Life has been fairly uneventful here, so I will take up the subject of corporal punishment from the previous entry.

– Why any kind of physical punishment is needed: First, because little kids have a very limited sense of cause and effect, or consequentiality. A two-year-old may not connect the lack of dessert after dinner to his temper tantrum two or three hours previously. A spanking which occurs very immediately after the offense is more easily linked. Second, an aversive response creates a strong stimulation to avoid the undesirable behavior. In other words, if a child feels pain when he disobeys his parents, this gives him a very strong motivation not to disobey his parents. Third, “timeouts” may be useful if you’re at home, in a controlled environment, where you know you have a quiet corner or room to put the child in, and you have the time to make her stay there long enough for it to be a punishment. But if you’re out visiting, or at the store, there’s no corner to put the child in. A spanking can be more readily administered, if you have a stick in your purse, and find a restroom to do it in. Also, threatening to take away something nice, like food, candy, a visit to friends, etc, firstly may occur too long afterwards to really affect the current behavior; secondly is not often followed through on; and thirdly can be more of a punishment to other people than to the child.

– Spanking is not child abuse: By a stick I mean what my mother always used, either the handle of a wooden cooking spoon, or a slim dowel rod, cut down to a handy size. Not your hand (which produces undesirable correlations in the child’s mind, and hurts you as much as the child), or a belt (usually too heavy), or a brush (also too heavy). Yes, it hurts, otherwise there wouldn’t be any point. It usually leaves red marks that go away in a few hours; maybe a few slight bruises if the child gets spanked very frequently (see below).

– I believe that spanking is more loving than what parents are often advised to do, which is to ignore their child’s behavior, or separate themselves from the child by putting them in a room or a corner. Bad behavior is definitely a way of asking for attention; children need to learn that a bad way of asking brings attention they don’t want. But to cut yourself off from the child by walking away from their screaming – that really builds a wall. Much bigger than spanking them, and then hugging them after they apologize.

Believe me, children are not innocent, and they are not stupid. They want to train parents to do what they want – give them the food, the clothes, the TV, the friends that please them. Children are also not logical creatures. You cannot reason with a one-year-old, or a two-year-old. Saying, “That’s not nice,” or, “Please help mommy and stop throwing fits,” is not going to get across to them. (It barely gets across to a twelve-year-old!) It is a parent’s responsibility to use the advantage of size and age to train children to behave in appropriate ways. You should not have to put up with your toddler throwing a screaming fit every time you walk past the candy in the check-out lane. You should not have to accept a refusal to eat anything but peanut butter for every single meal for a week. The majority of the parents of toddlers I have seen in the past month have been made miserable by their children’s clever manipulation of them. One of the nurses told me, “My 3yr-old hit her little brother on the mouth with a plastic toy, and there’s not really anything I can do about it. She always gets her own way with us.” This mother spoke despairingly about the self-will of a three-year-old. It does not benefit children at all to be allowed to get their own way. They are not wise enough to choose well, and it gives them the idea that they can always get what they want, without much trouble, and without bad consequences if they choose poorly. To allow a child to grow up like this is not love, but lazy self-indulgence.

Not that it’s easy to make a child obey. It takes a certain length of dedicated discipline, when you carefully punish every infraction. The child has to know if that if he does X, a spanking will certainly follow. I know from personal experience. I think it was one year, when I was about 10, in which I answered back to every single thing my mom said, disobeyed just about every instruction she gave, spent at least half the day in my room, and got spanked two or three times a day. (Maybe it was a shorter period, and just felt longer to me.) I’m telling you, the only thing that persuaded me to obey my parents was that eventually it hurt too much not to. I will even specify that I got plenty of red marks, and even a few bruises from it. But if my parents had not kept on (and it was not easy for them; the other thing that stopped me was my mother crying every time she had to spank me), I would have been the most rebellious, disagreeable teenager you can imagine (and I don’t claim to be of exemplary behavior now ;). I do not know where I would be today if they had not disciplined me.

Couple other notes: Don’t spank the child just because you’re angry. It has to be for breaking a well-known rule, or disobeying a direct command. And you have to be calm, so you’re not taking out your anger physically. This is where sending the child to their room to wait helps. Also, don’t think that a child can be too young to be spanked. By about 10mos-1 yr, children are sturdy enough to be spanked, and definitely self-willed enough to deserve it. Don’t let them develop a habit of getting their own way till they’re three or four, and then suddenly start spanking them, if you can help it. But of course better late than never.

Anyhow, it’s kind of an embarassing story about myself. But I am so grateful to my parents for sticking with it, and not giving up on me (and incidentally making me read all their books about child discipline, in between getting spanked, so I would know why they were doing it). King Solomon had it right: “Spare the rod and spoil the child. . .  Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” And of course, spanking was not the only thing my parents did with us. They did plenty of playing, reading, talking, praying, and singing, too.

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