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How To Stop Spanking Your Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

My parents spanked me and I turned out fine. Really, I did. Where I grew up, if you didn't spank your child you were at best a lazy parent or at worst a sinner who would be held responsible for any future misbehavior out of your child. And while I don't feel like spanking damaged me, when I had my own child, spanking just didn't feel right.

We used swatting of the hand and bottom with my eldest from toddlerhood until around age 3, when I started looking for other methods that aligned with my moral and religious aversion to violence. Much like vaccination, parents inflict brief pain against the child's will, in hopes that the future benefits will justify it. I say all that to let you know that I'm not interested in judging any parent. But if you're wanting to stop using corporal punishment with your kids, I AM interested in telling you that it's possible, because my husband and I were both spanked growing up, but now—after some work—it doesn't even register in our minds as an option.

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You're not going to be able to just flip a switch… at least, we couldn't. We did a lot of talking, reading, and praying for guidance and patience. We sought out other parents in the same boat, and confessed to them when we slid back into our old ways. There were times that our son would throw a fit, and we would just stand there, unsure what to do or say. Sometimes instead of hitting, we would yell. Sometimes we still do. But now we apologize and work to rebuild the connection with our child.

Now, it's almost second nature to slow down the whole process by seeking to understand what my child needs before reacting at all.

It's so important to give ourselves grace. Learning to think differently is hard work. Learning to relate to your child (and your past) differently takes patience and persistence. Recognizing behaviors before they happen takes serious self-control. This process has developed in us a diligence and creativity we didn't know we had, but it happened over the span of years, and often it felt like walking up a "down" escalator. Be patient with yourself, and seek forgiveness when you fail (trust me, you will.)

We've kept plugging away at this gentle parenting thing, and over time we've failed less and less. It dawned on me the other day that spanking is no longer my first thought when my children cross the line. Now, it's almost second nature to slow down the whole process by seeking to understand what my child needs before reacting at all. Yes, sometimes my child needs nothing more than a solid boundary, and it may not be fun enforcing a boundary, but enforcing a boundary and punishing bad behavior are not one and the same.

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Keep trying again, and soon you'll find that you've changed.

If you're interested in learning more about gentle parenting, I highly recommend the work of Dr. Laura Markham, Janet Lansbury, and for those concerned about the Bible's stance on discipline, L.R. Knost.

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