Let’s have a candid discussion about corporal discipline. To start off, I’ve included the following results from a recent national survey of parents:
In general, spanking proponents blame youth-related societal woes on permissive parenting, particularly the lack of corporal punishment. They say parents are afraid to discipline their children for fear of government intervention through Child Protective Services. In fact, I recently heard an influential spanking proponent speak about a battle-hardened Soldier yielding his parental authority to a two-year-old. The child was having a terrible tantrum inside a “big box” department store. The speaker said the father needed to “take back” his lost authority. “You know, spare the rod, spoil the child,” he said.
I have raised two sons, retired from the military and worked in child protection for the last 15 years. I am now 52 and have a 5-year-old daughter. No excuses this time! I’ve got to get it right, right? No more, “If I only knew then, what I know now!”
I can definitely relate to the Soldier in the referenced situation, because something similar happened to me when my daughter was three.
One day, I had a half-hour to spare before picking my wife up at work, after taking my daughter to the emergency room with a fever. To pass the time we went to the Spring Lake Walmart. It was a hot and humid day in June, with a thunderstorm threatening. My daughter was already tired and somewhat cranky. Yet, I explained to her before entering the store that we wouldn’t be buying anything today. Of course she loves Disney, so I let her explore a revolving display case of namesake trinkets and baubles. When it was time to go, she grabbed a Tinkerbell bracelet off the display rack saying, “I want it.” I calmly reminded her that we had already discussed not buying anything today. My daughter then began a full-core-reactor-breach-nuclear-melt-down tantrum right in the middle of the store. She screamed, “I want it!” at the top of her healthy lungs and fell to the floor kicking and screaming. I picked her up, put her over my shoulder and headed for the exit. This exit, which had seemed relatively close, did an amazing reverse telescopic distancing thing and retreated about 500 yards. I kept on walking while my daughter, who knew my full name, repeatedly screamed, “Scott Chase, put me down!” To which I replied, “If I put you down will you stop screaming?” “Yes”, she said. However, about a millisecond after placing her on the floor, she erupted again; same scenario. I picked her back up and headed for the exit, completely exasperated and embarrassed, perspiration rolling down my flushed face. Did I mention I was wearing my Family Advocacy Program name tag, as a growing crowd of onlookers? They, former students of my Child Abuse Identification and Reporting class, were undoubtedly thinking, “Aha! Let’s see how Mr. Retired Navy-CPS Investigator/Supervisor, Fort Bragg Child Advocate handles this.”
Exiting Walmart, I encountered a wall of hot, suffocating air. Lighting flashes and thunder didn’t seem so bad in the face of my daughter’s tantrum. As I crossed the parking lot looking for my car, it started to rain. My daughter continued to kick and scream just as before. I tried to get her into the car seat, but she “planked” so I had difficulty fastening the safety straps. Finally managing to get her secured into the seat, I adjusted the straps and started to turn away, when out of nowhere, “CRACK!”
Now, I submit to you that there are viable alternatives to spanking. But in that moment none came to mind.
So you’re wondering. What did I do? Make no mistake; I was very angry at my daughter. However, while she continued to kick and scream in the backseat, I put on some Led Zeppelin, turned the volume up, cranked up the air conditioner and proceeded to my wife’s work. I instructed her not to talk to our daughter while she was in time out. Finally, half-way home, she fell asleep and reverted back to the angel I knew her to be.
I learned a very important lesson by not giving into the first response on my reaction queue and spanking her. For I realized in that moment, that someone had to be the adult. Thinking back to when I was a young father raising my boys, there is little doubt what I would have done then. But it’s not because I’m older and more mature now. It is simply because I have more tools in my parenting tool belt.
I fully understand that nothing I say in this short space will convince you not to spank if you are determined to do so. However, think about our Soldiers struggling to reintegrate with their Families after arduous deployments. Statistically, we know that the above scenario often turns out badly for both parent and child. When my child throws a tantrum, it does not mean I am a bad parent or that I have somehow abdicated my authority. Healthy children test limits, sometimes through tantrums and other forms of misbehavior. As a parent, the keys are to stay calm and connected, no emotion, no talking and consistency.
Please consider the following consequences of spanking:
In an online post, noted author and psychologist James Dobson advises, “Anyone who has ever abused a child — or has ever felt himself losing control during a spanking — should not expose the child to that tragedy. Anyone who has a violent temper that at times becomes unmanageable should not use that approach. Anyone who secretly ‘enjoys’ the administration of corporal punishment should not be the one to implement it.”
The ACS Family Advocacy Program offers valuable parenting tools such as ScreamFree Parenting classes once a month. ScreamFree parenting helps you learn to raise your children by keeping your cool. ScreamFree challenges conventional parenting “wisdom” and gives you the tools you need to make your home the peaceful refuge you want it to be. You can also receive information on Dr. Thomas Phelan’s 1-2-3 Magic program. 1-2-3 Magic gives parents tools they can immediately put to use to stop obnoxious behaviors such as tantrums, whining, arguing, siblings rivalries, and more. Soldiers and family members can call 396-5521 to sign up for these classes. Limited, free child care is available.