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The Family Therapist is In
Let's Talk About Spanking - Are Children Really like Puppies?
May, 2005 - Issue #7
Spanking - what a controversial subject! Talking about it rouses as much emotion as discussing religion or politics. Parents make valid arguments for each point of view. Whenever I'm queried about this particular parenting tool I ask the question: "What are you trying to teach?"

If the answer is, "I don't spank when I'm angry, I'm use spanking as a tool to get my child's attention," then I would challenge you to consider other options.

Often spanking happens because as parents we're frustrated, tired, don't know what else to do, and it's what was done to us when we were children. Unfortunately when we're tired and frustrated we're not about teaching, we're about power and control. At that point nothing positive is taught and nothing positive is learned.

H. Norman Wright wrote an amazing book relating parenting to raising a puppy. He talks about puppies, kids and anger and as I read his book I realized he was pretty right-on! When you tell your puppy to do something they:
• ignore you
• give you a "Huh?" look
• give you a look that says "No"
• hike or squat and douse the floor
• all of the above

It sounds very similar to the way children push our buttons, doesn't it? As parents we may have unspoken expectations that our kids (and our puppies) should instantly behave or learn the lesson the first time. It's not going to happen!

H. Norman Wright says, "The unrealistic expectations we have can lead to anger and frustration - which gets through to a child just like it does to a puppy." When we're trying to get our children to behave a certain way by spanking, they can feel they're bad and that their parent is pushing them away. With children, spanking is perceived as an angry response. And I think if we're honest as parents, there is usually some anger, irritation or frustration involved when we choose to spank. Even with the best of intentions, some emotion leads us to resort to spanking. Our emotion creates an emotional response in our children. They become confused, insecure and anxious or can consider any emotional attention better than no attention.

Children and puppies fear rejection, in fact they fear it so much that it gets in the way of learning. Have you ever considered that spanking may feel like rejection to your child? If the purpose is to get our child's attention and change behaviors, could you use positive reinforcement? You want to discourage the behaviors you don't want, not encourage them. According to H. Norman Wright:

"Remember, puppies and children are the same - they continue to behave in ways that work for them. If your child interprets spanking as 'at least I'm getting attention,' then they'll continue whatever behaviors will get them that attention. With your child you can reward and reinforce appropriate behaviors. If your child has a tantrum or is whining, try ignoring the behaviors, or try getting on the floor and having a tantrum with them, or encourage them to cry louder. It might sound crazy but it works! When they don't whine or tantrum over what usually triggers them, reinforce it."

Many of you might be thinking, "This author is wrong; my spanking does work." The question is, "Does is it really?" Or do they stop the behaviors out of fear, rejection, anger, and confusion and then move on to other inappropriate behaviors? As parents, shouldn't our children associate our touch with good touch - hugging, kissing, tickling, comforting?

Choosing how to discipline a child is a struggle for all parents. If you have questions or ideas, I'd love to hear them.

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You can contact Kim Schafer by emailing kschafer@insidescv.com.
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