Responding, not reacting

I'm sorry things got so icky yesterday. The irony that I was shocked that someone would hit their child to get them to stop hitting, and then I was forceful while trying to get someone to rethink discipline isn't lost on me.

I should have phrased myinitial comment about the spanking differently. I hope people do feel safe here, and for the record, I think almost everyone has the best intentions for their kids. It doesn't mean we're always doing the best thing, though, so I'm hoping we can all help each other improve*. In hindsight, I should have commented something more like "Hitting to teach your child not to hit doesn't make a lot of logical sense to me. Is there a reason you chose spanking over a different discipline method?"

Everyone doing the best for their own kid doesn't mean that there aren't some practices that are better absolutely, and some that are worse. Spanking "works" in the short run, but all it teaches the kid is that their bodies aren't safe with their parents (which sets them up for all sorts of strange body stuff later on), and that they need to do what their parents tell them or else they'll be hurt. It's not teaching internal controls or decision-making.

I think the effects on the parents are almost worse, though. Think about how bad you feel when you accidentally hurt your child (whether it's stepping on their foot by mistake, or doing the reflexive hitting thing). To consciously decide that physically hurting your child is the way you're going to interact with them removes your authority as a parent. All you have is your physical power over them, and as soon as they're bigger than you are your authority evaporates. Plus it sucks you into a dysfunctional little control game. It doesn't matter what kind of rules you concoct about how you hit them, it's still using pain to control someone else, and that's a weak position for a parent to be in.

If you're reading this wondering how on earth you're going to get cooperation without spanking, there are all sorts of other discipline techniques that are going to increase the connection between you and your child instead of building up walls the way spanking (and hot-saucing and all the other punishments that rely on pain) does. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, please please go look at Sharon Silver's site www.proactiveparenting.net. She's spent the last 17 years figuring out discipline methods for that age that honor both of you and help you live a relationship of fullness with each other. If your kids are 4 or older, check out either (or all) Haim Ginott's Between Parent and Child, Lawrence Cohen's Playful Parenting, or Faber and Mazlish's How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. They are not going to solve all your problems and make you a SuperParent overnight. But they will help reframe things for you so you can start to figure out how to motivate and discipline your own kid in a way that helps both of you grow as people.

I hope no one thought I felt that the commenter who posted about spanking is a bad person or a bad parent. But I do wish she'd consider the very real repercussions of spanking, and explore some methods that work better, because I think it would help her relationship with her child and her development as a parent.

* And I'm glad I learned something about the study showing that giving a substitute for the physical aggression isn't effective. Now I'm really trying to figure out if my great success with the dog-chew toy wasn't more about the distraction than the substitution of something to bite. Any thoughts on that?