Monday, November 8, 2010


Disclaimer: This post represents my feelings only. It is not meant to serve as judgment of those who choose to use corporal punishment in a loving, restrained, and consistent manner. We all must decide how to discipline our children, and I have learned that judging others for their decisions is unproductive, unnecessary, and not at all loving. That being said, open discussion is encouraged in the comments section- I’d love to hear from both Gentle Discipline/Attachment Parenting mamas and those who practice corporal punishment (I’m sorry I’m not familiar with all the terms here).

I was raised by parents who did not (regularly, anyway) spank. I can count on one hand the number of times I was physically struck by my parents, and it was always by their hand on my bottom.

Brett, on the other hand, was (according to him, anyway) spanked much more regularly. Apparently the belt was an option, too.

So when Lucy became old enough that we needed to discuss discipline in more detail, we found ourselves somewhat divided. I am squarely in the “hands-and-other-objects-off” zone. Brett is in the “time-outs-don’t-work” and “I was spanked and I turned out great” arenas. After much discussion, Brett has finally agreed that our home will be spanking-free until Lucy is at least 3, or when we judge that she is capable of fully understanding what she is being punished for and why. Admittedly, I see this concession as a window of time in which to convert Brett to my way of thinking. However, there are times when I question my own convictions.

Like when Lucy throws food from her high chair. It drives me absolutely crazy! For months she was a dream- we could take her anywhere without making a huge mess. Then, out of the blue, she started throwing food. It began with her feeding the dogs, and now, even if they are kenneled or not around, she does it anyway- it’s become her way of telling me she’s done eating. What’s especially frustrating is that she KNOWS that sign for “all-done” and will do it. I truly don’t understand why she’d rather throw food than just tell me she’s done.

I did read a piece by Dr. Sears that addressed this type of behavior. According to him, children of this age love our reactions, and will continue to do a specific action to see ours. In other words, it’s not a case of “mommy told me not to, but I’m going to do it anyway;” he argues that children are not mentally capable of this. Rather, Lucy is thinking, “when I throw food, Mama makes a funny face and talks in a funny voice.” She actually enjoys seeing my frustration, because she is emotionally incapable of empathy at this point- she doesn’t understand that I am angry or sad. So, for the time being, I’m working on not giving her the reaction she’s looking for. I will walk away from the table and do the dishes. I’ll tell her in a quiet, regular tone to stop- making sure to keep my face composed and neutral. If it continues, I’ll ask her (and sign) if she’s “all-done,” and then remove her from the high chair.

But it’s so hard! I occasionally worry that I’m spoiling Lucy. I wonder if a smack of the hand would help her better understand what I’m trying to convey. I fear raising a child that doesn’t understand or respect boundaries, or that I cannot take out in public because she cannot behave properly. I fear being judged by other parents for not disciplining enough.

Then again, I worry about the implications of teaching my daughter that there is room for physical pain in a loving relationship. I’ve read studies indicating that little girls who are punished physically are more likely to experience abusive relationships. I also am concerned with teaching immediate obedience, mainly because I want my children to know that there are times when they should NOT obey an adult- namely when an adult asks to touch them inappropriately, or be touched inappropriately, or, in the case of a stranger, to get into a car with them. Finally, I worry that spanking sends the message that hitting, even when done with a greater goal in mind, is appropriate.

In just a few words, I want my children to behave out of a genuine desire to do the right thing, not out of fear of being reprimanded. And, believe me, I know that sounds like a lofty goal. To be honest, I’m still not exactly sure how we’ll get there. I know that I want my children to be compassionate and honest and trustworthy and to live lives that are solidly grounded in Christian moral values.

For the time being, I’ll keep reading, and talking to other moms and dads making the same sorts of decisions.

I’ll continue to speak respectfully to my daughter, to illustrate how I expect to be spoken to.

I’ll view this phase as an opportunity to work on my own character, particularly my patience.

And I’ll work on demonstrating the same grace towards my daughter that our Heavenly Father does to His.


Anonymous said...

What a brave and honest post. You're touching on some hot buttons.

All I can say is to keep listening to your own intuition. You know your daughter best. Perhaps make a list of top characteristics you want in Lucy and then fit your "disciple-making" accordingly.

As to the food throwing...I remember reading that children under the age of two do not comprehend negative statements. When you say, "Don't throw your food" her brain hears "throw your food." Try instead, "Food stays on the tray." and if she continues, "uh-oh, all done" and immediately remove her from the table.

Cedar's in the food-throwing stage, too. I feel your pain. :)

Kacie said...

This is something I"ve been thinking about lately as my son has gotten older.

Johnny would throw food on the floor even though we're sure he knew it was wrong.

When this happens, we immediately whisk him to his time-out spot which is in our hallway. There's nothing fun to look at there. He knows he's there as punishment.

We also put him there when he does other things we've told him not to do, or if we've told him to do/not do something and he does it anyway.

At first, there were a LOT of timeouts. But he caught on pretty quick. He knows that he is expected to listen to us and follow the rules, and if not, unfun hall he goes.

He's been defiant about diaper changes lately too. I dunno if that is a sign that he's going to be potty training soon or what, but ugh!

Anyway, I think if a situation is severe enough, a spank might be in order for an older child. I don't think a young toddler would understand it.

The most important thing I've noticed is that Shane and I must be consistent, and we must be on the same page so that he can't pit us against each other. And if we say, "You will get a time out" and he does the behavior anyway, then he absolutely does get one.

Kacie said...

Oh and I wanted to add -- in our case, we didn't really get to the time-out stuff until maybe 18 months? Might have been 16 or 17. But it's a fairly recent development.

And I don't want to spank my son right now because I don't want him to start spanking me back! Or other people, geez.

Michelle @ The Parent Vortex said...

Toddlerhood can be such a difficult time as a parent - your sweet baby suddenly starts doing all this crazy stuff like throwing food and you've got to start making decisions about setting boundaries and enforcing them. When my eldest was a toddler I found it really hard to figure out what I needed to do and when.

The strategy that I eventually figured out for food throwing involved first saying, "If you don't want that food you can leave it here beside your plate," and sometimes she'd do that if she didn't like something she had been served. Other times the food throwing continued and I'd say, "looks like you're all done." and take her down from the table. She caught on pretty quick, no hand slapping or solitary time outs required.

If you're interested in reading more about gentle discipline, I wrote a post about it here. Maybe it will be helpful in your decision making. :)

Ed and Elizabeth said...

I am definitely on the same page as you. It is so hard to decide where the balance is because I don't want Jack to be a spoiled brat but I don't want to hit him. I always see those parents going "YOU, DON'T HIT!" as they are literally smacking their child. It's a complete mixed message in my opinion. On the other hand, there are times when I tell him not to touch something (lately his favorite is the dishwasher and the trash can which really gets on my nerves because he can grab a glass dish and break it and the trash can is so gross even though I disinfect it every day) and he touches them anyway. I KNOW he understands what I'm saying and sometimes I find myself telling him 2,3,4 times and he just looks at me and does it anyway. I guess it's time to get a timeout chair or mat. I just don't know if he will sit there. Grrr... We will figure it out though! :) Good luck!!!!

Ida Mae said...

I am firmly in the no hitting world. I was spanked, and even though my parents insist it was rare, my sister and I remember otherwise. How awful, right?

In reality, this fact is what drives me the most, our children look to us with trust and the knowledge of that we love and protect them ABOVE ALL. When we hit, smack or spank a child we show them our love is removed, and break their trust in us, that they should fear us because we can cause them physical harm. This is SO the exact oppisite of AP it blows my mind. We work so hard to build trust and then with a spank slap, bam.. it's gone. I am living proof.

I am absolutely 100% against this because I truly think this causes a conflict in their young under-developed brains. Not 3, 5, or 7 years.. there is absolutely no time I feel is appropriate to withhold my commitment of love and patience to my child. Will that be hard? sure. Will there be times I want to snap? You bet. But I firm on this. thankfully so is my husband. I hope you and Brett can come to an agreement.
(sorry for the long comment!)

Jenny said...

I'm so thankful Jordan and I share the goal of not hitting. I'd imagine this is among the most difficult subjects to disagree on.

Jordan and I had similar experiences as children, and we are both pretty sensitive and don't feel that everything "turned out fine," so this has shaped our views. I was spanked (and hit) as a child and it was usually when my mom was having a bad day--NOT when I had been especially disobedient. I have noticed this trend in my own parenting. I yell (and want to smack Suzi) most not when her behavior is at its worst, but when whatever thing she is doing, however little, is driving *ME* nuts. But disciplining my children isn't about me. It's about preparing them to make good decisions when their dad and I are no longer available to guide them every step of the way.

Every time I've lost my temper and yelled I have felt sorry I couldn't offer a more appropriate response, but I have also been thankful that hitting is off the table. I wish my parents would have given this a little more thought while raising me and my brothers.

I remember how bad it felt to be hit. I felt like a misunderstood, unimportant annoyance. I try to find out what my kids are thinking when they do things, and it's hardly ever that they are trying to make me angry. Suzi is usually just being creative, or even "helping," or maybe just needs to run out some energy. Ivey is too little to understand that carpet needs to be kept clean, and that crumbling up a snack and stomping on it isn't helping. Not hitting has been the one thing we've clung to as we work on the rest--most of all, being slow to anger--which doesn't really come naturally to either of us. Sorry for the long comment. I hope you are able to come to an agreement that you are both comfortable with!