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What does spanking teach your child?

By Mark Brandenburg

Spare the rod, spoil the child.

This philosophy's been around a long time. In fact, a study done by Zero to Three, a nonprofit child development group, found that 61 percent of the adults who responded condone spanking as a regular form of punishment. The percentage of parents who actually use spanking is believed to be much higher. And when my five-year-old son's behavior went beyond annoying a few days ago, I felt inclined to join the majority and swat him to "teach him a lesson."

Most parents reach this point with their kids. We feel as though we can't take any more of what our kids are dishing out. It usually happens when we're tired, stressed and overdone.

So what are our choices when we reach this point?

What are you teaching?
Spanking certainly can take care of things quickly and can temporarily change your kids’ behavior. But there are many reasons to question the practice of spanking your kids. Here are five of them.

Do you really want your kids to be afraid of you?
Kids will sometimes obey more readily when they're afraid of you. Is this what you really want? What happens when they're six feet two inches and 200 pounds? Effective parenting is based on love and respect, not fear.

Spanking shows your kids that you lack self-control.
The huge majority of spanking incidents happen when a parent is angry. What is quite clear to your child is this: when my Dad and Mom get angry, they hit me. So when the same child hits his sister when he gets angry, do you demand that he show better self control? Something's wrong with this picture. We teach our kids best through our own actions.

You may breed resentment and anger in your kids.
Kids who are spanked usually don't learn a great deal about "correcting" their misbehavior. They don't usually sit in their rooms and say, "Gosh, I can really see after getting spanked that I was wrong. I'll do better now." They do think about how angry their Dad or Mom is, and they can develop a good deal of resentment for their parents.

Spanking shows your kids that "might makes right."
Adults make mistakes in their lives too, right? Can we use our imaginations and feel what it would be like for someone four times our size to pick us up and swat us on the butt? What would we learn from that? Would we feel any injustice? You can bet that your kids are feeling some.

Spanking isn't effective in the long run.
Parents who are asked why they spank report that they use spanking to "teach their kids a lesson" or so that they won't misbehave again. Many kids who are spanked go underground with their misbehavior and become more cunning to avoid being caught. (Wouldn't you?) If you're spanking your kids fairly often, doesn't this show that it's not working very well?

Alternative solutions
I don't believe that kids who are spanked occasionally are ruined for life, nor do I believe that spanking is necessary to discipline a child. There are countless examples of disciplined and responsible young people who were never spanked by their parents.

Parents who don't spank their kids use time outs, re-directing or distraction with their kids. They pick their kids up and let them cool down, or simply leave the area themselves so they don't do something they'll regret later. While these methods aren't always perfect, they help to form the foundation of a certain kind of household -- one in which violence is not "taught" as a means to better behavior.

After all, we live in a world that's filled with violence. Can't we provide a place for our kids where there isn't any?

© Mark Brandenburg.

NFO contributing author Mark Brandenburg MA, CPCC, is the author of 25 Secrets of Emotionally Intelligent Fathers and is a personal coach to parents. Read more about Mark.

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"The media have become the mainstream culture in children's lives. Parents have become the alternative. Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to it."
-- Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe columnist

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