An open letter from Nancy Saltz
I hear so many people - both men and women - decry the horrible frequency of domestic violence in this country. Yet, rarely to I hear of this concern linked to what I believe to be the root cause of the problem. We teach our children to solve problems with physical force almost from the time they are old enough to walk. We do this by using spanking as a form of discipline. We control them with either violence or threats of violence. Even parents who spank infrequently will use threats like You're going to get a spanking as a means of control. Why then are we so terribly surprised that these same little children grow up and hit others?
I have yet to hear of a case of a violent adult who was not taught this first lesson of violence at home - often by his (or her) mother. True, many adults who were spanked as children do not become violent. People react to unpleasant experiences in many different ways. The point is that spanking does not contribute to a positive self-image and in the long run does considerably more harm than good.
I was in a store one day and witnessed a scene that I will remember all my life. It was a simple common occurrence, but it had an incredible influence on me. I saw a woman who appeared to be a victim of violence because she had bruises on her face. Perhaps she just fell down or ran into a door - but I doubt it. Anyway, what struck me was what she was doing. She was hitting her small son (I'd guess he was about 5 or 6 years old), and while she was hitting him she kept saying over and over, Don't hit! WACK! Don't hit WACK! And she hit him again. She wasn't being abusive by most people's standards. She was merely disciplining her child.
For those adults who believe that parents have a right to disciple their children by hitting them, but who paradoxically believe that it is wrong for one adult to hit another, I have a question. Exactly how old does a person have to be before others do not have a right to hit them? When one adult hits another it is called an assault. If the person being hit is young (actual cutoff age unknown), we call it spanking and it gets classified as discipline. So basically, the more defenseless a person is, the more acceptable it is to hit them. Am I missing something?
Spanking is supported and encouraged by many churches. They cling to a brief Biblical reference about Spare the rod, spoil the child and misunderstand its meaning. The "Rod" was used by the shepherd to guide his sheep, not to beat them. Consider the phrase in the 23d Psalm "Thy Rod and Thy staff, they comfort me..." For children, there is comfort in the guidance given to them by their parents or guardians.
I find it hard to understand how hiting children ever got confused with guidance and loving discipline. It is certainly easier and faster to hit than to thoughtfully guide, but it is a short-term solution that has harmful long-term consequences. Love and violence are contradictory concepts. Hitting and spanking are simply not ways to show we care.
I also hear over and over My parents spanked me and look how well I turned out! Well, just how well did we turn out? We have the highest use of psychiatrists and highest instances of domestic violence and child abuse of almost any country in the world. We also have the highest instance of parental use of spanking as a method of discipline.
WHY DON'T WE SEE THE CONNECTION?
I have a ten-year-old child. I never spank her and I let her know that NO ONE has the right to do so. (Not surprisingly, she has never hit another child herself.) Instead of spanking, we talk. I also practice what I learned in a parenting class is called "Natural Consequences." When she was small, if she abused a toy, that toy or book was taken away from her. If she did not mind me, she was given a time out on the steps (usually about 5 minutes). I also counted - one, two, three and three would get rather stern. After a while I only had to say "One."
If my daughter damages something belonging to someone else, she pays for it. If she does not have the money, she can work it off by doing something for them. Truth is, it has come up so infrequently that I don't have too many suggestions. She is very mindful of others. I explain to her that I consider it my job to teach her to become the kind of person that other people will like and that she will like. How could I teach her to like herself if I hit her?
If you don't know what will work with your child - ask your child. I did that once when my daughter was about three and was going through a stage of not listening to me. She didn't like "time out." So I asked her, "What will work?" I told her that we would use whatever she said - as long as it was working. You know what she said? "Hug me!" So I agreed. Whenever she misbehaved, I hugged her. And while I was hugging her I would ask, "Is this going to work?" -- IT DID! I was amazed. From that point on - no more timeouts. Now she simply behaves. Well, not all the time - she is still a child and she still tests her limits. Also, she frequently tries "All the other Moms let their kids (you supply the word)." And I reply "I'm sorry, honey, you're stuck with me - I guess you will have to make the best of it!" She groans, gives me an "Oh, Mom, that's not funny." and then she tries one more time before she finally decides I'm standing firm.
In case you ask, no, I have no child-development credentials. I am only a parent with an opinion. I make as many mistakes as everyone else. I simply wanted to share my thoughts with you. Please, don't spank your babies.