Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I'm not a spanker, but... I've spanked my kid.

"Just try me, Mom."

First off, let me just say that every parent has to decide for themselves what forms of discipline will be used in their home. It's not as easy as just flipping through the parenting guide book and picking whatever looks good. Disciplining involves so much more than just handing down a punishment. Discipline is the route you decide to take in cultivating responsible, ethical, and just downright GOOD adults. It's also one of the greatest opportunities in life for your own self-growth and reflection, so it deserves to be a topic that you have thought about very carefully. Everyone on earth will disagree, at times, about the best way to discipline a child so I don't want anyone to read the following post and think that I'm telling them they are wrong. (It's very easy to become defensive about your parenting, I know.) I just want to throw my $0.02 out there so that you can be prompted to think a little more about why you discipline, how you discipline, and what works best for your family.

The reason I "discpline."
I correct and discipline my children because I want them to learn respect, compassion, and empathy and to understand that their actions affect others. I do not want my children to fear me. I do not want my children to think that adults are more important than them. And I do not want my children to be afraid of telling me things or admitting mistakes because they are afraid of what Mom or Dad will do. I don't want my children to grow up basing their behavior on fears of what will happen if they don't act a certain way. I want them to grow up basing their behavior on what feels RIGHT to them, using their own moral compass. Sure, I want them to respect me, my husband and other adults and I'd love it if they never talked back or politely followed directions every single time. But that's how children learn. I discipline because I'm trying to guide them towards the right behavior in situations where it's hard to have self-control.

I admit it. I've spanked.
I knew that I didn't want to spank my kids years before I ever had them. I know many parents disagree, and maybe I'm a softy, but the thought of hitting my child - even on the diaper - makes me a bit sick. I'm not going to give you a bunch of research about spanking vs. not spanking because that would appear as though I'm trying to prove a point. I just think it's entirely possible to be an effective disciplinarian without ever physically punishing a child. With my first child, I remember one time that I "spanked" her - a pop on the leg during a diaper change (she was about a year old) - because she wouldn't stop kicking me. I will never forget the look on her face. It was complete shock that I had just hit her, and then confusion. She just looked at me like, "Why did my mother just hurt me?" and I vowed never to do it again. We honestly never spanked Thing 1 and I assumed that it would be just as easy the second time around. Then, I had Thing 2. She was SO different from Thing 1. Thing2 is a screamer and has always had a predisposition to hitting, kicking, and biting when she gets mad. As she got older and the terrible twos started early, I...  well, found myself spanking.

Every single time it happened (and that's probably been less than a dozen times), I wish I hadn't done it. Each time I whacked her diaper, it was because I was frustrated, out of ideas, or fed up. All of which are reasons that - for me - spanking wasn't the best choice. How am I supposed to teach my child that hitting is bad, when her mom hits her? Whacking her diaper doesn't teach her self-control. It doesn't show her how to better handle the same situation in the future. True, it may immediately stop whatever "bad" behavior she is having at that moment, but only because she doesn't want to be hit again. Every time I've ever spanked her, I've felt like a huge hypocrite in front of my kids. I'm trying to teach them to control themselves and have empathy with others when I can't even do it myself. I'm telling you, kids provide the best opportunities to work on your short-comings. 

How I prefer to teach my kids.
I try to avoid spanking 100%. Like I said, it's not that I've ever felt like it was the best way to discipline, I've just been a breaking point when I've done it. Trust me, moms-to-be, you'll have moments where you understand the urge. Anyway... these are our preferred methods of discipline and maybe we've just lucked out with good kids, but spankless-methods seem to be working just fine.

The first time you put your child in time-out, they might laugh at you (seriously, Thing2 did this). The key here is teaching them that when they are in time-out, they DO NOT MOVE until time is up. The first time Thing2 went in time-out, it took 15 minutes of constantly putting ber back in time-out before she realized she was gonna have to stay there and to this day, she stays put whenever she is sent there. Keep it simple when you explain why they are in time-out, e.g. "You are in time-out because you hit your sister. Hitting hurts and it made your sister sad." Then, we ask our girls to go apologize and give a hug or kiss to whomever they hurt (physically or verbally). Honestly, I try not to use time-outs for a punishment, but rather a "cooling off." Sometimes you just need to remove the kid from the situation.

Natural consequences
This is really the way we "punish" a child in our household. There are natural consequences in life and we're trying to help our kids figure this out early on. If I have asked them to pick up their toys and they refuse, either the toy will be picked up by me and put away, or they won't get to do something else until those toys have been cleaned up. Take this example: Thing2 spread blocks everywhere and when I asked her to clean up, she immediately started throwing a tantrum. She was wanting to watch a tv show with Thing1 and until those blocks were cleaned up, she would not be able to. She protested for half an hour (a loooong time in kid-time) until she finally realized I wasn't going to budge and she picked up every single one of them. I gave her a TON of praise and she's been getting better about cleaning up every time since. Natural consequences are a great way to show children that they have some choice when it comes to good behavior or bad behavior.

Having good behavior myself.
Kids soak up EVERYTHING. If you lose your cool, yell, hit, throw things, or talk down to others, your kids will pick up the same behavior. When I feel myself starting to lose control, the most helpful thing I do is to remind myself that I am a life-guide to these kids. I have got to set an example of self-control, mindfulness, compassion and empathy in situations that are difficult. Trust me, you will see this pay off. Just this morning, the girls got into a fight and from around the corner, I heard Thing1 say, "Let's sit down and talk about it." When Thing1 is upset and hard to calm down, I take her into a quiet room and talk with her about how she's feeling and acting. It was absolutely amazing to hear her model that behavior with her sister. THAT is what this mom-gig is all about.

Dude. Parenting is hard. I've made mistakes and it kills me to think of all the mistakes I know I will make in the future. However, I think the most important gift you can give to your children is conscious parenting... being aware of your own feelings, attitudes, and beliefs and how you model those to your children. There is no single way to discipline because there is no single kind of kid. Be confident in your ability to parent and the decisions you've made about how to go about it. And if you stray from "the plan" every now and then, or do something you wish you hadn't, don't fret over it. You are human. Teach your kids that even Mom and Dad can learn from their mistakes.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Kim. It's affirming to me to learn that my approach to 'discipline' and guidance isn't uncommon: thank you for sharing.