When it comes to discipline, spanking has become sort of like quicksand to me. My own particular quicksand.
I almost never spank my children anymore. I’ll make the rare exception for things that are truly dangerous, things that they must learn right this second to never do again, like wandering out into the street or sticking a fork in the VCR. But for behavioral issues, spanking has become a place that I can’t go.
I haven’t talked about this much on my blog because the whole spanking debate in the mommy blogosphere is wholly out of control. There are two camps who are vehement either in defense of spanking or in condemnation of it, and I have never found anyone who, like me, falls somewhere in the middle.
I definitely don’t believe this:
And while I absolutely believe that the earth would be a more peaceful place if our families were more stable and loving, I don’t believe for a second that spanking children always causes children to grow up violent.
But I do believe that it can.
I have trouble remaining emotionally detached while spanking my children. Actually, I am prone to anger and angry outbursts generally, and have found that if I give myself license to spank my children, I almost always revert to spanking every time I’m angry. Before I put the moratorium on spanking as far as I’m concerned, I pretty much had no standard of discipline. The children got punished more or less severely not depending on the severity of what they had done, but depending on how angry it made me.
The Ogre is much better with his emotions. He spanks the children in direct response to the malicious intent of their actions. Let’s say that Sienna took a toy from Charlotte and Charlotte responded by hitting. In that case, the kids would probably both get time-outs. But if Sienna was playing quietly and Charlotte walked up to her and started hitting her over the head for no reason, Charlotte might get a spanking.
The thing that will definitely earn the kids a spanking from the Ogre is disrespect. Sticking at tongue out, rolling eyes, playing one of us against the other…those are pretty much the worst things a kid can do in our house. If the Ogre’s in charge, spanking is usually the punishment. If I’m in charge, the kids usually lose dessert, a movie, or, in rare and serious cases, will be sent to bed without dinner at all.
The reason I bring all this up is that the other day, my mother asked me what time-outs actually accomplish. My parents aren’t big on time-outs; they raised us according to Dr. Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child, a book I took many good things from but which I disagree with on some serious fundamental levels.
I wasn’t really sure what to tell her, but I’ve been mulling it over ever since. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that a time-out does exactly what it promises to do. It removes the child from the situation. The child goes from a time of play to a time of quiet. The intent, of course, is for the child to consider why they’re in time-out and make restitution for it, but usually the child spends the time feeling victimized and whining.
But it occurred to me that I actually use time-outs for a different purpose. As I said before, I tend to react angrily. Time-outs give me a chance to remove the child not only from the situation, but also from me. It gives me a chance to catch my breath, consider what they’ve done, think of the right words to convey to them the gravity (or just plain stupidity) of their actions, and come up with an appropriate punishment if one is needed. It’s rare that the time-out itself is a punishment. Usually the punishment comes after, and sometimes the punishment depends on what the child has to say for him or herself after the time-out.
However, I don’t always use the time-outs that wisely. Sometimes I put them in time-out because they’re all yelling and I don’t want to sort out what happened, I just want them all to be quiet. Sometimes I put them in time-out and then get distracted by the internet or another child or a phone call, and when I return to the banished child I can’t remember why I put them in time-out in the first place. Sometimes I put them in time-out and completely forget that I put them there at all, and then feel terrible twenty minutes later when I ask them why they’re just sitting there and they respond, “because, because, because…I sowwy, Mommy.”
So I’ve been wondering these last few days if time-outs are actually effective or not. They do always at least stop what is happening, which is an advantage. And yet some children, like Charlotte, will deliberately hit someone for no reason at all and then bounce happily into time-out, quite content to watch everyone else and sit there alone. And as soon as she gets out, she repeats the process. She doesn’t even bother to wait until I’m not looking. She knows the punishment, and as far as I can tell seems to feel that hitting someone else is worth whatever comes. If I change tactics and take away a toy or a movie, she responds by hitting everyone in sight as many times as possible.
I know that I personally can’t return to spanking my kids. And again, it’s not because I disagree with spanking fundamentally. But I do think that if a parent spanks a child out of anger, the line between spanking and child abuse blurs. I don’t have enough control of my emotions to spank without anger, so spanking is out for me.
So what’s a mother to do? When time-out seems ineffective, taking away privileges and toys seems to exacerbate the problem instead of correcting it, and the child is too young to be capable of punishments like extended quiet times, being sent to bed without dinner, or copying lines, what do you do?