To Spank, or Not to Spank

“Attend qu’ton père arrive à la maison! Tu vas avoir la strape!” (“Wait until your dad get’s home! You’re gonna get the belt!”)

I couldn’t count how many times I heard that when I was a kid!

My dad was a fan of the belt. He also had HUGE hands that could do quite a bit of damage! If the belt wasn’t close enough, he’d go for the hand (skin-on-skin). If we did something “really bad”, though, we’d get the belt, for sure.

I can’t recall any particular misbehaviour that might have warranted a spanking. To my knowledge, I probably only got the belt a few times.

My dad would stare me down with his big finger pointed at me…”You wait here… Move, and you’ll get a worse lickin’ “
*sheer terror*

Although I can’t recall what I might have done, what I remember vividly is how time slowed to an unbearable pace while I waited for what was coming to me. I’d plead, negotiate, offer to clean the whole house, attempt to give up my favourite things for a particular period of time… all to no avail. He never budged.

When I was a young child, I was pretty keen at not getting caught for things; being the rebellious adolescent I was, though, was a completely different story. How I became that rebellious child is quite complex, but for the sake of this post, I’ll limit the explanation to saying that I eventually got used to the random spank or belt and didn’t care anymore. Although I’d still be upset when it came, I knew that it’d be over quickly; no “real” damage would be done. I’d take whatever “I deserved”, pretend like I’d be good, and moved on doing exactly what I’d had been doing before. Granted, a few days might have gone by where I was ultra-careful not to do anything out of order, but believe me, it wasn’t long before I repeated whatever shenanigan got me into trouble.

There wasn’t much rationalizing, discussing or communicating in my parent’s home. “No!”, or “Because I said so” was essentially all we’d get. Now, don’t get me wrong… I was a highly rebellious adolescent. Although I was a product of my environment in many ways, I did push the boundaries on more than a few occasions.

(Note: My father is a good man. He did the best with what he had, and he had no reason to question the way we were being disciplined at the time. We have a fantastic relationship, today.)

All these memories came flooding back when I had my son. I used to think that “a little spankin’ ” once in a while never hurt anyone (We’re all here, no?), but then I started recalling experiences I had with other adults. I can remember one time in particular when I had gone to a sleep over (or something) and my friend had done something that would have gotten me a straight-up belt-and-a-half. Her dad took her aside and started talking to her. I had never seen anything like it before!

“What’s this??!!! He’s TALKING to her??!! Noooo… she’s gonna get it after he’s finished saying what he has to say. It’s gonna hurt!”

She never got it.

As I began to think about her, I remembered how “balanced” she was. She never really rebelled, she was a great student, she obeyed her parents and she never fought with them or talked back to them. Of course, I had friends who never got spanked and talked back to their parents like it was going out of style, but they never got disciplined for anything. I started wondering about alternative discipline methods.

I had previously been in a social work program, and I had become an excellent communicator, so I vowed that I would talk to my child, teach him how to reason with him, be fair with him and truly communicate with him. I am proud to say that I have never spanked my son, nor will I ever do so, and that what I am doing is working. I must admit that my husband wasn’t on-board at first, but once he started seeing the results, he changed his mind!

Some of you might read this and feel offended because perhaps you might be a) fine with spanking and perhaps a self-proclaimed spanker yourself, b) indifferent… that’s the way you were raised, you’re not dead and you probably will do the same with your kids, or c) on the fence, might not see a real problem with a “healthy” spanking here or there, but might not have put much thought into it.

What I say is “hear me out”.

No spanking does not mean no discipline. In society, we don’t go around hitting people when they do something that displeases us. Our bosses never threaten us with corporal punishment if we don’t do our work effectively, and our friends don’t live in fear of getting a spanking from us either! So why is it that we spank?

My conclusion: It’s quick, it’s easy, and it makes us feel better. “I did my job”. On the spot, the problem seems to be fixed, but that is far from being the truth. These same problems will resurface at one point or another, and keep manifesting themselves in various ways until the real issue, or the real culprit (often feelings) has been dealt with.

My son, God bless him, has a strong personality, is very head strong and can be quite difficult at times. I sometimes need to take a few more minutes than usual to speak to him, but once it’s over, he resumes his activities and respects the boundaries again. I can proudly say that I can take my 4 year old to a restaurant, and he will sit happily throughout the entire meal; he will never get up and try to run around a table, or go see other kids, or go under the table. I can take him grocery shopping and never have to worry about him taking a fit over a chocolate bar. I can go to any place that is packed to the edges with people and never have to worry that he is going to take off on me. When I ask him to do something, I never have to bribe him with “candy” (or whatever other extrinsic motivation) to get him to behave, and I certainly never have to scream at him. Ok. When he gets on my last nerve, I will admit to raising my voice, but that is still rather rare. He’s a good kid.

How did he get that way?

Well! Let me tell you! It takes an enormous investment of time and energy from the very beginning!

I think my number one weapon is: consistency.

I have always spoken to him about everything. Even when he was a baby, I would explain what he couldn’t do and why. Over time, he came to understand the language. When he would misbehave, I would either a) use natural consequences, or b) put him in a time out. I know that time outs are controversial, but I always used 1 minute per # of years, and I would talk to him afterwards. What is interesting is that even when he was as young as 2, I would ask him why I put him in a time-out and he would tell me exactly why he was there! Kids are smart.

I think it is naive of us to think that children don’t “get it” when we explain things to them. They know when they do something they are not supposed to do. They’re fine manipulators and they work their magic and test our boundaries to see how far they can push us from a very early age. Limits must be set, and they must be respected. We all have long days, we all get tired, we all get frustrated, but allowing our kids to do one thing one day and not another is confusing for them; they need solid boundaries in order to thrive. Another thing that is crucial, is for both parents to always be on the same page when it comes to discipline, what is allowed, not allowed, etc…

Why can’t you have chocolate before dinner? a) Because it isn’t healthy, and b) because we haven’t eaten dinner yet.

Why do you have to wait to speak to me if I’m in the middle of a conversation? a) because it’s impolite to interrupt someone when they are talking, and b) learning to be patient is important. Be patient, I will speak with you in a minute.

I don’t overdo it, I provide real reasons, I am honest, I am fair and I treat him with respect.

I could go on about how well this is working for us. I always get compliments about how well behaved my son is, especially when we are in public; this is probably the biggest compliment I receive on a regular basis! I’m so proud of him AND of my husband and me.

The benefits of  replacing spanking with a more communicative approach are extraordinary when solid discipline and consistency are used. My child is psychologically well-balanced, and he never has to fear that I will hit him.

I know that some parents will argue that they have achieved well-behaved children who get spanked on rare occasions, but my response is: if we can get to positive results without spanking, why is it that we have to resort to corporal punishment?

It isn’t necessary.

Let’s not be led to think that this is an easy task! Deciding not to spank means that you have to get creative and you must be willing to constantly question yourself and put things into perspective in order to find proper solutions and consequences and to discipline effectively. Sometimes natural consequences hurt more than a spanking could ever hurt, though. I’m proud of my choice.