What do you teach by hitting your child?

October 01, 2002|By Shaun Borsh

WE ARE not a hitting family.

That's what we tell our 2-year-old when she lashes out at her big brother. Our children believe we are not a hitting family because we do not hit them. We do not spank; spanking is hitting.

The recent video event of a mother hitting her 4-year-old daughter in the back of her SUV is a sickening sight to behold. The mother, Madelyne Gorman Toogood, has expressed her remorse and mortification for her actions. Ms. Toogood insisted that the incident was isolated and that her daughter's physical well-being has been confirmed by a physician.

I believe it's safe to assume that most parents are horrified by the episode. But does the average parent have qualms about an occasional spank on the bottom? Is it acceptable to strike a child?

I recently heard a comedienne describe a parent/child exchange that took place at an upscale department store. The parent asked her bratty kid to regroup, focus her behavior, so they could have a "meeting." The audience erupted with laughter when the comedienne confessed she shops at Pic 'N' Save and feels quite comfortable smacking her kids there because it will only cost her 39 cents if any merchandise is broken.

I consider spanking an inadequate fix, one with no instructional value. Discipline means to teach, and spanking is reactionary, not disciplinary. I prefer speaking with my children.

When needed, I grip my kids with a look of astonishment, as if an alien had somehow inhabited their small bodies and marched off with their good little selves. Then I go for the jugular and remove a privilege or toy. My method is effective and remembered.

My children trust that I care for them, and losing control to control their behavior breaks that trust. I figure some day they may talk to a therapist about extraterrestrial contact instead of talking to the police about battery. That's OK with me.

Most parents subscribe to a tier level of discipline. As the infraction becomes more serious, so does the response.

A friend of mine marched her young sons back to a security officer to confess that candy was taken at the mall sweet shop. She then used their mock mug shots for her annual holiday cards.

Counting seems popular with some parents: One ... two ... three ... The expectation of what comes next reverses poor conduct in some children. What comes next?

My biggest objection to spanking is the disgrace. Somehow, hard contact with one's rear end creates an emotional reaction, no matter the age or circumstance. Have you ever fallen flat on your you-know-what? Whether the culprit was ice or a banana peel, and the result a sore tailbone or laughter, I will bet my Aunt Fanny that humiliation was a factor.

I wonder how Fred Rogers from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood would handle an ill-tempered child. My best guess is with an object lesson.

Mister Rogers creates a make-believe world that teaches empathy in reality. Of course, his television friends are not defying, shrieking or bonking their little brothers over the head with plastic golf clubs. But if they were, Mister Rogers would validate their feelings while highlighting their misdeed. Calm and caring, Mister Rogers does not hit.

Is it too much to ask for creative discipline in our own parenting? By 4 p.m., I am pretty much tapped out of creativity and empathy, but I can always muster a time-out instead of a spanking. In fact, the time-out gives all involved an opportunity to cool down and rethink strategy -- parent included.

I can think of only one exception for spanking: corporate executives who run amok with accounting tactics and cheat us of our investment, education and retirement money. For them, a little disgrace may be in order.

Shaun Borsh is a free-lance writer who lives in Columbia.

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