My son was 18 months old when I spanked him. It had been a long day, my patience was thin and I still had a list a mile long of things that needed to be accomplished before I called it a night. I don’t even remember what my toddler did, but in a moment of frustration, I smacked his bottom. And I immediately regretted it. His startled screams ripped through our home. I grabbed him, held him and cried with him. I couldn’t apologize enough. Had I just taught my son a lesson or made him afraid of Mommy?
Obviously, I’m not the only parent to spank a child. According to a 2014 UNICEF report, as many as 80 percent of parents around the world spank their children.
But 50 years of research now shows that spanking kids does way more harm than good. Experts at The University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan released a study earlier this year that was published in the Journal of Family Psychology and concluded that the more a child is spanked, the more likely he is to experience increased antisocial behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, and to defy his parents — essentially the opposite of what parents hope to achieve.
And the American Academy of Pediatrics officially advises against any form of physical discipline because evidence shows that it’s ineffective and can create aggressive behaviors in children.
My husband and I agreed early on that spanking wouldn’t be used as a means of discipline in our household. My response to my son’s behavior that night was completely reactionary — and took even me totally by surprise.
Using other types of discipline is not easy. My husband and I have worked very hard to manage our levels of frustration, to have more patience with our son and to modify his bad behavior through distractions and explanations.
Research shows that the most effective forms of discipline are those that teach children to control their behavior through internal measures. So spanking doesn’t teach him real consequences, or even how to control his behavior.
How does one teach a child to control his behavior? Talk to your pediatrician. He can help you develop strategies, understand what behavior is developmentally realistic for your child at each age and stage and find positive behaviors to praise.
Effective tools may include things we’ve all tried but that we need to stick to like timeouts and showing the consequences of a bad behavior. For instance, if a child refuses to pick up her room, try removing all the toys left out.
Those on the other side of the spanking issue who see nothing wrong with it as a disciplinary tactic were often spanked as children and have a false belief that it’s effective (especially if it scares the child into correcting the behavior in that instance).
Sure, I’ve thought, “I was spanked, and I turned out fine,” and I honestly don’t think I’ve caused my son any sort of permanent damage with the one spanking incident. However, it has made me re-evaluate how I parent. The spanking happened in a moment of weak- ness, not while I was assuming my leadership role as Mom or modeling acceptable behavior. I don’t want my son to think that it’s OK to hit someone who frustrates him.
Every parent blows up at some point. So sometimes, we need to take a timeout ourselves instead of rushing to react. Take a minute to cool off. Leave the room and count to 10. Showing anger isn’t going to do long-term harm to your kids, but striking them just might.
After all, we send people to jail for hitting a spouse, so why is it ever OK to raise a hand to a child?