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A parenting perspective on the latest headlines
Jun 17, 2014
07:59 AM

Parents Spanking Children as a First Resort

No warnings for bad behavior. More parents are using corporal punishment to discipline kids for all sorts of trivial reasons, according to a new study. A local psychologist weighs in.

Parents Spanking Children as a First Resort

Kids will mouth off, throw fits at the grocery store, skip their chores and much more. And, depending on the offense, parents typically have different ways of disciplining their child. Or do they?

Parents are spanking their kids for trivial reasons – just 30 seconds into an argument, a new study says.

And it's something happening right here in southeast Michigan, says Dr. Arthur L. Robin, the director of psychology training at Children's Hospital of Michigan.

"Parents these days are pulled in so many different directions, and especially in Michigan, with our still-high unemployment rate and continuing financial crises, they are at the end of their ropes," he says. All these stressors lower frustration tolerance, Robin says. And, as a result, they're striking their kids out of anger, which in many cases is a learned behavior.

"I hear about spankings from many of my patients. I usually find that it is part of their value systems – their parents did it to them, and they are going to do it to their children."

The study's findings

The study, titled Eavesdropping on the Family: A Pilot Investigation of Corporal Punishment in the Home and published in the Journal of Family Psychology, evaluated audio recordings of 33 families over six evenings. Moms agreed to wear audio recording devices to capture the family dynamics in action. During that time, researchers discovered 41 incidents of corporal punishment.

Parents were often angry at that moment – and spanking wasn't used a last resort for serious behavior. Plus, in 73 percent of cases, kids acted up again within 10 minutes.

This kind of punishment has negative effects on your child's emotional state, Robin says. Short term, spanking can lead to fear, anxiety and withdrawal.

Disciplining your child

Robin, who does not advocate spanking, works with families to find positive ways to resolve issues and discipline children.

"We now have a number of well-researched, evidence-based parent training approaches that parents can learn on their own or with the help of psychologists and other trained mental health professionals," he says.

Robin suggests parents read Your Defiant Child or Your Defiant Teen, which help parents create a positive environment with their children, teach them how to give commands, use incentives before punishments and more.

When working with families, the first thing Robin stresses to parents is that children are opposing someone – which means there are two people involved. Parents are the second party in the conflict, and they must participate in finding a solution to the family conflict.

Robin suggests increasing positivity with one-on-one time. Invite your child to do an activity of their choice for 20 minutes per day, four times per week if possible. Let the child direct the activities, which could be as simple as shooting hoops or going for a bike ride.

"Break the negativity by showing the parent and child that they could experience each other as fun," Robin says.

Then, combine praise, ignoring and commands, he says. Find five additional reasons to praise your child, ignore – or don't make an issue out of – minor incidents, and make short, simple commands, such as, "Go to bed" or "Clean your room."

Creative positive incentives can help with your child's behavior, too. Robin suggests behavior charts with stickers for younger kids and a contract with some sort of reward for teens – if they behave according to your rules.

"It's a set of tools," Robin says. "You have a toolbox of parenting tools, and we're going to give you some new positive tools in the toolbox instead of spanking."

And when it comes to punishments for fighting, disrespectful language or any other big offense, Robin says to try timeouts for children under 10 – and for teens, taking away use of electronics for 24 hours, for example.

Avoiding corporal punishment takes effort from both parent and child. By working together – or with the help of a psychologist, families can limit physical punishment.

"A peaceful society starts in the family. If we want the next generation of our children to creatively solve the worlds' problems, we have to be teaching methods other than aggression."

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Jun 18, 2014 12:12 am
 Posted by  loricus

People too often do not make a distinction between discipline and punishment. Parents are responsible to discipline their children. Discipline comes from a Greek word meaning to teach. So any form of punishment for wrongdoing loses it's effectiveness as a teacher if it is done in anger. I did spank my children. However, it was never in anger. If I was angry, I took a time out. I also limited spankings to 1 or 2 swats on the behind. It was reserved for acts of willful defiance or safety. I always explained to my children why they were getting a spanking and asked them to tell me why what they did was wrong. Very young children are capable of cogently answering these questions. People underestimate the ability of young children to understand right from wrong. My own mom spanked in anger and while I learned to fear her, I did not always learn what she was trying to teach me. So I decided to use spanking as a last resort and in a very limited way to teach my children. 1 or at most 2 swats was my way of making sure that I did not lose control and model out of control anger to my children. I established my role as an authority very early and after a spanking I allowed my children to apologize and I gave them a big hug and told them I loved them. If children grow up with a parent that routinely gets out of control, all they learn is that sometimes their parents get out of control. My children learned that certain kinds of behavior bring about unpleasant consequences. I really did not have to spank my children very many times. Once they understood that I would follow through with the threat, they were much more likely to stop behaving badly before it got to that point. I had a count to three method of warning them before they would be disciplined in any way. But for spanking, they were warned way ahead of time that it would be a consequence. Undirected, uncontrolled corporal punishment is ineffective because it is a outlet for parental anger, not a teacher.

Sep 20, 2014 10:48 am
 Posted by  Bella.cose

Interesting that the outcome of reading this post is for a parent to make excuses for hitting their kids, and to defend the violence they perpetrated against them, rather than examining their part in the conflict, and their duty to teach nonviolence to their children. As if hitting a child in a cold, calculated manner, and then making the child apologize for the parent having to hit them, isn't psychopathic. Doing it in anger almost seems better.

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