Spare the rod, save a psyche
By Claire Gawinowicz, The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 29, 2008

I'd like Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey to consider this in their battle against violence: Declare Philadelphia a no-spanking zone.

How will this help stop violence? Extensive research shows that spanking is associated with these increased risks: delinquent and antisocial behavior; child and spousal abuse; child and adult aggression, and mental health problems. With that in mind, it seems to me that spanking, with all of its lasting effects, may be contributing to the city's violence.

Sure, you're saying all of us lose it at one time or another and swat our kids on the backside; it can't be that bad. But it is clear that a steady dose of spanking is damaging to children's psyches.

This is what the American Academy of Pediatrics has to say: Spanking is harmful emotionally to parents and children; it can result in physical harm, and teaches children that violence is an acceptable way to discipline; while stopping the behavior temporarily, spanking does not teach alternative behavior; it interferes with the development of trust, a sense of security, and effective communication, and it may cause emotional pain and resentment.

I'm not saying that discipline is unnecessary. It is absolutely necessary. But there are healthier alternatives to spanking. Here are a few tips for parents to consider:

Try to remain calm. When your child misbehaves, don't hit first; give yourself a time-out. Say, "I am so angry that you skipped school (broke the lamp, spoke disrespectfully to me, etc.) that I have to go in another room for a minute to calm down." After you've calmed down, decide on an appropriate consequence and tell your child.

Make your rules clear and specific. "I need you to come home and do your homework first before going to your friend's house." The clearer and more specific a rule is the better the chance it will be followed. But know when to be flexible. (If the weather is beautiful, perhaps your child can play after school and then do his homework.)

Direct children away from unacceptable activity. Instead of smacking a toddler's hand when he or she misbehaves, try teaching proper behavior. Say, "Do not pull the puppy's tail. Let me show you how to pet her gently." You may have to repeat this several times. While admittedly frustrating, this type of instruction is necessary for toddlers.

Know your child. Know your children's temperament, level of maturity, and developmental stages so that you can set realistic expectations and be more tolerant. Learning about child behavior helps you understand what is normal for each age group.

Know yourself. If you get cranky, for example, when you spend all day with your children, find a way to get some alone time. You are a better parent when you are not depleted physically and emotionally.

Find the positive in your children's behavior. Compliment them when their behavior is appropriate. It's important to find the good in our kids.

I can hear some parents scoffing, "These wimpy alternatives won't work. Spanking shows kids who's boss!" But spanking is just a temporary fix and an explosive reaction to an event.

When you stop spanking your children and start using less violent alternatives you will feel better about yourself, you'll be modeling appropriate behavior for your children, and you will develop a great relationship with your kids. That's something that can benefit society as well as your family.

Claire Gawinowicz is a certified parenting educator. She lives in Oreland with her husband and two children.


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