"Some Sound Reasons Why Spanking Does Not Work"
Let me begin this article by saying that I am not opposed to spanking just because I believe that it is a terrible or evil thing. I very simply do not think that it works to bring about lasting and positive changes in children!
As a matter of fact, I do not believe that Punishment, in general, works very well as a teaching tool.
A Working Definition of Punishment
First, let me define what I mean by punishment:
For the sake of this discussion let’s establish that Punishment refers to any artificially created consequence for a given behavior. (This definition would then include any spanking, grounding, sending to the bedroom, removal of privileges, slapping a hand,withholding of allowance, timeout, etc.)
Here are some of the reasons that punishment (spanking in particular) does not work when it is used in an attempt to teach children (or any humans for that matter!):
1. Punishment guarantees a "push-back" response in almost all situations! (A push-back response is simply the natural human resistance to change.) When we as parents push on our children they will push back. It is unavoidable. Sometimes the “push-back” will be more pronounced than at other times. But it will be there. When punishment is used, it almost guarantees the most powerful “push-back” response from a child! Then, when the punishment is a “spanking”, the “push-back response” is even more pronounced. Watch children react to spanking by throwing fits, swinging back, kicking, and in general lashing out at anyone and everything within reach following a spanking!
Now, let’s go to some of the other compelling reasons that punishment fails to teach the desired lessons.
2. Punishment removes the focus of both the "punisher" and the "punished" from the behavior in question. When a parent resorts to punishment, both the parent and the child begin to pay attention to the punishment, its’ fairness and its’ enforcement. This is especially true of spanking because it hurts. It is almost impossible for a child to ignore the invasiveness of a spanking. This causes the child to stop thinking about the decision process that brought about the negative behavior in the first place! The child is only thinking about the spanking!
Let’s say that a child has just grabbed a toy from a playmate or pulled a valued vase off of a table and broken it. The parent then gives the child a hit on the backside. At this moment the child is not thinking about the toy, the other child, or the broken vase. The child it thinking about the pain in their backside!
By inserting punishment into the equation the parent has removed the focus from the negative behavior and the correction of that behavior. Both parent and child are now thinking about the hit! Neither is thinking about the desired behavior. Both may have fleeting thoughts about the preceding negative behavior but they are both most definitely thinking about the associated hit. At this point the child is never thinking about any possibilities for a better behavior to use in place of the negative behavior. No progress is made. Rarely, if ever, is the parent even thinking of a positive alternative behavior to teach the child. Even the parent is still focused only on the negative behavior that brought on the punishment!
When the punishment is used the child is not engaged in creating a new thought process that will bring about better decisions and outcomes next time.
3. Punishment focuses anger on the "punisher." When parents resort to punishment it gives children someone to be mad at! When children are angry at someone, they do not have to face their own behavior and the natural consequences of that behavior. Anger interrupts responsible thought processes for both the child and parent.
Parents are often deluded into thinking that hitting the child has taught the child a lesson and it is simply not true. When a child is hit by a parent, the child is mad at the parent for the hit. It would be a rare child that would sustain a hit, and immediately start thinking about possibilities for a more positive action. It would be nice to think that would happen but it simply does not. Many parents mistakenly think that is what is going on in the child’s mind but it simply is not.
4. Punishment induced behavior "extinguishes" rapidly. In the absence of punishment, the negative behavior returns. Behavior that has been shaped by punishment will disappear soon after the punishment has disappeared simply because the child has not been included in the reasoning and personal profitability of the desired behavior.
When children are hit for doing something, they will usually become more secretive about the behavior to avoid future punishment. They will simply take the toy away from the other child when the parent is not looking or they will pull the vase off the shelf when the parent is in the other room.
Punishment rarely is followed with positive instruction and if positive instruction does follow the punishment, the child is usually too agitated to learn.
I like to explain this to parents by having them imagine that I were to come to their home and try to teach them to program their VCR. I ask them to imagine that I arrived at the house at the very moment when they were having a big argument about filling out the IRS tax forms. I ask them, “How well would you be able to learn the simple procedures with your VCR while you are in that agitated state of mind about taxes?”
Well, that is similar to the state of mind that a child is in when they are being punished. Multiply that agitation when the punishment of choice has just been a “spanking”! Children cannot learn at times like this.
5. Punishment traps the "punisher" into maintaining the punishment schedule. "You made the rules, now you must enforce them." The goal should be to let the natural negative consequences do the enforcing. When you introduce artificially created punishment, the child then may turn it into a game of seeing how much they can get away with without you catching them.
When the punishment is spanking, the parent is often cornered into justifying the hitting. Many parents find themselves being called "mean" or "unfair" by a child at this point. And, the whole scenario has completely lost all focus! Once a child learns that he/she can divert the discussion to one about how "unfair" or "mean" the parents are, the whole interaction begins to take a familiar circular pattern that does not include any discussion about the behavior the parent would like to be teaching!
6. Punishment and hitting (spanking) do not teach a child accountability. By using punishment the "punisher" is taking the responsibility to see that the child’s behavior changes. If you use punishment, by your actions, YOU have accepted responsibility for your child's behavior. If you accept the responsibility for your child's behavior then he/she will have to learn to be accountable outside your influence, and the outside world is a tough teacher!
7. Most of all, punishment denies a child the right to experience the real consequence of their actions. The reward for good performance is... good performance. Seldom is it necessary for us to provide the reward, and the same is true for punishment. As parents we need to point out the negative consequences inherent in their negative behavior; we do not need to create new ones. We can serve as a big help to our children if we help them foresee potential problems and natural consequences of some of their possible decisions.
There are a couple of situations where it is unreasonable to let children run into the natural consequences of poor performance. If it is illegal, immoral, or life threatening then we must act as the adult in their world and step in to prevent major injury, incarceration, or violation of society's rules of decency.
The Punishment for poor performance is... Poor Performance!
The reward for good performance is… Good Performance!
Here's a direct quote from our Parenting with Dignity, Parent’s Workbook, "It is not the duty of adults to create new punishments, but rather it is the job of the parent to point out the negative consequences inherent in the child's negative actions… and of the utmost importance; it is the obligation of the parent to suggest positive alternatives to negative or inappropriate actions."
The Golden Rule
Isn't this all really pretty simple when you think about it? Those simple truths that have stood the test of time still apply to our lives today and still have even more validity than ever. The "Golden Rule" might be the ultimate in effective parenting tools.
Treat your children in a manner that you would like to be treated! When I am asked about the issue of spanking, I always ask people why they choose to attempt to legitimize the behavior by calling it "spanking". Why do people not just call it what it is... hitting children? So I ask that instead of using the word SPANK, let's agree to use the word HIT during our discussions instead.
Then I usually ask, "On what basis do you advocate hitting your children? Is it because you are bigger? Because you are older? Because you are more experienced? Because you are more educated? Because you are stronger?"
It would seem to me that those would be reasons that would sort of disqualify anyone from being justified to hit a child. Then I usually ask them, "How would you respond if I came to your house and hit you because your garage is a mess?"
I am aware that there are people who still advocate "spanking", but... that does not sway me. I simply do not believe that spanking works! I will grant you that hitting a child may get the child’s attention but once a person resorts to hitting, there is very little teaching going on! Even the kind of attention that might be gained by hitting destroys any kind of a teaching atmosphere.
James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, and I disagree on the issue of "spanking". It is about the only thing that he and I disagree about but we respectfully disagree on "spanking". Dr. Dobson advocates that parents "spank" and I do not. He prefers the term “spank” and I prefer the more descriptive term of “hit”.
Parenting with Dignity simply advocates that parents find much more effective methods of working with and teaching their children! With many other effective techniques, a parent may never even have to consider "spanking" because they simply do not need it!
“The Five Rules for Parents" in the second lesson of our PWD course is a great place for parents to start developing anarsenal of skills that do not employ punishment or spanking. Armed with those tools most parents find little need to punish their children.