The case of Madelyne Gorman Toogood, the Indiana mother caught on video appearing to beat her 4-year-old daughter, resurrects the spanking controversy. But rather than examine the issue of spanking as abuse, let's explore the message received by the child.
'Shouting and spanking are not teaching tools,' says Barbara Unell, co-author of 'Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking.'
Unell says kids interpret spanking as an act of violence. 'Children see the world in concrete terms. When they see that it's permissible for adults to hit children, they assume it must be OK for them to hit Ñ hitting begets hitting.'
Sharon Silver, director of the Portland Center for Conscious Parenting and an advocate of discipline without spanking, says: 'Spanking simply causes children to shift their focus from what they did wrong to being mad at parents for spanking them. Although spanking stops the behavior temporarily, it doesn't change it. The end result is that your relationship will have been built on fear and resentment.'
Rather than spanking and shouting at children, Silver offers these alternatives: Reprimand negative behavior in a firm but nonphysical way and explain why the behavior is unacceptable or unfavorable. Establish and enforce rules by explanation and demonstration. Look for good behavior, and reinforce it with positive statements.
A child's need for attention is so powerful that if the bulk of attention received is through discipline, a boomerang effect occurs. The child will act out to get attention, causing a circle of negativity. Throw a stressful day into the mix, and a parent has more opportunities to 'lose it.' And, if spanking is the primary tool for reprimanding, the risk increases for a kid to take a beating.
Although the American Academy of Pediatricians regards spanking as inappropriate, it's an age-old form of discipline.
'The law allows parents to use reasonable force, including spanking, to discipline their children,' says Bill Howe, a Portland family law attorney.
The decision to spank is an individual family choice. But if our children interpret spanking literally and remember it long after the marks fade, doesn't it seem wiser to look for loving alternatives?