Let’s begin with the essential distinction between punishment (arbitrary, harsh or cruel mistreatment for wrong-doing) and discipline (which is an organized method of instruction). So zen is a discipline, and mathematics, and Aikido. Hitting children for any reason is not discipline, it’s abuse and punishment.
Next let’s agree to the assertion that for the most part, parents are doing the best they can with the information and resources they have at the time. If they could do better, they would. This of course does not include those who are Cluster-B. People with that level of psychiatric pathology have entirely different agendas which may include feeding off the emotional pain of others. I’m not talking about them – separate conversation there.
A second assertion is that most parent are unaware that there are radically different options for interacting with their children that produce optimal outcomes for both parent and child. We tend to parent the way we ourselves were parented. Most of us were raised in some version of authoritarian parenting – do as I say or else…
Kids raised under authoritarian parenting grow up and become parents who will either apply authoritarian parenting with their own children (I turned out ok) or were so wounded by it that they rebel and become permissive parents.
Unfortunately, permissive parenting doesn’t work any better than authoritarian parenting, because kids need boundaries. They need to know where the edges are. They need to know that their parents are in charge, that they will keep them safe, that their parents are on their side and will teach them how to be people who can self-manage and be effective problem-solvers.
What does work is connection. Every shred of research over the last century – since John Bowlby wrote “Attachment” has reinforced our understanding that the more secure our bonding and attachments are with others, the healthier and more functional we are as human beings. People hear important ideas best from those they trust most. This is especially true in the relationships between parent and child.
As Pam Leo says in her essential book “Connection Parenting” – “In every interaction with a child we can determine what to do by asking one simple question: Is what I am about to say or do going to build and strengthen the connection with my child or will it weaken and break it?” and then just act accordingly. This applies at every level, scalable from one-on-one to considering an entire parenting philosophy.
Punishment doesn’t work because it doesn’t teach. Humans cannot learn when they are being hurt. Furthermore, hitting kids creates an attachment break – a drop in connection, loss of trust, and generates fear instead of respect.
It is absolutely unnecessary to rule children through fear. In fact ruling children through fear is counterproductive and dangerous. Fear literally alters the structures of the child’s growing brain. When they are in fear, when kids are being hurt by those they love and trust who apply fear, the result is that children CANNOT learn. The punishment itself destroys any possibility of learning – the child’s thinking shuts down – they cannot process their painful experience, and their attention is focused on how to be smarter – to not get caught next time. Punishment and the use of fear creates liars and bullies. Kids who are hurt are far more likely to hurt other children as well. We have known about these correlations for decades.
Negative behavior is caused by unmet needs. Decode the behavior, meet the unmet need and the behavior will change. Works every time. What keeps these assaults on children in place is a combination of poor skills in emotional self-management among adults, lack of empathy and compassion, ignorance, denial, laziness, and the idealization of abuse and abusers.
As I said above, humans cannot learn when they are being hurt, our thinking shuts down completely. The lessons a spanking teaches are:
– that you are powerless and I can hurt you whenever I wish,
– that might makes right,
– that love is pain and when I hurt you that means I love you,
– that violence is an acceptable resolution for conflict,
– that you must learn to lie and deceive so you will not get caught,
– that people who claim to love you have a right to hurt you,
– that people who claim to love you have a right to violate your boundaries,
– that your consent doesn’t matter,
– that your physical integrity is not safe,
Spanking locks resentment, anger, fear into an internal emotional conflict with a confusion that conflates love and pain, and frequently turns to hatred. It damages self worth and creates behavioral problems that take up to two years to begin to manifest. And mostly it is a behavioral demonstration that our own needs are deeply unmet and we lack sufficient resources as a parent. We lack emotional self-management skills, and we need to find, learn and apply methods for conflict resolution that do not include assault and physical, emotional and mental violence.
Spanking is also a set up for domestic violence in later relationships, for sexual abuse and furthermore, if you did that to me I would have you in court and charged with assault. Why should those laws be any different for a child?
We absolutely have real clarity about what it takes to raise children into healthy, fully-functional, kindly and capable adults who are able to have nurturing relationships and make meaningful work. We (in the human domains of knowing) have understood most of this for decades, but convincing parents to give up their barbaric practices and to do what works best is an appalling uphill battle.
As Laura Markham says, “If we’re serious about raising good kids, we need to use methods that teach kids to manage themselves. Spanking does not do that. Instead, it teaches kids to be afraid of us, which is no basis for love. It teaches them to be sneaky so they won’t be caught doing something wrong. It teaches kids that they are bad, so they are more likely to behave badly. It teaches kids to use violence when they want to solve a problem. And it keeps them from taking responsibility to improve their own behavior, because they “externalize the locus of control,” which means they only behave because an authority figure makes them, rather than behaving because they want to.”
Violence against children is what is most broken in this civilization – physical, emotional, mental. Until we change this, nothing else in the overculture will ever change. Look at the world around you. I rest my case.
“However we treat the child, the child will treat the world.” – Pam Leo