Spanking Furthers Generational Trauma For Black Families—Here Are 3 Alternatives 

Though many parents may be familiar with spanking, and some are choosing to bring it back at schools, it does damage to our children.

Father talking to angery child daughter at home
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The last few years have been an interesting transition for Black families from normalcy to virtual learning while experiencing a global pandemic and returning to the classroom. Missouri's Cassville R-IV School District is adding another chapter to the story, as teachers will now be allowed to spank students.

The superintendent said the school district brought back the practice of spanking after parents asked for more punishment other than suspensions. There are conditions for a child to be spanked in that the parent has to approve the spanking, but once they do, a teacher can use "reasonable physical force" in the presence of a witness with a wooden paddle.

The question becomes, how does spanking in school affect children long term? And more specifically, does this further generational trauma for Black children, as this is happening in a state with a history of systematic racism?

"I know many people think that spanking their child is an acceptable form of physical punishment for inappropriate behavior, but it isn't," says Dr. Samantha Madhosingh, PsyD, a professional coach, and certified psychologist.

"Physical punishment is a means of short-term behavior control but does not teach your child how to behave appropriately in the long term. Physical punishment teaches your child that aggression, force, and physical harm are acceptable means of getting others to behave in the way you want them to. In many children, this often leads to aggressive behavior towards others and difficulties calming themselves," says Dr. Madhosingh.

Spanking has consequences that may not be apparent and can further trauma for Black children, as it mimics generations of physical punishment for people of color. For parents who are looking to discipline their children, without continuing painful patterns, here are three alternatives to spanking:

Try Positive Discipline

Positive Discipline is a program and parenting approach that eliminates physical discipline. It was developed by Dr. Jane Nelsen, a licensed marriage and family therapist and child counselor, and is based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs.

The theory is that children are hardwired to connect with others and that children who feel connected are less likely to misbehave. Positive Discipline teaches social and life skills that make a child feel a sense of belonging and significance. It teaches children to discover how capable they are and use their personal power in constructive ways.

The benefits are no physical punishment while children learn life skills, positive reinforcement, and develop a closer relationship with their parents, thus giving them an outlet to communicate honestly.

"Spanking may alter brain functioning, triggering a heightened fight or flight responses and therefore increasing hypervigilance (always seeing danger, even when there isn't), making it difficult for the child to have healthy relationships with other children," says Dr. Madhosingh.

"Due to increased fear of physical punishment, children may develop maladaptive behaviors, like lying and sneakiness, to avoid spanking. Positive Discipline is a better means of helping children understand their behavior, regulate themselves more appropriately, and allows you as the parent to be firm and kind in your discipline," says Dr. Madhosingh.

Take Away Privileged Items

From a young age to teenagers, children have items they value. One alternative to spanking is telling children those items will be taken away for a period of time. This form of discipline mimics life because things of value can be lost due to bad behavior.

When they're younger, you can take away toys from children. When they're teenagers, you can take away cellphones and other electronics. You can limit access to items, emphasizing why those privileged items were lost.

The key is to be consistent in using this method. It's better to follow through instead of constantly making threats. As a father of three children that are now adults, I can tell you children shape up when they see the consequences are more than words.

"As a single mother, dealing with my children's behaviors can be quite difficult at times, but spanking has never been an option in my household," says Angel L.A. Adams, PMHNP-BC.

"Plausible research has shown spanking can contribute to mental health issues that hinder kids during the most developmental stages of their lives. One of the most effective means I use to take control and teach valuable lessons is to take away privileges while explaining how the behavior has negatively impacted everyone. Taking away privileges can be appropriate for all ages," says Adams.

Limit Activities

As children start to grow older, they'll become more active. Being active means going out with friends and family. An alternative to spanking could be limiting a child's activities.

When children are young, this involves time-outs. When they're older, it means being grounded from going out with friends. They are many options to limit activities that teach children their behavior has consequences. Limiting activities becomes a stronger deterrent as children age without needing to spank them.

"Alternative solutions I've found more helpful than spanking are taking away electronic devices, cutting back playtime, earlier bedtimes, and limiting outside activities with friends," says Kay Cole, an entrepreneur, and mother of a 15-year-old son.

"Children are huge fans of engagement activities, so limiting their playtime or entertainment time can help get the point across and adjust their behavior," says Cole.

Break Generational Trauma and Teach Another Way

In the U.S., corporal punishment is still legal in public schools in 19 states. In almost all states—New Jersey and Iowa being the exceptions—it's allowed in private schools.

Groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have warned that corporal punishment creates emotional and behavioral issues. A study by the Journal of Family Psychology found that spanking increased the risk of aggression and antisocial behavior. The United Nations considers corporal punishment a human rights violation.

For Black families, a lifetime of trauma enforced by physical punishment can be broken by using alternative means to discipline children. We can teach our children there's another way and develop stronger bonds and connections with them.

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