Monday, July 12, 2010

Parenting Thoughts: To Whack or Not?

A while back, my hubby forwarded this article to me on the positive effects of spanking.

I always try to be open-minded on parenting issues, so I clicked it and read it all. Interesting..... BUT...

because of my own upbringing, I have very strong stance on this sensitive issue.

While my own views of the long-term consequences and negative effects are NOT as extreme as those claimed in some research, I don't share the belief of 'spare the rod and spoil the child'.

A few years ago, a bachelor friend W, whom I know since our teenage days, shared his firm views that a child should be whacked, spanked and smacked if he isn't obedient. He thinks there is nothing wrong with caning a child to gain his attention and teach him lessons 'for his own good'.

We ended up with a friendly but heated debate, something which we often do. (He is such a great opponent, being professionally trained as a legal counsel and being as opinionated as I am, it is always very intellectually stimulating to talk to him.)

I left that meeting thinking that he will change his mind when he becomes a parent himself.

I don't think parents should be locked up or punished for disciplining their own kids; such extreme measures as lobbied by certain fractions of people in some countries would send a very wrong message to the children.

However, it is realistic to say that many people have anger management issues and it is often too easy to take it out on very young and helpless kids once we let 'all hell break loose' with a cane or disciplining tool.

Once we start caning, where do you draw the line? What misbehavior warrant physical pain as punishment and what don't? Do we start making a list for parents and kids to memorize? Are there some misdeeds that require two or more 'strikes' or would just one hit suffice regardless of the severity of the actions?

The problem is once we let ourselves start caning (or slapping or pinching etc), it is so easy to get carried away by our own anger with the child. As a result, there is always a good chance that we may end up delivering tougher sentences on our child that we may regret later.

There is enough hype over the possible psychological and emotional scars suffered by kids who received frequent physical punishment. So I don't intend to add on it.

I am more perplexed by the immediate lesson that we teach our kids when we hit them. 

Are we telling them with our actions that violence is permitted because we are adults (and supposed to know right from wrong), or that we can hit because we are upset with that person? Or is our action telling them that it is okay to hit the person if that person has done something wrong? 

These are definitely NOT the lessons that I want to teach my boys. 

The reason this issue even came up was because there was a tough period last year when it was exasperating to cope with my 5 y.o.'s  tantrums on a daily basis. My dear hubby, like all good husbands would do, tried to recommend solutions. While he didn't rush out to buy a cane, he tried to convince me that a harsher physical punishment (i.e. a slap on the thigh) may just be what the boy needed to behave better. 

I listened to his arguments but they didn't win me over. However, I couldn't convince him that reasoning and/or scolding is the way to go either. 

For a week or so, we reacted differently whenever M drove us up the wall. My tempers flew but I couldn't bring myself to smack him. E, on the other hand, practised what he preached and delivered his version of discipline with slaps on the thighs.  I cringed every time watching him and had to intervene on a few occasions. 

It didn't take long before I noticed something else brewing in the daytime. My 3 y.o. started complaining on a daily basis that his older brother hit him on the limbs whenever they had conflicts. 

I was angry at first to find my usually mild-mannered boy resorting to violence to express himself. I gave him a good scolding every time it happened, followed by a calmer talk when I cooled down. 

It took me a few days to realize the correlation. 

I sat the daddy down to re-address the situation. My persuasion worked this time and we agreed that we just have to keep at our efforts of using words, no matter how tiring it is and futile it may seemed at first. 

To say that it was a exhausting period was a gross understatement. For both of us really. And I am sure it wasn't an easy time for Marcus too. Or for Chipsy who bore the brunt of his older brother's frustration. 

However, the efforts paid off. Two weeks later, M stopped expressing his anger and frustration at play time with a slap on Chipsy's limbs. He went back to using words. I also suggested many acceptable outlets for him to vent to help him manage his feelings better. 

Surprisingly, he didn't really need them. In the end, he was soothed most by my empathy and a more patient listening ear. The tantrums became less frequent and a lot milder. 

It was a valuable parenting lesson for us both.


Kiasu Mom said...

Hi, I was blog hopping and just wanted to say I enjoyed this post of yours. We, my hubby and I spank our daughter too cause she was our first and we didn't know how to 'discipline' her when she was misbehaving. The cane worked and we continued to use it till today. She's almost 2.5. But you were right, when she's unhappy she will hit us too.. I guess she is learning it from us. I am going to try and start using words from now on.

Winnie said...

Hi, could you share what are the "many acceptable outlets for him to vent to help him manage his feelings better" for children? Thanks.

Dominique said...

We do have canes around in the house and even the car..but mostly to deter the boys rather then actually use them.

Reanaclaire said...

Glad to hear that it pays to persevere..

Alice Law said...

Well, this is one of the thoughest issue in parenting. I reckon all children are different and required an intrinsic way of up bringing, it takes time for parents to stay up close and keep a constant observation on their beloved children before they take any further 'action' on their child's misbehave.

However, I strongly believe that all chilren share 2 essential elements of up bringing(in order to succeed in their future life)... which are LOVES and APPRECIATION!

Have a nice day!^-^

Domesticgoddess said...

Kiasu Mom, welcome to my blog and thanks! Young children are especially impressionable and they learn plenty from parents and main caregivers. It is inevitable that they will model our behaviour. If we can consistently use words to express our displeasure and show them how we manage our anger, frustration and negative emotions, they will learn eventually. It takes time and patience and a huge dose of love, but it definitely can be done! All the best!

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Winnie, I think there are many ways and what may be acceptable to one parent may differ depending on our expectations. But in our case, I believe strongly that we should not deny our kids their rights to cry, be upset or express their anger, frustration and whatever negative feelings. So I don't tell my boys to stop crying.

While they cry, I encourage them to express with words and suggest words if they are lost to give their feelings a name. If they are still very upset and whatever I say won't work, I may send them to their room, ask them to sit/lie down in bed, browse books or just cuddle their soft toys. It is like the 'thinking chair/wall' used by some, except that I don't use a chair. Over time, I learnt that sending them to their rooms where they can choose to sob into pillow, talk to their stuffed toys (my younger does this) or flip through books (my older boy does this a lot) will calm them down. But it is not feasible to leave your child alone if he is prone to hurting himself during tantrums (like some will bang their heads or throw things around).

I know of people who encouraged their kids to vent anger at their toys (say a stuffed toy). But I don't like the idea though I had suggested it before when they know that stuffed animals are just toys and not real (I don't want to send message that it is OK to hurt animals). But my kids never used it to vent.

I make it a point to tell them that fussing is pointless and won't get them anywhere. When they calm down, they will come out of room and that is when we cuddle and have a calmer talk and see what I can do to get them what they want (within reasons). They will learn over time that it is more effective to use words to express desires and feelings.

Hope above helps!

Domesticgoddess said...

Dominique, have you used it before? If not, how can the boys appreciate how painful/nasty it will be? Without their own experience, how can it serve as deterrent?

My issue with having canes in the house is unless I am prepared to use them one day (which I am not), threatening to use it won't be effective. If one day, the line is crossed and I don't administer what I threatened, the kids will learn quickly that we don't mean it and the use of canes as deterrent will lose its effect straightaway.

Why Not said...

Great post!!
I am totally on your side. Never spanked, and hope never will. I also don't have the cane. I used to get caned by my mom while I was young, and while I don't think I turned out violent (haha!), I still remember the pain till this day. Not the physical pain anymore, but the emotional pain stays on. Never will want my kids to have to go through any of that.

Domesticgoddess said...

reanaclaire, it certainly does! We just have to keep reminding ourselves that there is light at the end of the tunnel. :>

Alice, I agree that all kids will thrive with love and appreciation.

But I also want to speak up for parents who are main caregivers and have to face the child who is behaving 24 by 7! I can understand why some parents get so upset that they 'lose it'. It is just not the same to be facing a child for a few hours after work versus from morning to night. I think it is much easier to give just love and appreciation in response to undesirable behaviour if we only have to deal with them for a brief period every day.

While I don't believe in using the rod, it is not a breeze to have to deal with the tantrums and misbehaviour with my chosen way. I chose it so I bite the bullet.

Domesticgoddess said...

Jayne, thanks! My siblings and I grew up with CANES too and it was an awful period of our lives.

I can still remember the pain, the nasty feelings (anger, shock, helplessness etc) we experienced then. The condemned 'misdeeds' were, when I look back now, so insignificant and minor to deserve the GROSSLY disproportionate and violent punishment my dad handed us. I don't want to ever be remembered like that by my kids.

Actually, I believe that all kids in these cases (and that includes me and my siblings) will grow up with some 'damage' in some ways, and it does not necessarily make us a violent or angry person. It could affect the way we handle pain, frustration, view punishment etc.. What we don't see on the outside doesn't mean is not there.

Alicia said...


I have been reading your blog on and off but leaving my comment for the first time. =)

Thank you for the post. I have a girl and till now, have never spanked or smack her. Truth be told, it can be very trying especially when she throws a mother of all tantrums. But I agree totally that children model behaviour.

One of my buddies' elder child (a boy) was reprimanded in school for hitting his classmates. My buddy and her hubby were called in and her son's reply to them is that when he does obey instructions, they hit him. So, when this classmate did not cooperate, he did just the very same. That was a wake up call for my buddy who has since tried to walk away and have a personal "cool off" period as opposed to metting out physical punishments.

Having said that, I agree totally that it can be hard for a SAHM (I am a FTWM) so please do share other ideas / practices if you have any; need to prep myself! LOL


K said...

I totally agree with what you said, especially this:

"I believe strongly that we should not deny our kids their rights to cry, be upset or express their anger, frustration and whatever negative feelings. So I don't tell my boys to stop crying."

and this
"unless I am prepared to use them one day (which I am not), threatening to use it won't be effective. If one day, the line is crossed and I don't administer what I threatened, the kids will learn quickly that we don't mean it and the use of canes as deterrent will lose its effect straightaway."

That is why I haven't bought a cane. After having my #2, I did hit him on his palms out of sheer frustrations when he got very naughty. But he started hitting people too. What's worse, the older sister started hitting back. Very soon, they were clawing and biting and beating each other. I stopped hitting and would instead walk away to calm myself down. By then I would not have the urge to smack anymore.

When they need to vent out physically, I'll ask them to bang on the mattress or sofa and not to do anything that will hurt others or disturb others (like banging on noisy toys) or hurt themselves (like banging on hard objects).

Sadly, my hubby doesn't feel like me, no matter how many articles I let him read or how many discussions I had with him. He thinks the kids should learn how to stop crying which is absurd and unreasonable, because their means of expression is already so limited. Why, sometimes he himself kicks up such a fuss when something doesn't go his way or simply when he's in a bad mood. He said reasoning doesn't always work, so we have to let them fear us. It gets me very upset when he smacks the kids, especially when it's through no fault of theirs. To him, even so, they "have to learn to stop crying when we tell them to."


Alicia said...


realised i made a typo. should have been "My buddy and her hubby were called in and her son's reply to them is that when he does NOT obey instructions, they hit him".

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Alicia, thanks for leaving your comment. It is always great to have readers finally coming out to say hi. I realize it was a typo after reading the comment a few times. :) Thanks for sharing your buddy's experience.

In most cases, I think a cool off period for parents and kids is useful. Once we calm down, it takes away the urge to discipline way too harshly.It is heartening to know too, that your buddy and spouse are wise enough to see the incident as wake-up call.

I know a couple personally who wallop their kid more after being called into principal's office because their son hit a classmate. And they wonder why their son would be so violent and angry all the time! Hmm..

I suppose you are planning to be a SAHM soon? Let me know specific areas that you like to chat about, and I will be happy to share. :>

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi K, it is great to hear from you again. Thanks for sharing your own experience, I can totally empathize. I think you did great to have the willpower to walk away from the 'scene' to calm yourself down. I know how hard that can be sometimes. I find myself doing that a lot some days.

On your idea of banging on mattress and sofa, it is a safe way to vent without getting hurt but what happens if they are not at home? Have you encountered cases when they get upset and there is no mattress/sofa to bang?

I can imagine how frustrating it must be for you too to try to persuade your hubby to see your point of view. My hubby has very firm views on some issues too and if and when the time comes, it will take serious thrashing out between us if I still hold my opposing views. But if it is a big issue that matters a lot to me and my kids, I will be firm and work out a compromise that we can both accept.

It is confusing to kids and ineffective discipline if one parent smacks and the other doesn't as response to the same negative behavior. Actually when it comes to many parenting issues, there should be consistency between parents. It is hard work and plenty of negotiation, but it has to be done, out of love for our kids and our marriage!

If a child is very young, and crying is only way to express emotions (because of language constraint), then stopping the child from crying is teaching the child that there is something wrong with how he feels and he should suppress it. It is unhealthy and will breed low self-esteem. I think you know what I mean. But for older children, it has to be differentiated from fussing/throwing tantrums to get something.

Whether we want to teach our kids to fear us parents, hmm.. is a big topic on its own. And I have a lot to say about that too. But above all, I think we are more effective parents if we teach our kids to love and respect us by showing them how we love and respect them on a daily basis. Then they will learn to model our behaviour and love and respect us back. Fear will only work when the fearsome object 'i.e. daddy' is around. Fear is short-term. My 2 cents. :)

K said...

Hi Domesticgoddess,

Well, I hadn't thought about what you said about banging on sofa/bed when I'm not around. But I won't worry about it because I only tell them that when they hit each other and it was clear that they just had to vent out at that point of time. My parenting style is also to encourage the kids to talk about their feelings and I allow them to cry or express in other non-disruptive ways. Anyway, they've since stopped fighting. :)

As for the hubby, well, I'll wait for the right time to talk to him about this, yet again... Haha. Things are a bit tense at home now because of our disagreements. So I'm going to zip my mouth for a while. :)

I'm sure you understand the frustration.

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi K, oh I can understand. Adults need to have cooling off period too. :>

Dominique said...

we have used it once b4 as other methods and deterrents did not work.
However it now serves as a reminder for them to think about their actions before being hasty again.

The Beauties In Our Lives said...

Domesticgoddess: What an apt and thought-provoking post indeed! I had been brought up with a very strict dad (like you) who did NOT spare the cane, even when I was in my teenaged years! Sigh. Obviously, I have anger management issues when growing up, but I had since taught myself to handle anger and stress calmly through means like yoga, reading and simply through mental persuasion.

Because of that, I had been practising attachment parenting with my daughters. I do not ever hit them (although sometimes, out of sheer frustration, I do raise my voice at them), we do not have a cane at home, and I let them cry their feelings out. Yes, it gets noisy, frazzling and frustrating when I have 2 girls yelling their tears out, but I had since learned to turn a deaf ear to these cries, and simply encouraged them to cry themselves out on their beds - then I leave the battle scene to calm down myself! I do step in firmly when both of them start to fight though (believe me not, schools, especially primary schools, are breeding grounds for negative influences, so we as parents need to reinforce as much love and empathy at home to thwart such influences!).

I am also very lucky to have a husband who fully agree with me not to punish the children through hitting or smacking. In fact, he sometimes think I am too harsh just by raising my voice...!

I fully agree with your parenting style and think you are doing a fantastic job with your boys! Do share more!

Domesticgoddess said...

Rachel, I see. I wonder how long will the kids will remember its effect.

Beauties in Our lives, thanks! Going by what you have shared, I think you are setting a real good role example for your gals to emulate. I can imagine and understand what you mean by influences from primary school. In a few months, we will be facing new challenges... haha!

Hmm... i do wonder though if your hubby thinks that you are too harsh just raising your voice, how does he deal with your kids when things aren't going pretty? :P

Anonymous said...

BIG THANKS fr this post! My 17 months old is driving me up the walls. This is just exactly what I need to read n drill into my own head.

I do spank, and at times get carried away. I try to refrain from spanking most of the times. But I wonder if the spanking is fr me to vent or for her to learn.

Will need more reminders like these every now and then. :)

Domesticgoddess said...

Anonymous, you are most welcome! I am happy you find this post useful. It can be really taxing when our little ones test our patience and boundaries regularly.

I find it helps me a lot to step away from the 'scene' to cool down, before returning to my kid for our 'talk'. Once you work out what is best for you to vent and decide on an alternative method of discipline, you will find it a lot easier to deal with such challenging times with your kid. Good luck there!

Anonymous said...

Dear Domesticgoddess,
I am so happy to find another parent who do not share the belief of "spare the rod and spoil the child".

I came across a thread in a forum, where many parents discussed about ways to hit a child that will cause him pain, but without leaving any marks. I was really sad when I read that thread.

My kids are now 6 and 7 years old, I have not caned them before. I used the timed-out method and removal of privileges. Now they are well behaved kids who listen to my reasoning. They know that crying and throwing tantrums will not get them anything. Instead, when they want something, they ask in the sweetest voice and most polite manner :) We want to raise kids who know what is good behaviour, and understand why they should not mis-behave. Spanking a child is not going to achieve this.

Domesticgoddess said...

Hi Tamarind, it is a little shocking to me that some parents would discuss how to cause pain to their children, even if it is for the sake of disciplining! Gosh!

Like you, I insist that my kids ask nicely for something instead of making demands. It has worked on most days, thankfully. And when they forget their manners, a little reminder will usually do the trick.

Luckily, more and more parents these days are also aware of the alternatives they have in disciplining their kids.


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