Many of you who are pregnant may not have given a lot of thought yet to how you plan to discipline your child, because you won’t have to discipline them for awhile. After all, you can’t spoil an infant! They are developmentally unable to “manipulate” you, so giving in to an infant’s requests for assistance (crying) whenever they request it (cry) will not make them a “brat” later in life. Infancy is when babies learn to trust, by learning to trust that you will be there for them when they need you (cry).
However, how you plan to discipline your child isn’t something you can really improvise. You do need think about it. You need to talk about it with your partner. You may find you have vastly different ideas about how to discipline your child than your partner does, and you’ll need to talk those through. You will need to make choices, and you will need to inform your family and extended support system about the choices you’ve made.
Why am I writing about this today? Two recent studies have been on my mind, and I wanted to share them with you.
First, there’s this….
Then, there’s this study…
Let me be clear. This post is not going to be a diatribe against corporal punishment. Many parents choose to spank. Spanking can be an effective disciplinary tool, if done in a certain way. We’ll talk more about that later.
This post is about violence, though, and often children are exposed to this violence when they are being disciplined.
Let’s start by taking a look at some info from the first study…
New research just published finds that U.S. children are routinely exposed to even more violence and abuse than has been previously recognized. Nearly half of the children surveyed have said they experienced a physical assault in the past year.
According to the research, three out of five children were exposed to violence, abuse or a criminal victimization in the last year, including 46 percent who had been physically assaulted, 10 percent who had been maltreated by a caregiver, 6 percent who had been sexually victimized, and 10 percent who had witnessed an assault within their family.
Those numbers upset me, but they don’t surprise Wendy Middlemiss, Ph.D. and Associate Professor in the Development and Family Studies program at the University of North Texas (she is also my academic adviser as I pursue my Master’s Degree in Development and Family Studies). She says, as a culture, we don’t protect our children from violence.
Our culture is saturated with violence. You’ll see it in even the most benign adult programing. It is common in certain types of children’s programming. It’s in video games. It’s everywhere. There’s not much we can do about the culture, right now, but we can do the best we can to monitor how much violence our children are exposed to.
I’ve always found it curious that so many parents are scrupulous about protecting their kids from exposure to displays of affection, in the culture and on TV, or get all bent out of shape when their kids see a woman nursing their hungry infant (even if they are seeing no breast at all), yet don’t give a second thought to allowing them to play the most violent video games. Exposure to affection is not harmful. Exposure to violence is.
Which brings us to our spanking study….
A new study of more than 2,500 toddlers from low-income families found that spanking may have detrimental effects on behavior and mental development.
“We’re talking about infants and toddlers, and I think that just, cognitively, they just don’t understand enough about right or wrong or punishment to benefit from being spanked,” said Lisa Berlin, the study’s lead author and research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.
Berlin and colleagues found that children who were spanked as 1-year-olds tended to behave more aggressively at age 2, and did not perform as well as other children on a test measuring thinking skills at age 3. (bolding added by me)
They chose to observe low income families for a reason…
The new study focused on children from low-income families because prior research suggested that spanking is more common among them, Berlin said. This may be because of the added stresses of parenting in a low-income situation, or because of a “cultural contagion” of behaviors among people. For example, in some families this study examined, a grandmother would spank a child, or neighbors would encourage physical discipline, she said.
But spanking of toddlers isn’t unique to low income families, so if you’re from a middle or high income family, don’t tune out now!
I promised this was not going to be a diatribe against spanking, and it’s not. Dr. Middlemiss says you can spank children (NOT toddlers…please don’t ever hit your toddler) without causing them harm.
Despite its common acceptance, and even advocacy for its use, spanking is a less effective strategy than time-out or removal of privileges for reducing undesired behavior in children. Although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use. The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse. Thus, at best, spanking is only effective when used in selective infrequent situations.
The following consequences of spanking lessen its desirability as a strategy to eliminate undesired behavior.
* Spanking children between the behavior and the punishment.
* Although spanking may result in a reaction of shock by the child and cessation of the undesired behavior, repeated spanking may cause agitated, aggressive behavior in the child that may lead to physical altercation between parent and child.
* Spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in pres
chool and school children.
* Spanking and threats of spanking lead to altered parent-child relationships, making discipline substantially more difficult when physical punishment is no longer an option, such as with adolescents.
* Spanking is no more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches, and reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use. Time-out and positive reinforcement of other behaviors are more difficult to implement and take longer to become effective when spanking has previously been a primary method of discipline.
* A pattern of spanking may be sustained or increased. Because spanking may provide the parent some relief from anger, the likelihood that the parent will spank the child in the future is increased.
Parents who spank their children are more likely to use other unacceptable forms of corporal punishment. The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults. Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents.
That said, my four-year-old has never been hit by an adult, and hopefully never will be. I grew up in a household where the spanking was hitting. It was done in anger and done often. It was violence.
I cannot bring myself to spank.
However, I didn’t want to raise an out-of-control-monster-child! I found the book Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years to be very helpful. There are also Love and Logic DVDs. There is also Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, if you’re like me and don’t want to spank. Even though some of what I’ve read doesn’t fit for my daughter and me, I take what is helpful and leave the rest.
We all do that, I think, in every aspect of parenting, as we create our own family “style.”
By the way, one of the most common reasons discipline edges into abuse in toddlers is parents just don’t know what their babies should be capable of, and at what ages. The book Touchpoints: Birth to Three by T. Berry Brazelton should be in every new parent’s library. It was invaluable to me.
So that’s what’s on my mind today. It’s a lot more than I thought, actually!
Just a note — and this is strictly my opinion — if someone gives you the book On Becoming Babywise, please don’t bother reading it. Recycle it. Don’t give it away, don’t sell it to Half Priced Books…recycle it. It is full of flawed information, written by people not trained in child development, as is detailed here. Some of the advice in the book can be harmful to the health and well-being of your child. Some of it is fine, but can be picked up elsewhere by reading more reliable sources. Those of you who might jump to the conclusion that child development experts don’t like this book because it claims to be teaching parenting from a religious perspective should note that many people who teach parenting from a religious perspective also denounce this book.