Inexplicable Parenting

A study purporting to analyze the effects on children of spanking was widely reported recently. Unsurprisingly (to me), after analyzing fifty (that's five-zero) years of information, the researchers found that spanking produced a lot of net harm. It's logical to conclude that when we hurt our children, our children become worse-off, and it is not difficult to understand that, since there are alternative forms of discipline, citing the need for discipline is no excuse here.

Still, a solid majority of Americans continue to believe in spanking. It's a behavior that we keep passing down to subsequent generations, despite having no productive use, and despite its causing significant harm to children. Harming children is a terrible thing to do, and we no longer have any excuse for doing it. So, let's all stop.

News of this recent study is a couple of weeks old, but I was thinking about it over the weekend when my over-tired, over-stimulated young toddler turned a trip to the mall into an enormous temper tantrum.

It was the first I'd ever seen her like this. She screamed and cried, she turned red and was literally shaking with rage. The issue appeared to be that she didn't want to get into her car seat and drive to a park, but instead wanted to already be at the park. She just didn't know - she's a toddler. A rational, fully informed person would be able to understand that, in order to get to the park, we need to get into the car and drive there. All she knew is that she wanted to ride in the swing, but she didn't want to get into her car seat. She felt so strongly about this that she was willing to protest, and like any toddler, when she didn't get her way, she went into a tantrum.

But, my reaction to a tantrum like this was to feel very sorry for her. I understood where she was coming from, not because she was 100% correct, but because from the perspective of a not-yet-two-year-old, it makes sense and is the kind of thing I would feel, too, if I were in her shoes. As we grow up, we learn how to control our emotions and deal with occasional dissatisfaction. At that age, we haven't learned those skills yet. Obviously, I'd love to help instill her with those skills, but that takes time, and she wasn't "there" yet.

When it was clear that she wasn't going to allow herself to be buckled into the car seat, I picked her up, took her over by the trees and in the sunlight, held her and spoke gently and calmly to her. I dropped the subject of trying to get into the car and go; instead, I spoke to her about how I understood that she was angry, and that it's okay to be angry. I pointed out airplanes and birds to her (which she likes to see). I rubbed her back softly and did my best to calm her down.

At no point during this process, however, did it even cross my mind to punish her. I was frustrated, sure, because I wanted to go. I suppose that, in a way, the reason I couldn't go was because she was upset, but how could I punish her for a reaction that, at its core, makes sense? I honestly cannot imagine what other parents must be thinking when they conclude that an upset child should be made so afraid of the consequences of being upset that she would simply suppress her reaction and be calm - or else! I don't want her to think she can't tell me that she's upset, nor do I want her to feel that being upset is wrong. I simply want her to learn the right way to talk about it. Punishing her - spanking her - would never be a correct way to teach her that.

To me, this all seems obvious, logical, and reasonable. So, when I read about how many other parents believe in spanking, and when I hear parents out in public, yelling in anger at their misbehaving children, I am simply perplexed.

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