Yes, I’m Going There: Do You Spank Your Kids?

If you’re wondering, based on the title of this post: No, no I do not. To be 100% honest, there was one time I gave my older boy something a little bit more than a tiny tap. I did not hurt him, but I know I scared him. And worse: I scared myself. I didn’t get over it for weeks. I still can make myself cry thinking of that moment, a moment I assure you my son has long forgotten.

I bring up the spanking issue because it remains a topic of interest and debate. I’m not always certain why. There are many things that can legitimately be debated in the parenting world — like co-sleeping or not, or homeschooling or not. But spanking? Hitting kids does nothing, I believe, to change behavior, unless you’re trying to create violent kids who hit their dolls, dogs, and siblings. And maybe later their own children.

I bring it up today because I got this message, last week, from a reader of my book. Her first name is Lauren, and though I answered her privately, she agreed to let me put her question out there to all of you. She’s looking for advice. And so am I. Can we talk?

Here’s what Lauren wrote me. Emphasis in bold type is mine:

In your book you keep saying to do things the way that best suits me, and I love that. My only issue is that, I don’t quite know how to feel about spankings. My mother dealt out spankings (I was an only child) when she got very frustrated (with me, my dad, her parents, the Dalai Lama, etc). They were completely erratic. One day I could have burned the house down and it would have been just fine, the next I could have walked across the room wrong and suffered her wrath. Her “spankings” usually escalated to what I felt was abusive. They usually had very little to do with me. I’m in fear (yeah, I said it, even after reading your book) that because this is the way I learned. I’ve been through counseling, but I can’t help but feel like my mother is living inside me somewhere, just waiting to emerge. I have no problem with spanking as long as it’s for a reason. But I am hoping for maybe some suggestions that don’t involve it. My kids are 3 and 4 and time out seems to be a joke. I never took it seriously either as a child. No discipline method I have tried has offered long lasting results (not even the spankings). I’m frustrated to say the least but I’m trying to keep my cool so that the cycle of abuse doesn’t continue. Again, not looking for a fix-all, just some suggestions and methods that you yourself have implemented.

I wrote back to Lauren that my best strategy for poor behavior is remain dead calm, repeat that this not appropriate or acceptable behavior, and then walk away from it. I said that negative attention is as much a tantrum-feeder as positive attention would be. I say this is my strategy, but I don’t use it so much as I wish I used it. I don’t. I yell and get frustrated and then I walk away. I try to stay calm and consistent, and “try” is the best all of us can do, amirite?

Time outs never worked for my kids, either; I think that’s a personality thing. Frankly I think it’s the parents who need the time out, and I take them.

But I kind of feel my advice to Lauren only scratched the surface. What would you tell her?