546. Alternatives to Spanking

We spend lots of time and energy teaching children to use words, not hitting, to express themselves. Hitting children undoes a lot of that teaching. That’s not the only reason not to spank children, but it’s a pretty important reason. For many parents, not hitting children is quite a challenge. When parents remember being hit as children, it’s hard for them not to carry on the tradition. Some don’t even try not to. Some don’t think about it, and some even think it’s the right thing to do.
But even if you don’t want to hit your children, you may not know how not to. Chances are, though you were told not to hit people, you were also hit by some of the same people who told you that. You were supposed to do as they said, not as they did. But what they did probably taught you more than what they said. So you hit.
Maybe not adults; they’re likely to hit back effectively. But children are less likely to hurt you, and besides, you were probably taught that it’s okay to hit them.
Think about how you respond to adults when they do things you wish they wouldn’t do. There are probably strategies in your repertoire that are quite appropriate for children. It’s possible that children displease you because they don’t completely understand how to please you. If that’s the case, it makes sense to spend some time explaining what you want. You may think they already know, but they may not, and hitting doesn’t teach very well.
Children’s behavior is sometimes meant to accomplish specific goals. If you don’t like their behavior, one possible approach is to make sure the behavior doesn’t accomplish what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of reacting to whining or temper tantrums in a way that reinforces those behaviors. Try not doing that. You have the right to refuse to do what you don’t want to do, and like adults, children have to figure out what approaches work on you. Or what about telling children what effect their behavior has on you? That alone can be effective. It has to be done in a way that’s believable; you can’t say, in a sweet, gentle tone, that you’re angry; the tone belies the message. It’s possible to show anger effectively without terrorizing a child. Many of us associate anger with violence, but we can teach children that the two don’t have to come together – that they don’t have to be afraid when they’ve made someone angry.
In a way, spanking is the easy way out. It doesn’t take much thought, and it seems to yield immediate results. But I believe that relating with children should take much thought, and shouldn’t necessarily result in quick answers; we’re building the future, and we ought to make sure that we’re building one we intend to build.

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