Mom.me asks, “Is there a right way to spank your child?”


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Ericka Souter, Editor of a well-known online magazine Mom.Me just published an article titled, “Is there a right way to spank your child?” Just the title of this article makes me cringe. Can you imagine the uproar on Mom.me if there was an article titled, “Is there a right way to slap your wife?” The double standard is mind bending!

Ms. Souter does not hit her own child, thankfully. And yet, she sees no problem with other parents hitting their own children.  In her view, its a personal choice. She even admonishes herself as going into “judgmental mommy mode,” when she witnesses a mother strike her son five times on the subway. Ms. Souter looks away.

I can understand that intervening with a stranger is a very difficult situation, and I am not suggesting that the stressed out mother deserved an eye-roll from Ms. Souter. I am suggesting that if Ms. Souter was less muddled in her own mind about violence against children, her response may have been very different. She may have found a way to intervene, to say something on behalf of the child, to recognize the mother’s distress and also voice a boundary. “I can see you are really upset. It isn’t OK to hit children.” Or “I’m here to help” as she intervenes and stops the hitting. Maybe she could have given the mother a note with resources for getting help.

It gets sticky here, doesn’t it? It takes practice, and it is really uncomfortable. What if the mother gets angry with me or lashes out? This is a topic for a whole other article, but we didn’t even get that far, because, for Ms. Souter and many others – hitting children is a personal choice.

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 3.56.09 AM“Personally, I still feel spanking is not right for my child, but it’s ultimately up to each parent to decide what’s best for their family,” Ms. Souter concludes. Isn’t that like saying, “Personally, my husband has decided hitting me is not right, but it’s ultimately up to each couple to decide?” Since when is hitting a personal choice?

This article attempts to be journalistic, by seeking multiple perspectives. But the question itself is disingenuous. If she had asked, “Is there a right way to hit a child,” it would have been a very different article. I doubt Dr. Zelinger or Dr. Elkind would have been so willing to represent the pro-hitting view. The question itself euphemistically diminishes and in some sense condones violence against children.

It’s about asking the right questions. Ms. Souter didn’t – at least not in this article. How about…

 

How does the belief in hitting children contribute to cultural violence?

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How do you intervene on behalf of a child who is being hit in public?

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How do I stand up for the child while maintaining a connection to the parent?

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There are so many questions we need to be asking. Ms. Souter did ask some intriguing questions for her article that she did not include. I thought I would share them here with my responses.  What questions do you think we should be asking?

 


 

What are the biggest dangers of spanking?

In my opinion, the greatest risk associated with spanking is creating an ambivalent attachment between yourself and your child especially when the child is the most vulnerable in the first five years of life. The quality of our connection to our children during this time has a profound effect on long-term brain development. Spanking activates the stress response in the child’s brain and thereby short circuits their ability to learn, think clearly, and feel for others.  Instead of encouraging learning, spanking heightens a child’s hyper-vigilance and interferes with his ability to self-regulate or cognitively understand consequences. It is no surprise that most children can recall a spanking, even years later, but have difficulty remembering exactly what they did wrong at the time. The brain stores a memory of the threat, but the brain does not record any meaningful learning. Often the memory associated with the spanking is a feeling that “I was bad,” or “I was a bad kid.”

We’ve learned through research that maternal warmth does not lessen the negative risks associated with spanking. A recent study showed an increase in anxiety in children whose parents spank and then express physical warmth toward them. This may be surprising to some parents, but when you understand that the child experiences the parent as a threat, it makes sense that the child would have an ambivalent response toward affectionate physical touch following physical pain. An ambivalent attachment is a very serious problem, because it negatively impacts ongoing development of the brain and can change brain chemistry and architecture in ways that show up much later on. Early toxic stress, including harsh punishment, can alter brain development and lead to problems in adolescence and adulthood such as anxiety, depression, anger problems, increased risk for smoking, and alcohol and substance abuse. These problems stem from damage to the attachment the child feels toward the parent and the development of the self-regulatory system in the first four years of life.

Another serious risk of spanking is the increased risk of criminal child abuse. Spanking activates the stress arousal response in the parent’s brain as well as the child’s. That heightened level of arousal diminishes the parent’s ability to access feelings of empathy. When we strike our child, our brain experiences our child as a threat and we are essentially disconnected emotionally from him. The part of our brain that can feel how our child feels is turned off line. It is no surprise that parents who believe in spanking are 4X more likely to meet the criteria for criminal child abuse and parents who believe in spanking with an implement (such as a belt, paddle or spoon) are 9X more likely to meet the criteria for criminal child abuse. 85% of all substantiated child abuse cases begin with the parent attempting to use physical discipline. Child abuse is an epidemic in this country. 5 children die every day in the US due to child abuse and neglect, usually at the hands of their own parents. When we condone spanking, we are giving stressed out parents permission to abuse their children. The more stressed the parent, the greater the risk for serious harm.

Why do you think a generation or two ago, it was the predominant form for discipline?

Hopefully we are evolving as a species! One could argue though, that spanking is still a very popular choice of discipline in some first world countries, particularly the United States, England, and France. Spanking is the most frequent form of violence against children. The support of spanking is diminishing, probably in large part due to the growing sensitivity for human rights following World War II. This growing sensitivity to the basic human rights of all people has extended to children. In 1989 the Convention on the Rights of the Child was enacted, which prohibits many human rights violations against children including spanking or any other form of degrading, humiliating treatment. Most UN nations have signed the treaty, with the exception of the US, and subsequently 45 nations have actually banned spanking in an effort to comply with this treaty and to prevent child abuse.

Another reason spanking is on the decline is due to neuroscience. Our understanding of what infants and children need for optimum development has been growing exponentially over the past 15 years! We have made amazing strides in understanding the profound negative effect of early childhood adversity on long-term health[1] and have thoroughly researched the effects of harsh punishment. Based upon the neuroscience and the overwhelming negative outcomes associated with spanking, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have all made formal policy statements against spanking.

How do you respond when a parent says they spank because they were spanked and they turned out fine?

When a parent tells me they were spanked and they turned out fine, I attempt to respond to them with sensitivity, because of course this is a parent who is habituated to violence. This parent has been hit as a child. And in most cases, there were no adults to speak up for him/her. Children who are spanked often grow up to believe that they deserved to be hit, because they were bad, and that if their children are “bad,” they deserve to be hit too. In this way, violence is passed down from one generation to the next.

We live in a very violent culture, where a third of adults report having been physically abused by their parents (not just spanked) when they were children. Spanking is a symptom of trans-generational family violence. Euphemisms such as spanking, popping, and smacking are ways to minimize the violence in the mind of the person who is striking out. One has to ask, what is the measure of “turning out fine.” Does this mean you do not struggle with anxiety, depression, or alcohol or substance abuse? Does this mean you do not have trouble with overeating (emotional eating)? Does this mean that you have healthy relationships based upon trust and mutual joy, and you don’t have anger problems? Does this mean that you don’t believe in violence or act violently? Turning out OK means you have a healthy attachment to the world and have a healthy self-regulatory capacity. Turning out OK means that you are able to solve problems through collaboration and relationship, as opposed to coercion and the abuse of power. Spanking is linked to very serious negative outcomes, and like anything else, some people weather the risk better than others. Not everyone that smokes dies of lung cancer, but that doesn’t mean one should risk smoking. Why put your child at risk?

Some parents have remarked that lack of strict or corporal punishment is the reason kids are so bad these days. They complain that their children just aren’t worried about the consequences of bad behavior. What do you say to that assertion?

Every generation seems to complain this way, “when I was young, kids didn’t act that way,” and so on. My grandmother said as much and children were treated abysmally in her generation. I think my grandmother felt anxious about normal child behavior, because she herself was not allowed freedom or treated with respect when she was a child. Beyond the anecdotal evidence presented by my grandmother and others, there really is no scientific evidence to support the belief that “children are so much worse these days!” This irritable bias we have toward the younger generation is probably the natural amnesia of aging and also an unfortunate intolerance toward children. The research[2] actually suggests that delinquency and child abuse is down from a decade ago.

There has been an explosion in the field of neuroscience and early brain development in the past 15 years. With greater knowledge we are able to have more realistic expectations of what children are capable of at different developmental stages. We know from the study of early brain development that children learn consequences via trust in their relationship with their parent. Do you ever do something that you know you shouldn’t? Why do you do what you shouldn’t do? Usually we need to have an immediate experience of pleasure. Sadly, for many of us, the pleasure of food, alcohol, or the acquisition of things can be a substitute for the pleasurable reward of healthy relationships. We want children to enjoy relational reward above the more simple forms of pleasure. Isn’t reaching out for connection preferred to reaching out for a candy bar?

It is very hard to make good decisions when you have difficulty with self-regulation and you have ambivalence toward those you love. A candy bar might feel safer and more consistently rewarding! Children who are spanked are at greater risk of having problems self-regulating, so it is much harder to manage impulses, control anger, and cope with feelings. Sadly, this struggle often follows them into adulthood.

How should parents best discipline their children?

Positive parenting is the best model for raising children. It is neurobiologically informed and it supports the secure and healthy attachment of the child to her parents. One of many programs supported by research is Positive Discipline in Everyday Parenting, by Joan Durrant, Phd. It is a parenting model that focuses on long term goals, encourages warmth and structure, is sensitive to how children think and feel, and emphasizes collaborative problem solving. Another empirically supported model is Dr. Ross Greene’s Collaborative Proactive Solutions (CPS).

Parenting Beyond Punishment and StopSpanking.org are sponsoring a free month-long event this April to support parents in learning positive parenting which will help them avoid spanking or yelling. It is called the NoSpankChallenge. We have a webinar series dedicated to teaching the principles of positive parenting and welcome parents to join!

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[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-ellen-stevens/the-adverse-childhood-exp_1_b_1943647.html and http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/12/21/peds.2011-2663.full.pdf+html

[2] http://consumer.healthday.com/kids-health-information-23/adolescents-and-teen-health-news-719/u-s-children-s-exposure-to-violence-declining-687264.html

Catholic Bishops Support Positive Discipline


You may have heard that Pope Francis made remarks last week condoning spanking. The Pope’s sex abuse commission promptly issued public alarm, but there has been no correction from the Vatican. Please share the OPEN LETTER from The Alliance to End the Hitting of Children with your community. Please also feel empowered to use this letter and to write an Op-Ed with your local news sources.

If your story gets picked up in the news, let us know!

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Download a PDF version of the Open Letter to the Pope.

The Pope’s comment does not align with the Vatican’s adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child that calls for the end of all forms of corporal punishment of children. Many within the Catholic Church have made formal statements against corporal punishment.

The South African Parliament is considering legislation to ban spanking in the home as a way to decrease violence and promote the well-being of children. In response to this legislation, the  South African Catholic Bishop’s Parliamentary Liaison Office has formally made a positive statement in support of Positive Discipline.

Here at home in the US, Archbishop Gregory Aymond, Archdiocese of New Orleans has also come out against spanking children, and interestingly he himself was never spanked.  He recognizes that being raised without corporal punishment had a positive influence on his views of non-violence.

Archbishop Aymond considers research in forming his opinions, which supports the idea that religious beliefs can be supported by science.  

Here is an interview where Archbishop Aymond talks about the often quoted biblical verse that conservative Christians often refer to in supporting their belief that spanking is necessary, Proverbs 23:13

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For Catholics who are looking for support in positive parenting, please check out Catholic Attachment Parenting Corner.

Kim Cameron-Smith of CAPC explains, “Our ministry aims to provide information to Catholic parents who are interested in attachment-based parenting.”  In our interview, we talked about how spanking affects attachment, why spanking isn’t a personal parenting choice that shouldn’t be judged, and what the research has to say about spanking “lightly” and “infrequently.”

Read Interview…

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Want a copy of the South African Catholic Bishop’s response to banning spanking?

Article by Catholic Family Therapist, Dr. Gregory Popcak talks more about the Catholic Bishops support of Positive Discipline at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithonthecouch/2013/07/catholic-bishops-weigh-in-on-corporal-punishment/

“Thy Rod and Thy Staff They Comfort Me, is a wonderful online book by Samuel Martin addressing the biblical argument on spanking – an interpretation of non-violence.

How Hard Will He Have to Work?


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Fascinating research suggests we can predict how hard a person will have to work to feel good, based upon the quality of early attachment in the first 18 months of life.  This study measured the long term effects of early  attachment on long-term emotional regulation into adulthood, including a person’s ability to have a positive neurochemical response to positive experiences.

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An ambivalent attachment inhibits the brain’s ability to fully experience pleasure

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This study evaluates the quality of attachment between the 18-month old child and his/her mother using a gold standard measure, the Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Procedure.  They researched these children, testing them for mental health problems revisiting them at age 5, 8, 13, 16 and 22.  They also looked at their neurological ability to “up-regulate” or to have a neurologically positive response to positive images, and their ability to “down-regulate” or to have a neurologically soothing response to negative images.

The brain activity linked to experiencing positive emotions differed between those who were securely attached to their mothers in infancy and those who did not have a secure attachment. The second group engaged additional brain regions when trying to increase their positive emotions, but to less effect.  What does this mean?

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The brains of children with early ambivalent attachment had to work harder to experience pleasure, and this extra effort did not necessarily help. 

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Why?  Early neurological pairing of threat and love creates an ambivalent attachment that inhibits healthy brain development.  The brain attempts to respond to a positive experience, while also anticipating pain or threat.

Early stress (spanking, yelling, neglecting) creates neurological ambivalence in the child that endures throughout life. And if you don’t think this is an issue with 18 month olds, consider that 33% of parents begin spanking their children before they reach their first birthday! It is harder for  children with an ambivalent attachment to feel the pleasure and comfort of relationship, and so it makes it much harder to emotionally regulate.  A very interesting finding is that many of the children with an ambivalent early attachment could control negative reactions, so they could regulate negative feelings, but they were not able to experience a fully positive response to positive experiences. So they were neurologically wired early on to control negative impulses, but at the cost of their own happiness.

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The research suggests that even relatively normal variations in the quality of the parent-child relationship in early life may have long-lasting implications for the way that the brain processes emotional experiences. 

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What does this mean?  It means that the mitigating influence of the parent is much more of a potential source of threat (as well as comfort) than any other source in the environment.  As parents, we are the emotional and neurological buffer to our children that promotes their future relational happiness.  Even a little hostility can hurt.


 

The Adult Attachment Assessment

Your Connection to Yourself About Your Childhood, Predicts the Quality of Attachment with Your Own Children

Psychologists can predict how attached parents-to-be will be to their children before the child is even born, based upon what is called an Adult Attachment Assessment.  How does this assessment work? The clinician starts by asking, “Tell me about your childhood.”  How a parent-to-be talks about their childhood is a huge indicator of the quality of attachment they will have with their own children.

It isn’t about if you have experienced trauma as a child, but if you have found ways to heal from it.  Whether or not you have found healthy ways to cope with early adversity can be detected in how you talk about your childhood and if there is coherency in the way you tell the story of what happened to you.  “Does the music match the words,” Dr. Rappaport explains.

Secure bond

Eighty percent of children who have experienced trauma– abuse or neglect, for example — will have disorganized attachment, which occurs because the very person they’re relying on to keep them safe actually produces contradictory emotions of dependence and fear.  Many parents might respond that their child has not experienced trauma, but the data suggests that attachment problems are very common. Meaning, for many children, their sense of security with their primary caregiver is inconsistent. A recent study suggested that 4 in 10 children are insecurely attached. When we understand that secure attachment is fundamental to the development of self regulation, empathy, the capacity for joy, the ability to get along with others and to control impulses – when we understand that attachment is the fundamental source of nourishment for a developing brain, it becomes clear how incredibly important attachment is for a child’s long-term wellbeing.

 

Dr. Nancy Rappaport

Dr. Nancy Rappaport

We can improve our attachment to our children by finding ways to promote our own resilience and sense of connection to ourselves and our past. Dr. Nancy Rappoport talks about how we can build resilience in ourselves in order to help our children.

 

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Do you know the 6 Core Strengths that will help your child develop into a healthy, happy adult?

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Want a copy of the research?

Professional Athletes Tackle the Issue of Spanking


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Asadah Kirkland and Robbyn Peters Bennett had the opportunity to join the discussion with Pro Player Insiders and talk with several amazing athletes including Adrian Peterson’s mentor Tony Richardson — about spanking.  These players talk candidly about their upbringing, their experience of being spanked with belts, switches and the feeling of living in fear of parents whom you also dearly love and respect.

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Join Melissa Mahler with Pro Player Insiders and Andrew Willis with the Stop Abuse Campaign as they host a discussion. Who was spanked and why?  What is the impact of spanking? How do we stop beating our kids?Pro Player Insiders

Pro Player Insiders include Tony Richardsonformer NFL player with the Minnesota Vikings and mentor to Adrian Peterson; Tyree Washington, Olympic winner champion in the 400 meter; and Craig McEwenformer NFL player with the Washington Red Skins.  They share their personal experiences of being raised with harsh discipline and how their upbringing has formed their viewpoint on discipline and spanking.

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 My dad would say, lad this is how you do it in the old school, this is how you make it, this what a man’s got to do to be a man. McEwen

I had to get the switch from the tree … and if I cried the beating was even worse. Washington

There’s no way I could have been fortunate enough to play in the NFL for 17 years, have two college degrees, and have the discipline I have in my life if I didn’t have that structure. Richardson

listen

 

Do You Need Help Talking to a Loved One About Spanking?

powerful-parenting-bannerThis “soft touch” pamphlet can help you raise the topic of spanking with your spouse, friend, family, and your clients in a respectful, supportive way. It is a fully illustrated story of loving parents, Betty and Al, discussing how they want to discipline their little boy. The parents discuss the usual issues concerning whether or not to spank and they come to the conclusion that it is just too risky, and there are much better alternatives.

Please contact us for a copy:

What is the POINT of Banning Spanking?


End of SpankingShould We Ban Spanking to Help End Child Abuse?

In the wake of the Adrian Peterson case, there has been growing concern that spanking is linked to physical abuse of children.  Some say, Peterson crossed the line, and yet that line is arbitrary based upon personal belief.  The courts can’t even draw a clear line between spanking and abuse, where there has even been a shift to loosen the definition of abuse.  At the same time, there is a shift to clarify the definition of abuse in the child abuse code.  Both Delaware and Pennsylvania have modified the child abuse code.   Delaware modified the child abuse code to include “intent to cause pain,” essentially including spanking as child abuse.  Pennsylvania followed, by declaring forcefully shaking, slapping, or otherwise striking a child under 1 year of age as child abuse.

Here is an elegant and compelling human rights argument condemning corporal punishment of children by the esteemed Peter Newell, Director, Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment of Children which was presented To United Nations Human Rights Council, March 6, 2013.  He criticizes the attempt to eliminate the practice of spanking children by researching its health and neurological  risks, emphasizing that this undermines the obvious human right that children have to be free from violence.

Corporal punishment is the commonest form of violence which children suffer, in all regions. And there are many perspectives from which to condemn it. The imperative for prohibiting and eliminating it is children’s equal human right to full respect for their dignity and physical integrity and to equal protection under the law.

Sometimes it seems that dwelling on other perspectives, other arguments, can actually undermine acceptance of the immediate human rights imperative for action. We don’t look for proof that domestic violence against women damages their physical or mental health in order to justify prohibiting it and ending impunity. It would be insulting to women to do so, and it is equally insulting to children to suggest we have to prove harm in order to justify extending to them the legal protection that we as adults take for granted from being deliberately assaulted.

What is the Purpose of Law Reform?

Peter Newell makes a compelling argument that the basic right of the individual to be protected by law from all acts of physical harm should naturally extend to children.

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Should We Ban Spanking in the US?

Researchers, child psychologists, representatives from Sweden and New Zealand, and child activists in the US talk about the purpose of banning spanking in the home.

 

What Happened in Sweden?

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Cast Your Vote!

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Teacher-Tom

Here is a beautiful article by Teacher Tom, one of my heroes, who shares some of the most incredible ideas about how to be in relationship with preschoolers.  Knowing that he can work non-violently and democratically with a gaggle of preschoolers inspires me to know that I can do the same with my ONE preschooler!

Click here to read Tom Hobson’s well thought out review of the destructive nature of spanking and the need to absolutely end it. Thank you Tom! Namaste.

Teacher Tom takes a heroic stand on behalf of children, “It’s Time to Ban Spanking!”

Interviewees

Dr. John Allan, PhD, Child Developmental Psychologist:  Dr. Allan is Professor Emeritus of Counseling Psychology at the University of British Columbia and the author of numerous articles and books on play therapy and school counseling, some of which are translated into Japanese, Russian, Italian and Arabic.  Dr. Allan has more than 45 years clinical experience working with both “typical” children in classrooms and those physically and sexually abused, emotionally neglected and terminally ill.

Nadine Block – Nadine has worked as a teacher, school psychologist and consultant to mental health organizations. She founded the Center for Effective Discipline in l987 and served as its executive director until 2010. The organization is dedicated to ending corporal punishment of children through education and legal reform. http://www.nadineblock.com/

Murray Straus, PhD –  Dr. Straus is the leading researcher on the effects of Corporal Punishment. He is Professor of Sociology and founder and Co-Director of the Family Research Laboratory, University of New Hampshire (since 1968). Previously taught at the Univ of Minnesota, Cornell, Wisconsin, Washington State, U of Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Visiting Professor: U. of Kentucky, U. Bombay (India), U. of York (England), Columbia Univ, U. of Leuven Belgium http://pubpages.unh.edu/~mas2/

Elizabeth Gershoff, PhD – Dr. Gershoff is Professor of Human Develoment and Family Sciences, University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Gershoff is a developmental psychologist who studies how parenting generally and discipline in particular affect children’s development. She is interested in how parenting affects children differently within contexts of poverty and low income, neighborhoods, schools, and culture. She is also interested in associations between children’s exposures to various forms of violence (from parents, communities, and terrorism) and their mental health and risk behaviors.   http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/prc/directory/faculty/ethomp

Mali Nilson – SWEDEN  Ms. Nilsson is a Senior Advisor with Save the Children, Sweden. She has worked extensively in the international efforts to stop violent forms of discipline and to promote positive discipline.

Johny O’Donnell –  NEW ZEALAND Johny is the Founder of SAVE.org.  In March 2009 he and two friends embarked on a journey that created the nationwide movement- Students Against Violence Everywhere. A youth led anti-violence movement that aims to raise awareness of violence by spreading positive change in our schools, homes and communities.   To find out more about SAVE visit www.savemovement.org

Peter Newell – Peter is an advocate for children’s rights in the UK and internationally. He is the Coordinator of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (www.endcorporalpunishment.org). He was a member of Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro’s Editorial Board for the UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children and co-chairs the international NGO Advisory Council for follow-up to the UNSG’s Study. Peter has worked frequently as a consultant for UNICEF, in particular advising on general measures for implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and on establishment of independent human rights institutions for children.  He is also Adviser to the European Network of Ombudspeople for Children.  www.endcorporalpunishment.org/

What Do Kids Think About Spanking? Ask Camila!


Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 10.43.29 AMA good friend of mine, Al Crowell, calls me awhile back to tell me he has a brilliant idea about how to help people realize they shouldn’t be hitting kids. He tells me his granddaughter, Camila, has never been spanked. Her parents are completely against coercive parenting. He says, “What if we tried to understand a child’s viewpoint about spanking – from a child who has never been spanked?” Of course I thought this was an incredible idea. He goes on to tell me that Camila is an amazing person, full of life and curiosity. That sure flies in the face of the fear that if you don’t spank kids, they’ll just run over you. To the contrary, Al wanted to do a project with her, because she is such a fun person.  He tells me “she is a joy to be with, and wants to be an actress in a very young girl kind of way.”

Apparently, Camila has been taking an acting class with the local summer theatre program. “She wants to be famous,” Al tells me, “Camila is all girl! She has talent and an amazing ability to remember her lines.”

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 10.14.49 AMAl is one of the co-founders of The US Alliance to End the Hitting of Children, so he is always dreaming up ways to help people make that shift of awareness that spanking is wrong. When Al asked Camila if she was interested in making some film clips about spanking from a child’s perspective, she was all over it! Al wrote much of the script for these film clips, but he assures me, “When Camila says she doesn’t understand why parents have to hit their kids, she is sincere. She really doesn’t understand why parents would do that.” When I first saw these clips, I watched one after the other, laughing and nodding in agreement. Camila is so disarming. It is enlightening to listen to a child who, from a place of genuine innocence and confusion, speaks out against hitting children. I think Camila, Al and his film crew did a wonderful job!

Thankfully we have been hearing more and more voices speaking out against harsh discipline. I asked Al how he became involved in the anti-hitting movement of children.

Al Crowell:

I’ve been interested in this issue for a very long time. For me, my interest was sparked in the sixties and seventies when my wife and I were involved in the non-violent movement. That is when we decided not to hit our kids. Positive Parenting material like Rudolf Driekurs’ and other great books on children’s development stages helped us a lot. I was so happy with the results that I decided to get a degree in counseling and work with families, especially with men around men’s issues and fatherhood. For thirty years I have been tuned into the non-violent parenting movement and have watched it change from being laughed at to being taken seriously. I’m proud to say that my son has also raised his two boys in a similar manner.

Robbyn Peters Bennett:

How did you come to organize the US Alliance?

Al:

Years ago, I joined the board of Project No-Spank under Jordan Riak, whom I consider a mentor. After a number of years, I began to feel that we were preaching to the choir. At the same time, I began to recognize a grassroots effort where people were doing things in their own communities to help stop the spanking of children. I yearned to organize all of us in the US to join together so that we could collectively support each other and become a more powerful voice. So, several of us who wanted to support a national effort formed The US Alliance to End the Hitting of Children. The US Alliance is an organization dedicated to organizing a movement to end spanking in the US. We are now in our third year of gathering names and groups who are doing similar work and forging alliances. We are using the Internet, social media and networking. I’m inspired! I can see folks coming together as a movement where broader outreach now seems directly on the horizon.

Robbyn:

How can others participate in this movement?

Al:

For one, share Camila’s videos on Facebook and email. Also share with your friends, family, and community a copy of our parenting pamphlet (see below) that is a soft touch approach to explaining why parents should never risk spanking their child. And be sure to go to http://endhittingusa.org and subscribe to our newsletter to stay current on efforts around the nation and get ideas on how you can help end the hitting of children.

Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 11.20.03 AMWhat if my kid runs into the street?

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I was spanked, but I deserved it!

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Spanking teaches a kid right from wrong! Right?

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Doesn’t the Bible say, spare the rod, spoil the child?

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Some kids just don’t listen! Don’t defiant kids need to be spanked?

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I spank my kids, because sometimes they just won’t stop!

Do You Need Help Talking to a Loved One About Spanking?

powerful-parenting-bannerThis “soft touch” pamphlet can help you raise the topic of spanking with your spouse, friend, family, and your clients in a respectful, supportive way. It is a fully illustrated story of loving parents, Betty and Al, discussing how they want to discipline their little boy. The parents discuss the usual issues concerning whether or not to spank and they come to the conclusion that it is just too risky, and there are much better alternatives.

ALAl Crowell is cofounder of The US Alliance to End the Hitting of Children. He lives with his lovely wife Pilar Mejia in San Fransico, CA. To learn more about joining the movement and helping end violence against children, email Al at alcrowell@endhittingusa.org

How Do Children Experience Spanking?


Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 8.06.37 AMA trained and experienced elementary school counselor in an urban school district was asked to help a group of teachers identify 10 coping and 10 non-coping children [1] from a group of 120 fourth and fifth graders. [2], [3]

Children were asked to close their eyes and were guided through a brief relaxation process where they were asked to imagine that they were a rosebush.  They were asked to think about what they needed, who watered them, where they were planted and what surrounded them. Then the child was asked to draw the rosebush.

 

Happy with Mother Duck

Coping Children

In the Happy with Mother Duck picture, you see a lovely rosebush with roses, the sun shining up in the sky, a mother duck is swimming in the pond, and there is a sense of natural beauty, with grass growing and a proportionately sized fence for protection.

IMAGINATIVE

In the Imaginative picture the little girl said that she was the rosebush.

You can see an incredible sense of imagination.  She is smiling while riding in the sky on her beautiful horse, with flowing mane and tail.  The trees are whimsical and colorful floating in the air, and the birds are flying on a sunny day.

FLOURISHING with ROOTS, FOLIAGE, FLOWERS

In the Flourishing with Root, Foliage, Flowers drawing, the rosebush has all the natural aspects of a healthy rosebush:  foliage, roses, and a deep root system.  There is a sense that this rose bush is doing very well and has what it needs to be nourished and to grow.

Nurturing, Happy, Warm

Here is a classic picture, really.

The rosebush is full of flowers, with a mother bird flying toward it with a worm in her mouth for the babies nesting there. [4] This probably makes the rosebush happy!  There are small trees and a rabbit and the sun is shining.

These pictures reflect the inner world of children who are coping in school with teachers and peers, and also have an INNER sense of themselves that is healthy, nurtured, and vital.

 

Non-Coping Spanked Children

I Have to PROTECT Myself

In the I Have to Protect Myself picture, we see a boy who was severely physically abused.  We can see the extreme damage caused by hitting a child in this image of his rosebush which is essentially thorns.  He says his rosebush needs guns, and knives, and a machine gun, and a machete in order to protect itself!

Protective and in Pain
Can’t Reach Mom or Dad

The Protective and in Pain picture was drawn by a girl who was spanked a lot and who we also believe was sexually molested. She says the rosebush is sore. You can see there is no vitality and that the rosebush is primarily thorns, a protective response to experiencing so much pain, injury and intrusion.

In the drawing Can’t Reach Mom or Dad, the boy was harshly spanked.  He talked about the rosebush on the pavement, and you can see the cracked, ruptured road leading to a house with smashed windows and barred doorways. The boy says you can’t get into either the apartment  or the house, because the doors are barred shut. (This boy’s parents were divorced and his father lived in an apartment and his mother lived in a house).

You can see that the rosebush is primarily thorns.  This child does not feel that he can gain access to a feeling of home and comfort that he needs from his parents. This shows an absence of the buffering support of the caregiver that is a primary protective factor in creating resilience in the child.

 

Coping, but can’t get HOME

Coping Spanked Child

In this Coping But Can’t Get Home drawing, the boy was only spanked, and he was selected as a coping child. He was a friendly and imaginative child.  However, he described the rosebush as impossible to get through, because there are so many thorns.  And if you are able to get through, the owl flies to the castle to tell.  The moat is poisoned and the castle is barred shut.

The castle is the boy’s sense of home.   There is no sense of home base, a place to retreat for comfort.  The castle is overrun with the thorny rosebush. Here is an instance where the child appears to be coping with others and performing in school, but internally he is distressed.

We know that children who tolerate sustained levels of stress (spanking, or the threat of spanking, for example) work very hard to conform to the expectations of authority to avoid punishment. This comes at a cost to their natural spontaneity and sense of well being.  As this picture demonstrates, the child is well behaved, but not out of a feeling of empathy for others, but rather from a feeling of fear for his own well being. This leads to problems later on, particularly in adolescence and early adulthood, when the teen needs to trust his own judgement. These children are more likely to distrust their own internal sense of authority and are more likely to fear the rejection of others and therefore look to others for approval and a sense of direction.

A marvelous picture book of how children feel about spanking, and respectful alternatives to teaching children.

A marvelous picture book of how children feel about spanking, and respectful alternatives to teaching children.

Punishment can contribute to an ambivalent attachment between the child and her primary caregiver.  This can have longterm consequences on the development of the child’s brain.  An ambivalent attachment is where home (a child’s connection to his parents) is a place that is an inconsistent source of comfort, and sometimes a source of pain, fear, and abandonment – a castle with too many thorns.

Punishment may force a child to control impulses, but at the cost of increased watchfulness, anxiety and worry. This can interfere with the natural joy and comfort that the child needs to feel in their relationship to their parents, which then translates to all their relationships into adulthood.

 

 

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[1]Coping Children – One who gets along well with the teacher and peers and shows average developmental mastery of learning skills.  Non-Coping Children – One is is unable to get along with teacher and peers and fails to master the work skills necessary at the child’s grade level.

[2] Inscapes of the Child’s World, John Allan, PhD, Spring Publications, Inc. Putnam, CT; 1988. Page 82.

[3] Students were selected for the study if they fell into the average IQ range on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children…and were from similar socio-economic backgrounds.

[4] Inscapes of the Child’s World, Page 87.


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