Sparing the Rod
The cost of being an Opinionated Homeschooler is having opinions that others, often friends, will vehemently disagree with. Still, there are topics I try to avoid, and one of them is corporal punishment. Can't avoid it this time, so here we go.This
is big in the homeschooling news lately. Amid the general nausea in reading the article, I was struck by the remarks of a Texas mom who uses the Pearls' advice about striking small children with switches:
"Some people would rather spend an hour reasoning with a defiant 5-year-old instead of requiring the kid to behave and giving him a swat if he doesn't," said Hicks, who said she has used a peach-tree switch to spank her four children. "Some people are just queasy about swatting their kids."
These comments get to the very heart of the corporal punishment issue. First, the contemptuous remark that some parents "are just queasy about swatting their kids." Yes, they are. Even the parents who swat their kids. If the thought didn't make us queasy, we wouldn't be looking up Bible verses or pro-spanking books or web-sites to tell us it was okay and good and would solve our discipline problems. You know what? It's okay
to be queasy about spanking your kids. I intended to put my firstborn into daycare, but I didn't, because I "felt queasy" about it; it went against my maternal instincts, I didn't want to do it, and I trusted that in the end. I felt queasy about putting my children in school. I don't claim that those who have chosen otherwise are wrong; but I do claim that following my instincts about what I would and wouldn't do with my children was right.
Second, I believe many parents resort to spanking or switching because they have believed the straw man argument that the only alternative is to "spend an hour reasoning with a defiant 5-year-old instead of requiring the kid to behave." But those aren't the only options. One of the things I most wish someone had told me with my first child was that you don't always have to make them behave. Often you can just let things go. Often you only "have to" remove them from the place they are now, for their own sake or the sake of others. You don't always have to change their behavior right now
People tell us, "If you had my child, you'd be singing a different tune." Our firstborn was the poster child for tantrums, rage, defiance, and a broad range of self-imposed misery. We were advised, often by people who love her, to think about spanking, or therapy, or (of course) putting her in school. We didn't do any of those. And she's okay now. She's not an undisciplined brat. She's a gentle, affectionate, self-controlled kid.
I'm not interested in arguing that (a) spanking or switching is child abuse; or (b) you're a bad parent if you spank (you're probably not); or (c) spanking is biblical or not biblical. (Though it's worth mentioning that the Catholic tradition falls on the side of gentleness; St. Benedict's rule
was notable in its time for limiting the occasions in which children could be struck; Maria Montessori
banned all corporal punishment in her schools, as did St. John Bosco, St. Elizabeth Seton, and Father Flanagan. The modern Catholic apologetics for striking children are lifted from Evangelical sources.) I'm not even going to argue about whether you get better behavior results from spanking or not spanking. For the sake of argument, I'll concede that spanking is more effective in direct behavior modification.
All I want to say is this. You can choose not to spank, if your heart hurts when you do it or think about doing it. And your kids really will be okay.
to Daryl Cobranchi)Update:
Just clearing up some confusions that seem to have arisen.
1. I don't mean to imply that Evangelical Christians are the only ones who spank their children, or that Evangelicals as a whole are responsible for the kind of horrific disciplinary advice that seems to have led to the tragedy linked to at the beginning of this post. In fact, the very best childrearing books right now are those written by Evangelical Christian husband-wife team William and Martha Sears. The Baby Book
, The Fussy Baby Book
, and The Discipline Book
were invaluable resources. (I was, however, disappointed with their book specifically on raising Christian children, where Sears & Sears quite bizarrely do a one-eighty on their advice regarding spanking. It's a not-so-good book in other areas, and I don't recommend it.)
2. My link to Daryl Cobranchi
at the end doesn't imply that I agree with everything he says on his blog--I can guess that he doesn't agree with everything I say on mine!--but as I got the original link through his blog, courtesy and honesty demand the "hat tip." Anyway, his blog is well worth reading.