Today I have a need to write about something that has been bugging me. I have dictated this topic in my mind, changing the approach and wording many times. Why so much stress? Too many people take my opinions/beliefs/convictions as if they are a personal attack against the way they choose to live. Listen, this is my blog about my life and that is what I am writing about. It is my opinion. Nobody should ever feel like I am using this as a soapbox to attack others. The way I live my life is based on my personal circumstances.
Parenting & Disciplining your child.
I have noticed, and partook in the facebook battle regarding "spanking". Personally, I am adamantly against spanking. I believe spanking comes from a parents level of frustration and inability to handle the given situation. Often the parents who spank their children were also spanked as children. It has become a type of family culture in regards to disciplining that is often believed to have no negative affect on the child except in teaching respect. Many of these people choose to ignore scientific studies that prove that an "innocent" spank has long term emotional and mental side effects. Why? Because they genuinely believe that they themselves are perfectly healthy and fine. I believe those parents simply do not have the proper 'tools' to understand how to handle a given situation differently when they are faced with their child acting inappropriately or unacceptably.
I am firmly against spanking however I do not believe it qualifies as child abuse. There is a fine line between discipline and abuse. Sometimes it is all in the eyes of the beholder. I remember when Gabe was around 5 years old, we were at the park and he asked me to play with him because there weren't any kids his age to play with. I was having a good day so I indulged him. There was another child at the park, much younger than Gabe, and his Father was pushing him on the swings. Gabe and I were laughing and having fun. I pushed him on the swings, chased him around and cheered him on at the bottom of the slide. I remember that I was trying to catch him and after I did I spanked him butt in jest and Gabe giggled, squirmed free and kept running. At that point the Dad looked at me with a dirty look, picked up his child and left the park. He looked at me as if I had just committed a horrible act that he would not let him child be a witness of. It was crazy! Gabriel was laughing! Surely this man could not think that I actually hit my child! This was my first lesson on how serious the "Spanking Debate" has become.
In the past few years I have read so many responses regarding Spanking. In different parenting web groups I have encountered what I call "Extremists". Parents who believe that timeouts are a form of abuse. What's a time out? Remember that TV show Supernanny with Jo Frost? She helped many families regain control in their homes by giving structure. When children acted up inappropriately IE: temper tantrums or breaking rules Jo Frost taught the parents how to enforce a proper time out. Time outs give the child and parent a few minutes to calm down and think rationally. A timeout can be an effective tool for discipline because it can teach the child how to self moderate their emotions and that there is a negative consequence to inappropriate behaviours. Once the child is calmed from their time out the parent is then able to speak calmly to the child about why their actions were not acceptable and the child can calmly apologize or talk it out with their parent. As with any "tool" a timeout can be used in the wrong way, creating more harm than good. One of those "Extremists" parents I mentioned earlier explained to me why she believes timeouts are abusive. She believes it is emotional abuse to send a child out of the room, to either a corner or their bedroom, to sit in isolation for a designated amount of time until they conform. Like I said "extremist". When I explained to her about the proper way to give a time out and it's ultimate purpose she replied with "That's not the time outs I have heard about. That sounds like you are calming your child down and then talking to him." Um, yeah that's what a time out is. What I learned from talking to her is that many people simply do not know how to give a timeout or understand what the goal of it is. Yes, if done wrong I can see how it can cause emotional abuse. If a child acts out, for example you tell them to clean up their toys but they don't want to so instead they make a bigger mess and throw a temper tantrum (typical child behaviour right?), and you respond with yelling at them to go sit in the corner until they calm down. Now, while they are in the corner you ignore them and if they move out of it you are redirecting them back to the corner - yes this can go on for a long time with a stubborn child. So far I do not see the abuse but I guess the abuse comes when you ignore the child and demean their feelings. I do understand that if you release a child from a time out without have a calm conversation about their behaviour then the whole meaning of the timeout is lost. If you want to read up more about Timeouts I have found this article in Parents.com that shows how a parent can mess it up and how to properly utilize this tool when needing to discipline your child's unwanted behaviours. http://www.parents.com/toddlers-preschoolers/discipline/time-out/why-time-out-is-out/
Personally I have tried to help my kids learn how to calm down when their emotions are getting the best of them. Sometimes children just do not know how to calm down from their tantrums. My children have been known to act out more strongly when they are caught up in the midst of an emotional tantrum, saying and doing things they ordinarily wouldn't if they were calm. Sometimes the timeout just doesn't give them what they need. So, I take time to figure out what they need to calm down. Is it a hug? Do they need a chance to vent? Are they simply tired and emotionally burnt out? I was able to teach my older son meditation breathing, slow, deep, cleansing breaths to calm down and then be able to talk it out. For example he would be doing his homework but struggling with a concept or with neatness. He would start hitting the table, try snapping a pencil in half or begin degrading himself saying that he was stupid. When I would try to help his emotions would escalate and he would lash out. So, I would give him a timeout and tell him to take five deep cleansing breaths. Once he was calmed down we could handle the homework with him able to listen to my help and encouragement. My younger son has a speech disorder so the "talking it out" makes him more emotional because he doesn't have the words to express what is going on with him, especially if he is overly emotional. For him, I sit in the time out with him, holding him on my lap because he would not have stayed in the chair otherwise and I would have calmed him down by reassuring him that I was there for him and will listen to him when he finds his words again. Often if he didn't have the language to express himself I would need to let him up from the chair so he could show me what was going on.
No matter the situation it is obvious that I need to keep a level head and calm emotional being to be able to effectively discipline my children.
Obviously a time out is not a reward, yes it is a type of punishment but at least it is not a punishment that demoralizes our children. It's purpose is to teach the child that their behaviour is not acceptable and that they themselves can correct their own behaviour by calming down and thinking rationally. Heavy stuff for a 5 year old to figure out, right? That is why we are the parents and they are the kids. As parents we are tasked with raising happy, healthy, and capable people. It is up to us to give them the tools they need to succeed in life. As adults we know you cannot resolve conflicts with physical conflict. So why spank a child to resolve their behaviour?
As adults we have a set of rules, laws, to follow and if we break them there are consequences. Earlier this past week a NY man was being arrested for the illegal sale of cigarettes. When a police officer tried to handcuff him the man pulled free, resisting arrest. The police officer then used excessive force by putting the man into a choke hold. Some of you might think that this has nothing to do with disciplining a child with spanking but I believe that one can lead to the other. Police Officers are respected individuals to enforce our governing laws. A Parent is an individual whose responsibility is to enforce household laws. No one, not even an officer enforcing the law, is allowed to lay a hand on us in a manner of excessive force! So why then do so many think it is okay to lay a hand on a child to teach them to behave? Who determines what is excessive force? In the case of the Police Officer executing a choke hold it was acknowledged that the department placed a ban on this maneuver in 1994.
In NJ the Department of Children and Family services details - Abuse is the physical, sexual or emotional harm or risk of harm to a child under the age of 18 caused by a parent or other person who acts as a caregiver for the child. Read this link to have a detailed definition regarding abuse http://www.state.nj.us/dcf/reporting/links/. It should also be stated that spanking is not technically illegal. This was recently proved in a case where a father was brought up on charges of abuse but won the case in appellate court. A New York state appellate court made a ruling of "reasonable use of force" in a case regarding a father who used an open-handed spanking of his 8 year old son at a party after the son cursed at another adult. In my opinion, if it was my son who cursed at an adult I would be furious with him. I do not know if I agree that this was a case of "reasonable use of force". I believe this child learned that in this situation his father showed him a lack of respect, humiliation in public, and that violence resolves conflicts. How did the 8 year old learn the curse word and why would he use it at the adult? Did the father first learn about the situation from the child's perspective or did he just react? There is a lot that we do not know about this situation because the state could not prove their case of abuse. Yes, this child needed some strong and appropriate discipline because no matter what he needs to show respect for his elders. However I cannot help but wonder if this is behaviour he learned at home and what the adult did to cause the child to disrespect him so strongly. Does this father respect his child and his emotions? As a legal matter it is obvious that the state simply could not support the case of abuse. That doesn't make the use of spanking right or legal but it doesn't make it illegal either. It really is a case by case situation.
This past week the Today Show did a story on Spanking stemming from the court case. The Today Show anchors Natalie Morales and Al Roker admitting to spanking their own children a few times but only in extreme cases where they were emotionally upset with fear that their child could get hurt like running out into a street in front of an oncoming car. Al Roker admitted to feeling horribly after each incident and apologized to his child for overreacting because he was scared for them. Both anchors admitted to being spanked as a child. Willie Geist admitted to also being spanked as a child and believes it is a "Generational" even though he has never disciplined his own children that way.
I believe spanking will always be a hot topic and it should be. Spanking is not necessarily abuse but it is scientifically proven to cause mental harm. I never needed the science to prove that spanking is harmful to children's well being because I am so strongly against it for one basic thought process "No one is allowed to hurt my children, not me and not even themselves when they get emotional and want to hurt themselves." I find spanking a demeaning form of discipline that fits more for the parents frame of mind than as a tool to teach the child. Like the Today Show anchors admitted about their state of mind when they spanked their child, they were emotional and scared. Spanking is more about assuaging the parents frame of mind and emotional status but in that moment it also teaches the child that the parent is capable of causing physical harm to them and then claiming they love them. I find it absurd that a parent can rationalize love and physical harm in the same sentence. Unfortunately, parents who spank are just repeating the type of discipline from how they were raised. 50 years ago spanking was a normal and acceptable form of discipline. Parents had their own gray matter spanked out of them so they do not have the "tools" to handle the situation differently. Honestly, I feel sorry for these individuals but ultimately as adults you become responsible for yourself and cannot rely on the old saying "But I was spanked and I survived it!" I think that is the one phrase that annoys me the most.
Obviously, you did not survive unscathed from being spanked. The studies prove this even if you are in self denial. The debate about spanking can go on and on. Ultimately it is up to the parents to figure out how to change the pattern. Educate yourself. The best anecdote I have is about my Grandmother (my Mothers, Mom). She was a nurse back in the day when smoking was allowed in the hospital. Since then we have learned that not only is smoking bad for your health, causes Cancer but it is now illegal to smoke in a Hospital. Times changed, we learned by science and statistics and we adapt. The debate can and should continue. With the debates more parents are being educated about the ill effects of spanking. Parents also have more resources for alternative discipline techniques. Maybe in the next 50 years we will see a gray matter spike because less adults were spanked as children therefore they have a better ability to handle conflict.