Spanking’s Effects on the Development of Our Children
This week’s newsletter is a continuation of my last newsletter, To Spank or Not To Spank? Part 1 in which we discussed violence in society, how children’s thinking differs from adults, and the physiological and neurological effects spanking has on our children. In this issue, we’ll take a look at how spanking affects our children’s behavior.
Spanking and lying
Using spanking as a punishment leads to the repetition, escalation, or alteration of problematic behaviors. The child becomes accustomed to spankings, but is afraid and confused about what the adult is trying to teach about their behavior.
Why do children lie? To avoid punishment. They do this even when they have gotten in trouble before for lying. When we are stressed our thinking becomes confused and distorted and our short-term memory is suppressed. After a few spankings, the child may be in such a fearful confused place they cannot rationally remember that lying leads to spankings. So they lie again.
The 2011 article, “Plain Talk About Spanking,” by Jordan Riak* offers some insights about spanking:
- Spanking can set children up to be easy prey for sexual predators because we are showing them that their bodies are not their own, they belong to their adult caregivers.
- Medical science documents that being struck on the bottom can stimulate sexual feelings. A child who is spanked on the buttocks can connect pain, humiliation and sexual arousal together.
- The sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body, is located deep in the buttocks. Spanking can cause bleeding in the muscle that surrounds this nerve which can result in damage to the leg on the side that was injured. The wave of the force exerted can travel up the spinal column and lead to nerve damage, compression, fractures, and/or soft tissue damage to the tailbone, scrum and vertebral bones.
- Spanking or slapping children’s hands can cause fractures or dislocations and lead to premature osteoarthritis.
- Shaking a child (shaken baby syndrome) can lead to severe brain and spinal cord damage, injury or death.
- The chicken and the egg. Which comes first: problems at home or problems at school? Children who have problems at home have trouble staying still and focusing at school. They get in trouble at school. They school calls the parents. The child gets in trouble at home. It’s a vicious circle where the child’s needs are not met at home or at school.
- When parents rely on physical punishment their children tend to be more aggressive and assaultive. Parents who were attentive, supportive and nonviolent had children with the lowest incidence of antisocial behavior.
- Neuroscience research has proven that experience changes the brain. Spanking and its associated pain and fear, administered by those they love, is a stressful experience for children. Studies have shown that children are not consciously or willfully committing as many of the behaviors for which they are punished as previously believed.
- Corporal punishment in schools has not shown to make schools better. Research shows that schools with the highest rates of corporal punishment are the worst-performing.
The article gives references as to where you can go to find the back-up documentation for the above claims as well as comments from other experts and questions and answers.
Meeting a child’s needs
The belief has been that you either punish the child or you let them run wild. This is all-or-nothing thinking. In between is a rich field of new understanding regarding the power of the parent-child relationship.
Children have needs that only parents and primary caregivers can meet. Contrary to conventional thought, meeting a child’s needs does not make for a spoiled child, and ultimately, a selfish adult. Meeting a child’s needs shows them a model of care, compassion and engagement. It teaches them the value of who they are, which will help them to grow up and live the same values. Through this modeling, they will pass care, compassion, and engagement to others in their lives (the same as violence is passed on through modeling.)
How a child is treated lays the template for their relationship with their self and others.
Lessons I’ve learned
As a child I learned:
• Adults can misuse their power and get away with it as it is sanctioned by other adults.
• Children’s needs can be too much for the adults. When that happens the adults are justified in any type of punishment (spanking, go to bed without supper, silent treatment, ignoring, etc) to let the child know how much trouble they have made for the adult and not to do it again.
• Bigger people (adults) can, do and get away with hurting little people (children).
• To want to hurry and grow up so then people would listen and not hurt me..
• A child is never right only adults are right.
• No adult will believe you when you are a child, even when you tell the truth. If the truth isn’t what they want to hear, you are a liar and you will get punished. Therefore, you better tell them what you think they want to hear.
• Even if you don’t understand why you are being punished it is for your own good and you better figure it out even if you are confused and can’t. Then you pass it all along to your children.
• A child doesn’t know their own thoughts and feelings. Adults tell them what they think and feel and why they do what they do. Even if it is all wrong.
In my experience as a Licensed Professional Counselor, I have learned:
• Children don’t drop out of school if they feel they are safe, understood and cared for.
• Children don’t leave home as soon as they can if they feel emotionally connected, protected, and valued.
• Children want to do the right things. They want to please the adults in their lives. They want to be loved and love back.
• Children want to learn and grow. Something has to go terrible wrong in a child’s experience to stop their natural curiosity and desire to learn.
Because they are children and have to learn healthy boundaries, which they will not like, they will test them. That is their job. Our job is to upgrade our understanding of what it takes to raise a child without spanking.
If we want children to be respectful, then we as parents must respect their developmentally fragile, messy and make-no-sense selves. If we want children to do the right things, then we need to guide them to what the right things are in a way that they understand and at their developmental level.
• Be an island of safety: Understand where they are developmentally and guide them to where they need to be.
• Respect your child as a person: Do not violate their physical and emotional selves.
• Set healthy boundaries: Provide rules and guidelines and know that they will need to test them as part of their growth. You don’t have to get angry with them expect this.
• Recognize that your child is a work in progress: Be aware that children’s growth and development occurs in stages and is unique for each child.
Parenting by these methods is a labor-intensive process. But no one ever said that parenting would be easy.
With kindness, patience, unconditional love, acceptance of their personhood and gentle guidance, our children will learn the lessons that we want to teach. Our goals of growing children into competent, capable, and responsible adults have not changed. Our methods must.
*Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTVAVE), www.nospank.net.
**1940 landmark study by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck of delinquent and nondelinquent boys.