I started out hitting my kids. I would lose my temper when their behavior got out of my control, and I would hit. I never felt good about it, but I didn’t know what else to do. I thought it was effective because afterward I had regained control of the situation. I believed that I had to hit my children in order to control them and control seemed so important then. But it just didn’t feel right.
Giving up spanking required me to be willing to acknowledge, in conflicts with my children, that my own attitudes or beliefs may be contributing to the conflict. And, I had to learn to talk to my children in a new, more cooperative way–this took time.
TALKING IN A NEW WAY
Learning to talk to my children in a new way meant that I had to get comfortable with strong emotions and be willing to talk about anything. I also had to learn how to rebound from anger and to reconcile with my children afterwards. Not easy tasks.
When we can appreciate that our children also have good reasons for their behavior, as misguided as it may appear, it allows us to approach them with compassion. That way we are more likely to frame our arguments as suggested by Haim Ginott decades ago:
- Express nuances of anger without nuances of insult.
- Talk to the situation, not the character of the person.
- Disagree without being disagreeable.
- Change a mood, not a mind.
JUST SAYING NO TO SPANKING
Despite the irrefutable evidence that links spanking to mental illness, as well as the examples of 46 countries that have outlawed corporal punishment of children, over 90% of us in the US still continue to spank. We mostly spank children under five and we do so infrequently, once or twice a month.
Most of us who spank do so because it was done to us, because we expect ourselves to be able to control our children’s behavior, and because we don’t know what else to do.
Perhaps you want to stop spanking, but think you must wait until you have figured out something better to do. However, it is stopping spanking in itself that allows you to find other solutions. Here are some alternatives to punishment.
ALTERNATIVES TO SPANKING
- Point out a way to be helpful.
- Express strong disapproval without attacking character.
- State your expectations.
- Show your child how to make amends.
- Take action.
- Allow your child to experience the consequences of his or her own behavior.
- Sympathize with the child. Be compassionate but stick to your decision.
- Give an early warning.
- Give specific instructions. Tell what to clean up, not just to “clean up.”
- Ask your child if you can help.
- Ignore some annoying behavior. Don’t reinforce negative behavior by giving it too much attention.
- Do nothing.
- Tackle one problem at a time. Correct one behavior at a time.
- Use your sense of humor.
- Give yourself time to grow and change.
- Be affectionate.
- Make sure the children are getting enough sleep.
- Use the Golden Rule for children. Do unto them as you would like to have done unto you.
- Convey respect.
- Overlook differences that don’t really matter.
- Don’t do for your children what they can do for themselves.
- Schedule family time.
- Use “I” statements.
- Don’t reward inappropriate behavior.
- Use encouragement and honest praise rather than blanket praise.
- Stop and think before you act.
- Don’t make a big fuss over spills and accidents.
- Acknowledge positive behavior.
- Sometimes just listen and be sympathetic. You can be sympathetic to both sides.
- Be willing to change your mind.
- Say “yes” as much as possible.
- Get support and inspiration as a parent so that you remember you have choices.
- Continue to think of your child as an emotional equal and figure it out.
- Just say “no” to spanking.
IN THE END
At the end of the day, we want to preserve healthy, intimate relationships with our children into adulthood, while also giving them correct guidance during childhood. I believe that a good way to do this is by engaging cooperation rather than by hitting or punishing. Some would argue that this dilutes authority, but that hasn’t been my experience. It has been my ability to take responsibility as a parent, not harsh discipline, that has given me authority with my children. Harsh discipline produces compliance based on fear, which is not as enduring as voluntary cooperation based on affection.
Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and was its editor-in chief until 2012. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three..