I’m heading out for drinks with my cousin when she turns to her man and says, “If he gets out of hand, go ahead and spank him.” She’s referring to her 4-year-old son. I’m a little surprised because she’s been dating this guy less than a year. When I ask her if she thinks it’s a good idea to let him spank her kid she doesn’t see the problem. “If I’m gone, my son needs to know that he’s got to listen or he’s going to get popped,” she says, a little defensively. I leave it alone. But later, I’m definitely thinking about it.
On one hand, I see what she means. It’s kinda old school in the sense that people used to take responsibility for other people’s kids. Family members had the right to pop you if they saw you getting out of hand, and even neighbors could snatch you up, and drag you home to mama. Teachers had, and in many places still do, have the right to take physical action. Corporal punishment is alive and well, especially in the South. Let’s face it, not everyone was mad when the Spring Valley High police officer flung the young female student to the ground last year. “Kids today have a problem with authority,” they say.
But the flip side of that is you’re putting a lot of trust in a person, in this case, a boyfriend. How long have you known him? Does he have a temper? What’s his experience with kids? And what if you break up and get a new man, is he going to be able to hit him too? Sadly, it doesn’t always end well. Tragic stories surface everyday about boyfriends who injure, and sometimes kill, a woman’s kid. Men can have a heavy hand, and when it’s not their child, they may lack patience or feel they have to over compensate to show that they have the upper hand. Kids are quick to scream, “I don’t have to listen to you; you’re not my daddy!”
So what’s an acceptable way to discipline that won’t create bigger problems?
I call up Dr. Jane Fort, one of my go-to psychologists, to see what advice she may have because I want to make sure my cousin is doing the right thing.
She says, “The real question is what is being communicated to the child in a spanking no matter who does it?
We want to teach children what to do and what not to do, but too many times, we open ourselves to the possibility of venting our anger and frustration on a child because we’re bigger and can get away with it and not because we are actually communicating the message we want the child to grasp.
So, time out with an explanation may be a better option.
Loss of a privilege or benefit for a brief period of time – but not so long that everyone forgets what it was all about in the first place.
We also have to know what limits should be made evident in supervision of our children. Determine what discipline best communicates the lesson to the child.”
Seriously, that’s a good one because what one adult sees as a reason to spank another might not. Do you want your kid being bopped upside the head for not eating his peas or failing to do his homework?
Okay. She’s saying that spanking may not be the best way to discipline. Period. And I agree. I swore I wouldn’t do it to my own kids, and then I did. It feels awful every time. I can’t imagine doing it to someone else’s child, even with permission. It just feels messy.