I was spanked as a child. I was spanked with hard hands, leather belts, skinny switches from the bush outside the basement door, a flyswatter that Nana kept next to little porcelain tea pots. I was spanked as a child, and I turned out absolutely fine.
But I refuse to spank my own children.
As Canadian legislators are attempting to repeal a law that protects teachers' and parents' rights to spank children, the topic has been front and center in the media lately, and it encouraged me and my husband to really think about where we stand. Before I had my daughter this year, I believed that spanking was a sometimes necessary way of dealing with an unruly child. I believed that anyone who was against spanking their child was just 'soft,' too 'liberal,' ridiculous.
Like many people, I was the best parent before having children.
Then I had my daughter, a tiny little being who was a part of me, who would nuzzle into my breast when hungry or tired or cranky, who would settle into the curve beneath my arm in the middle of the night, who would cry out the very second I walked out of a room. Even as she got older and her fussiness seemed more deliberate at times (and even when I would become frustrated with her), I tried my best to get on her level, to attempt to feel how she was feeling, because it must be so hard to be her. So hard to understand the world around her. So hard to understand why no one understands her. Because she is a baby, a child.
I began to realize where my heart really lies. After reading several studies, and considering why it's not a route I want to take, these are the reasons why I don't agree with spanking:
1. It demonstrates a lack of knowledge on the parents' part. Specifically for toddlers, most of their actions are unintentional. They are experimenting with the world around them and establishing a newfound sense of independence. They are not actually being defiant. Their behavior is developmentally normal and desired. To hit them when they spill a drink or splash water all over the bathroom is irresponsible and totally lacks understanding of their development. There are ways of correcting this behavior and explaining why we do or don't do certain things without resorting to a physical response. I know, I know; trying to have a conversation with a toddler can feel like talking to a wall. You may have to ::gasp:: repeat yourself several times before they fully catch on, and that's okay.
You can even try a different form of communication: sign language. The research behind signing with babies and toddlers is incredible and it actually works as an amazing form of communication, eliminating a lot of frustration for them.
2. It's actually NOT an effective form of punishment. Well...it is, but only in the short term. According to an article published in 2012 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and written about in Time Magazine, it only serves as an immediate way to deter behavior, but doesn't work long-term. It actually serves to push children (especially older children) away, which was true in my case. I thought back on my personal experiences and I realized any time I was spanked, I didn't think, "Oh, I finally get it! I shouldn't do that! Sorry!" I remember feeling angry. I remember feeling disconnected emotionally from the person doing the spanking. I remember feeling sad. It never taught me a lesson; it only made me withdraw.
3. It creates a fear-based love and relationship. Being spanked and then hugged, as many children are, can truly be confusing for a child. It teaches the child to accept that kind of behavior toward them, stereotypical of a relationship with an abuser. Spanking them places them in a vulnerable position emotionally, as children will often cry and express sadness or anger. By then showing love, it teaches them to turn to the "abuser" and seek affection. It's an emotionally destructive process. Do you really want potentially all of your child's future relationships to be built on the foundations of 'I love you when you're good. I will physically punish you when you're bad'?
4. It can have real, life-long consequences, and not the ones you intended. The same study cited above shows that children who are spanked are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and insecure. They are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Of course not all children who are spanked turn out this way, while some children who aren't spanked absolutely do. But, as mentioned in #3, it definitely can break children down emotionally and, combined with other forms of abuse, open them up to larger issues such as these.
5. It doesn't actually teach them that what they did was wrong. It teaches them to be afraid, and thus, likely more deceptive. As their behavior becomes fear-based, it doesn't actually contribute any learning to the process.
6. It doesn't make sense to teach your child to not act out of anger, or to not hit others, but then to act out of anger and hit them. By spanking your child, you are giving into your own anger. You are having the adult version of a tantrum. It's not fair to do that and then teach them otherwise. Once again: confusing.
7. It's lazy. By spanking, you are simply taking the quickest, easiest approach and hiding behind an archaic form of punishment. Do some research. Now that the internet is a thing, you have the most valuable resource at hand. There are countless studies and articles on how to better discipline your child. We don't have to resort to the methods of generations past just because they're apparently "tried and true."
8. It is often taken too far. Some parents aren't truly abusing their child by giving them light spankings, especially when the child is being specifically defiant. But the people who are the heaviest proponents of spanking are frequently the people who will take it too far. In talking to some people before writing this article, I heard stories of being hit with a broom until it broke, stories of holding the back of the child's head and smacking them repeatedly in the mouth. These behaviors are not okay. And while many parents would never do things like that, there are some parents who would, and those parents will hide behind the law, touting their rights to raise their children their way.
I'm not saying I'm an expert parent. I have no doubt that there will be moments when my patience is tested and my anger runneth over. I'm sure in those moments, I will want to cry, hit something, or slam myself in a dark room. Being a parent is no easy task. But it honestly shocks me to see so many people defending hitting their children. Why do people truly believe that it works, when there is so much evidence that it doesn't?
Most parents want the best for their kids. When discussing how parents of the past raised their children versus how we are raising children today, I frequently hear "Oh, I did such and such, and my kids turned out just fine." Of course they did. Most kids do. But my goal isn't and never has been "fine." My goal is better. I believe, knowing what we know, with the research available to us (on both the effects of spanking, and better disciplinary tools and techniques) that we can do better. We can always do better.