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No more spanking

Amy Carpenter-Leugs

For me, all of my parenting had to change -- if I had to be "in control" of my children at all, then I needed consequences -- including physical ones -- to make that stick, and there wasn't an in between for me. Ugh.


But when I shifted to respecting my children, and knowing that all their behavior was coming from a very real need and that my job was first to listen and then to help get that need met if I could -- well, I stopped spanking, and then yelling, in a relatively short period of time, now that I look back at it.


I've gotten to the point where I can often breathe and let things go, even when I'm tired and cranky -- and that used to be such a trigger for me. Anyway, I know that my situation is very different than yours, but, yes, this list can really help with the principle of trusting our children and seeing them as real people.



I fight with my husband about spanking and he says that we were both spanked as kids and there is nothing wrong with us!


Nothing wrong except that he doesn't see anything wrong with a great big person hitting a little tiny person who doesn't live up to his expectations.


Some kids raised in ghettos turn out wonderfully. Would that mean ghettos are great places to raise kids? Or would it mean that there were other factors in the child's life that allowed them to not be beaten down by the ghetto?


People justify spanking as a way to mold a child into a decent adult. But if we look at the situation in terms of wisdom and experience, spanking doesn't come off so well. A small child has had 3, 4, 5 years of experience with the world. How sensible is it to expect that kids can get it all together in so short of a time?


If we, with 20+ years of experience with the world, can't figure out a better way to get what we want other than by a great big person hitting a little tiny person, then how can we possibly justify expecting better of our kids?


She has been brilliant and we haven't had many behaviour problems. She throws the odd tantrum and my husband believes that a good spank does the job!


It helps a lot to see what the world looks and feels and is like to a little child. Children are totally dependent on the adults in their world to meet their needs, needs that adults take care of for themselves without a thought. If we adults are hungry, we eat. If we feel like going to a movie, we clear out our schedule and make arrangements and go to a movie. But for a child, every want, need and desire has to go through an adult. And the adult basically weighs and judges those to see if the adult thinks they're worthy of putting the effort into meeting.


If adults had to live that way, we'd go bonkers!


Think about everything you want during the day and then think about having to ask your husband if it's okay for you to have it and if he wouldn't mind getting it for you.


What if you were in a full body cast and you were hungry. And you were asking your husband for something to eat. And he replied "You're not hungry yet," or "In a minute, when I get the time," or "Okay," and then just went on doing things that didn't look at all important to you. What if you had to ask several times and he still kept on doing what he was doing?


Wouldn't you feel like throwing a tantrum?


She likes to cry for things as she has always gotten her way - if she wants something she points and fake cries - for EVERYTHING!!


Tantrums often are the last resort of desperate kids. The adults they trust to help them meet their needs are shrugging off the child's needs as less important than the adult's needs. The child keeps trying to say"This is important,' in whatever ways he or she can, and the adults ignore it.


If we ignore whatever signals kids give and then only pay attention when they reach the last resort (a tantrum), we basically train kids that other ways of getting our attention aren't worth using. The only way that gets our attention is a tantrum so kids will eventually skip the other useless forms of communication and go direct to a tantrum.


It makes sense. Wouldn't it be ridiculous for adults to keep trying to communicate in ways that didn't work? Why should kids be any different?


So the answer is to pay attention! :-) We can't always give kids what they're asking for but we can offer our understanding. Think about if it were raining for 6 days straight and you said to your husband "I want it to stop raining!" Would you rather he said "Well I can't do anything about that so just put up with it." Or "It sure has been raining a long time. I'm looking forward to the sun too."


(A good book that has lots of scenarios and words to say like that is How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk).


It helps enormously to always answer in some form of yes. So rather than "No, I can't help you until I'm done with the dishes," you can say "Yes, I can help you with that when I'm done doing the dishes." And you can even add "Would you like to keep me company while I finish up?" or "Would you like to help so it goes faster?" (But don't expect them to help! And if they do it could possibly take longer but appreciate time spent together :-)


If there are meltdowns in stores, then a good way to head them off is to make sure kids are well rested and fed before trying to shop. (Assuming the kids are ready to shop. If they aren't, then it's best to shop alone.) And it also helps to picture what the process of shopping and not being able to buy must be like to a child.


We tend to tune out our kids' complaints about things we "have" to do like shopping because we feel that we're not getting to do what we want to do either, so kids need to put up with it too.


But kids don't have the same understanding of the world we do. They will eventually. Not because we train them to understand or make them understand. But just by growing older. A 12 year old doesn't think differently than a 6 yo because we've trained them to. It's because a 12 yo is older and their brain works differently. That difference in how their brain works gives them a different understanding of the world. Two years ago my daughter would moan and groan the few times I asked if she'd help bring in the groceries. I didn't make her. But now that she's 12 she does it without being asked. (And I thank her! Even though it's something a parent might expect a 12 yo to do.) Her grasp of what is involved in living and her competence at doing things has changed because she's older.


A child can't understand that we need to shop. Even if we explain it to them. They can't understand because their concept of time and how the world operates is so radically different from ours. From a child's point of view we're doing ridiculous, pointless things and they're going to react to us with that understanding.


So from their point of view it is the same as if your husband made you go to a sporting goods store (or some store you have zero interest in!) and every time you said "When can we leave?" he'd say "Soon," but since it was dragging on and on, those words obviously meant "When I'm done which might be 2 minutes or 2 hours. And there's nothing you can do about it so put up with it." And when you said you were hungry he'd say "You can wait. We're going home soon," and there was a mall full of food not too far away. And he wouldn't let you wander around or touch things. You just had to sit right by his side and he'd even get annoyed if you tried to engage him in conversation.


It not only wouldn't be a fun time but it would risk whittling away at the relationship you had with him.


She gave up a dummy without a tear - just threw it in the dustbin at 2. She pulled down her trousers one day and said mommy, wee wee toilet ... without any prior potty training! She is a real angel!!


I think it helps to separate behavior that is truly good -- like Mother Teresa :-) -- from behavior that is convenient for us.


If she had cried over a lost toy or not potty trained until she was 3, would she be bad? Or would those emotions and actions be an inconvenience to her parents?


Kids are going to have needs and wants and fears and problems that are inconvenient to us. But we brought them into the world whether they were planned or not. Kids didn't ask to come. By giving birth to them basically we've brought them here and dumped the burden of figuring out life onto their shoulders. And if we treat the burden they are bearing as being inconvenient to us sometimes, it's 20 times worse for a child. Especially worse when the person they depend on to help them bear the burden turns away from them or gets angry at them for not being able to handle the burden.


Adults tend to look at little kids sort of with jealousy. We think it would be great to not have the responsibilities that we do and to be able to play all day. But adults don't see the really sucky parts about being a kid. That freedom to play comes at a huge price, the price of living your life the way someone else wants you to or lets you and being dependent on someone else to get you what you want from life.


ONLY PROBLEM. She sleeps in our bed with us and that's not the worst part. She insists on lying on top of me!! It is unbearable!! She has her own bed but won't sleep in it. The other night we put her in her bed and let her cry it out but it got too much.


The world is hugely scary to little kids. Think of yourself being terrified about a world you had no control over. And the person you expected to comfort you sent you away because they disliked the fact that you needed more comfort than they wanted to give. How would you feel?


What would you want someone to do for you if you were lost and alone and needed the person you loved most in the world to hold you?


What if you go to her bed and sleep with her? It might be tight and uncomfortable, but is it more uncomfortable than being terrified?


What if you move her bed right next to yours so that there's a bigger bed? What if you put some mattresses on the floor so that she can decide for herself where she wants to sleep. (And expect that she'll sleep with you.)



My father was quite abusive, verbally and physically to us kids. I have a 32 month old and a new baby. I would like to say I never hit my oldest but that is not true. I have slapped him, squeezed him etc. ... maybe 15 times. I feel horrible about this and don't want to do it anymore. He kicks us all the time. He is pretty rowdy, throws things, yells a lot. I also feel bad cuz I yell a lot at the dog and my husband. Now I see my son yelling at the dog etc. ... I don't want him to grow up angry or scared like I did. I know it is nothing close to what I grew up with but I need help. My husband loses his cool with our son at times and squeezes him too hard too often. We also argue in front of our son. If anyone knows of a thread, group etc . where I can work on some of my problems with my dh please let me know. I have done a ton of 12 step work and therapy over the years and feel a bit disheartened. Thank you all for your support in advance.


Maybe some perspective would help so it doesn't seem like one big tangled mess? And maybe help it look like a set of smaller problems? What I see are:


1) helping your son work through acquiring the skills to handle what he feels. 2) helping yourself find better ways to react. 3) recognizing that your husband needs your support in finding new ways too, but ultimately his change is not in your control, only in his own and he needs to find reasons within himself to change.


Your son's kicking you might be because he's 2. Or because he's spirited. Or because he lacks the skills to get what he wants. Or because he sees his parents modeling that the way to get what you want is to be more powerful.


None of those bar him from learning more effective and less hurtful ways of getting what he wants! They just need different tactics. You'll need to understand why he's kicking before you can help him find ways to not kick or not need to kick.


It's presumed that, baring horrible abuse, kids don't want to hurt others. But sometimes they hurt without realizing it. So we need to give them information so they can work to understand that what they're doing is hurting. And even more often the skills to get what they want don't come naturally. So they need help in identifying what they want and what they feel and how to go about handling those feelings.


(Sometimes kids will hurt because they're hurting or because someone is hurting them so they want to spread the hurt around and make others hurt too. So the first step is to get rid of the hurt or help them gain the skills to handle the hurt. Obviously, if someone is physically or emotionally hurting them, that needs to stop. If the hurt is internal, like feeling frustration or anger, then the frustrations that can be eliminated should be eliminated and then they'll need help in less hurtful ways to react to what they're feeling inside.)


That's too vague, perhaps, to be helpful. You could bring some of the things he does here and we can talk about ways to handle them.


Some books that might help are Your Three Year Old (or Your Two Year Old depending on where he is in his development.) They help parents understand what is normal behavior for each age. (My daughter was always off the standard schedule so they helped me not at all ;-) but lots of parents have recognized their child in the books and felt relieved that it was just a stage that would pass.)


The Explosive Child may help if his emotions are higher than a young child can cope reasonably with.


How to Talk So Kids Will Listen. That helped me to see that just because I was right in how I viewed a situation didn't mean that my daughter was wrong. She's a child with different needs and understanding of life. For instance, just because it makes sense to me to have the toys put away, that's nonsense to her. What makes sense to her is for toys to be out so she can see them.


Maybe the simplest advice is what someone once said: "When they're being the most annoying is when they need love the most."


As for helping yourself, at the heart of abuse is often the need for control. It's wanting the world -- including other people -- to behave the way we want them to and not having the skills to get them to do that and therefore resorting to asserting power.


For instance, if your son -- or dog -- is doing something that annoys you, the natural inclination is to make them stop. What we're basically saying with that desire is that our emotions are controlled by outside forces and the only way to make the emotions stop is by stopping what's causing the emotions.


That thought "make them stop" can trap us on the road of abuse because there isn't any way to make someone stop other than by being more powerful than they are. So there's three parts to that:


1) Recognizing that our emotions are not caused by outside forces. Our emotions are our own and we are in control of them. That doesn't mean it's easy! It takes some mental shifting and viewpoint changing to get our heads into a place where we can accept that we're allowing something to make us feel a certain way. We're giving power to the thing or to the other person. We're letting it or them control us. We can take that power back by recognizing that our emotions are not in their or its control but under our control. We can refuse to let a thing or someone else "make" us feel what they want us to feel. We can detach from the strings that are pulling on our emotions.


(I think there's a lot of help like that in the book for Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA). I've seen a couple of people work through that book and they've found amazing strength in themselves in the power of recognizing what they can control (and the power they have over themselves) and letting go of what they can't control.)


2) Learning how not to put situations in battle terms where one person winning/getting what they want depends on the other person losing/not getting what they want. That need to control can be deep seated. If you had no control as a child, you may feel it's now your turn to have the control and no one's going to push you around and you aren't going to give in. But you don't need to be at war to get your needs met. You don't need to stop someone from getting what they want to get what you want. Seek solutions where everyone gets what they want.


3) Recognizing that we have other options for protecting ourselves/getting what we need besides making someone stop. (Again, at the heart of making is creating a battle -- and power -- situation where one person must win and one person must lose. If we don't enter into the battle, if we withdraw and don't even acknowledge that there is a battle, then the other person doesn't need to lose for us to get what we need.)


Maybe rather than thinking in terms of what you want others to do to stop you feeling something, think in terms of what you can do for yourself.


For instance if your son is kicking you -- and for now, assume that he has a reason to be annoyed/frustrated and is just lacking the skills to let you know another way -- then let him know how it makes you feel and ask him to stop. "That hurts mommy. Don't kick me." If he continues to kick, then you can remove yourself from him. Or maybe an even better way (depending on why he feels kicking is a good solution) is to pick him up and hug him and say "Don't kick. It hurts mommy. I love you but I won't let you hurt me. Can you tell me what you want in a gentle way?"


"I won't let you hurt me" is very different than "You must stop hurting me." The first is all about you and the power you have over yourself to protect yourself. The second is about power and who has the most, and therefore who gets to control the situation and the other person.


(Your response to him will depend on why he's kicking. If he's kicking because he's discovered that it's an effective method for getting attention, then it's probably because his more subtle ways of asking for attention are being ignored and he's realized that kicking is the method that has worked best. So you need to be there and aware that he needs something so he doesn't need to kick to get someone to give him the attention he needs.)


You both have needs. He needs whatever is causing him to kick. You need to not be kicked. You don't need to thwart his need to get your need met. That's a war, a battle, a control of power situation. Don't see yourself as at war with him. See yourself as his partner. Help him get what he needs but in ways that don't allow him to hurt you or others.


Help him find ways to get what he wants. If he needs some physical release for emotions, he can punch pillows or a punching bag or jump on a trampoline. If he wants something and doesn't know how to get it and kicking has become effective, then he needs help acquiring new ways to get what he wants.


As for your husband, he's feeling that need for control too and he's going to have to want to change in order to change. Him wanting to change isn't in your power to control. But you can be there to support him and understand his feelings. (And do what needs to be done to protect your son.)



Joyfully Rejoycing
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