The Spanking Controversy

Raising a toddler is full of extremes. Jasper moves from feeling nothing but laughter and joy to screaming with anger and frustration in two seconds flat, a dozen times a day. It is dizzying.

This morning, Patrick had a round of golf at 6am, so it was up to me to get Jasper ready for school. Thrown off by the change in schedule and routine, our kid was a mess.

“No school!” He frowned.

I tried patiently explaining that we had to go to school, and that he was going to have fun with his friends. I gave him a hug and reminded him that I love him.

“NO SCHOOL!”  He shouted, and hit me in anger.

I took a deep breath, and reminded Jasper of our house rules. He didn’t want to apologize. I gave him another chance (you get 3 strikes in our house) and he caved and said that he was sorry. I reminded him that I knew he was angry about having to go to school, but that he should use his words instead of hitting.

I don’t want my son to hit his friends, me or anyone else because he is angry.

Patrick and I were raised in homes that used very different parenting styles, and to be completely honest, we aren’t always sure how we want to parent, or if we’re making the right choice. We have agreed that we are going to work together to avoid spanking. To me, it would seem hypocritical to tell Jasper not to hit people, but to then spank him. Jasper depends on us to be models of behavior, but I know that there are plenty of people who disagree.

Parenting as a team can be tricky. We have agreed on some parenting guidelines from books like Happiest Toddler on the Block and 1-2-3 Magic; both of these books promote time out.

Jasper often turns to toys, us, or the dog and demands “TWO MINUTES! TIME OUT!” There is no time-out at day care, and I honestly can’t even remember the last time that we had to use time out. Last weekend? Maybe? It usually happens that we have to use time out a few times as Jasper enters a new developmental phase, and as soon as he learns the rule, the need for time out dissipates.

Still, this discipline clearly has an impact on him. What would he think about discipline and the world if our first reaction was to spank him? Shouldn’t he spank his friends when he felt wronged or slighted? Shouldn’t he spank us if he was wronged? I don’t want my son to strike others.

We use positive reinforcement. 

Jasper often will proudly repeat things. “I did a great job taking my medicine!” “I cleaned up ALL of the toys!” His pride in his progress is more productive than shaming ever could be.  I love that this is what he internalizes, instead of feeling bad about himself for being punished. We try to focus on praising our kid, rather than spending time telling him what he is doing wrong.

The Happiest Toddler on the Block parenting philosophy includes details about spanking. It is usually when kids are at their wits end. Spanking happens when parents are angry, frustrated, scared and don’t know what else to do. I don’t want to hit my kid because I feel like I have no other options.

When I think about the psychological development of my toddler, I use the phrase” We don’t hit, we use words” when Jasper is angry,  frustrated, scared and don’t know what else to do. What a hypocrite I would be if I told my son not to do as I did? I want to be a model of good behavior, and show my son what it means to make strong choices.

When I’m angry, I take a deep breath and a step back. We’ve taught Jasper to do the same thing. It is actually adorable- he sucks in as much air as he can and you can visibly watch the red drain from his face. When he relaxes, he realizes what the right choice is- and he almost always makes it.

Sometimes, I ask my toddler, just like I ask my middle school students, if he needs a minute to get his act together. Taking a break from the situation, just like taking a deep breath, can help to provide the perspective needed in the moment. Sometimes, I need to take a step back to show Jasper what the right thing to do is.

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We’re still really new at this parenting thing. I feel like together, our family is headed down a path that we believe in, and that is helping our son become a person with integrity and honor.

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