Being a respectful parent, who doesn’t use punishment and who is surrounded by other like minded parents as friends, I forget that it’s still common practice for many parents to discipline using force. Whether you call it smacking, swatting, tapping, etc. I’m talking about using physical force to punish a child or ‘teach them a lesson’.
The common reasoning behind parents using this method is to ‘teach children’. So, as an adult who was hit as a child, I want to let you know what being smacked taught me.
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What I learned being hit as a child:
I learned to avoid being hit.
I learned to put on denim so it hurt their hand to hit me.
I learned nothing about the actual behaviours by being hit. I can’t remember any of the reasons for being physically punished – just some of the punishments themselves.
I learned to fear my parents judgement rather than seek their advice.
As a person I’m naturally more opinionated. Being hit as a child taught me to hide some of my own characteristics to appease my parents.
I learned to “Be yourself. Not like that.”
I learned to hide the aspects of myself that I’m praised for now (i.e. leadership, decisiveness, stong-will, etc.) I may have learned much better techniques earlier if I hadn’t have been forced to repress these things or had them painted with such negativity early on.
I learned to feel like I was intrinsically ‘bad’; as though I needed ‘punishment’.
I learned to view the protection and love of my parents as conditional.
I learned to fear showing strong emotions. I also didn’t learn what to do to handle strong emotions.
Now, as a mother, it has taken me more work and a longer time to be the kind of parent I want to be. I knew I didn’t want my children to be taught those same lessons how I was. I had to unlearn and reform habits of the mind and those knee-jerk reactions.
As a parent now, I know my children’s self-image begins with how they think that others (particularly their parents) perceive them. Smacking sends a confusing message, especially to a child too young to understand the true reason behind the punishment.
I think the reason parents spank, yell at, and threaten their children is because when they do, the response is often immediate and there is instant gratification – a visible change. But what have they taught the child? To me, what matters more than an instant response is a meaningful lesson. I don’t want my children to stop a behaviour out of fear of punishment, but rather from an understanding of why it wasn’t a good choice.
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” ― L.R. Knost
The thing is, hitting can ‘work’. It can stop the behaviour in some instances. But only if blind obedience is the goal. Punitive force doesn’t teach intrinsic motivation. It doesn’t show your children that you (as a grown adult) can control yourself – quite the contrary.
The bottom line for me is that it may work – but often at the expense of your relationship.
Gentle discipline and respectful parenting is often more work in the short term. But it’s a long term goal. Personally, I choose to do what I think will help them learn long term meaningful lessons. I choose connection, discussion and genuine consequences. I choose to see them as the people they are who need my guidance. I want them to know that I’m here to help them make sense of this world – not hurt them.
You can now read what we do instead of punishment and yelling and shame. But, wherever you are on your journey as a parent, if you’re looking to find positive parenting advice, some of my favourite reads include:
- Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn – a must read!
- ParentSpeak by Jennifer Lehr – a significant read about how we talk to children.
- Positive Parenting by Rebecca Eanes.
Thank you for reading!