|The Pick-Up-The-Kid-N-Go method.|
(Photo by Kevin Miller)
Reading over it again, I realized I missed one obvious argument: “Well, if it stopped her from hitting you, wouldn’t it be worth it?”
Except that wasn’t what happened. In the days that followed, Silver ratcheted up the hitting. I don’t know if my example had made it acceptable to her, or if she liked it because she realized it was an easy way to provoke me, or if she had her own toddler logic, but it took me weeks of NOT hitting her in response to undo what I had done in a single flash of suspended judgment.
I wrote this post while visiting my father-in-law in Florida. He happens to be a developmental psychologist, and he read it the next day. (In fact, my husband was raised by two developmental psychologists, which must explain why he’s so calm and balanced. I find it immensely reassuring that he finds our kids exasperating and mentally exhausting sometimes, too.)
My father-in-law talked with me about some of the current research on spanking. He noted that much research shows an increase in aggression in children who are spanked, but that one researcher in particular, Diana Baumrind, cast doubt on this connection. Baumrind’s 2001 study on the effects of spanking,* which is well-respected for its thorough methodology, demonstrates that “an occasional swat, when delivered in the context of good child-rearing, has not been shown to do any harm.” From a New York Times article:
Dr. Baumrind described findings from her own research, an analysis of data from a long-term study of more than 100 families, indicating that mild to moderate spanking had no detrimental effects when such confounding influences were separated out. When the parents who delivered severe punishment—for example, frequently spanking with a paddle or striking a child in the face—were removed from the analysis, Dr. Baumrind and her colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Owens, found that few harmful effects linked with spanking were left. And the few that remained could be explained by other aspects of the parent-child relationship.
“When parents are loving and firm and communicate well with the child,” Dr. Baumrind said, “the children are exceptionally competent and well adjusted, whether or not their parents spanked them as preschoolers.”
My problem here is that, for me, spanking came out of a place of anger and frustration, and I can see all too clearly the slippery slope that such an “easy and fast” discipline method can lead to. Escalation from “an occasional swat” seems inevitable.
Would it have made a difference if I had spanked my daughter in a calm mental state rather than a heated one? I will never know. But if I am calm enough to rationally apply spanking, then I am calm enough to use alternative methods of discipline. If I am not calm enough to use those methods, then I am not calm enough to spank, and I have to walk away.
The temptation of spanking is that it is a quick enforcement of an ignored “No!” But oftentimes a child’s misbehavior has an underlying cause, an unmet need or unexpressed emotion. If my choice, when I am calm and rational, is to quickly enforce my will with a spanking, or sit with my child to find the root cause of her anger, I will choose the latter.
This requires a luxury of time that I don’t always have, but as a middle-class American WAHM of only 2 children, I probably can indulge in this luxury more than many parents. My choice means probably several “wasted” hours, waiting for children to blow out their tantrums. And I do mean hours. My daughter, in particular, has hurricane-level tantrums, and each one can take at least an hour to blow out.
Many families don’t have this luxury of time. A parent who has to get to a shift on time, or a school-aged child who will be punished for excessive tardies, or a parent overwhelmed with caring for multiple children or even multiple generations... the list of exceptions is long. (In the cases when I simply can’t wait, I pick up my child and we just go, kicking and screaming all the way.)
Ultimately, however, I cannot conscience teaching my children not to hit by hitting them. It will likely be years until I know if I have made the right choices. Or I may never know. But every day that I don’t spank my kids, my heart is at peace. I’m not sure I can say that about any other aspect of my parenting.
*I haven’t checked to see if this study has been updated. I do have issues with the fact that the demographics of this study are homogenous, and that the researchers only tracked the children until the age of 14. My own “detrimental effects” of spanking didn’t appear to myself until I had my own children.