A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics is cracking down on the use of spanking as a way to discipline kids. 20 years ago pediatricians were encouraging parents to find other ways to get their kids to behave—they still are. While it is ultimately up to the parent to decide how to raise their child, the most recent policy published in Pediatrics goes as far to say that spanking is a form of corporal punishment. The statement defines this as “noninjurious, open-handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior.”
For those of you rolling your eyes, let me remind you that spanking is hitting. When people say they “spank” their kids, it’s almost like they are skirting around the fact that they are using violence in order to physically dominate and emotionally intimidate their child. Calling it spanking might take the edge off of what you are doing or trick you into thinking you are not hitting your child. But you are, and hitting a child is bad. It’s a bummer that it takes a policy statement from a professional and well-respected group to tell people this. It’s a real big bummer that some people don’t care.
Because it was done to them, some parents have the mentality that they have permission to spank their own children. Like a tit for tat situation. Or some parents think the only way they can get what they want out of their kids is by hitting them. If it’s not the pain of being hit that causes a child to change their behavior, then it is the fear or humiliation of being hit.
Tell me again why spanking it a good thing.
It’s not. The updated policy statement reports, “With new evidence, researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioral, cognitive, psychosocial, and emotional outcomes for children.” While you may be getting the results you want out of your child in the moment, you are not creating a well-behaved child with self-control or one who has the emotional intelligence to form trusting and healthy relationships.
Look, I get it. It is HARD to be a parent. And after a long day, in the middle of an epic meltdown, or when nothing else seems to work and you just want your kid to knock it the fuck off, it is easy to snap. It is so easy to lose our shit on our kids. I do it daily. I have even crossed a line I never wanted to and have smacked my five-year-old’s ass after they purposely pissed on the floor, then laughed about it. I was frustrated, desperate, and so angry. I lost control. I should have walked away. But in that moment I could not reason. And truth be told, while she was pissing on the floor and then nervously laughing about it, she didn’t have much control either.
After I hit her bare ass, I was mortified. I hurt her heart more than her body. She reminded me that we don’t hit people—granted, she hits her siblings all the time—and that I had hit her. She was crushed. I was too. I was mad at myself for not being able to be the adult, the one with the skills that allowed me to take a deep breath and remove myself from a situation without causing damage to my kid.
Time-outs, natural consequences, setting limits, redirection, positive reinforcement, and empathy are alternative forms of discipline and ways to getting our kids to behave. Kids need to learn how to control their bodies, their actions, and their words without us physically forcing them into submission. Our job as parents is to be a guide and a safe landing spot when our kids mess up. We want them to make mistakes in our presence; we want to help them learn how to do things differently so they can navigate the world when the stakes are higher. We want our kids to be able to tell us when they messed up without fear of being spanked.
We should be the safest and most supportive place for our kids. I am not saying we will always get it right. We won’t. But the least we can do is vow to stop hitting our kids.
Don’t just take it from me. Listen to Dr. Robert Sege: “In the 20 years since that policy was first published, there’s been a great deal of additional research, and we’re now much stronger in saying that parents should never hit their child and never use verbal insults that would humiliate or shame the child.”
If we trust our pediatricians to treat an ear infection, we should trust them on this too.