Spanking Might Be More about Parental Emotions, Not Discipline

Matthew Koehler

Corporal punishment is about satisfying your own anger and fear, not about teaching children.

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The situation

She was standing there slapping her arm with a look that said, “I’m hitting myself but it doesn’t hurt. See? See? See?!?” I was not amused. Then, as if on cue, she laid on the ground, face down and cried, fakely.

Sympathy garnering at its finest.

You can’t beat understanding into a child like you can fear

Usually, I walk away. Unless she really gets angry and becomes a potential danger to herself. Often tripping over things or throwing herself at dangerous objects. The mini manipulator garners my sympathy. I pick her up to make sure she’s alright; it’s a constant reminder of who’s actually in control.

Before this particular episode, she’d slapped me in the face because I’d taken away a crayon that she was eating. Her immediate rage and violent outburst followed.

After the slap, she put on her “O face," surprising herself at smacking me. I shout and briefly entertain the thought of a spanking, but that’s not my style. I look at her and repeat my mantra, “Hitting hurts."

She slaps me again. I give her the evil eye, put her down, and walk away. Which brings us back to where we started at the top.

My thought process on the situation

What parent doesn’t consider corporal punishment from time to time? Even for non-spankers, the expediency and an immediate appeal to our shock and anger over some bit of misbehavior is tempting.

Instead, I point an admonishing finger at her, which is both confusing and comical to her and makes her laugh.

Usually, I start with open dialogue, “Dearest child, why do you keep doing that? It’s like you’ve been preprogrammed to do the opposite of everything I tell you. Why am I even talking to you? You hardly understand human speech.”

As you can imagine, this dialogue has a low success rate but it gives me time to process my emotions. Also, I believe I’m killing two birds with one stone. Distraction being one bird and showering my pre-social toddler with language being the other. Language showers are key to communication and vocabulary development.

However, when this tactic doesn’t work, and the red misty anger starts to mist, I reconsider. I could yell at her and spank her. Not hard, mind you, just a swat. I’d be justified. Other (good and) loving parents have spanked their kids as a pathway to discipline, among other things. There are plenty of well adjusted kids running around who have been dealt with in this way. They may even recall, fondly, the swats they got from their elders.

What parent doesn’t consider corporal punishment from time to time? Even for non-spankers, it crosses the mind

Yet, a brief recap of the last 25 minutes tells me that these options are my last resort, a response to a situation that I’ve caused/lost control of. I’ve been ignoring her, and the behavior is a result of me not addressing her needs. At 20+ months old, her temper tantrums are not her fault, they’re mine.

The only sensible thing to do is to stop what I’m doing, take stock of the situation, and try to re-direct her anger. This burns off energy for both of us. After which, we can return to where we were before with renewed vigor. Even if my eggs are now over done.

No corporal punishment was needed.

Is this the best approach to dealing with temper tantrums and bad behavior? Hell if I know. Maybe some kids need to be smacked. And, maybe I’ll revisit this topic as my daughter gets older and she acts with intention. But, for now, if I need to strike my child as a viable method of discipline, I’d want to meet some criteria first:

  • Is this spanking a direct result of my anger and frustration?
  • Is there something my child has been trying to communicate to me that I’ve been ignoring, or are they just pushing your buttons?
  • In pushing my buttons, is there some aspect of her care that I’ve neglected?
  • Have I honestly exhausted all other methods of discipline?
  • Am I absolutely calm and in the right frame of mind to administer corporal punishment, i.e. not just hitting my child to relieve anger?
  • Will this method instruct or modify behavior in the long run, or is it just a means to an end, i.e. hitting a reset button (pun intended)?
  • In conjunction with the last one, is this a lesson or is this just punishment?

If I answered negatively to all of these, then I suppose more aggressive discipline is called for.

In the meantime, I should clarify a few things.

First, my tot is just about two, which means she has no impulse control and barely understands reality. She also doesn’t realize that hitting others causes pain. She’ll learn, hopefully by repeated efforts of my good example, but hitting her isn’t going to bring that eventual understanding to her.

You can’t beat understanding into a child like you can fear.

Secondly, shouting doesn’t establish control, it only increases the general chaos. And, since she lacks the necessary verbal skills to effectively communicate, a violent reaction on her part is really the only way she knows how to get her point across. As the adult, I believe it’s my responsibility to be aware of this.

Yet, a brief recap of the last 25 minutes tells me that these options are my last resort, a response to a situation that I’ve caused/lost control of

You could justify your actions in the spirit of discipline and “what works,” decrying the accusation that you never hit your child out of anger, but you’d be lying.

In reality, your child disobeyed, crossed the line, so you needed to make a point. There’s no lesson, you’re punishing them, and that’s the point isn’t it? When you're exhausted, that open palm did the trick. No need to mess with what works.

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