Redirecting the Impulse to Spank

Written by Amy W. on April 30th, 2012

Gentle Discipline, Responding With Sensitivity
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Welcome to the Spank Out Day 2012 Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Second Annual Spank Out Day Carnival hosted by Zoie at TouchstoneZ. Spank Out Day was created by The Center for Effective Discipline to give attention to the need to end corporal punishment of children and to promote non-violent ways of teaching children appropriate behavior. All parents, guardians, and caregivers are encouraged to refrain from hitting children on April 30th each year, and to seek alternative methods of discipline through programs available in community agencies, churches and schools. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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Let’s face it. Parenting is not always the beautiful, loving relationship we imagined – not all of the time. More often than not it involves power struggles and rudeness. Tantrums and tirades. “I want this,” and “don’t do that.” Pushing buttons, pulling back, and escapism … on our part as well as on the part of our children.

There was a time that every response to our (very spirited) child’s behavior was “You should be glad that we don’t spank you!” because my husband and I felt so helpless and hurt in a repeating cycle of disobedience and rudeness and anger. There was also a time that our resilience against corporal punishment began to wane, and our hands were reaching out to swat Abbey in the buttocks to get her attention. We considered that maybe our decision not to spank was in error – until we realized that our troubles were remedied by addressing unmet needs – unmet needs of ours and of our child’s. We might have wanted to spank her, as frustrated and helpless as we felt, but we didn’t.

Now we know that in times of struggle, we might want to lash out, but we don’t. We might feel like we want to spank, but we choose not to. We choose instead in times of struggle to connect: honoring our anger, addressing a need for peace and quiet, and then addressing the problem at hand (and only the problem at hand) with our child. It may not be quick, it may not be easy, but it kept us from choosing to hit, which we both agreed was not a responsible or loving decision, and not something we want to teach our children.

Honoring emotion, finding peace, and addressing the problem is a responsible and achievable alternative to spanking, whether spanking is used as an established form of “discipline” or if it’s happening in anger and helplessness. Whatever the reason for corporal punishment, there is a solution in finding the ability to respond with sensitivity – to ourselves and to our children.

Acknowledging the Disparate Perspectives of Parent and Child

We’ve learned that parenting, although an amazing blessing, is also a relationship – a difficult relationship that involves incredibly disparate perspectives. When our children test limits, show inappropriate behaviors, or are downright mean to us or to others, it’s a cry for belonging and significance. “Without both feeling an emotional connection and a sense of autonomy, capability, and responsibility, children will misbehave.”1

But to us as adults, misbehavior is most commonly viewed as a sign of disrespect – we feel dishonored, personally attacked, and sometimes incapable and embarrassed when our children assert their autonomy and significance in a negative way. When misbehaving, children are crying out for help being included and responsible, and as adults, our perception is just not the same.

Navigating Disparate Points of View

“You need to show her that that behavior is unacceptable” is a rationale that I hear a lot when speaking to other parents about discipline. Many parents use spanking or other forms of corporal punishment, like forced time-outs, because they feel that they need to show their child that disobedience has a consequence. Even though there are times when we feel like losing it, or times that we feel Abbey’s behavior might merit a punishment, what my husband and I have chosen to embrace as an alternative to corporal punishment is that disobedience has a solution, not a consequence. Amy McCreedy recommends respect as an alternative to shame and punishment, explaining:

“Our goal is not to make the child suffer — but to have him learn to make a better choice in the future. When parents inflict blame, shame or pain as part of a ‘punishment,’ the child is focused on ‘self-protection,’ not learning for the future.”2

The way that we implement this in our household is by honoring our own feelings of anger and frustration, and then finding quiet within ourselves as parents and helping our child calm down and listen. Once we are both ready to listen and talk, we discuss the issue. In the case that either parent or child is unable to calm down and talk, we have a parental time-out, and walk away from the situation, and we ask our child to take some time for herself before we come back to the discussion.

child covering eyes

That’s Not What Hands Are For

Parenting is a frustrating business. It’s not always lovely hand-holding and cherished memories of blowing bubbles and tickle-fests. There’s some of that – hopefully a lot of the good stuff. But let’s be real here: Sometimes it gets ugly, and we don’t know what to do.

Thankfully, there’s a way to prevent the harm that comes from corporal punishments like spanking and forced bodily time-outs. Because even though anger and frustration can make us feel like we want to spank, we don’t have to. As Abbey likes to remind me: “Hands are not for hitting!” Though the book she’s quoting 3 is written for children, it’s an appropriate lesson for all of us.

I have the upmost sympathy for those who think that hitting works for them, because I know what it feels like to be that frustrated. Thankfully, I’ve learned that there is an alternative to spanking (and even an alternative to yelling, but that’s a different discussion). Instead of hitting out of anger or to be “in control” or enact a punishment, we can refrain from such impulses and use a non-violent method of authenticity, peacefulness, and communication to make a much deeper and healthier impact on our child’s behavior.

We may get so frustrated that we find ourselves impulsively wanting to spank our stubborn, angry, treacherously difficult child. But we don’t. That’s not what our hands are for.

Welcome to the Spank Out Day 2012 Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Second Annual Spank Out Day Carnival hosted by Zoie at TouchstoneZ. Spank Out Day was created by The Center for Effective Discipline to give attention to the need to end corporal punishment of children and to promote non-violent ways of teaching children appropriate behavior. All parents, guardians, and caregivers are encouraged to refrain from hitting children on April 30th each year, and to seek alternative methods of discipline through programs available in community agencies, churches and schools. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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  1. McCreedy, Amy. “Why do Children Really Misbehave?: Understanding Kids’ Needs Can Help You Keep Them in Line,” Today.com: Parenting, 2010
  2. McCreedy 2010.
  3. Agassi, Martine, PhD, Hands Are Not For Hitting (Free Spirit Publishing)

About The Author: Amy W.

Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work Amy_willa My NPN Posts

Military spouse, breastfeeding advocate, natural parent, and seamstress, Amy ran into natural parenting by accident, and now blogs at Amy Willa: Me Mothering, and Making it All Work and Natural Parents Network, in order to share her experience and inspire others to live an authentic life and seek peace in parenting. Amy enjoys sewing, selling Silly Bear Handmade cloth diapers and eco friendly home goods at her Etsy shop, and is a passionate and compassionate breastfeeding advocate. She is active in La Leche League International, and pursuing a Public Health Degree and certification as an IBCLC.

6 Responses to Redirecting the Impulse to Spank

  1. Dionna  

    Just because I’ve never spanked doesn’t mean that I’ve never felt the urge to! Being raised in a home where spanking was a parenting method, there have been times when I get so frustrated that spanking seems like an option. Thank you for this honest post – I can relate. And, like you, I am thankful that I’ve found more peaceful ways to work through problems, even though they are not always easy.

    • Amy  

      I am so glad that the feeling is mutual. For a while I struggled with guilt over my impulse to hit Abbey. . . now I can be confident in my choice NOT to, and not feel guilty for those natural feelings! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Amy @ Anktangle  

    I totally agree with this, Amy! Like lots of other parents, I sometimes have the urge to hit my child, but my partner and I choose to use connection over punishment when it comes to discipline. It’s not easy! But then again, who ever said parenting would be?

    Thank you so much for writing this thoughtful post.

    • Amy  

      I think it’s important to be honest and authentic about feelings and find a way to use that energy in a productive manner. We do a lot of “feelings talks” in our house! Glad you enjoyed the post!

  3. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ  

    Amy, hank you for writing this piece for the carnival and sharing it on NPN.

    This concept “that disobedience has a solution, not a consequence” is incredibly powerful. That is a life-changing idea. So often, when we’re having one of those times, that you talk about, when it’s ugly and frustrating to parent, we look at the problems. We get locked into controlling it because we feel out of control. Control means consequences, but not solutions.

    I’m going to read more about Amy McCreedy, too. Thank you for introducing me to her words.

  4. Megan@TheBehavioralChild  

    Enjoyed reading your post, your points were poignant and persuasive.

    As a fellow believer in positive behavior support, I have found that communication is sometimes all that is needed to build a bridge between two disagreeing points of view. Sometimes, it’s just as simple as that.

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