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The question of spanking

To spank, or not to spank . . . That has been a huge question of contention and debate for many years in parenting circles, often with experts disagreeing as to whether or not it is a useful or practical method, if it harms or benefits a child, and whether or not it should ever be used as a method of discipline to begin with.

Corporal punishment, better known to many as spanking, is considered the use of some level of physical force in order to control or discipline a child.

According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (www.endcorporalpunishment.org), 31 countries around the world have banned corporal punishment in all settings.

However, it is interesting to note that it can still be legally applied in schools in France and around 19 US states, while it is banned in schools, but allowed for domestic use in the remaining US states, as well as the UK, Canada, Ireland and Italy, amongst other countries.

While it is still ‘allowed’, the question remains whether parents should use spanking at all.

According to Sheelagh Cooper, founder of the Coalition for the Protection of Children: “While research has shown that corporal punishment can be effective in achieving immediate child compliance, the evidence indicates that the benefits are offset by a range of adverse outcomes, including sending a message to a child that problems can be addressed through physical aggression.

“Studies indicate that corporal punishment fails to teach self-control by teaching a child to avoid engaging in behaviour that is punishable by way of force, while in an adult’s presence, in contrast to teaching a child not to engage in the behaviours at all.”

In recent years, there has been a greater proponent calling for the end of all forms of spanking, with some even claiming that spanking a child will directly result in anti-social or disruptive behaviour, poor academic performance, depression, low self-esteem and even substance abuse.

“Research also indicates that the negative impact of corporal punishment is also influenced by other parenting factors which include the quality of the parent-child relationship, how often and how hard the child is hit, and whether the parenting is generally hostile,” Mrs Cooper explained.

Many, especially those who are religious, will strongly disagree with such statements. In fact, many point to the modern trend to not spank at all, coupled with very loose methods of discipline, as a cause for many of the challenges faced by society today.

“Underneath all this, not only applying to parenting, but society in general, it’s just an overall anti-authority philosophy that has developed, and that spirit prevails in many corners of society,” according to Dr Richard Christen, pastor at the Evangelical Church of Bermuda. “That’s been coming on for a long time people have no respect for those in authority, for policemen, for teachers... There’s no fear of God; there’s no fear of any authority.”

“Should people spank [their children]?” Dr Christen said. “Yes, because the Bible says so. I know that’s very trite.”

He pointed directly at the book of Proverbs.

“If a mother and father would read proverbs before the first child was born and mark all the verses that deal with parenting,” he explained, then they would be well prepared for parenting.

Dr Christen shared a four-fold outline for parenting and discipline:

1. The Plan Train up a Child

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

It is important to consider that the verse refers to the individual child parents need to consider the child’s own gifts and talents, and not force their own desires on them.

2. The Problem Foolishness

“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)

3. The Process Discipline

“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” (Proverbs 23:13)

It is important to note that it mentions discipline, or chastening, first, and then the rod, which says that there are other ways to discipline a child. Spanking should not be the first resort.

4. The Product A Righteous Man

“The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!” (Proverbs 23:24-25)

When a parent chooses to use spanking as a form of discipline, there are some important things to remember, according to Dr Christen.

“You never do it out of mere anger and frustration,” he said, “And never as a single means of discipline really, it’s a final or last resort.”

“And it should always be done for the glory of God. To the natural mind, that will sound strange, but there is a spiritual implication. Respect for your authority leads to respect for God’s authority.”

In other words, spanking needs to be used carefully, depending on the child and the situation, and not as an automatic response to misbehaviour.

According to Mrs Cooper, “There are a range of positive approaches to discipline, that are more effective in the long-term while preserving the child’s self-esteem and dignity. Actions that insult or belittle are likely to inhibit learning and can teach the child to be unkind to others, while actions that acknowledge a child’s efforts and progress are more likely to promote healthy development.”

Some of the Positive Discipline Strategies Mrs Cooper suggests:

1. Logical consequences These are structured consequences that follow specific misbehaviours. The child should be able to see how the behaviour and the consequences are directly related.

2. Time-out Particularly for young children, time out can be an effective disciplinary tool. When giving time out, be calm, firm, explain the reason. As a general rule, one minute for each year of the child’s age is appropriate.

3. Redirections Again, for very young children, this strategy can work when a child is being uncooperative. Get the child’s attention and introduce another activity.

4. Restoration or compensation If a child makes a mess or damages something, they need to help fix it or clean it up. If they cause someone distress, they need to make amends in some way.

5. Role model Over the long haul, by and far, the most effective and sustainable way to shape behaviour is to conduct oneself in a manner that best illustrates the characteristics that you would like to see in your child. These include compassion, honesty, patience, self-discipline and the like.

“Beyond all the techniques and strategies that are promoted for effective child development, the most important aspect of parenting, in my view, is the nurturing and love that a child receives from his or her parents or caregivers,” Mrs Cooper shared. “A nurturing parent is warm, understanding, supportive and takes the time to really listen to the child. Hugs are a vital part of every child’s upbringing.”

Spanking is legal in some countries but illegal in others.

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Published November 25, 2011 at 10:17 am (Updated November 25, 2011 at 10:16 am)

The question of spanking

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