this is a dramatic improvement over what I was handed as a child. In the early years, time outs included me sitting with my daughter (think toddler years, she wasn't capable of knowing how to sit there by herself, so we would sit together). We also engaged in some pretty creative problem solving so I could understand what was driving actions and learn how to create situations more conducive to success. I didn't expect her to do things that weren't age appropriate (the average 2 year old cannot come to you on command, but I found that if I walked behind her with a gentle hand on her shoulder to move her along with me, gravity took over and I never had to command her to come with me).

    While other folks might abhor behavior modification, I found in the late elementary / middle school / early high school years that a chart with expectations and rewards helps tremendously. Daughter has some realistic chores as well as striving to live within character development goals (striving to be honest, striving to face up to challenging situations, asking for help when needed, striving to voice a conflicting opinion in a way that opens discussion). To clarify on that last part with examples: striving for any of the character development goals earns points, being late to school loses points. I also take into account reality, like days daughter is sick she of course isn't expected to act as if she's feeling great or if the power goes out and that's why she might have woken up late--there's some tolerance.

    Fast forward to current time: I have never had a reason to lay hands on my child. She is respectful to adults and those in authority, she has learned that it feels good to contribute, and she knows there are consequences when she deliberately chooses to go against house rules.

    I'd like to add this: the single most challenging thing about not using physical discipline over the long haul is that it requires more discipline from me. I have to create situations for success, I have to demonstrate reliability and consistency, and I have to build a schedule that helps carry us. When I implement a consequence, it requires time from me, but the results have been worth it.

  5. Thank you. This is the reason I've decided not to have children; I'm afraid that I have too much of my mother in me. I was "disciplined" with things like a cat o' nine tails and a section of a plastic Hot Wheels track. What my mother took as respect was actually fear, bordering on loathing. I liken it to Stockholm Syndrome.

  6. I lived in a multi-generational household as a child. My grandparents, my parents, and an older brother ten years my senior. The only person who ever spanked me was my father and he only did it once, that I remember. I don't remember what it was for but I rarely ever got reprimanded unless it was a serious offense, such as disrespect or back talking or a public display of temper tantrums. Anything else kind of came with its own consequences like ignoring my father's command not to touch the hot skillet which came with the consequence of three mildly burnt fingers. So I've never seen spanking as a terrible offense.

    The older I got, the less spankings I got and more often I got lectures, time outs, and removal of treasured items but I grew up in the 90's/2000's. Go ahead.. take away the house phone. I've got a cellphone. Take away my cellphone... I've got the computer. Every time they tried a new way to punish me, I wiggled my way out of it. Until recently, spanking seemed like the only punishment that had ever worked.

    My older brother is married now and the multi-generational household tradition carries on. I've watched my brother and his wife spank my two year old niece. I've watched my mother spank her as well. I have even spanked her a time or two because it's their policy in their house. The first time I ever spanked my niece, she laughed at me. I was completely taken aback by such a reaction, especially from someone so young.

    I wracked my brain for weeks trying to figure this out. Why had she laughed at me? Was I not intimidating? Was I not an authority figure in her eyes? Had I not spanked her hard enough? What was too hard and too soft for a spanking? Then I found out, she had given the same reaction to other members of the family as well. Beyond confounded, I turned to friends and professors (at my college) for answers. When the situation was explained, they looked at me as if I had suddenly sprouted a second head. None of them had ever partaken in spanking their child, which to me was the astounding part. They gave me many tips and tricks to try and I chose one that seemed to make the most sense. Punishing my niece for bad behavior was not working and only seemed to make her worse. I decided to try rewards for good behavior instead.

    It has been three weeks since that revelation and things are going well. My niece knows I keep a stash of stickers in my purse. I tell her what behaviors I want that will earn her a sticker when I arrive. Just simple behaviors such as, "Lots of sharing, No shoving". She cannot receive her sticker until I am ready to leave. She is coming around quickly and most days/nights, just the simple reminder about the stickers or the desired behaviors is enough to curb any negativity from her.

  7. Thank you so much for this post. It's much needed, considering the non-spanking countries in the world are so few.

    Unfortunately it wouldn't surprise me if U.S. doesn't make spanking illegal for another decade or two. U.S. is already behind with more than 3 decades in that aspect, since corporal punishment was banned here in 1979. I belong to the first non-spanking generation in my country. That means that the children born today have parents who have never been treated with violence. That's pretty cool. Oh well, that should be normal.

  8. totally agree. I was spanked as a child, and now as an adult, I have a fear and anxiety of people who are angry and stressed out. And I have a hard time being comfortable with any form of physical contact. It even got to the point where I would hit myself and "ground" myself for things when my parents either didn't know or wouldn't punish me. I personally am not going to have biological children, but I would love to adopt, and I would teach those kids love and respect, not fear and violence. I see it everyday during my cashier job: parents yelling at their kids, smacking them upside the head when they start crying, yelling at them and hitting them more when they don't stop (really???? Why do you expect them to stop crying when you're yelling and physically smacking them?). or even for just little thing that make no sense. And it sickens me.

  9. To compare with other animals, recall how growing creatures are involved in play to learn about what is and is not socially acceptable. When a "young one" does something to harm the other (or a parent), they are usually are met with a swift response to deter any more harmful actions. Here, the young learn quickly by being swatted at or just having the other run away. But these animals grow into adulthood quickly compared with humans. Humans require much more time to learn how to deal with their surroundings. It is possible that such swift responses (swatting) need not be taken when the human young can have more time to grow and learn what is socially acceptable.

    On another hand, one can observe how some children are generally more aggressive than others and this is not necessarily related to their upbringing (being bopped on the butt, or even "formally" spanked or having a mirror smashed atop their head). The response given to a child's (mis)behavior must be quick if one wishes to stop the action -- especially useful if the action was pushing a child off the back of the slide. So, for a teacher to call in the parents, we observe a shift away from the first adult (the mostly unknown teacher) to the responsibility of the parents, but there is a delay in the major disciplinary response. When the child is scolded by their parents, what is the most efficient way to ensure the child (a young animal like many others) can understand as best it can that what it did was not good. Shall the discipline be strong and swift and reach the child by means of pain (very immediate) or should the child be made to understand that what it did was "wrong because it hurts other boys and girls?" Empathy is not a quality young children can fully appreciate so we cannot always just talk to them. Many parents will likely "ground" or "restrict" or give "time-outs," which tend to work well if the discipline is immediately enforced. This time-out method is especially useful if there was a toy involved so the child gets a time-out and loses toy privileges. Does this method work for all children? It seems to depend on the way the child was raised -- not if they were usually disciplined with hands or paddles or quiet-time, but whether their upbringing featured intentional lessons in learning what is right and wrong (role-playing, scenarios with dolls or dinosaurs) so they have a basis for understanding WHY what they did was right or wrong, rather than because Mommy and Daddy said it was a good or bad thing to do.

    Force is used whether the discipline involves spanking, bopping, belting, or taking away the toy. The effectiveness is related to the time between the offense and the discipline, as well as the degree of offense performed by the child. It is obviously not best to push the child in the earlier scenario off of the slide so they know how it would feel, but one could use role-playing (dolls, stuffed animals) to help the child understand. Unfortunately, this method requires enough time and foresight to implement the scenario so they child can learn the process; most people cannot take this time, so the much more immediate (and immediately efficacious) action will involve pain (not necessarily fear, since for child-parent relationships, fear works differently than adult-adult).

    Where is the point at which the child understands the degree of error they have committed versus the disciplinary response? Sometimes, tiger-mothering* may work, but certainly we have more tools than a tiger for dealing with our children.

    Cheers to creative discipline.

    *Tiger-mothering does not always mean hitting.

  10. In New Zealand where I live it is against the law to hit your children. Unfortunatly that law has meant that children do get away with a lot more than they should and some children will even use it against their parents by saying if you raise a hand at me i will have you arrested for hitting me. I don't agree with using things to hit your child but I will say that sometimes a open hand smack to the bottom might be needed if all other ways of trying to teach them they did wrong fails.

  11. My father hit me, my mother used emotional blackmail. Frankly I preferred the beatings, but neither were healthy or constructive. I was very stubborn and I never lied. I coped by convincing myself that I was impervious to pain. I would tell them outright when I'd done something wrong and accept the consequences in a defiant sort of is-that-the-best-you-can-do kind of attitude and I would always ask for more. I started cutting myself before puberty and soon after that I started going out of my way to get into dangerous, even life threatening, situations. I started taking drugs at around 14 years old and continued in that vein for two decades or so. I still have very bad relationships with my parents, but I have very good relationships with my own children, who were never bullied at home in any way and are the sanest and most well balanced people I know. I suppose different personality types will respond in different ways but violence, physical or emotional, against people who are smaller and weaker than you and who should have a right to trust you to respect them and teach them to respect themselves can never be right.

  12. Dear Dad, I love this post. Everything about it, including not bashing Jetstar un necessarily. One thing I would like to pick you up is criticism of our PM. He has a gay sister whom he has proudly campaigned for (she is Sydney Council member). He doesn't believe in gay marriage but has come such a long way on his journey of acceptance (including writing an amazing book review of a gay friend's book recently). I think if we open our hearts and allow people the space to admit their views have evolved, the world will be a happier place!

    1. I think you may have accidentally misfiled your comment!

      As for the PM, his sister's sexuality isn't a "get out of jail free card" for him. He is actively engaged in trying to deny or take away the rights of gay couples around Australia.

      Using the sister argument, we could say there are no misogynists in the world because everyone has a mother. Or that I can't catch measles because my brother is immunised. I really do hope that our PM does come around on this issue and having a gay sister will hopefully help. KRudd showed great courage to do his about face.

      But I am not too hopeful given Abbott's religious fervor. He didn't enter his position as a result of rational thought and it is unlikely that rational argument will prevail in changing it. He arrived at his position as a matter of dogma, and this is one of the most dangerous methods going.

  13. Broadly, I agree with this article. I think under no circumstance should a child be beaten, or hit in a way that causes them to be fearful of their parents.

    I will say that I think, as another commenter touched on, that there is a difference between beating your child with a belt and swatting them on the behind.
    My experience with spanking, and therefore my conception of it, was very limited. There were a lot of 'guidelines' for spanking my parents followed, which I think has a lot to do with why I don't see spanking as I experienced it as something inherently negative.
    When I was spanked it was only when I had been doing something that put me in physical danger (sticking something in a socket, climbing on the counter where the stove was or trying to pull on a pan handle (I was something of a hands-on investigator as you can tell)). The idea being that I broadly knew what kind of actions would get a spanking, and it was not hard to avoid them. When this happened, I remember being told calmly (usually I was told to go to my room and wait if my dad was mad, I'm assuming so he could chill out a bit) not to do X ever again because it could injure me in Y way, and that that was the reason I was being spanked. I was smacked on the bottom over my dad's knee with an open hand between 2-3 times with an open hand and always a layer of fabric (underwear or pants or whatever I was wearing) between his has and my bottom.
    It was unpleasant but I don't ever remember it being painful beyond that of a quick shock. And after a certain age, I think it was 7 (although I don't think I got one after I was like 5 or 6) it was established I was too old for that and was old enough to understand without the threat of a spanking.

    For my family, the spanking would be unpleasant, but any pain or discomfort stemming from a swat on the bottom would be much less than a burn or broken arm or whatever, but would be enough to keep me from doing the dangerous thing again.

    Not only do I not think it was improper, but I think it was a really smart way of dealing with my brand of child. I got into EVERYTHING and still found a way to get into some precarious situations.
    I think it's important to define beatings as what they are, and not diminish them into spankings (obviously you're not diminishing them, but I think some people do...which is why it's still 'allowed' to hit ones' child like that). I think under very controlled circumstances, mild physical pain can be an effective method of keeping a child from hurting herself or himself badly, and should NEVER be done out of anger or frustration

    1. I absolutely agree with you, especially the "brand of child" bit! Just as we all learn differently, we all respond differently to assorted reprimands.

      I was not spanked as a child, but instead my mother tried to take away privileges. It didn't work at all. I firmly believe that I might have been a bit more well-behaved and respectful during my teenage years if some sort of groundwork had been laid earlier...

      I now have twin toddler boys and we have an absolutely strict set of rules to determine what's necessary as far as discipline. A combination of verbal reprimand, showing displeasure, and spanking work for us. If I spent my entire day explaining and taking things away, I'd live in a zoo with savages!

      We never spank out of anger or frustration
      It is appropriate if they have done something willfully disobedient (if they KNOW it's not allowed but they do it anyway. If it's a "new" concept then we verbally reprimand.)
      I give them three chances to behave and then let them know that the consequence will be a spank. Usually just me saying it is enough to get them to think twice.

      I've only spanked one of them VERY hard because he threw an absolute fit in the middle of a street with cars coming. I did take the time to explain to him after we were safely out of the way why that was very naughty, that he could have gotten hurt, etc.

      We also make points to never tell then they are "bad." They are good boys, but sometimes they do "naughty" things. We don't withhold affection after whatever offense it was, and we've had pretty good success with our method.

      Unfortunately I think that many people take it to the extremes. The key for us is picking our battles, but doing it with consistency and LOVE. Our boys are happy, healthy and well-behaved. Most importantly they know that they are unconditionally loved.

  14. Hi, I really appreciate your view point, you have made an excellent arguement, however, I am not in total agreement.

    I agree that people shouldn't beat their kids. However, I do think that a simple smack on the butt with the palm of your hands is acceptable. I have grown up getting a smack on my butt from my parents whenever I misbehaved as a child. I learnt quickly not to do it again. It didn't really hurt - I was never bruised, but it stung a bit, and I cried because I was caught doing naughty things, rather than from pain. I never got a belt or a paddling, and I am forever thankful.

    I personally believe that, when kids don't respond to verbal punishment or being put in a naughty corner or anything of the sorts, there really is only one option left. However, the reason I say 'a smack on the bum with the palms of one hand' is, because, then the parent can gauge the damage done, and it won't leave bruising or marks or anything. It is extremely effective.

    However, this is a child by child case. When i was a kid, I didn't respond to my mothers words, but my mothers palms. The naughty corner didn't work, but on my little brother, he responded well. He was only smacked if he did something very bad (like swearing at/about someone or biting).

  15. Interesting to read both the article and the comments, when I live in a country where it is illegal for a parent to hit/spank their child. It would be unthinkable here in Denmark to lay a hand on your child! Totally no-go. And I think we actually raise children quite well - can't even imagine a situation where I would use physical punishment to my children.

  16. My mother is in total denial that she physically and emotionally abused us and has accused my sister of being a liar. The only way I learnt to survive was to lie and turn on the waterworks to avoid being belted. If I had done something bad, my mother would belt me on the backside and back legs and then would take pride is showing the bruises to the person that I apparently had offended. One of my mother's threats whenever we dared to challenge her was that daughters always turned out like their mothers and that when we were mothers we would do the same. As a result I made a conscious decision never to become a mother. I was terrified of her and still am to this day. I keep secrets from her. I moved to the other side of the world and she knows nothing about my life. I am happy with who I am now but I didn't turn out ok. Not my a long chalk.

  17. My husband and I have an 8 year old son who's daddy does not hit for punishment, mummy is on anti-depressants with anger issues and needs to go to another room for chill out time every now and again. I have taught our son to tell me when I am becoming scary mad. He is used to me yellings at objects and then ahving me quickly turn to him and say "I'm not angry at you darling". Playing peoples bums as bongos on the other hand...
    When he was a new born we went (as a family) into a KFC to be witness to a mother holding one of her sons up by the wrist and beating him on the back and bum and then seeing the look on our and the other custermers faces dragged him into a corner to tick him off some more, I quickly walked out fearing that this crazy person would continue and had hubby call the police, I am glad to say thanks to the other custermers she was arrested (most likely given a warnin though).

    Recently a friend of a friend re-posted on facebook a mini rant from some-one who had been hit as a child and "turned out okay", my husband and I filmed the wedding of this person and her husband not that long ago, it was beautiful, romantic and festive and now I find out she thinks spanking is okay. I had to restrain my-self from starting an online argument with her. My mother was spanked and has told me of the day she took the broom from her mothers hands and threatened her back with it ending that cycle then to discover she hit my older sister who did not turn out okay who hit the child of two she was allowed to keep and she did not turn out okay, hert dughter in turn who after a being wed to her partner of 10 years instead of being a bride, dancing with her bow and letting some-one who was calm look after her son who was having a temper tantram from being over tired Beat Him in front of all the brides maids.
    I dispise that so many societies think this normal, that it's okay to hit some-one twice or three times smaller than you, some-one you are supposed to love, some-one in your care. I hate that I can't seem to make my-self heard here, it's illegal in Australia to hit Any-one of Any Age and it is incredably frustrating trying to explain that to people who wont bloody litsten. I think of the crazy lady in KFC and think "their friendship is not worth a childs suffering when bribes can be fun for all and explanations equal learning, call the police!". </rant