It is definitely old-school practice. Our parents did it, their parents did it to them. It was* considered one of the "top" parenting styles, in order to bring up disciplined and respectful children.
Nothing could have prepared us for the massive impact we would see nowadays on adults who have been spanked when children. No one could have foreseen the trauma it caused and the shame, the sadness and the disgrace it brought along.
*I say "was" because I prefer to hope that this practice belongs to the past. It horrifies me to think that some cultures or sub-cultures still believe in this practice.
Of course, this doesn't mean that parents who have used spanking as a method of discipline or punishment are bad or they were ill-intentioned. And vice versa: the ones who haven't used spanking are not the saints here. This article doesn't want to attribute any criticism to anyone. It merely examines the misconceptions around spanking: it is about high time we changed them.
So, let's go through some of the "strongest" arguments of parents who have spunk their children and try to think of them from another perspective.
"If I make them feel bad about what they did, they will learn their lesson and what's right and wrong."
They will feel bad about who they are, they will feel not-accepted and not understood. And when we don't feel accepted or loved, we don't learn ANY KIND of lesson. There's no room for learning, when we are under threat or danger. We are not in a learning mode. We are in a self-protective mode.
"My child knows really well why he's being punished."
Your reaction seems disproportional to them. They know they did something bad, but they cannot grasp the size of their deed and the impact it has on you. If they could talk they would say "It's so unfair!" In their own eyes (and remember, it's not the eyes of an adult, but the eyes of a toddler/preschooler/young child), what they did seems normal (and sometimes it is, if we consider their age and their experience of the real world). They would benefit more from somebody explaining to them than from just spanking them, which has no educational (or any other at all) benefit.
"The physical pain will teach them how to behave."
No child remembers the physical pain so vividly as they remember the emotional pain: they disappointed their parent// no one cares to listen to their point of view //they are being treated unfairly // they are being left alone // they deserved it because they are bad people. The words that came out of their parent's mouth, the angry look in their parent's face, the cruelty of the moment, hurt a thousand times more. It's a trauma. Not punishment.
"Spanking is not a big deal; they will soon forget it and move on."
Children don't forget the times they were spanked. They give their own meaning to it and that is a deep and traumatic emotional explanation of their parent's behavior to them. They interpret it in a very personal way, and the way their parent behaves to them means a lot about whether they deserve love and affection or not. And even if, as adults later on in their life, they don't seem to remember it, still they haven't forgotten it. They have buried these memories under "I'm fine" and "It's ok", because these moments reminded them of how small and unloved they felt back then.
"Maybe they don't get it now, but one day they will understand."
One day, they will not understand. One day they will become scared adults, who very possibly show up as fearless to the outside world, but in the inside always feeling afraid that they are wrong, feeling intimidated by stronger or more powerful people, suppressing their needs, or repeating patterns of inferiority and subjugation, or on the other side, of rebellion. They will be reliving their trauma.
Then why have we been using this method to discipline our kids?
First and foremost, as we said in the beginning, we copied that from our parents. These are deep-rooted beliefs about what's right parenting and what's not, and we tend to repeat them unconsciously, almost automatically.
It can also be our own unresolved issues with our parents, that get in the way.
It is also possible, that we have adopted some distorted interpretations about spanking and parenting style: see above.
Or sometimes, we lack the tools for some healthy anger management. And our kids are the easy target.
Then what now?
Instead of spanking, try the following:
There is no child that doesn't have a reason to blame their parents later in life.
Let's not allow "spanking" to be that reason, though. This is not a lesson learned; it is trauma.
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