Kate Gosselin of the infamous Jon & Kate Plus 8 was photographed spanking her child. Oh my! I know this is probably "old news"--every media outlet from here to Cape Town probably covered it, but with all the flurry that Kate herself succumbed to that ancient parenting tool, my email box is suddenly loaded with "spanking" queries. It seems good 'ol Mommy Guilt is alive and churning in the U.S.A.
Well, "why not spank?" you wonder. It's quick, it's familiar (at least to parents who were themselves spanked as children) and it usually gets kids to stop the offending behavior-at least temporarily. And data shows 70% of Americans do spank. So let's get two things straight: First, a swat or two is not going to psychologically damage your kid for life. Nor will a spank cause your little munchkin to become the next Hannibal Lecter. Relax.
The key question is whether spanking is really the best discipline method. And here's the research every parents should know: In June 27, 2002 The Associated Press released Columbia University's analysis of six decades of research on corporal punishment. Results linked spanking to ten negative behaviors including aggression, anti-social behavior and mental health problems. Although many parents are unaware of it, continual spanking can have long-term negative effects. Plus it doesn't work that well in stopping bad behaviors. Really. Honest.
Here are ten reasons I'd advise you to consider using another discipline technique other than spanking to curb your kids' bad attitudes or troublesome behaviors:
1. Spanking stops misbehavior momentarily. The bad behavior usually resumes because the kid doesn't know how to act differently.
2. Spanking teaches the child not how to act right, but how not to get caught when the parent is around. He becomes a champion in manipulation.
3. The child is much more likely to remember the punishment than why he was punished. He behaves out of fear instead of because he wants to act right.
4. It teaches that hitting solves problems. Kids must learn acceptable, nonviolent alternatives to solve problems.
5. Spanking teaches children to behave through "external control" (the punishment). It does not teach kids self-control-or "internal control."
6. Spanking sends a huge mixed message: "It's fine for adults to hit, but not kids."
7. Spanking squelches moral growth. It stops kids from misbehaving because they want to avoid punishment (the lowest level of moral development), not because they want to do what is right.
8. Spanking squelches empathy. Empathy-being considerate to another's needs and feelings-is the cornerstone of moral growth. Studies find that children's empathy is diminished when their parents control their kids through anger.
9. Spanking exposes children to violence. Learning comes through example. Spanking is an aggressive act, showing children their parents acting in an out-of-control manner.
10. Spanking doesn't teach new behavior. Spanking teaches not how to behave right, but how to shout, hit, manipulate, and control others through fear. It also fails to teach a critical discipline lesson: "So why should I behave?"
There are many ways to effectively discipline children without resorting to corporal punishment. Withhold privileges, grounding, assign extra chores, require restitute or use time-out are a few options. The important thing is to set the consequence ahead of time, make it fit the crime, and then carry through with it every time your child misbehaves.
The goal of all discipline is to teach your child to take responsibility for his choices-it's part of helping him grow into a healthy, self-reliant and decent human being.
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Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming Big Book of Parenting Solutions.