Parents Perspective

Who Would Spank a Baby?! Why Spanking Sucks, at Any Age

Who could ever spank a baby? Plenty of parents, apparently. In a new study from the University of Michigan, 30 percent of 1-year-olds had been spanked at least once in the past month by their mother, father, or both. While spanking as a discipline tool and a topic of controversy are nothing new, earlier research focused on children closer to age 3. This study shows parents are spanking even sooner, well before those Terrible Two's (and Three's) test even the most patient parents' fortitude.

Who Would Spank a Baby?! Why Spanking Sucks, at Any Age 34704

I'll be blunt: I don't get spanking. I don't do it, and I don't buy the logic in support of it. Spanking, frankly, seems stupid. As we reported in Parents in our story "The Great Spanking Debate," parents cited their kids' aggressive behavior as a justification for spanking. This makes no sense to me. How does hitting a child teach him not to hit his siblings or pull the dog's tail? In fact, the opposite happens: In a 2010 Pediatrics study, 3-year-olds who were spanked more than twice a month were 50 percent more likely to exhibit hostile tendencies by age 5. (If it's relevant, I was occasionally spanked as a child. Although I "still turned out fine," you won't hear me use that line to defend a retro practice long past its expiration date.)

When my oldest was a baby, I sometimes used the same babysitter that a smart, cool mom of three I liked did. When my son was 11 months old, the sitter asked if it would be okay if she occasionally "gave him a little swat" when he was being "naughty." Horrified that a woman I had paid to care for my child would even ask such a question, I said absolutely not. When I relayed the story to my friend, she said the babysitter probably asked me because she spanked my friend's son—and had my friend's permission to do so. That's when I first learned being a non-spanker would be like that—it's always a surprise to find most people are not, in fact, down on spanking. And in spite of the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't condone spanking of any kind, four of five parents still spank.

None of this is to say I haven't been tempted to spank. I had a couple of close calls with my oldest. I remember a particularly difficult moment when he was a toddler, at a children's museum storytime. While other kids were enjoying the read-aloud book, mine was more interested in running around the perimeter of the room. My request to "sit down" was met with a little hand swatting me across the cheek, followed by gleeful cackles. (A couple of moms sitting with their perfectly behaved daughters in their laps cast judgy sidelong glances; I immaturely secretly wished triplet boys, or at least one especially wild and unruly girl, in each of their futures.) We promptly left, and my dominant hand was tense at my side, but I resisted the very real temptation to strike back. I'm sure those who spank will say this is a scenario where I should have spanked (boys are, indeed, spanked more often than girls), but our wild child tamed with time and (lots and lots of) patience, without resorting to hitting him. (Also, we dropped storytime: clearly not our scene.)

I didn't spank then for the same reason I don't spank my 2-year-old now, even when she won't sit in her car seat and is instead doing acrobatic contortions to avoid being strapped in. (Counting to three and flashing Serious-Mom Eyes usually does the trick. I don't know what it is about the magic of counting—I still don't know what actually happens if we get to three without cooperation—but it usually works.) I don't spank because I'd feel terrible afterwards. I don't spank because I don't trust myself when I'm feeling angry not to use excessive force—and any physical force is wrong in my book anyway. (Some parents claim they spank but only when they're "not angry;" I have trouble believing this.) I don't spank because in the long term, spanking doesn't work. I don't spank, because it's rude, to your child, and to other people who have to witness it. Finally, spanking's simply not compassionate. How would you feel if you were not at your best one day, maybe complaining a little too much or not doing what you were supposed to be doing around the house, and someone gave you a stiff slap on the rear or the arm? Would you do better next time?

While I don't believe in spanking, I know many of you do. But do you at least agree that raising a hand to a baby, perhaps before she's even taken her first steps, is way too young?

Discipline Without Spanking

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