Q: What are your feelings on the use of corporal punishment?
A: I am against it. I always will offer alternatives to spanking. In this society, it's not OK for one person to physically hurt another. If a teacher, principal or parent spanks a child, he's displaying the very action toward that child that he doesn't want the child to exhibit toward others.
Call it swatting, spanking, hitting, slapping, smacking, whacking, striking — it all equates to a big person hitting a little person. It's a mismatch. It's like a featherweight boxer in the ring with a heavyweight.
If it's not right for Big Sister to hit Little Brother, why would it be OK for Daddy or Mommy to hit a child? With unwanted aggression in schools, it doesn't seem justified that a child could be physically punished for misbehavior by a principal or teacher. It's a double standard that sets a poor example, plus it's confusing to the child.
If parents and school personnel spank a child who presents problem behavior, it follows that the child, when confronted with a problem, will hit, swat, strike or push the person presenting the problem. Parents and school personnel need to model ways to manage people through negotiation, problem-solving and compromise rather than through aggressive means.
Some parents say, "I was spanked and turned out OK." In homes where kids were spanked, but ended up well-disciplined and mentally healthy, there likely was a preponderance of alternative forms of positive disciplinary techniques that negated the effects of spanking. The child turned out all right despite the fact he was spanked, not because of it.
Spanking is an external control and strikes fear in the child. Parents and teachers need to provide control and supervision until children develop self-control. Holding, containing, stepping near or between children provides such control.
Many parents claim that spanking works: "My child ran in the street. I spanked her, and she never did it again." Of course, it's important to stop a child from running in the street by seizing her while firming saying, "No! I can't allow you to run into the street," but why swat her? It would be even better to hold the child's hand, not giving her the opportunity to run away.
Quite often the child who is spanked wallows in self-loathing. Let's say a 3-year-old child runs across the street. He wasn't being naughty, just curious — he wanted a closer look at a fire hydrant. Nevertheless, the parent grabs and swats him. The child ends up feeling terrible about himself for his impulsive need to satisfy his curiosity.
In this situation, it's the parents who should be scolded for allowing the child the opportunity to dash away. Until a child develops self-control, it's the parents' responsibility to teach, train, guide and monitor the child's actions.
If parents decide not to spank, it's critical that they have alternative options for discipline. Some parents decide not to spank but don't know what to do instead, so their children end up with few limits, rules or consequences for inappropriate behavior. Permissive parenting ensues, which doesn't serve children well, either.
When a child misbehaves, a parent can move toward the child, reprimand her or offer appropriate guidance. Then the parent needs to stay near the child until she displays the desired behavior. The parent, however, refrains from spanking. By doing so, the parent demonstrates strength, commitment, consistency and determination without modeling physical aggression.
Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers questions of general interest in her column. You can e-mail her at email@example.com or write to: Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111.
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