Have you ever done something you didn’t actually like doing but you did it anyway? Maybe it was something you just grew up around and it seemed normal but sometimes what’s normal is uncomfortable or disturbing. I’ve done many things unconsciously because it was a learned behavior that I adapted into my life but I’ve often come to an impasse where my habit to continue what’s unhelpful needed to be overridden in order to improve as a man and as a father.
Having worked with disturbed, out of control children, two things stood out.
First, as you realized with your son, every child is different. Sad as it is, there are some children for whom every form of discipline fails but who respond to a single, stinging smack. I wish it was otherwise, and I think it's uncommon, but such children do exist. I honestly don't know what the answer is for them, since I'm not a fan of physical punishments. But I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit that I've encountered kids who haven't responded to anything less than physical punishment. I've never hit a child, or anyone, but I've seen loving parents use this kind of punishment to good effect when all else has failed.
The second thing I took away from my experience with disturbed children is that the absolute worst thing a parent can do is to be inconsistent in how they treat their child's misbehavior. It was common to see parents who would punish severely for the very same offense that, at another time, they laughed at or let pass. Children absolutely need to know what is out of bounds, and what the result of their misbehavior will be. Even when the parent thinks they're being kind and letting their child off the hook, just this one time, the child has lost the needful certainty as to the result of their behavior. Worse, many learn from this that they can wheedle their way out of responsibility for their actions, and employ these techniques as adults. Too many parents employ discipline in a random way, depending upon their mood at a given moment. This approach to parenting is a real tragedy. For most children, clear boundaries and consistent discipline will avoid ever having to face the question of whether or not to spank a child.
We have 3 children with completely different personalities. The middle one was very easy and was never spanked and didn't require much of any discipline. The oldest was active and headstrong, but after spanking her one time it only increased her stress, so we never did it again and instead would try and wear her out or put her in a restrictive situation. After our easy break with the middle child, the youngest was completely on his own path and after trying every discipline imaginable, we finally sometimes resorted to spanking, but never in anger and only when he was on a path to putting his safety in jeopardy. The rare spanking did work on him. Some children are so determined to go their own way that physical punishment is the only deterrent. Each child is different and I believe parents can adapt their method to fit what works with the child. But one thing is for certain and that is never hit a child in anger. These discussions are wonderful by the way and are things everyone of us can relate to as we learn from each other.
Honestly, I think we need to teach good parenting skills from late elementary school onwards. But first we need to figure out what the parameters should be (some of which are obvious; others are controversial). As with everything, a “one size fits all” standard may not work. As you rightly pointed out, children have their own personalities and tendencies, and may not all benefit from the same approaches.
I suspect a lot of problems with those “terror kids” have to do with a complete lack of attention from parents (who spend more time on their phones than minding their children -- something kids intuitively feel). Plus, of course, a generalized lowering of social standards for “politeness” across the board...
My story is similar to yours Adam. And I spanked my kids too, until I decided it wasn’t right. I found myself spanking them because I lost control of myself, or lost patience. It seemed more about *me* than about teaching *them*.
In moderation I don’t see spanking (not beatings) is as a problem Shouldn’t be a routine occurrence. I’m old enough to remember licks in school. Don’t remember getting any but I deserved to a few times. I can only remember one spanking from my dad and it was enough.
I agree and disagree. There is little or no reason to spank a sensitive child; the same for a compliant one. I raised one who was both and he was probably spanked twice, always for intentional disobedience. I also raised a rule breaker who was spanked much more frequently, again only for intentional disobedience. He and I recently spoke about the difference between punishment for the two of them and he clearly remembered thinking it was unfair that he was punished more often. But he also stated now knew that he was not punished unfairly or felt he was ever "beaten", and that he now understood why there was a difference in their punishments. He agreed that his brother did not "push the rules" the way he did. As you mention, a good parent will always look for alternative methoids of punishment. And I believe a spanking should be a clearly understood consequence for intentional disobedience. Spanking is simply one tool in a parent's bag.
I was physically disciplined very harshly as a child (fundamentalist Pentecostal parents), and while I love my parents and know they did what they thought was best with limited parenting skills, I knew that when I had my own children I’d parent radically differently.
I now have 3 children - 15, 13, and 7, and I’ve never spanked. My children are respectful, kind, helpful, thoughtful and loving. We rarely even need to verbally correct their behaviour (although they do bicker with their siblings so I promise they are normal 😅). We do homeschool too though and while they have a large group of friends, I do think that the lack of negative peer influence probably helps too.
Mostly though I credit the work of Laura Markham ‘Aha! Parenting’ for teaching me alternative parenting skills to guide our family through conflicts without resorting to physical discipline. Whole Brain Child is good too. I’m incredibly grateful for modern parenting research into the pitfalls of authoritarian and permissive parenting, and the benefits of authoritative parenting.
1. Discipline is teaching. That is what you used with your son.
2. Punishment is used when the child knew and did it anyway. Just don’t respond in anger.
Two different things.