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1. The practice of hitting children teaches them to become hitters themselves. Extensive research data is now available to support the direct correlation between corporal punishment in childhood and violent behavior in the teenage and adult years. Virtually all of the most dangerous criminals were regularly threatened and punished in childhood.
2. Punishment gives the message that “might make right” that it is ok to hurt someone smaller and less powerful than you are. The child then feels it is appropriate to mistreat younger or smaller children, and when he becomes an adult, feels little compassion for those less fortunate or powerful than he is, and fears those who are more so. Thus it is difficult for him to find meaningful friendships.
3. Children learn best through parental modeling. Punishment gives the message that hitting is an appropriate way to express one’s feelings and to solve problems. If the child rarely sees the parent handle anger and solve problems in a creative and positive way, he can never learn how to do that himself. Thus inadequate parenting continues into the next generation.
4. The oft-quoted “spare the rod and spoil the child” is in fact a misinterpretation of biblical teaching. Although the rod is mentioned many times in the bible, it is only in the Book of Proverbs (the words of King Solomon) that it’s used in connection with child rearing. Solomon’s methods worked very badly for his own son, Prince Rehoboam. In the Bible, there is no support for hitting children outside of Solomon’s Proverbs. Jesus saw children as being close to God and urged love, not punishment.
5. Punishment greatly interferes with the bond between parent and child, as no human being feels loving toward someone who deliberately hurts him. The true cooperative behavior the parent desires can only be accomplished through a strong bond based on loving feelings, and through many examples of kindness and cooperative skills. Punishment, even when it appears to work, can produce only superficially “good” behavior based on fear.
6. Anger which cannot be safely expressed becomes stored inside; angry teenagers do not fall from the sky. Anger that has accumulated for many years can come as a shock to parents whose child now feels strong enough to express this rage. Thus punishment may produce “good behavior” in the early years, but at a high price, paid by the parent and society, during adolescence and childhood.
7. Spanking on the buttocks can cause difficulties later in adulthood.
8. Spanking can be physically damaging. Blows to the lower end of the spinal column send shock waves the length of the column, and may cause subdural hematoma. The prevalence of lower back pain among adults may have its origins in early corporal punishment. Paralysis has occurred through nerve damage, and children have died after relatively mild paddlings, due to undiagnosed medical problems. Many parents are unaware of alternative approaches to try, so that when punishment doesn’t accomplish the parent’s goals, it escalates, easily crossing the line into child abuse.
9. In many, if not most cases of “bad behavior”, the child is responding to neglect of basic needs: proper sleep and nutrition, treatment of hidden allergies, fresh air, exercise, freedom to explore the world around him, etc. But his greatest need is for his parents’ undivided attention. In these busy times, few children receive sufficient time and attention from their parents, who are often too tired and distracted to treat their children with patience and understanding. Punishing a child for responding in a natural way to having had important needs neglected, in really unfair.
10. Perhaps the most important problem with punishment is that it distracts the child from the problem at hand, as he becomes preoccupied with feelings of anger and revenge. In this way the child is deprived of the best opportunities for learning creative problem-solving, and the parent is deprived of the best opportunities for letting the child learn moral values as they relate to real situations. Thus punishment teaches a child nothing about how to handle similar situations in the future.
Loving support is the only way to learn true moral behavior based on strong inner values rather than superficially “good” behavior based only on fear. Strong inner values can only grow in freedom, never under fear.
Jan Hunt, B.A. Psychology (Magna cum Laude), M.Sc. Counseling Psychology, is the Director of the Natural Child Project, an attachment parenting/unschooling counselor, and a member of the Board of Directors of the CSPCC (Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).