What's wrong with spanking our kids?
Let's face it - We live in a predominantly Asian society where cultural values are the core anchors that govern many families in the previous and current generation. Realistically speaking, we also know that level of education and socio economic status, may not necessarily mean that parents would shed their tendencies to inflict physical hurt, if not emotional or verbal abuse on their children for the purposes of removing undesirable behaviour (in my experience thus far, this is regardless of whether it's for "disciplining" or just taking out one's frustration on our kids). Let's not be pretentious about it. As parents ourselves, we know how tough parenting is, so let's begin this post with a statement that declares, "Let's not judge...Let's educate!"
Well, there's really nothing wrong with spanking our kids. It's just that, in some contexts/countries it's illegal, or if the courts declare that it's a "reasonable" level of spanking, it's okay. However, many well-intentioned parents, may not be clued in into the negative effects of inflicting hurt, whilst being focused on the immediate removal of undesirable behaviour. I've heard time and again, how it's worked for them and their generation before them, and that we turned out well didn't we? This is something of a realistic cop out. Let's pull back the brakes a little.
Watch celebrity Mayim Bialik (aka "Blossom") comment on Hitting Kids.
Consider this, many things can happen when we "discipline" our kids. Here are my 4 poignant reminders:
1. We Leave a Legacy of Pain (and sometimes severe injury)
When we spank, we are less likely to lightly tap our kids or be gentle - in fact, many parents have admitted to putting in more strength into the act than "warranted" (whatever warranted means). Also, we may inflict grievous hurt in the process which we may regret for a long time. But a more serious issue is what we're communicating to our kids, besides that they're behaviour is unacceptable. Kids are likely to internalise that they are bad, and indeed believe that they deserve the pain - "I deserved it because I wasn't good enough". These patterns of relating are brought to mind when dealing with life's challenges, and worse, called upon when parenting their own children (i.e., intergenerational transmission of "discipline" or parenting practices).
2. Encouraging a Response to Fear
We may send a message that when you do <insert activity>, you are in trouble. And this would inherently mean they are not allowed to build their own confidence around managing insecurity or feelings that had been involved in the act in the first place. For example, anxiety or anger, which may be both very relevant and valid responses to the context. Say one cannot appropriately express or regulate their feelings of anger, but acts it out in frustration, like hitting or kicking, you might notice that we may have a kid that "acts out". By repeatedly responding to these situations by spanking, we dismiss their array of feelings, and hence, encourage emotional dysregulation or shutting down. In many cases, we increase the chance that the child may also develop anxious feelings or fear of the fear of doing wrong in the eyes of their own caregivers. The major concern here is that when there are really significant issues that occur in our kid's lives, that they might feel too ashamed, guilty or fearful to raise it up with the individuals in their lives who could well assist them with life's challenges - that's how secrets are apt to begin.
3. Killing Emotional Confidence
Once we spank our kids enough, there is little need for our kids to trust and sort out their own emotional experiences - let alone trust us for our judgement since they can tell if our actions make sense. This then inadvertently leads to resentment and poor emotional confidence. The consequence here, is the resurgence of strong unprocessed feelings, like anger and aggression, that may have been the initial issue in the first place. You might find that common issues growing up might involve anger management issues, lack of emotional responsively, emotional avoidance, or even develop into insecure types of attachment styles. Instead of spanking, talk to them, and assist them to understand what happened in a calm manner (or as calm as you can). You'll find that they are likely to discontinue what their doing and in turn, listen and drop some of their disorganised behaviour. Some experts advocate the use of Time-In (for parents) instead of Time-Out.
4. Their ability to regulate behaviour continues to develop up to 18 years of age
Kids may not be able to truly regulate themselves all the way up till early adulthood as research has shown that our brain's frontal lobes (the area that governs the inhibition of our behaviour) only become fully developed later. You might notice that it's really quite normal for children to require many trials of repeated reminders to do or not do something. Or notice that they seem not to hear or process what the adults say - and in many cases, just seem to not get it! That's because these patterns may be indicative of other issues, or maybe just (normal) developmentally appropriate expressions of emotion - just that it makes us parents feel highly uncomfortable, especially if these were repeated over time. If these issues appear ambiguous, and you're concerned, maybe seeking an expert opinion may be useful instead of just spanking our little ones. Bottomline, let's just not assume that there's a problem with your child or your child has ADHD.
So what can we do about it?
If we need to take a brief break to allow ourselves to settle, do so...then return calmly and collected, Look, Listen and Observe first...
If our children are distressed, take them in your arms and give them a hug. In other words, soothe them in a way that you know helps them feel safe.
If appropriate, let them express what they feel and encourage that. Continue listening and try and understand from their little eyes how they see the world.
If we can do this, we'd have done heaps for them up to this point. Continue by talking through with them, without nagging and scolding. Be gentle. Here's a few useful resources from our own posts on managing feelings.
Check out this useful infographic from OnlinePsychologyDegrees, summarising the relevant statistics, impact of spanking and research presented in an interesting way.