This started out as a conversation about spanking on a friend’s Facebook wall a few weeks ago, Emily Jones from Colorado Moms. I copied and pasted my comments into a new blog post here, saw that I’d typed up nearly 800 words already, and figured that a few tweaks to make it more coherent without quoting the opposing viewpoint would actually make for a pretty good read. Here goes:
Inflicting pain as a method of behavioral control is not only harmful to children’s psyches, but it sends the wrong message. The child doesn’t learn not to do something because what they did was wrong/disrespectful/dangerous/etc. They learn that they don’t want to get caught doing it so they don’t spanked again.
In our house, we try to make consequences relevant to the behavior. “Let the punishment fit the crime.” And because TJ’s Asperger’s works a lot like mine does, I know he tortures himself more than we ever could when he gets caught doing something he knows he shouldn’t have been doing, so I ask him what he thinks would be an appropriate punishment. After a recent computer-related offense, once he finally stopped sobbing, he first suggested 4 days with no computer, but immediately changed it to a week. I accepted that, and we watched an online safety video together to reinforce WHY we have certain rules.
An argument was made by another mom that if her kids were allowed to choose their own consequences, they’d hand her a toy they never play with anymore and ask for it to be taken away for a month. My response?
Well, a toy they never play with wouldn’t be relevant to the behavior unless it was one of several toys thrown in anger. Suggested punishments aren’t automatically accepted unless I feel they’re sufficient and demonstrate an understanding of what was done wrong. Although even if my son were to hit or kick someone (he doesn’t do any of that) I feel it would be more appropriate for him to have to write a sincere apology letter to the person he hurt, read it to me out loud so he has to experience the words again and I know he feels proper remorse, and have him personally hand the letter to the aggrieved party. THAT’S hard. He’s only had to write a letter for hurting his cousin’s feelings once, but he got the lesson.
There’s also an issue with bodily autonomy. How can I teach my kid about inappropriate touching and relationship violence if I exert that exact kind of authority I’m warning him to avoid/tell someone about? It’s not okay to hit people or for people to hit you, except for when I do it? It’s not okay for people to touch your swimsuit area or for you to touch someone else’s swimsuit area, except for when I spank your butt? It just doesn’t jibe with the life-long lessons I’m trying to instill in him.
Going back to the previously mentioned incident where TJ sentenced himself to a week with no computer… I was definitely going to take his computer away for a few days, but not a week, and have that talk with him about WHY it’s not okay for him to have a reddit account (!) – but he was already sobbing and saying “don’t kill me, Mommy!” (where’d he get THAT from?) from the moment I announced a random browser history check after he took his laptop into his room. I actually had to calm him down before we could even start talking about consequences.
I don’t see any difference between hitting and spanking. Both hurt. (I think I was spanked twice in my whole childhood.) And kids don’t split semantic hairs about things like pain.
I got my Master’s in psychology, and I worked with kids in a psychiatric hospital for a few years. Granted, those kids were often BEATEN severely by their parents or caregivers before they made it to us, but when they acted out, they acted out what they knew: physical aggression. I was punched in the stomach (hard) by the same kid on two separate occasions. Apparently, I reminded him of his mother. (I’d lived a fairly sheltered life up until then and hadn’t considered the fact that his mother might be white.) But there were countless other occasions when other kids had to be taken to the seclusion room because they were hitting/slapping/punching/throwing things. I always hated having to be a part of that. We all knew they were recreating past traumas a lot of the time.
And as I previously mentioned having been spanked only twice as a child, I still remember those times VIVIDLY. And I would always cry when I did something wrong and BEGGED not to be spanked. (And back then, spanking was still a recommended form of punishment.) They never left permanent marks or anything like that. The sting went away relatively quickly, but I tend to create my own trauma, and it was traumatic enough that I promised myself I’d never spank my own kids. Trauma works differently with my genetic predispositions and the wiring of my brain. Even with my psych background, I wouldn’t have labeled any of the things I ruminate about as PTSD… but I have PTSD from a million little traumas, instead of one big one. The thing is? YOU NEVER KNOW what’s going on in your kid’s head. You don’t know how they’ll internalize things. I don’t want my son to EVER associate me with inflicting pain.
I know I’m not likely to change the minds of parents who spank their kids, especially since I can imagine the amount of rationalization it takes to justify hurting your child isn’t something that can be deprogrammed by reading a few paragraphs from someone on the Internet…but maybe it can help new and expecting parents to make a more informed decision about the types of behavioral consequences they use as their kids get older.