Thursday, October 20, 2011

To spank or not to spank, that is the question...

[Apologies for my continued absence here at PFB.  I hope to posting again again soon.... 2/24/12

The question inevitably arises, when should a parent spank a child as an appropriate form of discipline? Certainly people can differ on this one. I come down on the side that there is a place for spankings. So, when to spank and why? Well first, I want to say that it is important to keep in mind that spanking can often devolve into the default one-size-fits-all discipline for a child's disobedience And many parents will gravitate to one extreme or another, either spanking too often or avoiding it altogether. Discipline is not just a punishment but should be at the heart a teaching moment, an exercise that is aimed at changing a child's foolish beliefs and goals. Given that parents can too easily fall into the habit of using discipline merely as the tool employed to stop their child's misbehavior, spankings can devolve into the ultimate go-to in order to enforce obedience, which ironically can result in undermining the very purpose of discipline.
OK, just the initial PFB facts:

  • Spanking should be reserved for those acts that involve a child's clear outward defiance of obedience.  If you would, the size of the sin is measured more in terms of attitude and motivation behind the disobedience than just the breaking of a rule.  
  • Spanking should be regarded as a "teaching moment" for the good of your child.  Thus the discipline applied should be characterized by strong conviction rather than strong emotion.  I'm not saying that as parents we have to act as if we're emotionally detached from our child's disobedience.  Rather, understanding that discipline is applied in order to impact and change a child's foolish beliefs and goals of self-centered living, a parent needs be under control in order to take time to explain the particular rule that was disobeyed and why the child's behavior violated that rule.  Once the spanking is applied that is it.  No recriminations are needed.  And it is indeed appropriate and right to comfort your child afterwards.  Don't apologize.  
  • Spanking is an event to be received by the child.  It's not an impulsive act, i.e. not an emotional time to lose your cool.  It's understandable and OK to be angry, but have your emotions under control.  Take time to do that, if necessary, before administering the discipline.
  • Remember, underneath that outward act of defiance is not just a rebel, as it were, but a scared individual, unsure of his or her place and value as a person.  More is involved than simply raw defiance.   
 When outward raw defiance is not involved in your child's disobedience, then two other forms of discipline to use are:
  1. Withdrawal of a privilege or opportunity for enjoyment.  If a privilege (a recreation or toy) is abused then the consequence is to withdrawal it or another such privilege.
  2. Additional Responsibility.  If the misbehavior is a failing to do a responsibility (a chore, homework, etc.) then add a responsibility as a logical consequence.
Both of these disciplines can take many forms and need not be "heavy punishments."  Again, the goal of discipline is to, over time, impact a child's thinking in order that they choose to forgo their foolish strategies and adopt responsible living.  It's not meant to produce immediate transformation!  Consistent discipline applied to those observable patterns of misbehavior is key to weakening those wrong beliefs and goals.  You don't need to fret if you miss occasions for discipline.  More opportunities will always be in the offing. Good parenting is more about your direction and overall consistency than whether you make mistakes or flub a situation now and then.  So carry on.


Stephanie said...

Hi Jack! Not too long ago I was dealing with sibling conflict that had gotten very out of had resorted to violence. I chose a new form of discipline that I hadn't previously used and wanted your thoughts. The offender's punishment was to take over the victim's chores for a week long period. My thought was to put the offender in a position of humility and service but I'm wondering if perhaps it created resentment instead. Would love your thoughts on any type of sibling conflict related issues. And as a reminder, I am dealing with ages 14 and 8, both girls, sharing a bedroom with opposite personalities! Thanks : )

Jack Miller said...

Hi Stephanie,
Without more info it's hard to comment much on your approach. Often in these sibling conflicts there's more than just the offending party and the innocent party. The apparent "innocent" is often a provocateur. You mentioned possible resentment being created. You must have a reason for that suspicion. To the children it could appear that you are taking sides. I'm all for added responsibilities or withdrawal of privileges as effective consequences to misbehavior. I'm not so sure about the added responsibility given to one should benefit the other by way of relieving them of their normal responsibilities.

Questions to ask. What is the goal of the offending child's misbehavior, i.e. what was the "violence" attempting to accomplish? What is the role of the other child in all of this? There may be more there than seems apparent. Does the applied "punishment" address the child's foolish/wrong belief about how she handles her apparent frustration? If so, how?

Discipline should communicate more that just "you are paying a penalty" for your misbehavior." Although it should do that. It should also, ideally, be stating that "if you pursue this line of reasoning and acting, then rather getting what you want (a good outcome) you will, in fact, get the opposite.

Keep trouble shooting this and if you want, let me know how I can be more specific.