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.


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.


Cast Your Vote!



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!”


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?


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.


How can others participate in this movement?


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?


I was spanked, but I deserved it!


Spanking teaches a kid right from wrong! Right?


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


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


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.


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.


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.




[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.

Have You Enjoyed SPECIAL TIME with Your Child Today?

Screen Shot 2014-04-11 at 9.09.21 AMEnjoy this PODCAST with Patty Wipfler, Founder of Hand-in-Hand Parenting and Robbyn Peters Bennett, Founder of StopSpanking as they discuss with parents how to stay connected while dealing with really difficult behaviors!  When children aren’t connected, they don’t feel good and they don’t behave well.

Our minds and our children’s minds work best when we feel close and connected.  We often rely on talking, but language is really like a second language to little children.  When they are upset or having a difficult time (which sometimes looks like they are BEING difficult!), we can help by using their primary language of eye contact, touch, body language, and play.

Learn how to use small amounts of time to build connection, warmth, and cooperation with your child.  Just a few minutes can have a positive impact. Learn how to create SPECIAL TIME, to increase your child’s sense of connectedness.  You say to your child, “I’ve got ten minutes just for you.  What would you like to do? I’ll do anything you like.”  And then you spend 10 minutes bathing them in your care and love.

Helping Parents to Stop Spanking Babies Can Reduce Child Abuse

A recent study has been circulating in the press with shocking headlines like spanking babies is A Third of Parents Spank Their Babiessurprisingly common!  Of course this is old news.  Dr. Murray Straus published similar research cited in Duke Law Journal, 2010 that about a third of babies are spanked.  In a study of 156 families,  Dr. Brigitte Vittrup found that 21% percent of the mothers reported slapping their child’s hand once or twice a week, and 14% reported spanking their infants weekly.  A much larger study of over 4,800 children, by Dr. Michael MacKenzie, titled “Who Spanks Infants and Toddlers? found that “about 15% of children are spanked at 12 months, with this share rising to 40% by 18 months and nearly 50% for children age 20 months or older.”  Redundancy in science is a good thing.  It is a double take to our initial shock of “Can that be true?”

Yes, it is true. Many parents are spanking babies, and it is a serious problem.

Frequency of Spanking

Some people immediately object saying, “Before we get carried away here, are we talking about spanking or a parent just smacking a baby’s hand when she reaches for the stove?” In this study, researchers allowed parents to define spanking for themselves.  They simply asked parents if they spanked their baby in the last month. Nearly a third of parents answered yes. Remember, parents generally under-report spanking.  Case in point, Dr. George Holden set out to research verbal abuse by audio recording 37 families for about a week every evening.  Shockingly, in the first real-time study of spanking, he discovered parents were smacking or spanking frequently for minor concerns - like sucking fingers or turning the pages of a book without permission.

So how serious is spanking babies? Researcher from University of Michigan, Dr. Shawna Lee found that parents who spanked their baby (on average 15 months old) in the past month had a greater chance of being involved with Child Protective Services (CPS).  Now that’s pretty serious.  “CPS involvement means that authorities have a serious concern about the welfare of the children in that household.  Most abuse is not reported, so this is a very conservative way to measure the link between spanking and abuse,” explains researcher Dr. Shawna Lee.


Think of it this way, 29% of all Americans report being physically abused by their parents. That translates to 88,000,000 people.  Compare this to the actual number of CPS reports, which are only around 3,000,000.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 9.06.01 AMThis research goes beyond the finding that parents spank babies, and asks what would happen if we intervened to end spanking in these families?  The research suggests that by eliminating spanking the rate of CPS involvement would also reduce.  Dr. Lee wondered, “Hypothetically, if we applied the results to 1,000 families and stopped the occurrence of spanking, what would happen? The calculation suggested that ending spanking could result in a reduction in CPS involvement of 7 families per 1,000.”  Wow!  That is a lot of children.

There is ample evidence linking spanking to child abuse.  Consider Dr. Zolotor’s research that found that parents who believe in spanking are 4-9X more likely to engage in more serious abuse (hitting a child elsewhere than the buttocks, kicking, or shaking a baby). There is mounting awareness of the close link between spanking and overt child abuse, particularly in the field of child abuse and neglect.  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.

We know that spanking is a bad idea.  The research is so alarming that the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry as well as the Academy of Pediatrics have made formal statements discouraging parents from ever spanking. “When we look at the research on the whole, we have a lot of evidence to show that spanking is not good for kids.  There is not one study that shows any long-term positive effects of spanking – not one.  Child pro-social behavior is never improved with spanking or linked to spanking,” says Lee.Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 10.40.03 AM

Some parents heed the warning and find alternatives to spanking their children.  But many others do not.  In fact, many parents probably haven’t even heard the warnings.  After all, pediatricians and care providers are often unaware of the research themselves.  A survey conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that 42% of pediatricians will actually recommend spanking and about as many believe there isn’t enough time to address discipline during a wellness visit!  The good news is, the majority of pediatricians would like additional training on how to help parents with discipline issues.

The issue of spanking is much greater than the argument about whether or not it works.  Clearly the research shows that it does not, regardless of cultural popularity.  At the root of the spanking debate is a much more serious issue – how to prevent child abuse itself. Here are some alarming facts:

  • Over 3,000,000 families become involved with CPS annually involving 6,000,000 children
  • Up to 68% of parents who become involved with CPS, have recurrent involvement
  • 20% of families, an astonishing number, become chronically involved with CPS

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 10.52.25 AMPhysical child abuse is a huge problem. This research on spanking babies suggests that early preventative measures can reduce spanking and CPS involvement. The fact is we have done nearly nothing to prevent spanking.  Little children are spanked most frequently and although spanking has become less popular, there is no significant decline in the frequency of spanking little children.

If we are going to get serious about ending child abuse, we need to directly address the risk factors.  Spanking is clearly a risk factor for criminal child abuse. We need to help parents stop spanking their children, and we need to prevent spanking before it starts.  The most important implication of this research is that early intervention to prevent spanking is key.


What Can We Do?

The study outlined several methods of intervening with parents that research has shown to be effective:

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 9.12.39 AM

  1. Provide multimedia educational programs like PLAY NICELY in the Pediatrician’s waiting area that show parents how to deal with toddler aggression, without spanking. Research showed that this program reduced parent support of spanking..

  2. Encourage parents to document developmental stages in baby books.  It increases parents’ knowledge of a child’s developmental needs.  Research showed parents were less likely to spank when they understood their child’s developmental needs via baby books.Screen Shot 2014-03-27 at 10.51.49 AM

  3. Launch a Facebook and Text campaign. Text messages and other social media resources such as Text4baby that provide new baby education reduces approval of spanking.  Parenting Beyond Punishment is launching a month long educational even to support parents who want to take the “No-Spank-Challenge

  4. Expose parents to the research Exposing parents to research about spanking reduces approval of spanking.

So you may be wondering, exactly what is the research? Click these links to learn more:

The bottom line is, we can end child abuse. The first step is to recognize that we’ve invented childrearing practices that are maladaptive to a peaceful society. If we want our young parents to understand how to treat their children, we need to give them the education and support they need to be successful.  We need a clear message that parents must never spank their children. If we intervene early, there is a greater chance that the baby will cope better throughout childhood.  Let’s help parents give their children a better chance.


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:

Judge Adams Loses but Not by Enough

Have you heard about this child abuse case, where a Texas Family Judge repeatedly beat his daughter with a belt under the guise of discipline?  His daughter, Hillary Adams, posted a video of the assault that went viral and made national news.  Judge Adams received a year paid leave only to be reinstated to the bench.  The latest news is he ran for re-election and lost, but by an astonishing close margin.

47% of voters supported him!

Unbelievable. That’s Texas for you, right? That is certainly the response I hear from many people who hear this story.  Sadly, this isn’t just a problem in Texas.  This is a problem in our own communities – in our own back yard.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 10.37.38 AM

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So, how many of these parents actually cross the line? Don’t expect CPS to answer this question accurately.  Child abuse statistics collected from “substantiated” child abuse hardly captures the frequency of domestic violence against children.  Courts don’t even know how to define assault against children.  Case in point, a court in Santa Clara County ruled that a mother spanking her daughter with a wooden spoon is ‘reasonable discipline,’ even though she left bruises that warranted a CPS investigation.  Across the nation, courts struggle with where to draw this arbitrary line.  Frustrated with the inability to protect children in child abuse cases, Delaware actually modified the definition of child abuse to include “an intent to cause pain.”  Attorney General Biden supported this legislation in order to more effectively prosecute child abuse cases, because so many parents were using the defense of discipline to avoid prosecution.

Despite confusion in the courts, most Americans agree there is a big difference between spanking and abuse, but exactly where to draw this “fine line” seems completely arbitrary.  Just ask your Facebook friends the difference between spanking and abuse.  You will see what I mean.  Can you hit on the bare bottom? Can you use implements like a spoon or a belt?  Can you leave marks that go away by the next day?  Can you hit a child under 2-years-old or under one-year-old or a child that has reached puberty?  Can you hit the child 10 or 20 times? Most states allow for all of the above.

In Kansas, Representative Gail Finney was worried about parents being prosecuted for child abuse, and wanted to clarify exactly how much hitting is appropriate, so she proposed a bill that would allow parents to hit their children harder, up to 10 times, enough to cause redness and bruising!  Rather than addressing poor parenting practices that lead to child abuse, Rep. Finney simply attempted to change the definition only to confuse parents further.

Many parents vehemently defend their right to spank their children, claiming that they know how to do it with compassion, moderation, and consistency.  Interestingly, the belief that spanking isn’t harmful if the parent is loving is actually not supported by the research.  Many parents are surprised to learn that maternal warmth does not mitigate the negative effects associated with spanking.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 10.44.11 AMHow many parents hit their children too hard, or hit a child that is too young or too old? Consider the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study that examines the frequency of family violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente conducted one of the largest longitudinal studies of its kind, looking at family dysfunction.  This study included more than 17,000 middle class Americans over a 15-year period and found that 29% reported being physically abused by their parents!  88,000,000 Americans have been physically assaulted in the home.

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We’ve begun to produce a documentary looking at the “fine line” between spanking and abuse.  This Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 10.24.10 AMfilm investigates the link between harsh punishment and child abuse in this country.  We are raising money to finish filming.  The intent of the film is to investigate the role that spanking plays in perpetuating violence in the family.

There has been a national campaign against spousal abuse that has been very successful.  Since 1994, the rate of spousal abuse has dropped 64%.  There are a variety of contributing factors to this decline, but one central factor is the message was clear - it is never OK to hit your spouse.  What is the message we are sending parents about violence and discipline? Each time we defend spanking, we muddy the waters. When we draw a line between spanking and abuse, we give parents permission to strike their children.

The question we have to ask ourselves is…

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Shall We End Child Abuse OR Just Change The Definition

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 8.43.41 AMThere was a flurry of news reports today about legislation submitted by Kansas Rep. Gail Finney to allow parents to hit their children harder.  This bill would allow a parent to hit the child up to 10 times, hard enough to cause redness and bruising!

What is the motivation behind legislation that puts children at risk?

Rep. Finney defended the legislation saying, “Corporal punishment is already allowed by law in Kansas.  [We’re] just trying to get a definition, because what’s happening is our kids and some of our law-abiding parents are entering into DCF (Department of Children and Families) and law enforcement custody when it could have been avoided.” They say the idea is to restore parental rights and discipline.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 9.04.38 AM

In written testimony Attorney, Britt Colle who drafted the bill said, “Children have become fully aware of what they can legally get away with and play their parents off against each other and authorities. They can act out of control and get away with it because they can play the abuse or battery card and also get a change of custody to a more lenient parent.”

The motivation behind this misguided bill appears to be to prevent family involvement with Child Protective Services and to exercise greater control over unruly children.

Reducing child abuse investigations can be accomplished essentially one of two ways. Either loosen restrictions on assault of children so that there are fewer cases that meet criteria for abuse OR make a genuine effort to prevent child abuse.

Which would you choose?

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In an effort to avoid the upset of parents being criminalized for harsh punishment, Rep. Finney is all too willing to accept bruises on a child.  Would she be as willing to accept a husband leaving a small bruise on his wife’s face?  I doubt it, considering she sponsored a bill in 2009 on equal rights and no discrimination based upon sex.

We can breathe a sigh of relief for now, because Representative John Rubin just announced, “the bill is essentially dead.” It was a close call for Kansas’ children, but thankfully there was a public outcry against the bill. But how does a bill like this even gain the momentum to reach committee, let alone make national news? Is this bill a reaction to a fear of parents being punished by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)? After all, the purpose of the DCFS isn’t to prevent child abuse.  These emergency systems are set in place to identify child abuse after it has already occurred in an attempt to intervene and prevent it from happening again.

When does the parent become involved with DCFS?  Once the harm has already occurred!  By the time a parent has escalated to the point of meeting the criteria for a child abuse investigation, the parent is much less capable of correcting their abusive parenting methods.  Why is this? For one, in most cases there is an established pattern or habit of poor parenting practices, abuse or neglect, and secondly the parent is now likely to feel defensive and in a position to defend themselves rather than to honestly share their struggles and receive support.  By the time a parent is in the system, we’ve missed the opportunity to establish a trusting relationship between the helper and the parent, which is the foundation to learning.  Parents under investigation have an adversarial relationship with DCFS, at best!

Let’s face it, DCFS is not in the business of child abuse prevention

Child abuse prevention begins early, long before the first strike.  What would a serious nationwide child abuse prevention effort look like?  We would have nationwide programs like the Urban Child Institute that focus on supporting parents in the first few years.

We would be talking to teenagers in school about parenting practices, alternatives to spanking and yelling, the neurobiological capabilities of little children and how to create a secure attachment.  These lessons would be offered to pregnant mothers, and would extend into the first five years.  Services would be available before the head start requirement of age 3.  By the age of 3 we’ve already missed a huge window of opportunity for healthy brain development and attachment.  Let’s face it, by then parents are already spanking their children! A third of all parents spank before a child’s first birthday and the frequency is the greatest during the toddler years.  These early parenting practices are laying down the neurological and psychological framework that increases a child’s risk for behavioral problems later on.  RESEARCH is conclusive — we know spanking is destructive.  Spanking is linked to increased aggression, a myriad of mental health problems, and a higher chance of domestic violence as an adult.  The list of negative risks is extensive, and yet there is not one study showing positive long-term results from spanking. The question is, what should parents do instead? We need to offer them ALTERNATIVES.Hand Off

If we really want to help parents avoid involvement with DCFS, we need to intervene early.  We need to shift our paradigm to focus on pregnancy, infants and toddlers. Here is an interesting review of the importance of policy reform focusing on the first three years.

Dr. Anda, Principle Researcher of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study said it best,

Our society has treated the abuse, maltreatment, violence, and chaotic experiences of our children as an oddity that is adequately dealt with by emergency response systems—child protective services, criminal justice, foster care, and alternative schools—to name a few. These services are needed and are worthy of support—but they are a dressing on a greater wound.

What is the greater wound?  The greater wound is child abuse itself. Are we going to get serious about ending child abuse, or are we just going to change its definition?

Related Links:

Legislation to Allow for Harder Spankings

CNN Report on Kansas Legislation

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