The results of a recent spanking study circulating through the media state that roughly one-third of parents are spanking their babies. As parents are known to under-report spanking, we can assume that the percentage of parents who spank their little ones is actually even higher than this.
What I find most upsetting about this statistic is that a good number of these parents just don’t realize spanking does more harm than good. Even some pediatricians admit not understanding the negative consequences of spanking and can unknowingly recommend this strategy without being aware of its long-term hurtful effects.
Authoritarian parenting (using threats, bribes, yelling, spanking, shaming—belitting and name-calling) was the predominant child-rearing strategy among our parents. As many of us were raised this way, and might feel generally okay about our lives, the negative effects of this parenting style may not have clearly made themselves known.
Although people might say, “I got spanked and I turned out okay,” a person’s baseline for okay might be lower than what most would consider for living a happy life. People with drinking problems, relationship trouble and debt issues have told me they were spanked and are okay. True, maybe a person feels reasonably good, but we need to acknowledge the sneaky, negative effects that spanking can leave on a person.
Spanking grows a set of negative unconscious beliefs in people. These thoughts (called core beliefs), plant seeds for negative self-talk that can sabotage our success, tell us to do mean things, or weaken our confidence.
For example, if a baby who reaches for an interesting planter gets smacked on the hand, that baby will not have the brainpower to connect the two actions.
The smacking of his hand will not teach the baby that the planter shouldn’t be touched. Rather, he will likely be scared that he was hurt by his caregiver while he just was playing or exploring as his natural instinct is telling him. For babies, it’s easier and less stressful to simply move objects that can’t be touched. When the child is old enough to understand cause-and-effect, those items can be put back, and a plan put in place to teach the young child how to care for fragile things.
After a child experiences a spank/shout/threat, that child does not have the ability to discern, Oh, my parents are sleep-deprived and just made some bad parenting choices. Since little ones can’t be aware of other’s mistakes, they tend to develop that sneaky negative belief of “IT’S ALL MY FAULT."
How a child is treated will affect how that child sees himself, the person doing the spanking, and the world itself. So rather than feeling his parents have moments where they aren’t calm and rational, he might start to believe that his parents are scary.
When a child receives both nurturing, thoughtful care from a parent AND scary, painful hits, the conflicting parenting behaviour can create confusion. This confusion can cause a child to unconsciously believe, “My parents are unpredictable. This means I can’t trust them.” If this belief goes unchecked, it continues to drive how a person behaves and feels. How do you think a person might feel who believes that his parents are unpredictable? The clients I hear from with this experience generally say it's anger and lack of trust—not feeling they can be open with their parents for fear of what they might do.
Any harsh punishment, including yelling and shaming, UNDOES the good secure “attachment” a parent may have worked hard to establish.
The bottom line is that spanking might temporarily work because it surprises little ones into obeying, BUT that temporary compliance can cause a child to grow harmful beliefs and angry feelings toward the person doing the spanking. There is never a good time to spank a child.
The urge to follow orders that develop from a fear-based tactic, such as spanking, comes from the part of our brain that controls our self-protection. This is referred to as the “reptilian brain,” which governs our physical and emotional protection. When one is spanked, this area of the brain is kicked into action, and triggers various defensive mechanisms. I explain more about this process and how it can affect a person’s thoughts, behaviours and feelings in this article called, “The Cost Of Spanking Our Children.” Alternatively, when clever words are used to inspire cooperation, the “rational” part of the mind (the cerebral cortex) grows.
Spanking grows a child’s defensiveness and anger, whereas calm, rational words grow a child’s cooperation and problem-solving skills.
Please pass this along to any person you know who still spanks his or her child. It’s time for a massive campaign to change the way parents view spanking—to educate everyone of what is mentioned above. If your partner or any other of your child’s caregivers thinks spanking is okay, but you do not, it is SO important to have the hard discussions and get all caregivers on the same page.
What can you do instead of spanking? Each day I post free parenting resources and book reviews on my Facebook page to learn about all the things you can do instead of spanking to raise happy, cooperative kids. I invite you to join this supportive parenting community to share your story, ask your questions, and learn.
One simple parenting technique can seriously improve the relationship with your children! This gem is called a “When/Then.” I heard about this technique through Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of If I Have To Tell You One More Time…
This technique is a way to communicate with your children positively rather than trying to “make them” do something. Ultimately, “When/Then” reduces power struggles and yelling. The heart of this technique is using different word structuring—I call it “flipping your sentence from nagging to inviting.”
The reason a “When/Then” and its great variations work so well is that children feel they are not being told what to do. Even though the choices are limited, children still have the power to decide when they will be ready to move to the activity you are asking to be done. (“When/Thens” are a particularly good way to diffuse the big anger than can happen in four-year-olds.)
Another benefit to this technique is that when parents have a consistent script to use, it is easier to stay calm when anger or frustration starts to boil—I refer to this as having an angry plan.
This is how to use "When/Then":
Start with a “when” and follow it with a “then.” The “when” is usually the task you’d like your child to do. The “then” is the privilege your child would like that you will delay until the “when” is complete. For example, if you want your child to wash his hands before eating, you would word it like this, “When your hands are clean, then I know you are ready to eat.” This eliminates nagging like this, “Wash your hands!” or “Did you wash your hands?” (Yes/no questions can sometimes set your child up to tell a lie so stay clear of those.) After your “When/Then,” stop talking. Let the words sink in, giving your child time to consider his next move.
Very importantly, do not use the word “If!” “When” makes the statement feel more non-negotiable and “If” can sound like a threat or bribe. For example, “If you don’t…” will likely trigger a child’s defensiveness rather than cooperation.
Speak in a calm tone and do not repeat yourself. Do not shout your “When/Then” or say it more than once. Speak in a calm, assertive tone and then give your child space to process the request. If you need to walk away to help remind you to create space, be calm, and not repeat, then do that!
I asked the parents in my Facebook community to provide examples of this technique that work for them. Here are some of their great suggestions:
“When you tidy up your toys then we can get out the new ones.”
“When you stop whining then mommy can listen to your request.” (Jen S.)
I really like this version mentioned by Tracy C. where you replace “then” with “I’ll know” (I use this a lot with my own kids):
“When your pajamas are on, I'll know you're ready for stories.”
“When your dishes are cleared, I'll know you're ready for dessert.”
“I also like to use a slight variation of this concept by saying, ‘You may go outside as soon as chores are done’ or ‘I would love to come play legos as soon as I'm done folding laundry.’ I like this because it leads with the positive and with the child's desire but sets a personal boundary.”
You can also use “First/ Then” or “After/ Then” like these examples from Aidan W.:
“First we clean up our toys, then we get to vacuum.”
“First we eat our lunch, then we go play outside.”
“First mommy is washing the dishes then she can play hockey with you.”
This version works well because it eliminates the “Just a second” or “In a minute” which can be very frustrating for children because they don’t know how long your “second” will be. This way the kids know what happens first before you are ready to help or play. I have also discovered that when a child says, “MOM! I can’t do it!” a parent can create space for the child to problem-solve by not jumping in to help. Provide that space with an “After/Then” like this, “Sure, I’ll come help you after these dishes are cleaned.” The child doesn’t feel like you are ignoring him and will likely find a solution to his problem before you get to him. (Thanks to Joy F.N. on my fb page for her “Sure! When…” examples.)
I’d like to give the last word and a shout-out to Jodi H. for this great example of using “When/Then” with a nursing child so the older one doesn’t feel she’s getting a raw deal.
Jodi said, “I have a 5-month-old and an almost 3-year-old. My oldest is constantly waiting for me to finish nursing so I say, ‘When I'm done nursing the baby, then I can ....’ I've made a point to try and say it to the baby now so that my oldest sees it's not just to him, but a way of handling multiple requests. Now if the baby starts to make urgent sounds while playing on the floor, for example, I'll turn to the baby and say, ‘When I'm done getting your brother a snack, then I can pick you up.’ My oldest has definitely noticed and I think he feels like life is more ‘fair’ because she has to wait too.”
I’d love to hear from you, too! I invite you over to my Facebook page where I post free parenting resources and ask for your feedback/ wisdom.
As a parenting educator, I make a point of sitting in sporting venues or playgrounds and watching parents interact with their children. No, I am not judging you—I am watching and learning. In this watching time, I discovered I could pick out the mothers of many children, because they seemed to be more relaxed and less irritated. I tried to distil what it was about them that made them stand out, and realized they had some traits in common. Wanting to hear more about what works for them, I asked my facebook page community to chime in, and wow, they really did.
Here are seven things mothers of four or more children do to make their lives better:
1. "Let it go" and "pick your battles" are their mantras.
The most common responses in my facebook survey on this topic were: “let it go” and “I pick my battles.” Make a decision to not let things bother you, let the kids handle their disagreements (as long as there isn’t blood), and be okay with things in the state they are currently in. One mom said, “Perfection is for idiots. It’s one thing that we can decide to stop—and stop caring if others expect us to be perfect. That is their problem, not mine.” This was one of my favourite quotes, “There is a lot of stuff you can ignore. I simply don’t have time to worry—I let natural consequences be the awesome teacher they are.”
Many moms talked about letting go of being “pissed off.” One mom said, “I finally realized all my blowing up and frustration was sucking the life out of me. I decided to change that and, wow, my life is so much better since I did that.” (I wrote about how to do that here.)
2. “I’m sure he’s okay,” is the answer when a child starts shrieking.
I was chatting with a mom of four during our kids' soccer, and she said, “A woman in the car dealership came running over to me that my eleven-month-old son had fallen and was screaming. I just said, ‘I’m sure he’s okay.’” My first thought was, you let your eleven-month-old child lose in a car dealership?! The way she explained the situation, it made complete sense that she would handle her car troubles and allow her four children to wander around, exploring. She seemed relaxed and trusting—she was definitely not careless. The older kids were on top of things.
When my own children start screaming, I don’t run to them. This is interesting, because I see people uncomfortably looking at me to do so. I say, “If he needs me, he will find me.” Bonks happen every day. When we give children space to try and manage them, a sense of capability grows. If we run in to save the day, we can inadvertently take away their natural ability to sooth themselves and problem solve. If my child does come wailing up the stairs over to me, I will definitely meet him with a hug (empathy), but I won’t race to help until he’s had time to help himself first.
3. Let the village take care of the younger ones.
You have likely heard the phrase, “it takes a village to raise a child.” It seems families with large number of children have created their own village. Moms step back and let the older children’s natural nurturing ability take over. I watched a four-year-old open a snack for, and feed her one-year-old brother. He happily sat on her lap while she sang, feeding him.
Parents with one or two children can do this by inviting older neighbourhood children over to hang out with your little ones (I do this a lot!). You can hang out nearby (and rest) while an older child uses her boundless energy to build a block tower twenty-seven times, so the toddler can gleefully knock it down.
4. Trust your child’s own good judgment.
Give your children space to fall and to fail. When parents hover—preventing mishaps or challenges—the valuable skills to problem-solve during adversity might not develop. Your child will learn what his legs can do, what happens if he goes too fast, or reaches too high. Let your children learn how to get back up again.
5. Everyone chips in.
Give children the opportunity to be independent as early as possible. Most moms said this came from necessity, because older children or house jobs need to be attended, and the younger ones have to figure out how to do things on their own or wait. Author Vicki Hoefle wrote a great book, called Duct Tape Parenting, where she explains how to coach your children to help themselves, so parents can use their time to rest or do what needs getting done.
6. "Organic" can sometimes mean “with dirt on it.”
One mom put it best, “Clean is relative. As long as I keep my sanity, and I can find everything, I don’t really care how clean my house is. I also don’t care what my mother-in-law thinks about how clean my house is.” A mom said this, while sitting for tea, while her four children screamed happily in a different area of the house.
At an indoor sport field, while I was ridiculously trying to get my guys not to touch the ground with their bare socks, lifting them (they are heavy!) over one pair of shoes into the other, for fear the little rubber turf bits everywhere would get on them, I spotted a mother of four. Guess what she was doing? Her toddler dropped a cookie on this same rubber-ball-infested surface and watched as he stared at it, then picked it up, popping it straight into his mouth. I gasped. She shrugged, saying, “Those things will just come out the other end, right?” Then she laughed, sat back, and had a sip of her coffee.
7. Create systems and trust them.
Routines reduce battles, so it wasn’t a surprise to discover that moms of many kiddos use really good systems to handle mornings, bedtimes, and getting out the door. A mother of eight children wrote an awesome book, called From Frazzled to Focused, about how she (an organizational expert) creates space for rest and fun, and manages her big family effectively. One of her awesome suggestions is to create an “away place” for everything, and say, “Don’t put it down, put it away.” This is a great book to read to help understand systems and how they can help any family thrive. Here are my suggestions for an effective morning routine that reduces battles.
I continually post free parenting help and resources on my facebook page. I also ask questions there to be able to help everyone better, so please do pop over and share your thoughts. Have you learned something that would help other parents?
Here are some of the quotes from my page that resonated the most with readers:
“I think we are calm because we are at peace with organized chaos. I know that someone always needs something, but they have to learn to take turns. There are just too many! And they know it too because I tell them ‘I will help you in a little while, I am helping so-and-so now.’ My kids are little 7, 4, 2, 1 and I just say the same key phrases like ‘we are team lets work together’, ‘we have to take turns’, ‘everyone is important not just you dear.’ I think even though they are small they accept it—I can't be the perfect soccer mom who does Pinterest projects and has a spotless house! Moms of 4 kids and more know its just not all gonna get done. So we let go of the guilt and give it to God.” –Trisha C.
“Embrace chaos and the absurd, be loose, go with the flow, accept that things will only go the right way about 30% of the time. Remember that they are kids and not small adults and set your expectations knowing that, and love that you are a travelling circus. That's what has kept me from losing it.” –Emily E.C.
“Kids in larger families tend to learn a couple things early on. They learn to wait, and they learn to do for themselves. And as the parent, I learn to overlook a lot, and that the calmer I am in dealing with them, they calmer they are in dealing with me. And I think parents of larger families just have a higher tolerance for noise and chaos.” –Dianne L.G.
“Keep calm and move on. The only person's emotions I need to regulate are mine. If I keep my cool, stay respectful, show enjoyment for whatever it is we are doing, they will too. Foster friendships between them, teach them empathy for one another, respect their individuality. And laugh. Oh goodness, always laugh." -Mom of 11-, 9-, 7- and 4-year-old, Louise G