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.


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 surprisingly 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.
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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.

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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).

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.

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What Can We Do?

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

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  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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Want More Information?

End Paddling of Children in Our Public Schools


Special thanks to the creative efforts of Jared Abrams, filmmaker and father who produced “The Board of Education,” an educational and disturbing look at sanctioned violence against children in our schools.

Sign the Petition

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Sadie

When I enrolled my daughter, Sadie, in Kindergarten, I was feeling what most mothers feel when she imagines sending her child to school for the first time – NERVOUS!  It is a leap of faith to trust the school will care for her.  I was hoping she would get the best Kindergarten teacher who would be kind and love kids, and that my daughter would make friends.  I wanted her first experience of school to be wonderful!

Bully Hotline

I’m busy signing the admissions paperwork, and am pleased to find the school has an anti-bully policy.  They even have a bully hotline.  I’m relieved to know they take bullying seriously. Im busy signing forms and reading about what to expect in Kindergarten and what my daughter will be learning.  It is so exciting!  But then in the stack of papers, I find a discipline form. I’m confused. What is this? It is a permission note for the school to use corporal punishment on my child.

The school wants me to sign a form that says they can hit Sadie with a paddle for discipline!


I can’t afford to homeschool my daughter, and even if I sign this waver, does that even help?  Questions started racing through my mind.
I can’t believe it. They hit children in my daughter’s school.  
I am in shock and I’m angry. What are we going to do?

* How can I be sure they won’t hit her?

* Will she hear a child being paddled in the hallway?

* Will they hit other children in front of her?

* Do teachers threaten children with paddling?

* How can she feel safe if she knows a teacher would hit her or her friends?

Permission Form

What am I going to do?  My first impulse was to deny permission and write an angry objection at the bottom.  Then I thought I could start a petition  to ask for help. Thankfully, many people were outraged, but others questioned if this form was even real!  Most people thought paddling was illegal in all US schools.

I can assure you, this form is real! This is really happening here in Leeds, Alabama. I wish it wasn’t real.  Worse yet, most of my neighbors and friends here in Alabama think it is a good idea for teachers to hit their children.

Many people posted comments of concern and outrage on Facebook, but we only have a few hundred signatures. We need a public outcry! We need thousands and thousands of signatures! The community here in Alabama believes in paddling children, so we need voices from all over the country to help raise awareness that this is child abuse.

What would you do if this was your child?

Many parents posted that if it was their child, they would take their child out of that school and move away if necessary.  But the truth is, most parents can’t send their kids to another school or homeschool let alone pick up and leave their homes and community.

Please take just a moment to sign this petition and send it on to your friends and family. Every signature helps. This is ONE thing you can do to help me and help my daughter. Please help us!

~ Wendy Chandler (Sadie’s Mom)

Local news coverage with Charles Chandler, Sadie’s father.

If we are ever to become serious about ending violence and preventing bullying in schools, we must lead by example. In 19 States, the practice of hitting children with boards is still practiced as a form of discipline in public schools. Please help us raise awareness and call for the end of paddling. Let’s get serious about creating SAFE SCHOOLS!

What can you do?

  1. Sign the petition.Sign the Petition

  2. Call committee chair, Congressman John Kline at 202 225-4527 to support Ending CP in Schools H.R. 5005 and H.R. 1893 Keeping All Students Safe Act.

The democratic staff person for the committee says “The most important thing you can do is flood the committee chair, Congressman John Kline, to bring these bills to the full committee.” When you call his office, the staff will tally the calls.

Don’t get discouraged when it doesn’t do the job. The phone calls will be counted.  We will be part of the “shame on you” message, which will pay off in time.

Support these children.  Please call now.

 

 

Related articles:

Campaign Seeks to End Corporal Punishment in Schools

Leeds Alabama School District Maintains Policy to Hit Children

Principal Accused of Fracturing Student’s Tailbone with Paddle

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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.

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

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?

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

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.

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. 

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.

Want a copy of the research?

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

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