Why this pro-spanking momma became a gentle parent
7 Reasons This Pro-Spanking Momma Became A Gentle Parent
I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while. In fact, one of the reasons I started this blog was to share all the resources and my reflections on those resources as to “Why Gentle Parent?”. But for some reason I have been putting it off.
Maybe it’s because I know I still haven’t outright told my family we’re no longer going to do spanking. And they all believe spanking is biblical and necessary, it’s even the subject of many family jokes.* Or maybe it’s just because it’s a much deeper topic and requires a level of vulnerability. Either way, I’m finally putting it out there.
- This is one benefit of living half a world away! These conversations don’t need to come up!
Table of Contents
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My Journey To Gentle Parenting
It wasn’t that long ago I made the transition in to gentle parenting, also known as respectful parenting. Up until ‘J’ was 10m I firmly believed in spanking, and I’m still a recoverying yeller. I mean what was the alternative? Having kids get their way all the time and ruling the family?! I had seen it day in and day out growing up and then as a teacher.
I used to believe that it was okay I was spanked because look at how well I was doing in school and “life” because I had fear of my parents. Or “Look at my childhood friends! Their parents don’t spank and they’re running around having sex and doing drugs! It’s so much better that I was spanked because I show respect to my parents and am not putting myself in dangerous situations!” But now, I realize I’m not doing so well in life, at least not any better than those friends or anyone else.
The only parenting styles I knew of were authoritarian (what my parents were) or permissive/ negligent.
What I Thought Gentle Parenting Was…
There are many people who choose to use the term “Respectful Parenting” instead of “Gentle Parenting” because of the connotations the word “gentle” has. To most, “gentle” equals “push-over”. As a teacher we would roll our eyes at the parents who would say “I’ll talk to him/her” when we would call or email about an incident. I mean come on, obviously you “talking” hasn’t worked before, what makes you think it’s going to work now?!
There’s a dismal adage in the teacher community; “The teachers are afraid of the principals, the principals are afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of the kids, and the kids aren’t afraid of anyone…”, and sadly it’s very often true. The kids rule and they know it. So as a teacher I couldn’t ever believe that this gentle parenting method was a valid parenting style!
Turns out I didn’t really know what gentle parenting actually was.
So What Is “Gentle Parenting”?
I’ll be creating more in-depth resources as I build up this blog, but for the sake of this discussion here’s the reader’s digest version:
Gentle, aka peaceful or respectful, parenting is about treating your children the same way you would want to be treated. I wonder where we’ve all heard that before?! Oh wait, the golden rule! Except, for some reason, we tend to be taught that children should not be treated the same because otherwise how do you train them?!
I love this quote by L.R. Knost, a prominent gentle parenting advocate and author, she says gentle parenting is “guiding instead of controlling, connecting instead of punishing, encouraging instead of demanding. It’s about listening, understanding, responding, and communicating.” However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any boundaries.
In gentle parenting you still are allowed to say no, you’re still allowed to have boundaries, it’s just that we don’t give arbitrary consequences, we don’t shame or use physical punishment, and we try to allow our children to navigate their autonomy when it’s safe to do so. As a culture we say no way too often. I loved this video, it explains one reason saying no so much is a problem, a big problem.
What Initially Made Me Learn About Gentle Parenting?
It’s hard to say what singular event led me to this style, but I would say it actually started before I even got pregnant, but didn’t fully manifest till my child was 10 months. If I were to guess, it started in 2016 when I learned about Teaching for Artistic Behavior. I started realizing then that children didn’t need me telling them what to do in order for them to learn. That when given a supportive environment and believe that their ideas matter, they thrive and learn how to execute those own ideas and become responsible. I’m still working on 20+ kids being responsible for clean up when they don’t want to leave. Especially since most never clean anything at home here, but they are thriving in other ways and improving all the time.
This method of teaching then led me to learn more about democratic schools like Summerhill in England and Sudbury throughout the world. From there I learned about unschooling and I began to realize that there was a better way to learn than what we had been forced into as teachers. I began to see my dream educational model actually in use and at work. And through it all, I began to see children differently. It’s hard to explain, but you begin to see them as people with independent ideas and desires and not just children.
Our culture sees children as “less than” in many ways, though we don’t realize it usually. Just look at the way we speak… “Don’t act like a child.”, “How childish.”, “Don’t treat me like a child!”. Our language actually tells us what we think of children, and it isn’t pretty. I recognized then that we were doing a great disservice to our children by not trusting them, not trusting their instincts, not giving them a voice in their own lives. I realized that this is what was leading to the apathy, the incompetence, the rebellion later on in life.
The Deciding Moment
Then, when my son was 10 months old, my husband wanted me to smack J’s hands for constantly trying to put his fingers in the fan grates. I knew then that there was something that didn’t sit right with the idea of causing pain to prevent pain, especially at such a young age. I had been trusting my instincts in parenting up until that point, and so I knew I needed to listen now. In my mom’s groups I had heard of attachment parenting. I started researching what it was and that led me to natural parenting and gentle/ respectful parenting.
I actually got kicked out of my first Facebook group if you can believe it (If you didn’t know I’m a FB group junkie lol). It was because I talked about spanking. Not in an advocacy way, but in a this is where I’m coming from or this is why my family believed in it. But evidently this was too much for the admin and so, without warning, I was booted from the group. I almost gave up, but I knew my sanity and my child’s future depended on this so I kept researching. I love researching lol. After that I was blessed to become a part of a couple of great FB groups that accept people at all stages of their journey.
The 7 Reasons We Decided Not To Spank, Hit, Or Shame Our Son…
I want to preface this by saying I do not blame all our problems on our parents and their choices. In fact, I know there were many great decisions they made and I will be covering that in another post soon. But never-the-less I can see many things now I couldn’t see before and the phrase “know better, do better” is incredibly true. Our parents did the best with the information and resources they had. I know, specifically for my mom, she was just trying to do whatever it took to make sure I didn’t turn out like her LOL! Though, I think in the end she turned out pretty great.
1) Punitive Punishments Don’t Work.
Decades of studies clearly show that spankings and shame based punishments don’t work.
“In collaboration with Andrew Grogan-Kaylor at the University of Michigan, Gershoff analyzed 36 studies of spanking and found that parents who said they had spanked their children were three times more likely to say their children had aggressive behavior in the following years.” ~“Spanking can lead to relationship violence, study says”, CNN
Hitting begets hitting
I used to scoff at this, I mean of course it does, but that’s the point right?! If you hit someone you can expect to be hit back!
Unfortunately, that’s not the only time you’ll find children hitting. When we use hitting to show our displeasure over their actions, when we use spankings, smacking, or any physical pain as the consequence for when something was done wrong, then they believe that’s how you solve problems. They too will hit other children, and even adults, when they feel wronged or upset.
I see this as a teacher often. I’ll ask student A why he hit student B and the answer ALWAYS involves some feeling of offense. When we use corporal punishment with our children, they then use it in their lives too!
“The experience of having someone direct aggression to you increases the likelihood that you’ll fall back on aggression when in a flight or fight moment. Having been hit by the parent can elevate stress and reduces a child’s coping skills, so they may lash out.”
~ Emily Rothman, Boston University Associate Professor
Punitive punishments create a cycle of misbehavior.
Children are designed to push back, to test boundaries, to experiment. They also express their constantly changing emotions with such vigor as to cause distress in us and those around us (just ask my husband and the 50 other passengers on the ferry with us last week!)..
“The odds of a child being more aggressive at age 5 increased by 50% if he had been spanked more than twice in the month before the study began,” ~ Catherine Taylor
Children who are yelled at, spanked, or otherwise shamed never learn how to constructively deal with their problems. They just learn anger and aggression. They hear “I’m not good enough.”, “I’m bad.”, “I can’t do anything right.”, and they believe it. It becomes a part of their identity and we all know that what we believe we are is who we become. It literally rewires the brain to instinctively be geared towards aggression instead of problem solving.
“Whether children were spanked at the age of 5 years predicted increases in externalizing behavior problems by ages 6 and 8, even after the groups based on spanking prevalence or incidence were matched on a range of sociodemographic, family, and cultural characteristics and children’s initial behavior problems. These statistically rigorous methods yield the conclusion that spanking predicts a deterioration of children’s externalizing behavior over time.” ~ Strengthening Causal Estimates for Links Between Spanking and Children’s Externalizing Behavior Problems
Most children don’t behave better just because they’re spanked. Children learn to lie better, hide better, or just give up and behave the way everyone expects them too. And if spanking “does work” it creates a fear of doing everything wrong, being afraid of annoying people, being afraid to be yourself. Which of course leads us to reason number 2…
2) Spanking Is Detrimental To Your Child’s Health.
There have been numerous studies that show the damaging affects of spanking on the brain as well as the toll on the body well into life.
“We as a society think of spanking and physical abuse as distinct behaviors. Yet our research shows that spanking is linked with the same negative child outcomes as abuse, just to a slightly lesser degree.” ~Elizabeth Gershoff
Effects on mental health
In pretty much every study on the effects of spanking, you will find that mental health quality decreases with punishment. The most common mental health issues that arise, now or as an adult, are:
- Antisocial Tendencies
- Suicidal Thoughts
- Personality Disorders
- Substance Abuse
Effects on physical health
Studies have shown that physical punishments may actually decrease the gray matter in the brain which controls memories, the nervous system, speech, sensory perception, and so much more.
In addition, this study determined that spankings correlated with an increase risk of obesity, arthritis, and a slight increase in heart disease.
How these studies relate to us personally.
I see so much of myself and my husband in these findings. My short term memory has been as bad as an old woman since I was a child. I have many sensory issues, I struggle with speech on many occasions, I’m obviously obese (many reasons for that, which included shame and fear), and already I suffer from arthritis and nerve pain in many areas of my body. I often feel like an 80 yr old woman. In addition, as mentioned above, I suffer from anxiety, and sometimes depression. My faith is the only reason I have never thought of suicide for longer than a moment.
For Hubby, he suffers from gut issues, anger issues, and has OCD with anxiety and possibly even ADD. He works hard to overcome the mental warfare he struggles with daily.
So for me, if there’s even an ounce of truth that our many spankings and other physical punishments caused even a fraction of these issues, I don’t want to risk that for my son. I don’t wish these issues on anyone, but especially not my son. There had to be a better way.
3) Punitive Punishments Do Not Teach A Child To Self-Regulate Themselves.
What the research says…
“There’s neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there’s also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.” ~Bonnie Rochman, TIME
Research shows time and again, that those who are raise in households where they spank-control do not have the tools to regulate their emotions. They routinely rely on aggression or repression. We can not expect our children to control their temper if we can’t even control our own.
Our family history of how we were expected to regulate our emotions.
We really looked at the expectations we were raised with when it came to how we were expected to handle our emotions. As with most of our generation, and the generations before, there were two main ways we were taught to deal with our emotions.
For me, it’s all about bottling up emotions. Negative emotions were not to be displayed, and if they were you can expect to be punished or ignored. My mother even told me when I first started menstruating that PMS wasn’t real and no excuse for my attitude change. She since has admitted her mistake, but it shows you the ideology I grew up with.
For Hubby, emotions were dealt with by making jokes or pushing it under the rug. I mean, I get it, jokes break the tension and negative emotions are uncomfortable. Especially in a culture where children seem to only be accepted when they show positive emotions. Of course, even positive need to be tempered in our society…
Not being able to process our own emotions and deal with the emotions of others is definitely one of the top 3 reasons for us to try gentle parenting. You see, Hubby has anxiety and OCD, possibly even ADD. And his dad before him and his siblings by his dad as well, all have suffered from these issues. It seems to be genetic. Then there’s me.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more and more afraid of messing up. I have anxiety in most situations. I struggle to maintain composure when I feel overwhelmed most days. Basically, we can barely name more than a few emotions never-mind deal with them properly. I don’t want that kind of life for J. If he’s going to have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, then I need to make sure he knows how to handle those emotions in a productive, not destructive, way.
4) Punitive Punishments Make It More Difficult To Learn.
“Spanking erodes developmental growth in children and decreases a child’s IQ, a recent Canadian study shows.
This analysis, conducted at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, offers new evidence that corporal punishment causes cognitive impairment and long-term developmental difficulties.” ~Molly S. Castelloe Ph.D.
When you use shame, hitting, spanking, and yelling you ignite the biological fight or flight sequence and triggers a shut down of the analytical side of the brain. There is a lot of science that goes into this discussion and you can read more about it here and here to start. But we all know that when we’re scared, or nervous we don’t learn as well. Learning, especially reflecting, is agonizingly difficult because we’re more focused on the emotions and what might happen next, instead of the lesson to be learned or how we can solve the problem.
Problems with corporal punishment and learning/ development
- A study showed that using a light slap on the hand of a toddler delayed exploratory development. Children experience the world through their hands and so when you slap the hands you’re training them not to explore at all. They don’t make the distinction between this object and that object. They learn to not explore anything.
- Studies have shown that corporal punishment in kindergarten can affect vocabulary and math in 5th grade.
- Spankings can undermine the trust between parent and child and lead to resentment of authority figures. This of course leads into the school environment. Especially if the teacher tells the parent about a problem and the parent then spanks for that problem.
- Studies found that students in punitive environments perform worse on executive functioning skills, including delayed-gratification
- More can be found here: https://www.brookings.edu/research/hitting-kids-american-parenting-and-physical-punishment/
5) Spanking and Shame Are Not Biblical.
This is a post, or a book, all on it’s own. So I don’t expect to be able to cover it all in a paragraph or two. However, after my research and really praying about it, I can’t imagine Jesus would approve at all.
First, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” IS NOT FROM THE BIBLE!!! It’s actually from a fairly lewd poem from the 17th century called Hudibras by Samuel Butler. So please let’s stop using that particular phrase when speaking about Biblical discipline.
As for the actual Bible verses from Proverbs, if you go back to the original Hebrew it is talking about older boys, teens. Not girls, and definitely not young children. In fact, the Jewish leaders have specifically spoken out about corporal punishment of children. These verses were also meant to protect against a worse fate of death for the son that went against their father, as stoning and caning were real offenses back then.
Even if those verses did tell us to spank our young children, they are from the old testament. When Jesus came and died on the cross for our sins the law was no more. Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” John 8:7 and so if you’re never yelled, if you’ve never hit, never lied, never stolen…. then I guess you can go ahead and spank, but otherwise you are just as culpable and deserving of punishment.
But grace… The New Testament is about grace, so much grace. We need to have as much grace for our children as God has for us.
Finally, I love this quote…
“We don’t yell, spank, or threaten because the end result of those things is fear, and a wise man once said that perfect love casts out fear.” ~unknown
Here are more resources if you’re interested in this topic:
6) Spanking, Hitting, And Shame Tell Children They Are Not In Control.
I know what you’re thinking, “Mary, that’s the whole point!”, but that’s not what I mean. Of course, as the adult, you need to ultimately be in control over the situation to keep everyone safe. The problem is you’re dealing with a human being who has their own emotions, their own pains, their own needs, and their own desires. When we punish them for expressing this to us we are essentially teaching them not to trust themselves.
Did you watch that video of Simon T. Bailey I had at the beginning? If not go back and watch it.
Why this is important.
Spankings tell your child they’re not in control over their body. That those who are bigger or more powerful control those who are smaller and weaker. Shame based discipline also makes it difficult for children to trust their instincts; whether with food, skills, or people. They will continuously question themselves.
Spankings can lead to abusive relationships.
There have been numerous studies over the last few decades that have shown the negative effects of corporal punishment. And abuse in future relationships, either as the abused or the abuser, is one of them. Teens who received physical punishment showed a rate of spousal beating 4x as much as those who were not physically punished.
“… parental corporal punishment is associated with the following undesirable behaviours and experiences: … increased risk of being a victim of physical abuse, increased adult aggression, …, and increased risk of abusing own child or spouse.” (Gershoff 2002a:544)
The problem with spanking and other forms of physical or shame based punishment is that it essentially grooms a child to think that it’s ok to hit loved ones when done for the “right” reasons. Children learn two things with spanking, even if they don’t realize it:
1- Hitting = power. They see that whoever hits has the control and that the fastest way to get what you want is to hit someone.
2- You are spanked because the person hitting you loves you and wants the best for you… This ended up being the direction I and most women end up in. I even remember my parents saying “We do this because we love you.” So of course when you become an adult with an abusive significant other you think, “They don’t want to hurt me, but they love me and are just trying to help me be a better person.” It sounds stupid, I used to think so too, until it became me and so many others…
And this leads me to number 7…
7) If It’s Not Acceptable To Hit Another Adult, Why Is It Okay To Hit A Child?
I was starting to lean more towards the gentle parenting camp, but wasn’t fully invested until someone posted some memes like these…
You see, I was in a marriage where I experience domestic abuse. I’ve known many women, and some men who have gone through this hell. And that’s what it is, hell. We all tried to make it work, thinking if we just tried harder, if we were a bit better, then maybe they’d love us and stop yelling at us and physically abusing us. But we know that’s not true. We all show such anger towards perpetrators of domestic violence, but yet, spanking a child is ok? I can tell you I didn’t bruise with my ex-husband, the same way I didn’t bruise as a child, so is it ok then? Of course not!
If this reason alone doesn’t get you to think twice about spanking your child, then you really need to reflect on why you find it ok to hit a child who’s still learning about the world, but not ok to hit an adult who “should know better”. Did you know that one of the original “modern” supporters of spanking children, the source for all things how To spank your child the biblical way, actually originally wrote it for husbands to use on their wives?!
Have you decided to become a gentle parent? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!
In Conclusion, Why Gentle Parent Instead of Punitive Punishments:
While my husband’s and my backgrounds definitely play a lot into our decision to try something completely different than what we were raised with, the evidence is clear. There is no reason to spank, shame, or use any other form of punitive punishments. The reality is there are many other resources available to parents to raise our children to not only be “functioning” members of society, to not only “turn out fine”, but to really take their place in the world as a problem solver and peace-maker.
- Punitive punishments such as shame, spanking, and time outs don’t work to create mindful, well-behaved, little people. Instead, it statistically has been show to create more aggression and a pattern of lying and misbehavior. Instead, we need to develop their innate desire to help others, be aware of their actions, and
- Spanking is bad for the child’s health. Studies have shown that spanking can lead to depression, substance abuse, antisocial behavior, lower IQ, and even physical ailments like obesity, arthritis, and heart disease.
- Spankings, hitting, and shame-based punishments are not a long-term solution. Their effectiveness actually decreases with use and you can really only use them up until a certain age before the child becomes too large to handle or fights back. It doesn’t teach the child how to deal with those emotions or how problem solve.
- Fear makes it more difficult to learn. Punitive punishments create fear; fear of reprisal, fear of pain, fear, of getting yelled at, fear of their emotions… It’s been proven that when you’re scared or worried, you can’t concentrate or take in new information. So the point of using these punishments to get them to reflect on what they did, it pointless.
- Spanking isn’t Biblical. If none of the other Bible arguments I made makes you second guess spanking, then just remember this- Jesus saved us from sin, he gives us grace, he said we are no longer under the law (aka Old Testament), and that love drives out fear.
- Corporal punishment tells the child they are not in control over their own bodies. We need to be very cognisant of the subtle messages we’re telling our children. Spanking send the message that those in power can control those who are smaller and weaker. These messages have shown to lead to a higher risk of abusive relationships either has the abused or the abuser. It also makes it very difficult for a child to grow up trusting their instincts and their body’s needs
- Why is it ok to hit children, but not ok to hit another adult or animals? You would be outraged if I said my husband spanked me for not doing the dishes, but you’d praise a parent for doing the same to their child?… Yeah it didn’t make sense to me either once it was explained like that.
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