KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, November 21, 2005

Please Don't Spank or Slap Your Children

My brother Wally, age 3, and me, age 10
My brother Wally, age 3, and me, age 10
My reaction to a Reuters story today [or read it here] was Well, of course! But then I realized that a lot of Americans might see things differently. Those are the 90% of Americans who, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, think that spanking is an appropriate method for disciplining children.

As someone who was slapped across the face, spanked on the buttocks with a hand, and whipped on the buttocks with leather belts as a child, I'm appalled that any percentage of Americans believes that children should be spanked. The story from Reuters says that spanking can fuel aggression and anxiety in children and can cause other behavior problems:

Children who are spanked when they misbehave are more likely to be anxious and aggressive than children who are disciplined in nonphysical ways, research shows. This is true even if spanking is the "cultural norm."

Whether parents should spank their children or use other forms of physical discipline is controversial. Some experts argue that children should not be spanked when they act out, citing evidence that it leads to more, rather than fewer, behavior problems and it could escalate into physical abuse. There are data to support this argument.

Anxiety? Well, of course. But they left out other effects: low self-esteem, fear of adults, a sense of powerlessness, destroyed parent–child relationships, social difficulties in childhood, difficulty forming normal intimate relationships in adulthood, and the potential to pass this destructive way of relating on to future generations.

My brother and sister and I all have major psychic scars from the physical and emotional abuse our parents meted out. I'm on my second marriage (I had self-esteem too poor to allow me to pick someone the first time around who was good for me), my sister's on her third marriage, and my brother (who had the added burden of being gay in a homophobic family) has a hard time seeing himself as worthy of anyone's love.

I remember being 7 years old and being on vacation at my maternal grandparents' home with my siblings and parents, and watching as my father slapped my infant brother's thighs, as my brother lay crying in an infant seat, and then said, "I'll give you something to cry about." What kind of person slaps a child, much less one younger than a year old?

Years of abuse like that are why, when my first marriage ended and I had a chance to take back my birth surname, I decided to instead take the surname O'Moore, the birth name of my maternal grandmother, a sweet woman who had never hit me. I did not want to be associated by name with people who hit children—with the people who had hit me.

What are you teaching your children when you hit them?

  • That it's okay to hit someone smaller and weaker than they are
  • That their feelings don't matter
  • That their bodies are not their own
  • That adults can't control their own anger
  • That love equals hitting
  • That adults aren't to be trusted; one time they'll show affection, and the next time they'll hit
Are those the lessons you really want them to learn? Do you want them to grow up harboring vast stores of anger toward—and even hatred for—you? Do you want to contribute to American society's tendency to violence?

There are ways to teach children good behavior and self-control that don't involve hitting:

  1. The goal of discipline is to teach children acceptable behavior. Whenever possible, teach children what you want to see rather than punishing them.
  3. View children's misbehavior as a mistake in judgment. It will be easier to think of ways to teach more acceptable behavior.
  5. Never hit or shake infants. They do not know right and wrong. They do not misbehave on purpose. They need love and protection, not punishment.
  7. Create a safe environment for children. Baby-proof the house. Distract or remove infants and toddlers when they are doing something they shouldn't be doing.
  9. Provide order and consistency. Whenever possible have regular times for meals, studying and bedtime.
  11. Give toddlers and preschoolers age-appropriate choices and consequences.
  13. Establish family rules that are appropriate for children's ages. Keep them few in number with clear and reasonable consequences for not obeying.
  15. Develop a trusting relationship with children by protecting them from harm, by being honest and trustworthy, and by exhibiting predictable and mature behavior.
  17. Children need to hear more good things about themselves than bad things. Offer praise for appropriate behavior. Praise will increase that behavior.
  19. Adopt a "no-hitting" attitude. No one has a right to hit anyone else in the household ... that includes hitting children for misbehavior.

Please stop using violence against your children. They will be more whole people, and the world will be a better place. Thank you.

Take 2


RedRabbit said...

THANK YOU. Hitting children is so wrong, and I always get apoplectic when talking about it and can't express myself clearly, because I am fuming! Your posting is cogent and wise.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I was appalled when I read this post at Blogging Baby a couple of weeks ago and saw how many of the commenters think "swatting" or spanking is an "attention-getter." Physical violence isn't an attention-getter; it's VIOLENCE.

Thanks for your excellent post.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Thanks for bringing the Blogging Baby post to my attention, POP. I've posted a comment there with a link to my "Please Don't Spank" entry.

erinberry said...

That is the cutest photo - I'm so sorry you endured such trauma in childhood.

Anonymous said...

If you can remember the ending to Mommy Dearest, you'll remember that vengence was the daughter's. After her mother passed away, she told the story. Tell our story, big sister! **Wally**

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Vengeance isn't my goal; making someone think about how to treat children is.

Stephanie said...

I wrote an article on this topic that has appeared on several sites including:


Basically, my view is that parents can set up an environment and use selective wording/phrasing (ie., "will you wear this or this today?" or "will you clean your room after this program or right now?") that pretty much eliminates an awful lot of acting out.

When you use "no" or "don't do that" sparingly, the kids tend to listen more when you do say it.

When you have a rule (ie., at 4 o'clock everyday, it's time to....), you can *blame the clock*--("It's 4 o'clock, honey, we have to....") instead of always looking like the bad guy.

Hitting's simply not necessary; obedience by force is a one-time behavior. Getting your child to cooperate willingly is a better goal, I think.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Excellent points, Stephanie. Thank you. And here is the link to Stephanie's article, so that readers can easily follow it.

Anonymous said...

Finally someone who talks sense without giving the message that there is no discipline!

I don't have any children but I have decided that once I do have a child, I will not spank at all. I was spanked but I have been told what I experienced was actually abuse. My mom always told me it was "part of our culture" to do such horrible things and a lot of peers from my ethnic community tend to agree as well. Maybe I'm a cultural sell-out, but I for one do NOT think that using a belt, hands, a stick, or even a cooking spoon or hangers is appropriate child discipline. I do not believe that taking your child's head and slamming it into the wall is appropriate either!

Spanking is not = to discipline. It takes hard working parents to not spank and to use reason, logic, natural consequences, and patience to discipline their children. So I say no to spanking!

Perhaps the reason why so many parents feel spanking is okay is because they are really too lazy to do anything else otherwise?

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Anon the second wrote: Maybe I'm a cultural sell-out, but I for one do NOT think that using a belt, hands, a stick, or even a cooking spoon or hangers is appropriate child discipline. I do not believe that taking your child's head and slamming it into the wall is appropriate either!

You're not selling out at all, Anon. Hurting a child isn't discipline; it only teaches a child pain and anger and powerlessness.

Perhaps the reason why so many parents feel spanking is okay is because they are really too lazy to do anything else otherwise?

Actually, I think it's because spanking is all they know—it's what was done to them.

Anonymous said...

You're singing my song. Anytime we take advantage of our greater experience and size, and force our will upon a child, we are engaging in damaging behavior. People who dominate children are weakening everything good and strong and useful and valuable in the child. Generally, bullies are afraid, often cowards,

If anyone treated an adult the way many people treat children, it would be called assault and battery, punishable by prison time if convicted.

I suffered none of that growing up, but my brother did, and I know that witnessing it can be traumatizing, too. I can't excuse it, but life's lessons have given me another perspective on what was happening. My mother was never a "believer" in spanking, she was a birthright Quaker, and Quakers are pacifists. She was, quite plainly, beyond her capacities to do any better.

She was mother to four very smart, verbal, quirky, unpredictable children; my father was usually milking cows, fixing a piece of farm machinery or some other endless thankless chore. He was also very leery of conflict, so it fell to her to make the moment-to-moment, all-day-long decisions where four (Four!) kids were concerned.

People should not be stretched that tight. As a mother, I know exactly how it happens in even the most adamantly anti-spanking parents. I understood one day, in a moment of abject rage, why the people on the news say, "I didn't mean to hurt him. I never meant to hurt him," when referring to the child they have just put in the ER. On that day, I was so angry, I was on the brink of violence. Suddenly, I understood, and it was clear I didn't want to hurt her. I wanted the whole thing to stop: my rage most of all.

Lashing out at her would not have been an expression of my feelings about her, but an expression of a primitive, unbridled wave of violent emotion.

I sat right down and cried. Would that more people could do that; and speak without fear of castigation about their feelings of frustration, helplessness and fear that are sometimes evoked by the enormity of the repsonsibility of raising children.

We are a culture of contradictions. Ninety percent think spanking is fine, but to describe their feelings is taboo. (Better to act them out than to spit them out.) I shake my head in wonder and sorrow.

Anonymous said...

An article by Margaret Paul PHD.. "On they should of beat me more."

They Should Have Beat Me More” - The Cycle Of Physical Abuse
by: Margaret Paul, Ph.D.

In December, 2005, I conducted a two-day workshop with men who had recently been released from prison for domestic violence. With the men were their wives, as well as the father of a batterer who was still in prison.

The father, Douglas, sat in front of me, sharing his childhood experiences.

“My momma was a very loving woman – a big-hearted, hard working loving woman,” he told me. From my many years of counseling, I knew that my definition of love and his definition of love were likely very different.

“Did she ever beat you?” I asked.

“Oh yeah. She beat me all the time. My daddy beat my momma and my momma beat me. But she beat me because I was bad. I was really bad. Maybe if she had beat me more, I wouldn’t have been so bad.”

“What did she beat you with?”

“Anything she could get her hands on. Extension cords, wooden spoons. Often I had to go into the yard and pick out the switch.”

“How did you feel when you knew you were going to get a beating?”

“Oh, I was terrified. I’d beg and plead and promise not to do again whatever it was she was mad at. But that never worked. I always got the beating. Then after the beating she would tell me that she loved me, that it was for my own good, and that it hurt her more than it hurt me.”

“And how were you bad?”

“Well, sometimes I’d come in late, and sometimes I would talk back. Then I got into alcohol and drugs at a very early age. Maybe if she had beat me more, I wouldn’t have done the alcohol and drugs.”

“Why do you think you did the alcohol and drugs?”

“I was just hurtin’ too much. It took me outta all the pain for awhile.”

“What was the pain?”

“I don’t know. I was just hurtin’ a lot.”

“Do you think it is possible that you were hurting because the woman who was supposed to protect you was instead hurting you? That she was confusing you by telling you she loved you while she was beating and terrifying you? That there was no one to turn to for safety and nurturing? That you were scared much of the time for fear of the beatings? That you were terribly lonely and could not turn to your parents because they were the ones causing the pain?”

Silence………Then he looked at me in shock. As the light bulb when on in his mind, the tears started rolling down his weathered cheeks. Soon he was sobbing.

“That’s right…That’s right….The beatings were the problem. More beatings would not have helped. And I beat my children thinking it was the right thing to do, and now my son is in prison for beating his wife and protective services want to take away their daughter. And I almost hit her the other day when she didn’t mind me. I’m so glad I didn’t. This has to stop! This has to stop!”

I looked around the room. Everyone was in tears. Kathy, the wife of one of the batterers, spoke up, sobbing.

“I’ve always hit my kids, and no matter what anyone told me about it not being good, it never made sense to me. This is the first time I understand why it’s not a good or loving way to discipline my kids. And I can see why I’m having so many problems with my older son and why he is on drugs. He has always been furious with me and I had no idea why. Now I understand. I need to learn a new way to discipline. I’m going to take a parenting class and start reading parenting books.”

I hugged Douglas for the profound work he did, and for the effect his work was having on everyone in the room. I thanked God for giving me the privilege of working with these people. All of them, it turned out, had been severely beaten as children.

I am deeply grateful to James Beard who conducts workshops within the prison with batterers and to Lindsay Wagner, who also works with these men and their families. Both of them were assisting me at this workshop. We all smiled at each other in deep gratitude for the healing that was taking place.

Anonymous said...

I thought I would leave this post as to the consequences of beating a child. I've also listened to Bradshaw on the family, as well as do self help with innerbonding. Which is Maragaret Pauls' website, she has some good advice on parenting, I think. I also remember a comment made by a psychogist when a parent, a mother said she had to practically beat her son just to get him to do anything. The psychologist remarked, don't be surprised if as a teenager he turns around and attacks you one day, because that is exactly what you are teaching him. I think after a while when kids grow older they become indifferent or immune to the punnishment and may even turn out to be more rebellious as a result of it. I've heard kids ,"Say ,So what if they beat me I'll just keep doing what I am doing."(And usualyy find covert ways to get around their parents rules.) So these practices don't really instill discipline in the child but the opposite.

Anonymous said...

guess you guys are sp's. I don't agree with your views on this, you ok with that?

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Anon 1/11/08, no one who commented on my post is a spanker. I don't think, and none of the other commenters think, that spanking is appropriate.

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