Is spanking ever the best choice for achieving our long-term goals as parents?
According to a recent national poll, a majority of Canadian parents spank their kids. Though the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child urges all its nations to eradicate spanking, Canadian law does not prohibit it. But rather than wade carelessly into the legal, political or moral quagmire of whether or not children should be spanked, it may be valuable to simply pose this question: with all the other options available to us, is spanking ever the best choice to achieve our goals as parents?
Keep goals in mind
Though each family has its own set of values based more or less on their cultural background and shared history, all parents essentially share similar long term goals for their kids. We all want our children to grow into thoughtful, honest, happy adults leading productive, meaningful lives. In the meantime, we need our children to be at the very least tolerable, and at best, enjoyable company. This includes behaving in socially acceptable ways both in the home and out. Using an aggressive physical intervention like spanking may stop undesirable behaviour in the moment, but does it truly serve that long-term goal? While good behaviour is gratifying, it is only a means to the greater end. Keeping our eye on the bigger picture we have for our kids will go a long way in determining the methods we use to get us there.
Meanwhile, our children’s goals include expanding their repertoire of experiences, building skills and having fun, while making positive connections with others. Your children want to feel successful in life. They need to learn how. A large part of our role as parents is to teach them. The best way to teach is to model desirable qualities – respect, integrity, perseverance, empathy, etc., – and to explain why these qualities are important, so that children can listen, watch, imitate and ultimately internalize those positive lessons. As apprentice adults, children require time to become their best selves. They need to be allowed to make plenty of mistakes while knowing that the consequences of those errors will be natural and fair, rather than frightening or hurtful.
What does spanking teach?
Spanking is essentially hitting. Therefore, the first thing we are teaching our children when we spank them is that hitting is okay. And yet, hitting is not okay. It is never acceptable for a child to hit – childcare centres, summer programs and schools all across the country invest millions of hours teaching children ways to manage their feelings and relationships with others without hitting. In the adult world, the natural consequence of being tardy for work or failing to submit an assignment would never include being hit by one’s employer. Clearly, teaching how to hit is a distinct obstacle to achieving the greater goal of supporting our child in becoming a thoughtful adult.
Communication that fosters cooperation is the most effective teaching tool we have. Spanking, on the other hand, completely cuts off all opportunity for constructive conversation. There can be no mutually respectful discussion when one of the two parties involved is being hit. Many adults who were spanked as children will confirm that knowing they would get spanked for doing wrong simply made them good at not getting caught.
Any aggressive, threatening act, such as spanking, will cause a child heightened anxiety. Studies show that this increased level of internal stress significantly reduces the child’s ability to understand the lesson in a situation. Children who have been spanked or humiliated, when questioned later, have little or no idea of the motive behind the punishment and will most often say they were punished simply, “because I was bad.”
Making superior choices
Effective parenting is rarely easy and often requires nearly super human quantities of resourcefulness and patience. Some of the toughest choices we’re called upon to make for our children have little to do with what they wear or which sport they play, but rather with how we treat them. Choosing to nurture the enduring lessons may be harder than acting out the quick fix, but it will prove so much more rewarding in the end.
Spanking: Ways to Stop Before You Start
- Be proactive – intervene early to avoid having to punish; put breakables/unsafe items away
- Establish ground-rules – be clear, firm and consistent to reduce disputes
- Use distraction – be ready with small games, toys, songs, or snacks during boring outings like appointments, grocery shopping or long trips
- Swap before you swat – trade appropriate items with youngsters who have managed to get their hands on precious objects
- Use your size to quickly defuse situations – carry uncooperative toddlers, hold hands back from hurting others, separate brawling youngsters
- Divert a potential smack – hit the tabletop or clap your hands loudly to attract attention or make an important point rather than hitting
- Be gentle but firm – defuse confrontational behaviour with a quiet, face-to-face conversation that is clear and determined
- Take a time-out – try to avoid losing your temper – escape to the bathroom, basement or outside if possible
- Use time-in – give added attention/care to a child who is unable to manage his/her emotions in any given situation – be ready with comfort when anger turns to tears
- Use natural consequences –allow children [within reason] to experience the consequences of their actions, e.g. forgotten schoolwork, unfinished chores
- Communicate – explain as simply as possible your own motivations for wanting certain behaviours or attitudes from a child