To Spank or Not To Spank?

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“What?  A little ‘swat’ can make my kid’s bad behavior worse?”   “I got a few licks and I turned out ok!”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the above statement when referring to spanking.  It doesn’t seem to matter if it is during a parenting class, coaching session or in a casual conversation with a group of friends, the topic brings its own kind of energy and opinions!  Having grown up in an era when society’s approval of corporal punishment was high and having been the recipient of said approved of punishment; I promised myself I would NEVER spank my children!  I wish I could say I kept that promise…it took God’s intervention and introduction to a “different way” to change me. I’ve been grateful ever since, for the closeness I’ve been able to have with my children because of that change.  (That is a story for another time.)

One of my, shall I call it, “least favorite” memories,  is of our family ritual for this type of punishment:  Hearing my name called, feeling scared or terrified of being in trouble, starting to cry as soon as my Father came into view and hearing, “What are you crying about, huh?  Well, I’ll give you something to cry about!” and with that my derrière (or buttocks) was soon crying, too!  Crying out for relief from the spanking!  It hurt so much….outside AND inside!  The physical pain on the outside and the humiliation and fear on the inside of being violated by someone you love and trust.  The confusion seemed constant…what am I supposed to figure out from all of this?  When I hit my sibling – you tell me it’s wrong and I get in trouble and you hit me.  What is right, then?  That people only get to hit when they are older, bigger, and stronger?  So, I just have to keep waiting to hit while I am growing, aging and getting stronger…..how will I know when I’m ready?  I guess I just have to keep…….Practicing?

In case I did not make it clear in sharing my thoughts in the above paragraphs, I do not support spanking, hitting, or any type of violence toward children in any way.  Below is an excellent article I found a few years ago that is based on 100 years of research on the effects of spanking and violence toward children.  I thought it was insightful and worth reading!  Enjoy! – Keri

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Spanking Can Create Defiant Kids, Report Says

By John Faherty – Mar. 19, 2009

The Arizona Republic

Corporal punishment is not a good way to improve a child’s behavior and might even make things worse.

The ineffectiveness of spanking or swatting may come as a surprise to American parents, most of whom use physical punishment to teach their children.

The findings are part of a new report that examined more than 100 years of research and published studies on the physical punishment of children.

“The Report on Physical Punishment in the United States,” released this week, is endorsed by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The study focuses not on child abuse but on spanking and other similar punishments used by parents.
Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Michigan is the author of the research.

She is also the mother of two children and understands why a parent will sometimes swat or spank a child who is misbehaving.

“Most definitely I understand why it happens,” Gershoff said. “It seems to work in the short term, but it does not in the long term.”
The study is not an attempt to suggest that parents should be more lax with their children.

“One of the last things we want to convey is that children should not be disciplined,” said Dr. David Notrica of Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

The hospital will house all the data Gershoff compiled and make it available to other researchers.

Gershoff’s study was a meta-analysis, meaning she statistically combined the results of many different studies. It was conceived by the advisory board of End Physical Punishment of Children, a national advocacy group whose goal is to review existing research on physical punishment.

Gershoff, whose work was not funded by the group, said there is “substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.”

She knows, however, that many parents spank or hit their children because the parents were hit when they were kids and turned out fine.

Paula Hassler of Tempe is 81 years old and still remembers a spanking when she was a young girl.

“I lied to my parents about eating my little sister’s ice-cream cone when I was in first grade,” Hassler said. “My dad took me over his knee for a few swats on the tush. To this day, I cannot tell a decent lie. I don’t think this hurt me.”

Gershoff would argue that the spanking got Hassler’s attention all those years ago, but the lesson probably came afterward.
“(Children) learn from all the things around the spanking,” Gershoff said. “They get how serious you are. You have their attention. Sometimes, there is a talk after the spanking that really sinks in.”
The trick, she said, is to get the child’s attention without the spanking.

She suggests raising your voice, or immediately taking something away from the child.

“There has to be discipline,” Gershoff said. “It’s one of our biggest jobs as parents.”

Physical punishment can confuse a child, who may be too busy dealing with the fact that he or she just got hit to really listen.
Still, many parents are sure it works.

“I didn’t do it very often, but I wasn’t against spanking at all,” said Harry Woods, 46, of Tempe.

“It worked as long as I was under control, explained quite clearly why I was doing it, and then treated them with love afterwards.”
Rich Quigley, 55, of Waddell, thinks there are some occasions when a spanking is best for his kids.

“I believe it worked,” Quigley said. “But there are some rules.”
For Quigley, those rules were to not punish his children when he was angry. He spanked not to inflict pain but to get his child’s attention. And he did it only rarely.

“If it becomes a daily event, then it isn’t working and you need to try something different,” Quigley said.

Most parents will hit or swat a child at some point.
Gershoff referred to three recent studies – in Pediatrics, Southern Medical Journal and Psychology, Public Policy, and Law – which showed that nearly two-thirds of parents with children 1 to 2 years old reported using physical punishment and that 80 percent of children have been physically punished by the time they reach fifth grade.

“Unfortunately, the fact that it is a violent act teaches the child about violence,” said Dr. Roberta Hibbard, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Child Abuse and Neglect committee. “The underlying message is that violence is OK. It’s not OK.”

Hibbard also understands why parents sometimes hit a child, even if she knows they should not.

“Anybody who has children understands why it happens,” she said.
But that does not mean it works.

In Gershoff’s reports, she says that when children were spanked, 85 percent of the studies showed there to be “less moral internalization of norms for appropriate behavior and long-term compliance.”
There is evidence that Americans’ approval of physical punishment is on the decline.

“The Report on Physical Punishment in the United States” points to a long-running survey by the General Social Survey, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.
It found that, in the 1960s, 94 percent of adults favored physical punishment.

By 1986, 84 percent of U.S. adults agreed that children sometimes need a “good hard spanking.”

In 2004, the percentage had dropped to 71.3 percent.
Gershoff knows it will not be easy to change how parents raise their children. She knows most parents who spank are doing so because they think it is best for the child.

“It’s easier to see in the research because we can see so many children and over so much time,” Gershoff said.

“I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of studies. Overwhelmingly, they find that spankings are associated with negative outcomes. There is no research that says spanking is good for kids.”