“Spare the rod, spoil the child” is one of the oldest idioms in the United States. The belief that by hurting children, you’re teaching them discipline and correcting negative behaviors is deeply ingrained in our culture. Furthermore, the lack of “discipline” towards children is often blamed as an underlying motive for the behaviors of youngsters today. But, what if I say that spanking children actually hurts them? What if hurting your child actually hinders their emotional development and stuns their mental growth? Could it be possible that our forefathers were wrong, and actually hurt us instead? Believe it or not, new research in child psychology claim that maiming children is detrimental to everyone.
Children are scientist by nature. Take a human being, fill them with ceaseless curiosity with endless energy and you’ve got yourself a child. Now, children by nature are going to test new boundaries and limitations all the time. However, parents aren’t made with limitless patience, and children can test those limits in a heartbeat. Combining, those two traits means that sometimes the urge to spank your children will go through your mind even if not voluntarily. But, take my advice and resist the urge to spank them, as the following discussion might actually change your mind on the issue.
What is Spanking?
Gershoff defines spanking as “hitting a child on the bottom with an open hand” (p. 133). When a parent hits their child in this manner, they’re expecting to curb a child’s negative behavior. By exerting physical violence towards kids, they hope that those negative behaviors are replaced with positive ones. But, does hitting a child to teach them good behaviors actually work?
What do the Studies Say?
Studies say no, spanking does not work in the long-term. The researchers Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, studied the effects of spanking children on three different frontiers. The three frontiers were: short-term/long-term non-compliance, and aggression. The overall results demonstrated the following: Spanking works well for short-term compliance, but time-outs are equally as effective. Meanwhile, long-term compliance reduces as spanking increases. Furthermore, aggression in children actually increases the further a parent spanks them.
But, Doesn’t Spanking Improve Behavior?
Spanking your kids doesn’t help them develop positive behavioral habits. Instead, spanking only teaches the repercussions of behaving a certain way under the threat of violence. The best way to improve the behavior of a child, is by teaching them methods that help them in coping with difficult situations and add to a feeling of competency. Children learn through practice. Children will internalize the behaviors their practices. If the behaviors on display are negative such as domestic abuse, violence, and such they will eventually adopt those habits. Additionally, children learn more from example, than they do from what they’re told. Improving your child’s behavior begins with you.
Why Doesn’t It Help in The Long-Term?
By hitting a child, you’re conditioning them by punishment. In order to make it effective, you’ll always need to punish exactly at the moment the transgression occurred. An example of this would be dipping your hand in boiling water, you’ll always be scalded. But, for parenting this is not always the case, children often do deeds and the parents discover them afterwards, as such we’re incapable of properly conditioning children in this manner. But, not only does it undermine the effectiveness of the punishment, it also creates a rift of trust in parent and child.
A key aspect of the relationship between a child and a parent is trust. In fact, parents are usually the first example they’ll view on what it means to trust another person. Therefore, your example as a parent is crucial for the development of healthy relationships in the future. However, if your child only sees that even those he trusts to keep them safe and loved are causing them pain, how can they trust anyone else? Well, allow me to further elaborate on this topic.
By spanking your child, you’re teaching them not to trust you. Parents are supposed to love, care, and ultimately protect their children. Therefore, when you spank your child you’re making your child trust you less. In this scenario, a child will instead try to protect itself in this one sided relationship; how can you hurt them, when you’re supposed to protect them after all? But, even worse is the fact that children begin to doubt the motives of other people and can even become aggressive when interacting with others. Basically, the child will prime itself to attack before someone attacks them thanks to their fight or flight response.
One aspect of parenting that has always surprised me, is parents who question why their children don’t tell them anything. Ultimately, that answer lies in the bonds they’ve built with their kids over a period of time. Has your relationship with your child always been one sided? Or do you treat your children as valuable members of the family? Do you spank your child when he tells you of a misdeed, or do you sit them down and discuss the situation? How you react to their stories, and situations will help build a bond of trust between parent and child, but more often than not we simply deconstruct instead.
When you as a parent, put yourself in a position where lying to you is a better alternative than the truth then the road ahead is a long one. Children are born knowing how to lie (I’ll get back to this), but it’s up to us to teach them about the truth. At times, we’ll have to take a step back to assess the gravity of their actions and from there set a course for correction. If our first impulse at hearing that little Timmy broke the neighbor’s window playing baseball is to spank them, of course he will hesitate before telling you the truth. By spanking them or punishing them for these types of behaviors you’re failing to address the real issue. How to solve the problems appropriately.
But, even worse is the idea that spanking promotes criminal behaviors. As I mentioned earlier, when you spank your child you increase aggression and decrease trust. But, indirectly you’re also promoting a personality of risk-taking and dangerous behaviors. Children who engage in negative behaviors begin testing their boundaries outside the norm and sometimes this will result in criminal activity. A child who is spanked over the use of marijuana will not stop using it, they’ll simply do it in secret. Because manipulation and secrecy will yield less negative results from their behavior, and they feel parents are the enemy.
Parents, of course are also a representation of authority figures. If the child perceives that he can’t trust authority figures, he or she will possibly rebel against not just the parents, but every source of authority. It’s a parent’s job to instill children with a sense of trust. Instead, try talking about the issues at hand and not resorting to violence, you might sway their opinion in the correct course. It’s hard to believe at times, and almost seems idealistic, but trust me when I say it’s the best course of action.
Escalation of Abuse
One of the most harmful factors of spanking children, is the threat of becoming abusive. Growing up in a part of the States where spanking was promoted, I saw some parents break broomsticks on their children’s backs because spanking was no longer effective. Imagine the following scenario, a child is playing in the living room and told not to touch a specific item. But, as his curiosity gets the best of him, he reaches for it and you spank him. However, that doesn’t stop him, he reaches for the item again and you spank him harder this time. By now, the child should have stopped, but instead he continues to try and reach for the item; what do you do? Do you hit him again?
By this point, nobody is getting any benefits out of this scenario. What will break first? The interest of the child or your will? Do you continue spanking the child until his rear can’t handle it or your hand is completely sore? Afterwards, will you swap your hand for a belt, a broomstick, or a crowbar? A lot of these parents, said the exact same thing “spanking no longer works on them”, but that’s just it, spanking simply doesn’t work. In fact, children whose parents spank them are more likely to become spankers themselves.
Circle of Abuse
The circle of abuse means that a child of abusive parents will in turn repeat those mistakes. Spanking might seem like an appropriate response to misbehavior, but is it worth risking your child committing those same mistakes? Ultimately, the answer is no, it’s not worth allowing the future generation to commit the sins of their fathers. An aspect of parents who punish their children through corporal punishment is how quickly they go from normal mode to the punishment setting. Typically, this behavior stems from the abuse they experienced as children themselves. Having experienced the abuse at the hands of their parents, they justify their behavior by claiming they went through the same, and they turned out fine.
But, did they truly turn out fine? Is it normal to shift gears so suddenly? The answer is no, as the parent has simply not learned any other method of correcting a child’s behavior. As such, they’ve primed themselves to respond to the slightest misbehavior by reacting with violence. In turn, the display of violence teaches the child that the only way to correct a discrepancy is through the use of aggression. Thus, the child will continue the cycle when he or she becomes a parent.
Let’s Get Biblical!
The Bible and Judaeo-Christian religions are often used as justifications for spanking children. However, various sources online make a claim for wrongful interpretation of the passages that are pro “physical discipline”. Members of the Judaeo-Christian faith often cite the following proverbs as proof of their claim:
“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)
“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to itself disgraces his mother.” (Proverbs. 29:15)
There are more proverbs, but these are the ones I will focus on for this article. The examples provided mention the rod as if it were an object of punishment, but consider the original word for rod which was “shebet” and it can mean something completely different. A shebet is a stick that could be used for multiple purposes, yet it’s primary use was the shepherds guiding rod. These rods weren’t used to hurt sheep, they were utilized for fighting off wolves and other creatures of prey along with directing the sheep towards their destination. If the “rod” was used to guide sheep instead of hurt them, why would it be different for children?
What is the Rod?
According to various online sources, certain Jewish families don’t practice violent correction with their kids. They simply do not interpret the text in the bible in that manner. In order to interpret the text in their way, you have to re-read the verses with the idea that the rod is simply a representation of an authority figure or authority itself. When you read the text in this manner, you’re actually being the “rod” yourself. By acting with authority, you’re teaching your children godly values, you avoid violence and ultimately provide them with the safety they require.
How did the Rod Become About Spanking?
Those of the Christian and Jewish faith, believe that the word of God is held inside the Old Testament. However, the Old Testament has also been translated over centuries and often applies to the beliefs of the times in which is was translated. The rod was simply another casualty of this interpretation effect, back then people supported the idea of spanking children along with other types of corporal punishment. Yet, the New Testament, rejected those ideas. In fact, the New Testament promotes love, care, respect towards each other.
Turn The Other Cheek
Christ’s approach to justice was one of love and understanding. The turn the other cheek approach was meant to teach that if someone wronged you, you didn’t need to automatically lash out against them. After all, an eye-for-an-eye leaves everyone blind. Christ’s idea of respect is in stark contrast to the interpretations of the rod as an object of physical discipline. In fact, Paul actually writes how important it is to not embitter your children in the following two passages:
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children” (Eph. 6:4)
“Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will be discouraged” (Col. 3:21).
This doesn’t mean your children will never be angry at you, at times you’ll do things that make them upset. But, be fair and trust that your children will eventually come around to understand your reasoning. Children are pure unfiltered emotion and sometimes those feelings will get the best of them. It’s up to parents to teach children how to channel those emotions into something positive. By hitting them during any sort of outburst of emotion you’re promoting withdrawn and destructive behaviors. But, what about the parent?
Hitting your Children Doesn’t Make Anyone Feel Good
As a parent, punishing my kid (time-outs, taking away toys, or even raising my voice because I lost my patience) is difficult. It’s not difficult because I can’t do it or I feel that the child doesn’t deserve it, but rather because I love him. I can’t even begin to place myself in the shoes of parents who hurt their kids through spanking or other types of corporal punishment. Deep down, I believe all parents feel the same way. We gave life to these little creatures, why would we want to hurt them?
A parent who punishes their child through corporal punishment will eventually have to look at themselves in the mirror and see what they’ve become. But, when they look inside and see that their children don’t respect them, instead they simply fear them. Feared is not really how most healthy parents would like to describe their relationship with their offspring. Ultimately, nobody feels good about this arrangement, the parents realize the ineffectiveness , and the child loses the trust they had with their parents… nobody wins.
Your Worth as A Parent is Lessened.
I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll reiterate, being a parent is a relationship of trust, respect, and love. Fear between parent and child has no place. If a caregiver is always using spanking as a form of control, they will eventually create a scenario where nobody wins. The respect between parent and child is lost and the parent eventually gives in to their inner violent urges. I don’t mean the parent will suddenly go berserk, instead I refer to the idea that other methods of discipline will seem less likely. A parent that is accustomed to spanking their child is probably not going to try a time-out before a spanking as the next time he’ll simply spank harder.
It’s hard for it not to become a cycle at that point, but the problem is that the teaching here is that if someone does something to annoy you, you simply hit them until they stop. As such, the parent is not teaching the child self-control because if the parent doesn’t have any, why would the child learn? Their value as a parent is lessened because they’re creating a metaphorical time bomb. This time bomb will eventually go off, and at that point the rift between parent and child might be too big to defuse.
Distance Between Parent and Child
I already established about how spanking creates a rift between the victim and the abuser. But, distance can be even more devastating in families that already have a strained relationship. Think of a military child that only sees their parent every so often. In this case, a child in that type of household will already have some distance with the military parent. But, now imagine that whenever the military parent is gone, the child is not spanked, and all of a sudden they return from deployment to start handing out corporal punishment.
What will the child think of the parent? Do you think the child will look forward to the return of the parent? Is it going to be a happy reunion whenever they think that their parent is going to hit them after any transgression? No, the child will not want that, and it’s a similar case in single-parent households where the child has a split custody arrangement. Their situation is especially tough, and while some kids can bounce back from these types of punishment, others will hold a grudge that can last a lifetime.
What can I do if I’m a Spanker?
First of all, stop spanking your kids. You’re not achieving anything by continuing in the behavior. But secondly, start by taking steps to recognize what triggers your own behaviors. Changing behaviors can be extremely overwhelming, however it’s not impossible.Triggers can be a simple as the child misbehaving while at the house, to throwing tantrums at the store. In these situations it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the stress of life as well as the stress of being a parent, but just remember you’re not alone. Parents everywhere have experienced these sort of behaviors from their children. Take a step back and see what is really causing the child’s current behavior.
At times, we simply have to assess the situation from the outside in. We can’t expect to fix a broken home, from the inside as we’ll have no perspective on how deep the damage truly is, healing a bond with a child is the same concept. When you’re trying to stop spanking, you have to learn about the different methods of disciplining a child. Instead of jumping at him with an open palm, try time-outs, talking to the child, or simply taking away their toy. There have been moments in my life as a dad, where a simple conversation with Leo is all that’s needed to help him sort out his emotional outburst.
The folks over at stop spanking have some great advice for you. They provide tips on how to set proper boundaries with your children, how to self-regulate your behaviors, and even recognize what causes you to want to spank your kids. Their website has videos, articles, presentations, and all manners of resources that can give you the courage and willpower to start on your spank-free journey of disciplining your children.
Remember that spanking is never the answer, and if you want your child to be healthy, happy, and trusting then you’ll have to set the example. The bond between parent and child is not unbreakable, plenty of children have disowned their parents and it’s not because of love. As power is abused, the dynamic between parent and child is fundamentally changed. By spanking a child, you’re not forging a relationship of mutual respect, but one of fear and isolation. Children need warm and loving homes, not cold and empty houses.