I will never forget the time that my then seven year old daughter pushed me to the edge of madness. It was last summer and we had just boarded our cruise ship in Copenhagen. As I was unpacking, something upset her. I don’t even remember what it was. But she literally started screaming at the top of her lungs. A full on child temper tantrum. I was speechless, stunned and frozen. A million possible reactions ran through my mind, none of which seemed a good idea. Do I slap her or throw something against a wall? What are the people around us thinking? That I’m beating the crap out of my child when, in reality, I hadn’t touched her? My 13 year old daughter stared at me to see how I was going to react. My heart pounded and I was beyond furious, nearly out of my mind with red hot anger. I walked into our tiny little bathroom, shut the door, and sat on the toilet seat with my hands shaking. Gathering my thoughts, trying to calm down, trying to come up with an action plan. I was frightened at how close I had come to harming my child.
When I was ready, I left the bathroom and sat on the bed next to her and looked in her eyes. “Listen up,” I said calmly, so calmly that she, I think, was truly afraid of me. “If you ever do that again, I will grab you by the arm and push you into the hallway and shut the door behind you. You will then be standing in the hallway alone while everyone on the ship realizes that a seven year old child isn’t being touched or hurt and is just acting like a two year old. You will be totally embarrassed. I am also taking all your dolls away from you [we had purchased several small dolls at some of the cities we had visited on the trip] and they are mine until we get home, . And even then, you only get them back if you have behaved. Questions?”
She shook her head. And I meant it and I was completely prepared to carry it out.
She was pretty much an angel the rest of the trip.
Many months later, we were at home and there was another temper tantrum. True to my word, I grabbed her by the arm, silently marched her cute little eight year old behind straight to the front porch, walked inside, shut the door and left her out there. (No child abuse– it wasn’t sub zero temperatures and she was perfectly safe.) It was amazing how fast that temper tantrum vanished. She was not about to let the neighborhood children see her in a state of a screaming fit. After a good 20 minutes or so, I let her back in. She hasn’t had one of those episodes since. Dang, sometimes I have some good ideas. I wish they came to me more often.
I don’t believe in hitting my children. Ever. Yes, I was spanked when I was younger. My parents are old school. We were never beaten or physically hurt but they used it more of an attention-getter than anything else. Was it effective? As best I can remember, not at all. Those spanks, which ended when I was probably five years old, just pissed me off and made me more defiant and sneaky than ever. Perhaps they remember my response differently. I think my take on the whole topic is more accurate.
There are a few reasons why I think spanking is totally ineffective and why I don’t do it.
1. There Are More Effective Punishments
A few weeks ago, I took my 14 year old daughter’s iPhone away from her for 24 hours. She was one unhappy teen. As we were driving, I told her that her punishments were nothing. Some kids got beaten up by the parents and there was everything in between. Oh my, I regret saying that because a light bulb went off in her head.
“Please, just hit me and give me back my phone,” she said. And she meant it.
I was stunned. “I am not going to hit you,” I protested.
“But I want you to. Please, just do it and give me back my phone. This is way worse.” I was horrified. Needless to say, I didn’t hit her. I didn’t touch her. But I did give her a long lecture on how and why no parent should hit their child and how she should never in a million years ever think that someone should hit her for any reason. See what I’m saying, though? Who needs to resort to physical violence when it’s a whole lot less painful to simply take a phone away. Find what your child loves and use that as a reward and punishment for good or bad behavior. It works like a charm.
2. It Teaches Kids Terrible Life Lessons
I believe that teaching children that the people who are supposed to love them the most are also the ones who hit them is a terrifying message. It is not a life lesson I want them to grow up with. Hitting and love never go in the same sentence. Not from parents, friends, boyfriends or husbands. No one should ever hurt them or attempt to control them with a fist.
3. It Breeds Contempt
Studies show that children who are hit and who have little recourse for speaking up, or standing up, for themselves simply learn to despise their parents. Not that kids need additional reasons to dislike their parents as they get older! Verbal skills and working through arguments and conflicts are replaced by a hit. Not a good concept, if you ask me.
4. It Teaches Children How To Hit
I don’t want to teach my children, through example, that the best way to resolve conflict is with a fist, hand, paddle or otherwise. Communicating verbally even when emotions are running high is a better skill. I venture to say that every abuser was probably abused by a parent when they were younger. It’s just simply not a good idea.
5. It Instills Fear
While there is something to be said about children fearing their parents a little bit, having true fear because they might be harmed is horrific. It doesn’t lend itself to healthy, loving and trusting relationships between children and their parents. True, most kids are going to struggle with their parents, especially in their teen years. However, the best we can do is teach them powerful life lessons when they are young and carry them forward as they get older. It will help.
What are some good alternatives to hitting? Well, I’m no expert and I definitely struggle with this one. Some of the methods that work best for me are:
1. Grounding them: No phones, no iPads, no TV, no friends.
2. Taking away something they love: That would be iPhones, iPads, and bicycles.
3. No allowance for the week: If they didn’t earn it they certainly aren’t entitled to money.
4. Extra housework: I’ve had both of my daughters working a long day vacuuming, pulling weeds, and folding laundry. They hate it. I love it.
5. No “fun” days: There have been times where we were on our way to a movie and I’ve simply turned around and gone home. Fun day we had planned? It’s not happening and mommy gets a nap instead.
6. Early bedtime: If it’s evening and one of them acts up, it’s time for bed. It’s only six o’clock? Oh well, good night.
As a single mom, I get to act as both mother and father. It’s not easy. I struggle with it. Overall, I have a great relationship with my daughters. But there are times that I am pushed to the brink of insanity. I can only hope my “cooler” head prevails.