SPANKING IS PROBABLY the most controversial discipline issue there is. People on both sides of the issue feel strongly about their views. Yet other peoples’ opinions vary depending on how they define spanking. Some define spanking as slapping the child on the bottom no more than once while others define it as any type of physical punishment.
Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child
When referring to physical punishment, there are many things to factor in. Things such as age at the time of hitting, the force with which children are hit, the mood of the parent who is doing the spanking all play a role in deteriorating or enhancing the act.
The vital issue is how spanking (or any punishment) is used, more so than whether it is used. Physical punishment by an angry, hysterical parent will leave long-term emotional wounds and cultivate resentment and bitterness within a child.
According to the Child and Family Studies Center in California, there is a “correct” way to spank. Here are the determining guidelines:
- The child should be forewarned of the spanking consequence for designated problem behaviors.
- Children who are younger than 18 months or older than 6 should not be spanked.
- Spanking should be used to correct misbehavior, not to intentionally harm another person.
- Spanking should never cause physical injury.
- Spanking should be done in private so as not to humiliate the child.
- Spanking should be done with the hand, not with objects.
- Spanking should only be used after other methods (e.g., talking, verbal correction, time-outs) have been used.
- Spanking should never be done when the parent is angry or “out of control.”
More than four out of five Americans who were spanked by their parents as children say that it was an effective form of discipline. According to an ABC News Poll, by a 2-1 margin, the public approves of spanking children in principle. Half of parents say they sometimes do it to their kids.
Contrary to the findings of many studies, most of us either were spanked or know someone who was spanked and feel we grew up just fine.
Spare the Rod
It is said that children who are physically punished are more likely to grow up approving of it and using it to settle inter-personal conflicts. Even children who have experienced “normal” spankings are almost three times as likely to seriously assault a sibling, compared to children who were not physically disciplined.
On the other hand, it is unrealistic to expect that children would never hit others if their parents would only eliminate spanking from their discipline options. Many toddlers naturally attempt to hit others when they become agitated or frustrated.
I don’t spank my children but I had a big problem with my two-and-a-half-year-old son hitting his sister. I had a very hard time stopping him from doing this. We tried time-outs, losing privileges, ignoring it and nothing worked—he is very strong willed. Someone suggested hitting him back. Actually, I did consider it until I thought to myself how ridiculous I would sound telling him not to hit as I was hitting him. Al-Hamdulillah! it is decreasing as he is getting older.
I can’t help but wonder, though, what he would be like if I did hit him back. Research confirms that many parents instinctively feel bad when they spank their child, but they don’t know what else to do.
Here are seven things to do instead of striking a child:
- Get calm—if the child is safe, withdraw from conflict and leave the room. Once you have cooled down, you will probably feel less inclined to spank and more inclined to rationally discuss it.
- Avoid direct clashes with toddlers. Instead, try a diversion or distraction. Many tense situations can be deflated by doing something funny or unexpected, such as tickling a slightly upset child.
- Use logical, age appropriate consequences such as time outs and losing privileges.
- If the situation gets out of control don’t yell—whisper. More than likely, they will tune it down to try to hear what you are saying.
- Give them choices. Make sure the choices are things you approve of.
- If you start to deliver a slap, reroute it to your knee or a table. The sound will interrupt the behavior without hitting the child.
- Remind yourself that children are a blessing and a gift from Allah. It is hard to remind yourself of that after they broke the neighbor’s window or flushed the entire roll of toilet paper down the toilet, this blessing comes with tests and trials and Paradise, insha’Allah, for those who raise them well.
In many households, each parent uses a different form of discipline. One may spank while the other may take away privileges or rationally discuss the misbehavior. When you ask their kids which method they prefer to have used on them when they misbehave, they will say that they would rather be spanked than have the “I’m disappointed in you” talk. When their parents have the “I’m disappointed in you” talk with them, they actually feel guilty and sad for their choice of action rather than be angry at their parents’ response. It also gives them the tools they need to make better decisions in the future.
We should ask ourselves when using the different forms of discipline what our goal is? Isn’t it to teach the child to be self-sufficient and successful in this life and the next? Isn’t it to teach our children that every action has a reaction and that every choice they make has a consequence? Will spanking help us reach our goals or will it only make them so afraid of us that they will comply out of fear rather than make a rational decision with the tools that we provide them.
Every child is different and will respond differently to different things. As parents, we should know our children well enough to know what form of discipline is effective and what is not. In disciplining, it is far better and more valuable to use our intellectual strength rather than our physical force.
May Allah give us the insight and strength to raise the future leaders of this Ummah. Ameen!