Friday, July 29, 2011


Disclaimer: this post is not intended as a thorough objective discussion of child discipline. It's the story of my journey, my experiences and my beliefs. n_n

I spanked my children.

I was an insecure mom who wanted to raise my children right. That meant, of course, Biblically, God's way (but not Gary Ezzo's way), the perfect balance of nurture and admonition.

I couldn't rely on experience. My mom's way of "raising" me was to ignore and neglect me, unless she was feeling very angry and/or frustrated and then it was to berate me until she felt better or exhausted herself. If that didn't work, if she needed physical release for her anger, a slap across the face or a whack across the back of the legs with the nearest object would commence. I knew there was no nurture in that, nor anything disciplined about her unpredictable, ever-changing protocols for punishable offenses.

So I bought Dobson's Dare to Discipline and implemented his rules for what he considered good Christian parenting. I spanked. I told myself it was the right thing to do, after all Dobson said so and look how squeaky clean, well-educated and kindly the man seems? Plus he is considered An Expert.

So I got my list of rules out: only spank for defiance, never spank in anger, never use your hand, one lick for each year of age, no spankings after age eight, don't leave marks so use a double-folded belt, explain the reasons for spanking, and afterwards cuddle your child and insist they say they are sorry so you can say you forgive them. Oh and if you threaten to spank you must follow it up, or you will be teaching your children that you're a liar. This was supposed to make them feel secure and loved.

What kind of monster doesn't want their children to feel secure and loved?

I discounted his suggestion of squeezing the trapezius(sp?)muscle because I remembered the pain and humiliation of my mom pinching me in public.

Later, the Pearls came out with their horrible book comparing child raising to mule training. I rejected immediately on the grounds that the Pearls method blatantly defies scripture: 'let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted by God, for God tempts no one with evil...'They advocated actually purposely tempting your children! I dismissed the Pearls out of hand for that reason.

Later came Ezzo, also crazy for different reasons. He actually advocated NOT meeting your children's needs and doing so in the name of godliness, when God has promised to supply ALL of our needs! If I want to be like God, i.e. godly, I MUST respond to my children's cries! If the Lord is near to the broken-hearted, I should be near to my children when they are broken-hearted, that is if I want to be truly godly. When my babies cried, I was there to help them. No Ezzo allowed in my house.

Still, I did spank. I remember one time spanking my daughter, though she tearfully pleaded with me that she was truly sorry and please don't spank her. Through my own tears I spanked her, quoting Dobson that since I had already said I would spank her, then I would be a liar if I didn't. That is so embarrassing to remember. What a fool I was that day. I could've embraced my daughter's repentance the way God embraces mine, and offered mercy to her instead of being concerned with my own self-righteousness and reputation. Yuck.

I spanked rarely, but I can't honestly say I was never angry. My daughter remembers me spanking her in anger over her defiance when she was thirteen (I seriously don't remember this- but neither do I doubt her memory). She says that was the last spanking she ever got. She remembers feeling quite triumphant that she was able to frustrate me to the measure that I would even try spanking to get her to comply.

That was NOT how spanking was supposed to work!

The truth is, I would forego spanking completely if I had to do it all over. It would require more inconvenience on my part (time-outs have to be timed and enforced to be effective while a swat on the behind or hand is over in seconds) and more creativity to teach what needed to be taught (if the consequences are tailored to the offense rather than the same response for every infraction). I would focus even more on building relationships based on respect between parents and children, children and children, our family and neighbors, etc. I remember putting relationship parenting into practice, but having spanking as my fall back.

Spanking is a horrible fall back position. :(

I have apologized to my teens for having spanked them, but they each tell me it was no big deal. I'm glad they feel that way, but it still doesn't make it right. I have told them that I hope they can do a better job of parenting than I did, because each generation should take the good from the previous generation and add to it. I have even said that I hope they don't spank, but that I trust their judgement to do what's best when the time comes.

My daughter recently told me that she won't ever spank, but that it has nothing to do with her experiences or my apologies. (Haha, I'm never as important as I imagine! Lolz.)

She read an animal training book in her teens, called Don't Shoot The Dog. She learned from this book that negative-reinforcement only works because it discourages. It does more than discourage that particular behavior, it discourages the person (animal). Negative-reinforcement discourages initiative, curiosity and the effort to please that animals (and people) naturally possess. Negative-reinforcement can be very confusing to the punished, and results mostly in fear of crossing the punisher, not a positive thing in any relationship.

That book made it plain to her that negative-reinforcement was a lazy way to get quick compliance in an animal (or person) but that was all you would ever get. The desire to please the pack leader, the desire to learn and the desire to accomplish would be discouraged right along with the negative behavior. She decided that negative-reinforcement was foolish. Even people who train animals with negative-reinforcement are taking the lazy, stupid way out, according to my brilliant daughter (take that, Michael Pearl!).

Of course there are plenty of other blogs that do a much better job of pointing out the foolishness of spanking. I recommend looking around with an open heart and mind. Here are just two:
Who Let The Dogs Out?

The Fuit of Spanking: Shame and Rage


  1. "That book made it plain to her that negative-reinforcement was a lazy way to get quick compliance in an animal (or person) but that was all you would ever get."

    This. One thing I found realized as a mother is that spanking is the lazy way out. There have been SO MANY times when I have WANTED to spank my daughter just to make her do what I want when I want it. But that's just selfishness speaking. You see, rather than taking the time to ask what she wants or find out why she's upset or hear her heart, it would be a lot easier to just spank my daughter to make her do what I want. But do I really want her obeying me just because she's scared of a spanking? Do I really want to start our relationship with that? No a thousand times. So I don't spank, and I never will. Instead I try to hear her heart and make her my ally and partner. It's harder, but a whole lot better.

  2. Good for you, Libs, and good for your daughter!

  3. yep, exactly that. If you want to develop a relationship with your child that mirrors the relationship we have with the Divine--I'd think you'd want it to be about love and respect and encouragement, not about a pissant slavering obedience to a petty tyrannical bully. That's a God I will gladly go to hell to avoid.

  4. "That's a God I will gladly go to hell to avoid."

    Haha, I've thought the same thing myself! Good to know I'm not the only crazy heretic around!

  5. Thank you. Keep bringing it. We quit spanking a while ago but are still reeling from having nothing else to fall back on. Some of your sentences were very helpful.

    1. I would suggest reward systems that operate around teaching the right behavior. Ex: child never does the dishes when you ask. Solution: Don't allow the TV/computer/what-have-you to come on until they do the dishes.

      If it's a case of something you want them to do, then it's easy- come up with a reward to give them when they do that thing. It creates a positive association in the brain. "Doing this will bring me pleasure".

      If it's something you -don't- want them to do, like say, hitting your brother, then it may be more complicated. You would need to identify situations where they would be tempted to do X, propose an alternative, and reward them when the alternative action is taken.

      Effective rewards vary from person to person and depending on age, but they can be tangible things like candy or a toy, or intangible like extended curfew hours. Also, never underestimate the power of physical and verbal affection. 'Thank you; you did a good job.' is a powerful statement.

  6. Judging from the responses above, I know this is going to be unpopular and many (most? all?) of you will call me intolerant, hateful names as a result.

    I have witnessed and experienced the full range of spanking both as a child and as an adult. I was not only spanked but abused by two different step parents and yes it did leave emotional scars - even to this day.

    However, don't throw the baby out with the bath water. We did spank both our daughter and son. They were spanked for deliberate disobedience and open rebellion/disrespect.

    Like you, I can't say that I never spanked in anger and have had to apologize to them for that; however, it does not change the fact that, sometimes, negative reinforcement is necessary as a contrast to the positive reinforcement.

    In other words, after the spanking was done and some cool down time was allowed, reconnecting with our children, reassuring them of our unconditional love and our pride in them, in spite of their mistakes, is/was critical.

    My daughter is 19 and my son 17 so obviously neither have been spanked in quite some time and after about age 10, my wife took over that duty for my daughter.

    However, children are, like us all, driven by our human nature. Our nature is to do the wrong things - to sin - and sometimes no amount of positive reinforcement will prevent a child, even an adult, from doing the wrong thing, in spite of the rewards for doing the opposite.

  7. No one will call you names. Insulting you won't change anything.

    Facts are facts. Violence and helplessness = trauma, and all who endure trauma will experience PTSD in varying degrees. The fact that you and/or your children don't experience PTSD to the point of dysfunction doesn't mean it wasn't traumatizing to experience violence at the hands of a trusted adult when you were a child.

    Human nature doesn't drive us to "do bad things", silly. Human nature drives us to satisfy our curiosity and meet our needs. As children, our desires and needs being met is sometimes at odds with the adults around us, or in some few cases, is genuinely dangerous to us in ways our immature minds do not yet understand. We were not innately "bad".

    In fact, much of what I would call "bad"- i.e. resentment, greed, hatred, a desire to hurt others, a lack of concern about hurting others, etc.- are all results of trauma or perceived trauma reviving our reptile brain circuitry. Fight, flight or freeze are trauma responses.

    I hope you will look beyond the pat answers religions has handed you ready-made and that you will investigate neuroscience and psychology. The world is a wonderful place, and people are not innately "bad". <3