About three years ago I wrote a post called Spanking: This Will Hurt Me More Than It Hurts You. To this day it is still one of the most popular things I have ever written for this blog. It’s not surprising. Spanking is one of those polarizing topics –people either do it and don’t have a problem with it, or are vehemently against it. Today is National Spank Out Day, a holiday created by EPOCH-USA (End Physical Punishment of Children).
In honor of this very worthwhile endeavor, I interviewed Crystal Lutton, a parenting expert and author of the book, Grace Based Living. Here’s what she has to say about the topic.
KB: How pervasive is spanking today?
CL: Some parts of the U.S. look down on spanking, while in other parts it’s expected and anything else is considered permissive so how often you encounter spankings may vary depending on where you live. In 31 countries around the world, like Israel and Canada, it is illegal to spank. In the studies from the U.S. I’ve looked at over the years, the number of people who support spanking has been trending down, but only slightly. In most surveys, as many as 94 percent of parents will admit to spanking. I think of this every time I hear someone blaming all the problems of the modern world on a lack of spanking. In my experience the more that a parent relies on spankings, the less they employ real methods of discipline that teach children what to do instead of focusing on when they make mistakes.
KB: What are the dangers of spanking?
CL: Discussing the dangers of spanking is somewhat problematic, because the definition of spanking can vary so greatly. Some define it as a light swat when the child does something they know is wrong, while others define it as striking the child with a piece of plumbing line if they do so much as look at the parent wrong. Unfortunately, more often than not, spanking is actually a euphemism for abuse that would shock most people. Even in the cases when it isn’t abusive, it doesn’t add anything helpful to the parent-child relationship. Punishment breaks relationship, because it is rooted in fear. That fear is the reason books that teach how to spank must also focus on the reconnection needed after the spanking. I don’t see any point in breaking down the relationship with my child when spanking is an ineffective practice overall.
KB: I know people who say their kids don’t respond to anything except a spanking. What can parents do instead?
CL: If a child won’t respond to anything besides a spanking then the parents have taught the child not to respond until they get one — or the threat of one. I believe in establishing parental authority by making your words have meaning. Say it, then make it happen. For example, if you are telling a toddler to get off the couch, say it while you move them. I say it and make it happen until the child begins to move themselves when I say it. By starting out this way, I get to take advantage of the 2- and 3-year-old stages of “do it myself” that annoy too many parents. There are many other tools available on my website. The benefit of my book is that I teach you how to create your own tools for your own children.
KB: What do you say to parents who say that they were spanked growing up and they are fine?
CL: Most parents are doing the best they know to do, but no one deserves to be hit by another person. We all have the ability to start with what our parents taught us and grow to learn more. Most parents want better for their children than they got in every area — better options, better education, better start in life — why not better discipline? Many parents who stop spanking and embrace a more grace-based approach to parenting come to find that they do have issues that go back to the spankings they received. I would suggest that the belief that they deserved to be hit for anything they did is evidence they aren’t as fine as they think they are. Parenting their children is a beautiful opportunity to heal from those things and re-parent. Ultimately, I want better than “fine” for my children.
KB: I feel like I answered this for myself a long time ago, but for those reading: Is there ever a good reason to spank? For example, a smack on the hand when the child touches something dangerous or a tap on the behind if the child runs into the street?
CL: You can’t spank a child and then think you can leave them safely to play near a hot stove or near a road. Even when you spank, you must go to the child, get the child, spank them AND remove them from the dangerous spot. I’m suggesting that the spanking not only fails to keep the child safe, but it also distracts from the lesson you’re trying to teach. I don’t want my children to avoid the stove because I might hit them. I want them to avoid the stove because it is dangerous and hot.
To do this, I begin by teaching my children what hot means and make sure I’m present to stop them every time they might be at risk for touching something hot or running into the road. My children aren’t left to play alone near hot things or where they might run into the road. Spankings don’t stop a child from being the age they are and doing what all children that age do; Spankings cannot alter young children so that they don’t need adult supervision. The goal is to have adults who can function without adult supervision. Children who are taught to behave without the fear of punishment are self-regulated and able to make wise choices even when no one is watching.
KB: Is it ever too late to stop spanking?
CL: No, it isn’t. The key is remembering that you are still the authority in your child’s life and you still get to make the rules and set the boundaries. It will be challenging while you learn new tools and they learn how to trust that you aren’t going to spank them while you still let them know the rules. Despite that challenge, it is a great, positive choice in your relationship with your child and you will both grow from it, at any age. Many parents have even found that their relationship with their teens improves when they apologize for spanking them and share what they are learning about not spanking. The knowledge that we would do it differently with our new information is often enough to heal relationships.
KB: What about grandparents and aunts? How can parents explain to them why they are not allowed to spank, either?
CL: Even among spankers, most people do not believe anyone other than the parents should spank a child. It might be as easy as telling them they aren’t allowed to spank your children, because you will be handling all discipline. In families where everyone disciplines the children, you can set the boundary that no one is allowed to spank your child and encourage anyone who isn’t yet on board with your new approach to come and get you so that you can take care of the situation. This will minimize fears that you are not disciplining at all. When relatives or others insist that they will spank your child if they believe it’s needed, you might need to reconsider leaving your child alone with them — at least until they are able to tell you if something happens.
If you want to share the change you are making in your journey, it’s enough to tell them that you have decided to make this change and it isn’t up for discussion. Express that you appreciate their willingness to support you in this, whether they understand or not. If they want to learn more, you can share resources with them, but if they don’t, it’s okay to just set the boundary and hold to it.
What’s your take on spanking? Do you do it? Do you think it works? I’d like to know.