My Response to Your Comments on Spanking

September 19th, 2009 by Dionna | 13 Comments
Posted in Gentle/Positive Discipline, natural parenting, Respond with Sensitivity

Thanks for your comments!! I started to reply with a comment of my own, but it got so long I decided to make it a post instead.

Goodson Family – it is hard to be gentle sometimes. I have recently read about half of Naomi Aldort’s book “Raising Our Children Raising Ourselves” and try to keep in mind the simple fact that a lot of my hang-ups and frustrations stem from my own background; they are not Kieran’s fault. I’m really trying to practice taking a few deep breaths, stepping back, and letting whatever harsh words I was *going* to say run through my head before responding more gently.

Mindful Life – I love the story about Sofi and Walter. You are doing such a great job mama!

Mandy – you may not know this, but you’ve been my inspiration/role model for much of my gentle discipline path. I love watching the way you interact with your kids – it’s so obvious how much you love and respect them.

Jill – I do feel spanking is a pretty lazy way out. It takes a heck of a lot more patience and strength to parent gently than it does to be the authoritarian/control figure.

Lilly Rose – isn’t it awesome that your girls will someday be the “Brandon” (the one who is “better behaved”)?! It could be so easy to see “discipline problems” in the short term and use spanking as a quick fix behavior control, but it’s the long term/end result we should all be concerned about.

Abby – thank you. You are amazing with your daughter!!

Mom – I do think that Grandpa’s generation was different in that he might have been more in control of himself, but obviously I don’t think spanking is an effective form of discipline regardless. I also think it’s really helpful to remember that we can’t undo what’s been done – we have to remember that our actions leave lasting impressions. Every generation should learn from the previous one, I’m glad that I had you as a teacher.

Rebecca – re: the friends who do different things. I’m working really hard to be in a place where I acknowledge parenting practices that are different from my own as ok for those families (in other words, I’m trying not to be judgmental of different parenting methods). Of course I’d love for everyone to research their parenting philosophies and really use the best things for their families. Spanking, however, is one thing that is not “live and let live” for me. It’s abuse, no matter how you look at it. I can’t imagine that any decent person could give me valid arguments in favor of spanking. People can argue why they vaccinate according to the CDC schedule, why they use time outs or behavior charts or rewards, why they don’t have time or energy to use cloth diapers, etc. But spanking? Whole different ballgame.

And Amelia is such a sweet girl. What an awesome story.


One more aside, then I’ll put the topic to rest for today.

Tammy and I were chatting about this the other day and she said that she hated the “parental right” justification. She said, “well then, does that mean there is a spousal right? Can I beat my spouse because we are married?” I replied, “funny you should mention that, because there used to be a law that allowed a man to beat his wife, simply because they were married.” So why is it still ok to beat your children? It’s the same thing.

13 Responses to:
"My Response to Your Comments on Spanking"

  1. Lilly Rose

    Hear, hear!

    I say that spanking should stay in the bedroom where it belongs ;)

    However, on the spousal punishment, there are couples who engage in that consensually. But the key word is consent. Children cannot consent and honestly, it says something that some people cannot function fully and contentedly without violence in their lives, upon their person.

    They aren't even just people who were abused by the letter of the law, many speak of being hit (spanking is between adults, when it happens to a child, it's just hitting–using any other language, IMO, condones it as other) in the ways 'prescribed' by those who are in favor of physical punishment. However, that 'normal' amount has left a gap in their lives.

    But as you said, there are a lot of studies showing those things and people just don't care or don't believe. It's as though children just aren't human beings in their eyes…

    I totally agree that it's abuse and nothing else.

  2. Rebecca

    Okay, obviously, my comment was too long, as I got a very large red box saying so.

    I don't disagree with you, however, I saw one comment that started off with derogatory terms and nastiness rather than a reasoned and well thought out argument. There is no way to make inroads with others who practice different parenting skills, either in discipline, vaccination, or simple things like reading stories to your children, if you start with the premise that the other person is lazy, abusive, etc. I will say, I have been in the place where the only thing that seems logical in the very moment is to hit. I can understand why Amelia would hit. When the only tool that you have is a hammer, then every problem is a nail. If the only discipline tool that you have is spanking, then you see every infraction as a spanking offense.

    There, but for the grace of god go I.

    When your every moment is stressed to the max with having to get the basic needs, food, water, shelter, met for you and your child, then often research and options that are more time consuming are the farthest things from your mind. Its great that in two parent families, even if both parents work, that one parent likely has time and energy, to work towards a different (and likely more time consuming) discipline style.

    Insinuating or simply saying that someone is stupid or lazy because they have not done so hardly is good outreach. Would it be acceptable if your child called someone stupid or lazy, would you then redirect them and explain the different lives that others lead. It is a matter of education. But education must start from the place that the person being educated is at, not from where the educator is at. Placing your own bias on someone is hardly a way to educate them. If I try to teach Amelia to read, and start at my reading level, she will not be successful, she will only be successful if we start at the level she is at.

    Until we as grownups can engage in thoughtful debate about discipline styles and methods, (or even parenting in general) we simply cannot state that one parenting style has no positive points. Just like religion or politics. Certainly, I see no positive in WBC and their picketing. If you asked them, certainly they would see positives in both their message and manner. If I hate as they do, then that makes me no better than them.

  3. Rebecca

    Well, crap, I lost the rest of my comment, it did not copy the whole thing. Lets see if I can recreate the rest of it.

    Perhaps, I come at this from a different POV than others, because my life has been filled with seeing the nastiest of nasty. The most abusive, the most neglectful, and the most horrific. I could choose to imput my bias on that, to say that my job was to take the children away and to let the parents figure it out, that they were bad people. Hardly seems to serve the interest of my client, the State and People of Kansas. I have seen the worst of parents, with some education and some guidance come through as much better parents, some I would even venture to call good parents. Does it mean that I agree with their parenting choices, with their choices in partners, nope, does it mean that I empathized with where they started, that I recognized their struggles and worked toward the common goal. Yup. Would I love it if no one hit their children ever, sure, that would be awesome. Would I be satisfied if spanking continued and no one beat the ever loving shit out of a child ever again. ABSOLUTELY. Would I be thrilled if spanking existed and people did not perpetrate sexual abuse on kids. ABSOLUTELY. Do I think that there are perfectly wonderful parents who choose to keep spanking as a tool in their tool box. Yup. Do I wish they would get rid of it, sure. In the end, I guess, my experience leads me to believe there are bigger battles to fight.

    The world is not a black and white place, and to see discipline as black and white or any other parenting technique as black and white is the easy way out, just like spanking. I would say that even seeing spanking as all bad or all good, would be an easy way out, an instant gratification an instant judgment call that will effect only the short term…so taking a black and white view of spanking is basically spanking.

    Kids don't come with a manual, what works with one child does not work with another. It is no less harsh or judgmental to say that a certain method is "okay for their family," its the same as saying wrong. The method is simply "okay." Time out is okay, reward and behavior charts are okay, not using either is okay. not with qualification. Perhaps not a method you have chosen, but still okay. Unless we are perfect as parents, unless we have chosen and practice perfectly each and every method that has been proven to be the best for every child. Then we cannot say it is "okay for their family" perhaps then what we have chosen is just "okay for our family." It is no less judgmental or hurtful to say that is "okay for their family."

    These discussions are, to me, the worst thing about parenting. It is not my job to police what goes on in your home, or anyone elses. For me to take a black and white view of right and wrong is to discount the experience or inexperience of others.

    I guess in the end, I give credit to most parents, as doing the best they can, with what they got. If I have something I can offer to help them, great. I am going to do so without judging and without titling just because of one choice. If your child fails a math test, you don't use that one things to say that he or she is stupid. One choice that you feel is a failure is hardly the breaking point of good v. bad parenting.

    In law school we learned that the law is what the judge said it was. Parenting is not much different.

  4. Dionna

    Rebecca – I agree with you to a good extent. I do believe that we need to have peaceful, open discussions with others in order to change anything. I also agree that spanking is a resort used by many who struggle in other areas of their lives.

    I don't agree that I should be required to label every parenting practice as "okay." I'm sorry that you hear judgment when I say that something works for you while something different worked for us, but that's not my intent. Do I think someone else's way is "wrong"? Not necessarily. In our house, we have reasons to do things differently, and usually one of those reasons is because I've read up on something and have formed an opinion. My opinion doesn't make something right or wrong in general, it just makes something right or wrong for our family.
    For example, my mom and I were talking about vaccinations the other day. We haven't vax'd Kieran yet, but if he was in daycare, my choice would very likely be different. So when I say that full vax's "work for that family," I'm not making a value judgment about them, I'm simply acknowledging that they are in a different place than we are. Given different circumstances, I would probably do a lot of things differently.

    And I'm not damning every parent who raised their hand in anger to their child in a moment of weakness. We're all human, we've all done things we regret. The occasional moments of weakness when we cross a line aren't going to injure our children for life.

    Don't hate discussions like this – these are exactly the kinds of discussions *necessary* for positive change! If you don't talk about the bad, it will never even have a chance to become good.

  5. KansasMom

    Rebecca…if you start a blog of your own, let me know…you are as wonderful to read as Dionna is!!

  6. Mandy

    As a parent who practices consensual living, I neither punish nor reward my children. I merely treat them with respect and talk to them as I would any other person. I disagree with how many people treat their children, but I accept that those are their choices to make.

    However, I think that we, as individuals and as a society, cannot become complacent when it comes to VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN! I accept that many parents treat their children differently than I believe, but I will not tolerate being around, nor having my children around, such violence or even hearing about it (and this is not limited to "spanking").

    If someone came to my home and hit their wife, I wouldn't stand idly by. Neither will I stand by while someone hits their CHILD. It is not acceptable in my home. We would not stay at a home we were visiting if something like that happened.

    I can't buy the poverty or single parent line. Yes, life in general may very well be easier for families where two parents are available or where the parents have advanced degrees. However, hitting a child is a choice made by the individual. If poverty or single parenting was a true contributing factor (rather than culture, religion, experience, etc.), I wouldn't know all of the many wonderful single parents and parents barely scraping by who treat their children with the utmost respect and who would never lay a hand on their child.

    Taking a stand for children is in no way the same as hitting a child. Where would be if no one had stood against slavery or segregation(racial discrimination), if there was no women's rights movement (gender discrimination), or if no one stood up for the most defenseless of us all – children (a part of age discrimination)?

  7. Tammy

    Mom, Rebecca does have a blog! She hasn't been updating it lately (ahem, RG!), but maybe we can bug her into getting back into it.

    Speaking from a non-maternal point of view, I'm a little ashamed of my previous thoughts on spanking. Before Kieran was born, I thought it was the right of the parents to decide. Or, more correctly, I didn't really think about it at all. If someone asked, though, I'd probably just say, meh, it's up to the parents. I think until you have a child or a child in your life, you don't realize the implications of 'hitting a child.' It's just something that is part of a world that is foreign to you. I think that, in addition to being difficult to control and something that's acceptable historically, that could be part of why it doesn't get more negative attention.

  8. Rebecca

    I have thought long and hard today about whether or not I was going to post a bit in my own defense. I decided to issue a short retort (well, we shall see about short, not my strong point).

    My issues with this conversation have nothing to do with topic, nothing to do with having a discourse regarding parenting styles; but, they have everything to do with the manner in which the discourse is had and the vitriol that invariably accompanies it. That I hate.

    I don't think that hitting children is okay, ever. Its not a learning tool. Much like capital punishment, I doubt that it serves a deterrant effect (capital punishment does not), its not cost effective (capital punishment is not, though the 'cost' is quite different). It does not serve its intended purpose.

    Do I think that we, as a society, should speak out against it. Sure. Do I think that the sentences should start with words like 'lazy' or 'uncreative.' Nope. Never. Not once.

    Do I speak out against it every day. Yes. I suppose that my diatribe (I think that is the only appropriate word for it) would make it appear that my position is that the collective you should mind your own business. That is not my position at all.

    My entire life, as a professional, has been in the world of child welfare. I have prosecuted people for hitting children, I have removed their children from their home, sometimes for things less physically damaging than spanking (though, no less emotionally damaging). I have seen the pictures of babies, dead, because someone didn't take a step back and think about what they were doing before they whacked the shit out of them; potentially more sad, are the pictures of the children who survived the beatings, the whites of their eyes blood red, covered in bruises, harmed physically and emotionally in ways that I cannot fathom. I have met and talked to the child who watched her baby sister killed at the hands of her mother's boyfriend. I have told the parent of the 3 year old sexual assault victim that while I believed it, I couldn't prosecute it. I have looked that mother in the eye and listened patiently while she told me all the ways that I was a miserable human being because I as a representative of the system had failed her child. I patiently explained the surpreme court's reasons for making findings that required me to put that 3 year old on the stand; and the reasons why I didn't think that was good for anyone.

    I have counseled parents on appropriate parenting skills (you know, those ones that are 'okay' the ones that you don't agree with but that are 'alright for their family'). And *gasp* I have counseled parents and said, the State of Kansas does no prohibit corporal punishment, but using a wooden spoon is not the best way; that at least if you hit with your hand you know how hard you hit.

    I have held children in full body casts, I have watched them roll around and play in those casts without an understanding of the fact that the injuries they sustained HURT. Of course, knowing that there must have been much worse pain in that child's life, if being in a cast from armpit to hip at less than 2, didn't cause them a moment's pause.

    I speak out daily. I speak out in ways that are hurtful. I give presentations on teaching your children to be safe. Why its not okay to teach "stranger danger" what to look for to see if someone is grooming your child to be their next victim of sexual assault.

    Why do I do it? Not because I think we should sit idly by and condone dangerous and ineffective behaviors. Not because I feel good at the end of the day. Not because I want to have a job that causes me to talk about the weather at dinner, because if we talk about what we really see and hear all day, Amelia becomes concerned that someone will burn her skin off in the bathtub (the day that George and I stopped talking about our jobs).

    Why do I do it? Because that child in the cast, or with the blood red eyes does not have a voice. He deserves it. She deserves it. Forgive me if I think that there are bigger fish to fry.

  9. Dionna

    I completely understand that there are varying degrees of abuse, and your job is to take care of the worst of the worst. That doesn't mean that eliminating the issue of spanking is a minor issue or small fry. In fact, I would argue that spanking is even *more* important to eliminate. Why? Because it is a rare case that any child ends up in a body cast, or is killed, or has her skin burnt off, or any other number of horrible things, without years of spanking preceding those outcomes. If we could educate parents/caregivers about the dangers of physical discipline – ANY physical discipline – early, perhaps you wouldn't have to deal with the ones that end up taking things much further.

  10. Rebecca

    I'm not sure that I have in any way made the point that I originally intended.

    Spanking = not okay.

    Taking a stand against physical abuse in all shapes and forms = okay.

    Education starting where the educator is = not okay.

    Using shame as a tool for education = not okay.

    Starting with the big battles, and working toward the smaller, seems to work best in all parts of my life.

    I disagree that the major issues that I described started with spanking as a general rule. Some yes, the ones in particular that I described. No.

  11. Dionna

    Regardless of whether the specific instances of abuse you've witnessed started with parents spanking, it seems research supports the premise that spanking is the "gateway drug" to more severe child abuse.

    "Mothers who said in a telephone survey that they or a domestic partner spanked their children were 2.7 times as likely (95% CI 1.2 to 6.3) to report more overtly abusive behaviors, relative to non-spanking parents."
    and "Dr. Zolotor and colleagues also found an association between frequency of spanking and reports of harsher abuse. For each additional spanking episode per year, they reported, there was a 3% increase (95% CI 1% to 6%) in the likelihood that stronger punishments were also used in the household."

    "More than one-third of all parents who start out with relatively mild punishments end up crossing the line drawn by the state to define child abuse: hitting with an object, harsh and cruel hitting, and so on. Children, endowed with wonderful flexibility and ability to learn, typically adapt to punishment faster than parents can escalate it, which helps encourage a little hitting to lead to a lot of hitting."

    And support for starting with the smaller behaviors (by a spanking ban, for instance, rather than dealing with the smaller numbers of escalated violence at the back end): "And it's naive to think that comprehensive bans are comprehensively effective. Kids still get hit in every country on earth. But especially because such bans are usually promoted with large public campaigns of education and opinion-shaping (similar to successful efforts in this country to change attitudes toward littering and smoking), they do have measurable good effects. So far, the results suggest that after the ban is passed, parents hit less and are less favorably inclined toward physical discipline, and the country is not overwhelmed by a wave of brattiness and delinquency. The opposite, in fact. If anything, the results tell us that there's less deviant child behavior."

    I appreciate the fact that you work with the severe cases of violence; I'm simply advocating for starting at the place that the vast majority of parents are who employ physical discipline – spanking. It seems to me we are actually in agreement on this point.

  12. Mandy

    Abuse of a subset of the population will continue as long as that subset is viewed as less than the society as a whole.

  13. Monty

    I have read these great comments from both sides, I take it Rebecca that you work for CPS? I do not believe in any state provided child service or CPS anymore due that I have spent over 2 and half years dealing with over 50 reports against the mother of my grandson for neglect, abuse, endangerment and so on. When does the state take responsibility and say enough is enough (I am in TEXAS by the way). It took two years in court to finally get custody of Dillon. My family raising was very good, I was the one that was bad, in no way at all did my DAD and MOM (Land-of-Oz you mom) spank, beat they made choices, or anything of that nature to me for what I was doing as a child, where I ended was my doing. I have been in the states welfare, the states need to pay attention to what and who they hire in those systems!!! No one in my family knows exactly what I went through in those group homes or the state home, they know bits and pieces, and that is where I leave it.
    As far as poverty and rich, single and together, there are many differences, by no means am I rich and I am not single, I have been where families only have hotdogs and beans for all three meals, I have had steak as well. The stressors of being in the poverty level are very hard,(Mandy you said it very educated) you are looked on as society scum. People in this world need to look both directions, up and down and at THEMSELVES before making judgement. It will take a century of teachings to recreate this world back to Adam and Eve.
    By no means do I condone abuse, this is my question, is smacking the butt with your hand or swatting a hand (and dont take out of context) to get the attention that rationalizing with your child did not work, getting that toy back and giving it to the one child that is crying because he/she had it first and your child was rude and not taking others feelings into consideration after being taught many times, how about when they go and grab that knife or hot stove that is just at their fingertips (out of curiosity because they see mom and dad do it and not that you left it in thier reach) and yell loudly “Hey dont do that”. Is this type of correction wrong or am I a bad parent or grandparent?, that is my question.

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