If you could buy a magic wand that could potty train your child in just one day, how much would you pay? This magic wand will save you a pile of wet underwear, save you a mess of yellow and brown stains on the carpet, and put an end to those trips to the public bathroom at the shopping mall to change another diaper. But what if the magic wand came in the shape of a paddle that for one day only spanked your child’s butt each time they wet in their pants, would you still want it?
I have a friend who claims she potty-trained her two-year-old daughter in one day. How did she do it, I asked. “I spanked her,” she said.
When it was our turn to pottytrain our two-and-a-half year old boy this summer, I sometimes thought about our Spanking Friend. My wife and I are not spankers, so we went the conventional route. We needed three full weeks of very concerted effort. We practiced sitting on the potty, going bottomless around the house. We gave out lollipops for a job well done. Heaps of underwear got wet before he gained entry into the Fully Pottytrained Club. Not too bad, I thought, but would spanking get us to the finish line more quickly?
My guess is yes.
I can see how spanking can work– perhaps effectively. The idea is to cause enough physical pain that the child remembers how it felt, understands clearly what specific bad behavior led to infliction of pain, and then tries to avoid a repeat (notice, there are three links in this causal chain. Your child needs to be able to connect all three dots for the spanking to be considered effective so this rules out 2 year olds and below because they are too young to make these complex connections). We are not talking about welts, red marks, or bruises. We are definitely not talking about beating, hitting with a fist, or anything violent like that. Just an open-handed slap to the hindquarters causing a quick sting and nothing more. My parents spanked me and it was effective. How do I know? I remember the humiliation of being spanked 30 years ago (my dad made me lower my pants and lay down on my bed and await the punishment) but have forgotten the pain. (I saw a study that claimed that 95% of parents either spanked or slap their children.)
If you opt not to spank, more power to you. However, you better have something just as effective ready to go. Every parent needs to develop their own system of punishments and rewards that will point the child down the path to good behavior. I don’t spank because there are other ways to get the message across that some particular behavior is unacceptable. As I have blogged in the past, every parent needs to think about how to discipline effectively, and I would make the case that your children must learn to fear you. Don’t misinterpret. The goal is for your child to love you with 99% of their being, but that remaining 1% reservoir of fear needs to be there if you hope to control their behavior. Simply put, if your child doesn’t fear you, then will lose the all-important discipline war. If spanking is the only thing standing between you and defeat, does that make it the right thing to do? I say yes.
However, many of the parenting experts out there don’t agree with me. I found a study in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment and Trauma (no kidding) and cited by the New York Times that looked at the long-term effects of spanking. They estimated that children who were spanked (or had their hands slapped) suffered from reduced ability to learn. (Call me skeptical; I don’t know how you can isolate spanking and isolate test scores and link the two but I am not a researcher. The Washington Post parenting blogger might be a skeptic as well. See here.)
Apparently, the anti-spanking people are winning over parents. My friend Eric sent me a link to a New Yorker piece here that claims that for parents these days “nearly all forms of discipline appear morally suspect” and that some even dump on the old classic “time out” punishment as a form of “forcible isolation.” Instead of punishing ill-behaved children, the article claims, parents these days respond to bad behavior by telling kids to “use your words” or reminding them that “hands are not for hitting.”
So if you are a frustrated parent whose best efforts to discipline don’t seem to be working, you might have one more tool left in the parent’s toolbox.