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Attachment Parenting

Very Lengthy Thoughts on Physical Punishment
From Our AP Forum Archives
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From SusanH ~ This topic has been on my mind since reading Your Competent Child. Naturally, Juul is completely opposed to using physical punishment and I've never made a secret of the fact that I also find it to be always inappropriate.

Lately I've been thinking more about exactly how we are told to hit our children and I am finding the whole scenario increasingly disturbing. I just went to James Dobson's site (author of Dare to Discipline) and read some of his recommendations on how to spank "with love".

I read so many things on his site that I found terribly disturbing, such as his recommendation that you always spank with an object because "if you're used to suddenly disciplining with the hand, your child may not know when she's about to be swatted and can develop a pattern of flinching when you make an unexpected move." That speaks volumes to me and really makes my heart hurt for children who flinch when their parent makes a sudden move towards them. If your child has no idea when to expect to be hit, surely you have done an appalling job of explaining what behavior is acceptable to you?

But back to the topic at hand, which is my major problem with the spanking protocol. According to Dobson, you are to strike quickly, then when the child is crying and no longer being "defiant", you can "embrace him with love" and explain exactly why you struck him. This seems to be the standard advice on how to hit your children.

Everything about this is disturbing to me. First, your child is hit out of the blue. Then, when he is crying, you move in with love and hugs. Surely this is setting a dangerous association in your child's mind between love and violence? Do you want your little girl to think that first someone hits you, then you hug and make up? This is exactly the pattern of spousal abuse, and we are in effect training our children to feel that this is right. Then you are to explain to the child why you were forced to hit him, so that your violent outburst is in effect his fault. He must internalize the guilt of forcing you to strike him and realize that he deserved to be hit. Again, this is precisely what happens in domestic abuse - one spouse beats another, then apologizes, offers love and affection and says, "I'm sorry, honey, but you just make me so mad sometimes."

Of course Dobson is not recommending you strike your child with so much force as to constitute abuse. I realize there is a distinction. But at the same time the pattern is identical.

And as a final indignity, Dobson then recommends that you not allow your child to cry for more than 2-5 minutes. "I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears." So after experiencing physical pain at the hands of the person he loves most, the child is not even allowed the free expression of his anger, hurt and humiliation! He is in fact hit again for daring to protest such treatment.

It makes me so terribly sad. Why is this not only acceptable parenting but recommended by well-respected parenting authors? Why are we told to hit the smallest, most vulnerable members of our society? If my husband followed any of the above advice during our next disagreement I could have him arrested. But if he did it to my child he would be applauded for bringing her up right.

From kthr ~ I haven't read any of his stuff, but I am saddened by what you quoted I tend to agree with everything you said. I am totally against physical punishment (notice, I didn't say 'discipline'). Our first child is 3 months old, and I do not envision ever "having" to hit her. I am just finishing up Kids are Worth It by Barbara Coloroso, and I really like her examples and ideas of ways to instill in children natural confidence in their abilities to deal with the consequences of their actions, starting with "small stuff" as foundations for the skills they'll need for the "big stuff" later-on.

I am a bit concerned because my dh believes there are times when only a swat on the butt will work to get a message across to a child. Goodness knows I am going to need some help in dismantling that notion. I hope Elahna never gets hit by us or anyone else.

Okay, venting aside, I really agree as well, with your examples of domestic violence as contrasts. I see it exactly the same way. As for the very mixed messages given by hitting then loving, I babysat a boy who went through this with his mother. He never knew if he was coming or going, he got so confused by her mixed messages.

Saddened by what you quoted, but happy to be able to voice my opinion about it, too.

From littlebit ~ As a child raised by devout Christians who admire Dobson, I can say it's very damaging. I am one of those children who flinches (even to this day) around sudden movement. And, I have a *very* hard time socializing in groups.

I'm so very glad I will never use this type of discipline. I want my son to be able to socialize and have healthy relationships. But above all, I want him to trust and respect me. Neither of which I do with my parents to a certain degree.

I think it was on this board that I read a reference to one of Dobson's books that told of him disciplining his dog. Just by that I'd chuck any advice he gave.

From Hieka ~ I read your post and I almost cried. I think I live a sheltered life because I tend to hang out in places where hitting a child is considered to be child abuse. I agree with you that this just sets up kids - especially girls, I think - to be hit as adults.

I just wonder how people can complain about the violence in our society and then model violence as a way to solve problems in their families. I think it also teaches that the biggest and most powerful person wins because they can physically hurt the smaller, weaker person. No wonder we have wars.

I also have heard it said that it is better to hit your child rather than yell at them because emotional abuse is worse and at least hitting is over in a few seconds. This doesn't make any sense to me either. Emotional abuse is also a bad thing. Physical abuse rarely comes without emotional abuse and certainly explaining to a child that s/he is responsible for being hit is emotional abuse to me. It's a very sad notion to think that we must choose only between yelling and hitting to have respectful, kind, gentle children. I don't think that being hit and/or screamed at creates any kind of real respect - only fear.

I am certainly not a perfect parent and I have been tired and frustrated like anyone else. When I have raised my voice or acted impatient, I see it as an opportunity to become a better parent. I try to model how to recover from a mistake. I say something like "I'm really sorry. I was upset and I used too loud of a voice to try to get what I wanted. This isn't your fault. Next time I'm going to use my words in a calmer way." This approach keeps me calmer and has really helped my 3 year old take responsibility for his own "outbursts". If i find myself not parenting the way I want to or ineffectively, I figure that it's my challenge as a parent to find a better way. I can't imagine if the only choices were physical abuse or emotional abuse.

I know that the pro-spanking folks would think it's terrible to "lower" myself like that and would feel that I won't be respected. But my son does listen and follow rules. We use natural consequences and it generally works for us. However, it takes incredible self-discipline as parents, time, consistency and effort to make it work. Sometimes a problem persists and it's "back to the drawing board".

Perhaps the hitting "lessons" from this "expert" are seductive for parents because people don't have the time or patience to wait for their child to clean up thrown dinner. And getting to unleash pent-up anger physically on the only humans (in North America anyway) who can't charge their aggressor with assault (and then getting to blame the victim to boot) is just too tempting for some.

From SamBebe#2 ~ As another child raised by a devout Christian and a Dobson admirer, I can say that in my case, I really feel that is was damaging. I don't say it to start a "let's blame mom for everything that went wrong in my life" but I have always had a problem flinching from sudden moves, because I never knew if I was going to get hit or not, since if my mom had "spared the rod" she would have "spoiled the child" in her thinking.

I also was interested to read the comparisons to spousal abuse - it took my quite a while to realize that I WAS being abused, because I had been so used to physical punishment . . . so I agree totally there. I remember to this day with such pain, humiliation and shame being spanked. Anything that leaves a mark this long is not good. I don't remember the behaviors that I was being spanked for, so the lesson I was being taught was not to refrain from doing something, but instead that I was a bad person. That's just my 2 cents. Now I'm not perfect and in fact even YELLED today at my daughter. We all do stuff like that, and then when I calmed down I told her it was wrong of me to yell at her and that I was sorry, let's talk about why I was so upset . . . lesson learned for me!!

From lolly ~ Thank you Susan. Thank you all, for being here and showing me there is a voice other than those you quote. Thinking about such mixed-up messages to children's minds makes my throat tight. Knowing I'm not alone makes me stronger in conviction. it will make me a better parent.

From DerekAndAmanda ~ *shakes her head* that is just incredibly sad, especially coming from a "Christian" author. Dh's grandmother came here recently for a visit, and Rebekah (18 mos) was fussy. She had a bad cold and horrible yeast infection in her diaper area and was late for her nap that day because they were here. She said to me rather abruptly, "You know, if you just swatted her a good one on the bottom she wouldn't cry like that!" My reply, "Yes, I know, if I dared to strike her she would scream MUCH louder because she would wonder why mommy no longer loves her!" Then she shook her head and said (in a hateful tone) back to me, "I wish this younger generation knew how badly they are messing up their kids! I spanked my kids and grandkids (Derek's mom and her siblings, Derek's brothers, now all grown, and his cousins, ages 2-7), and none of them feel "unloved" because of it. They all laugh at the sound it makes when I smack their diaper! It really helps stop the crying if they are just being whiny because they are bored or hungry or just trying to be irritating! If *I* was the one watching that kid she would've already been spanked MANY times today!" I just stared at her with a blank look after that and didn't talk to her for hours. I was VERY happy to see them leave the next day!

I cannot believe that someone would tell me to physically hurt my already sick hurting BABY to make her "behave"! If my dd is crying because she is IN PAIN from her raw rash on her poor lil baby butt, LET HER CRY so I know something is wrong and I can fix it. Can you imagine how hurt (emotionally) Rebekah would have been if I had HIT her for being in pain?? And it truly brings tears to my eyes to imagine hitting her butt which was nearly bleeding from such a bad rash (gma-il knew about the rash too and still wanted me to hit her) just so she would be quiet.

Derek's mom was raised this way and of course raised her kids this way too. Derek grew up abused (spanked many times every day until his butt was red and had bruises); he knows now his parents didn't hit for punishment/discipline but as a release for their own anger. I truly don't know how Derek survived his childhood to be the good person he is today. I need to go hug him. He is such a good daddy and so extremely patient with Rebekah.

From islandmom ~ I have an Uncle and Aunt who followed Dobson, and his philosophy in their marriage and child-raising. For the rest of my life, I will have an image of each time they wanted their children to stop doing a 'bad activity', they would sing this stupid song:

"Wooden spoon, wooden spoon"

Over and over again! And if their children didn't stop, the spoon came out, and was used. At family reunions, beaches, parks. I will never forget my Dad promising me that he would never hurt or humiliate me or my sisters in that manner, ever.

There was no talking to my Uncle and Aunt; this is what a well respected member or the Church said to do to raise your child . . . who were you to question it?

We didn't see them very often. And we still don't.

I should add that this wasn't a method that was used my any other member of my father's family, and everyone else was at a loss as to why my Uncle and his wife would use it.

From SusanH ~

Originally posted by Hieka:
I am certainly not a perfect parent and I have been tired and frustrated like anyone else. When I have raised my voice or acted impatient, I see it as an opportunity to become a better parent. I try to model how to recover from a mistake. I say something like "I'm really sorry. I was upset and I used too loud of a voice to try to get what I wanted. This isn't your fault. Next time I'm going to use my words in a calmer way."

Heika, I could not agree with you more! I do the same thing and I think it is such a valuable lesson for children: Yes, people get frustrated and make mistakes and then we admit it and apologize without making excuses or blaming others.

Thank you to those who shared their own stories of how they were raised. It saddens me that anyone goes through that as a child, but it gives me hope that others will be able to break this cycle and find better ways with their own chidren.

From Lisa Jo ~ Thanks for sharing Susan. That is so sad, it really hurts my heart to think of innocent children being raised in such a way. None of us are perfect obviously, and I regularly do things I wish I hadn't. Like you and Hieka, I see them as opportunities to learn more about myself and where I need to change. I also apologize to my children when I've handled something badly with them.

The spanking stuff is bad enough, but I'm horrified with how he goes on to make the child responsible (you made me do it) and then not allowing them to cry beyond a set amount of time. I guess I didn't get far enough in his book to read this. I attempted to read it awhile ago for insight into the other side of the discipline spectrum.

Susan, the parallels you draw between spanking and domestic violence are chilling. You are absolutely right in saying that you could have your husband arrested for the very same pattern of violence that others will call "discipline" when committed against a child. What a terribly sad commentary on how people view children.

From dane ~ This all really scares me . . . I'm so glad I have a little more time to prepare myself for disciplining DS. I honestly hadn't given it much thought, besides knowing I won't spank. This thread made me start thinking about it and realize I need to do some research so I'll be ready with information to back myself up if I need to. That's how I've done everything with DS & DH so far . . . from not circumcising to co-sleeping, if I've known it might go against what DH expects, I stockpile my research before the time comes, so we have it all settled in advance. It's made a big difference and this forum has helped supply a great deal of that information. Susan thanks for getting me thinking!

From SonjaG ~ You know, I'm a christian and sometimes listen to Dobson on the radio, and I've generally liked what he had to say. I confess, though, that I haven't fully investigated his stance on physical punishment. Reading what you posted, Susan, really turned on a lightbulb for me, and I am rather appalled. I never before had put the connection between the "Biblical" way of discipline used by some Christians (my parents included) with the pattern of spousal abuse. And you're right - it is the same exact pattern.

Being a Christian, this sort of thing really saddens me, because not every Christian believes this stuff (me being one example). I wish there were more proponents of non-physical discipline that also freely expressed their Christian beliefs. I'm afraid to take any church sponsored parenting classes, because I don't want to be told Ezzo crap. I know that Dr. Sears is a Christian, based on a article I've seen of his. Does anyone know if he actually publishes any books that combines the two subjects? That would be such a great alternative, and I would love to offer to teach it in my church.

To close, interestingly enough, I have noticed in the past week or two that Toby doesn't flinch when I hold up my hand to his face (we play lots of clapping, give me 5, steal the nose, etc. kind of games). The sad part is that I noticed because I realized it's different than how I would have reacted as a child. The good part is that he doesn't have that flinch reaction, and I hope he never has.

From Celia ~ Yes, sonja, and it's called The Complete Book of Christian Parenting and Child Care: A Medical & Moral Guide to Raising Happy, Healthy Children.

From JenT ~ I'd never thought about the parallels between corporal punishment and domestic violence - the way you describe them is frighteningly accurate. Something that stuck with me after reading YCC was the notion that children will always love their parents. Always. Unconditionally. So even after a spanking, or a slap, or a swat . . . children will still love their parents. It breaks my heart to think that people can be OK with hurting the people that will love them no matter what.

About making kids stop crying - I remember clearly being told to stop crying as a child, especially after a spanking. Talk about literally adding insult to injury. not only was my integrity being violated through physical harm at the hands (or tool of choice) of my mom, but I was then told that even my feelings were not to be honored and that I was not to express how I felt. Of course, ANY attempt at discussion or voicing a thought was considered backtalk in my house.

I really, really don't know how people can hit their children as a planned and acceptable form of punishment. I don't get it - I often wonder if it plays into feelings of power and superiority. Does it satisfy a need to make sure that they know they're in charge? It must - it must be that instant wielding of power that gives them the relief that yes indeed, they ARE the parent and they ARE in charge.

When I even raise my voice with DD, and I see that look on her face of realizing how upset I am, and I watch her try to make up with me . . . I feel rotten. And I try to take those situations and learn from them, for the next time, because there's always going to be a next time.

Very thought-provoking post, Susan . . .

From twicethefun ~ In my opinion, what you have described is not discipline; it is abuse. I was raised in that kind of environment and the only thing it does is make you fear your parents. I was one of four children and we were all afraid to come home from school because we just didn't know what we were going to get next. There are other ways to discipline a child without hitting; you just have to be patient for it to be effective.

From Psnyder ~ As a child who received spankings pretty much my whole childhood - even into the teen years, I have nothing but sympathy for the parents who practice this philosophy and for the children who are subjected to this torment. I also have some anger towards this "expert" Dobson. Who does he think he is? I think the only reason he suggests that parents hug their children after a beating is to calm the parent's sense of guilt for physically striking their children.

To this day I have terrible memories of physical punishment. Being hit with a belt bare bottom from my father at the dry cleaners when I was 12 years old. Grrr! Having a toy piano thrown at me by my father when I was 3 years old because I had a temper tantrum. Then the toy piano was thrown out. Being literally dragged to the car by my hair to go to church when I was 16 years old. Okay, something is REALLY wrong with that!

Now as a parent, I know I won't hit my children. I struggle every day not to let anger dictate how I parent or discipline my children. Usually talking and understanding with my 6 year old works. We rarely use a time out with Kiki. With Blake it's redirection that is effective. Even though they are active kids, I find that they listen when they feel they can trust their parents.

I never felt trust towards my parents. I remember flinching when my father would walk into the room because I never knew what he would do. I sometimes still flinch when my dh raises his voice. That is kind of silly, because he doesn't hit. However that is what stays with an adult who was physically punished as a child.

I'm really hoping that our children will enjoy their childhood and grow up to be adults who do not use physical punishment - break the cycle.

From paacollins ~ My neighbors, a minister, his wife, and their three boys listen to Dobson's radio program. I had never heard of him until I checked out his website. It was then that I decided I would not EVER mention him to my neighbors as it was apparent that we would not agree on this subject. They are quite open minded and we have lots of interesting conversations but this is one area that I steer clear of.

I was spanked as a child as was my dh and neither of us grew up to be violent. I agree there is a difference in spanking and abuse but I really don't feel that spanking is an appropriate way to reprimand a child. I never thought much about it until my dd came along and now I ponder the subject a lot. I admit that I have spanked my dd on occasion but I always feel terrible about it. I feel that I have failed as a parent because I gave in to my anger and didn't look hard enough to find another way to make her behave. The fact that I feel bad after doing it tells me this is not the proper way to discipline her. It takes a lot longer to talk and reason with a child and possibly send him/her to time out than it does to spank them. My dh doesn't agree completely with me but he doesn't analyze things the way I do. LOL

Instead of writing books or offering advice on HOW to spank your kids, how about doing the same on HOW NOT to spank them? How about teaching parents that discipline can be administered without physical punishment? I realize there are books out there like this, I'm just pointing out that I feel Dobson should be doing differently. I was appalled at much of his website. "How to spank with love", give me a break. Yes you love your kids even when you spank them but it sure doesn't seem that way to a small child. I read all I can on how to deal with my child's misbehaving in a calm, non-angry way, not how to spank. I also agree with Susan that Dobson's views parallel spousal abuse. I think we should teach children that hitting is never correct. I can't think of the times I've seen two children hit each other and then the parents tell them not to and spank them. Hello? "I can't hit my buddy but my parents hit me"? What must these children think?

From wenzday ~ Yes, I'd never thought of it before but wow is it true and a SAD thought! WE are all thankful for your post in my house!

From LaraK ~ This is also an issue I've been thinking a lot about and Susan, your post(s) are just excellent. I think before my child was 2, I was able to easily express outrage against anyone who would lay a hand against their child. Now that my child is 2 and going through a very difficult emotional and physical stage I realize how important it is to UNDERSTAND your child and not discipline in a way that will affect them later on in life. I've just gone through some really rough weeks with my daughter so I feel like I can talk about this a little more. We've both driven each other to tears but underneath it all, even in my most incredible moments of frustration I can almost see what's going through her mind and I realize how tough this stage is on her and not just me.

It was a huge lightbulb moment for me when I realized it was NOT just my angst but hers too. So just because I'm bigger should I make it all right for me but not her? How selfish is that?! I realized she is as much if not more frustrated than I am with trying to develop that part of her mind that is starting to understand she's a separate being from her parents and I'm sure it is just downright scary to her at times. So for me to punish her even further is beyond my comprehension as a responsible and loving parent.

And what type of message are we sending with spanking and curbing outbursts in a physical manner? Are we actually telling them that it's not ok for them to express who they are? If we teach them at this age (especially females) to not speak up or stand up for themselves aren't we molding them into adolescents and adults who don't want to 'ruffle the waters' and who are taught that it's not socially acceptable to be strong and confident with who they are. How, in any way possible, is physical punishment teaching your children what is right and what is wrong? It's conditioning and that's all. It's a quick fix with mal-adaptive consequences.

From Lutey ~ I usually just lurk but decided to come out of 'lurk-mode' on this topic. I am a Christian who does respect Dobson (though I don't always agree with him) and who was spanked as a child. But my parents, in my opinion, "did it right".

Spanking was reserved for the highest offenses and required a willful and intentional crime. We were never spanked for mistakes, for accidents or for misunderstandings. I can count the times that I was spanked on one hand and it was never a violent or humiliating experience. I know exactly why I received every spanking and I assure you, I did not repeat the behavior.

My father would sit down on our bed with us and we would talk about what had happened and what the punishment would be. Then he would very calmly give us our spanking. Afterwards, we were allowed to cry awhile and my dad would cuddle us and assure us that nothing we ever did would ever change how much he loved us.

For my parents, spanking was one tool that they used. But it was never used lightly, nor was it ever used as a threat unless they meant it. They never slapped us or swatted us and it never occurred to me that they might or that I should cringe in their presence.

There is something I value even more than this aspect of their parenting though. My parents never raised their voices at us. They never yelled at us, they were never sarcastic with us and they never insulted or belittled us. They said what they meant and they treated us with respect and dignity.

What good does it do if you pride yourself on never striking your child physically yet inflict damage on them emotionally by yelling at them? To me, the issues all fall within the realm of good parenting.

I don't know if I will spank my kids. But I do know that I want to treat my kids with the same love and respect that my parents treated me. That might include spanking, but it will never include abuse in any form.

From lolly ~

Originally posted by Lutey:
. They said what they meant and they treated us with respect and dignity. What good does it do if you pride yourself on never striking your child physically yet inflict damage on them emotionally by yelling at them? To me, the issues all fall within the realm of good parenting.

It sounds like you had good parents who did the best with what they knew (like we all do). How wonderful! Too many people grow up with wounds from their upbringing, so it's a testament to your folks that you feel the way you do. And about the emotional abuse, amen. Any way of treating your child that belittles, causes self-doubt and guilt on the part of a child is inexcusable. Where I would disagree (friendly disagreement) is with your conclusions:

  1. that because your parents were able to leave you feeling intact, society should not complain about spanking. I think your case is rare. Like you, I adore my parents and would like to have the same sort of relationship with my children. But do I think the spanking (few but well-remembered) taught me anything of value? No, I felt angry, misunderstood and unloved. I felt that my parents liked my siblings better and regretted having me. If you have siblings, see how they feel compared to you . . . kids don't enjoy being "the bad one" (youngest). Now I have a wonderful relationship with my parents and would leave ds with them any time. But would they raise a hand against him? Never. They've changed seeing my sis, and now me, use gentle correction for even big issues.

  2. the suggestion (maybe I read you wrong, but it seems a conclusion) that in the absence of spanking, we must yell or verbally abuse. Yes, I'm sure there are examples, but that's not what you see here. The AP board is home for many people who believe in raising children with dignity - no hitting, no condescending, no abuse of adult power. I myself come here for support and for daily renewal of my faith in positive discipline and other tenets of AP. I say hang around, read posts, see what you think. you may be pleasantly surprised!

  3. Lastly, there are plenty of Christians here who can back me up (because I'm not one myself) that Dobson is not representational. He's one viewpoint. you'll find many more here!

From Lutey ~ I am sorry my post left the impression that society should not complain about spanking or that verbal abuse is used in absence of spanking. What I was trying to say is that in my opinion, the issue is not simply 'to spank or not to spank'. A good parent is not simply one who spanks or does not spank. It is like saying if you drive a mini-van you are a good parent. The reality of it is that it isn't WHAT you are driving, it is HOW you are driving it. It isn't WHAT you use to discipline (within reason, of course), it is HOW you use it.

Personally, I am not for or against spanking. I see it as a tool in my parenting belt which I may never need, yet I realize that it is there. I believe that whatever a parent uses to teach and guide--be it words, spanking, or anything else--they must use it appropriately so as not to injure their child.

(BTW, I do believe spanking is over-used by parents, including many of my friends, who follow the guidelines of Dobson and Ezzo. This saddens me and I certainly do not agree. It seems as if they are doing it simply because they have been told they must spank their children. Personally, I believe we must RAISE our children.)

From SusanH ~ I cannot agree that spanking is just another parenting tool. To me, hitting another person is always a violation. Claiming to hit "with love" is in some ways worse to me than hitting with anger. Hitting a child with love tells him that he deserves to be hit and that it is the correct way to deal with severe interpersonal conflicts. Hitting is never acceptable and there is never a "right way" to hit.

I do agree that there is more to good parenting than this one issue, but the point of my post was to deal specifically with this topic. I would be happy to discuss other issues in a new thread.

From coracle ~ I think Psnyder also has a deep insight where she writes,

I think the only reason he suggests that parents hug their children after a beating is to calm the parent's sense of guilt for physically striking their children.

Thus Dobson provides a structure for both the abused person *and* the abuser to feel familiar and comfortable in their roles. Once they both learn that violence is followed by affection, the violence can serve either one as a shortcut to reach the comfort of reconciliation, as long as the victim is prohibited or no longer able to protest that the violence makes the reconciliation invalid.

When any intimate pair (parent and child, siblings, spouses etc.) are in conflict or either party is feeling out of control, anxiety tends to build. In a healthy pair, at least one party knows how to keep re-connecting despite the anxiety. In a habitually abusive pair, either the abuser or the victim can kick off the spiral to violence as one way of releasing the building tension and moving to whatever comes after--and how much easier this is if what comes after is at least an imitation of the love and reconciliation that both crave when they are in conflict.

I am writing from my own lightbulbs going off after reading this thread. I have felt the relief of being hit and knowing the building tension is over and the de-escalation has begun (NOT saying this is what others feel when they get hit). I have more recently felt an appalling and horrible relief after hitting my ds (a toddler) and knowing I don't have to wonder any more if I will lose control; now I've done it and can move on to the apology and trying to be a good mom again. Please don't everyone flame me now-- I am strongly opposed to hitting of any kind for the same reasons you are and am already getting professional help to bring my actions in line with my belief. I write these things because I am getting a lot of (scary) insight from this thread and want to push the conversation about the dynamics of abuse even further, if you're willing.

From lolly ~ Wow, Sue, that's a pretty powerful admission. I think seeing it up close and personal gives you a much better perspective than most in this argument . . . good for you for facing your self. That's tough stuff. But the good thing is it will allow you to see it and move on, instead of continuing to feel guilt and failure.

Susan, if you do write something up, perhaps Sue's "lightbulbs" would be a good place to start. That is, understanding that all involved (not just the abused, but also the abuser) have pain that begs release. It could lead to healing for those who hit, and understanding for those who are baffled by the violence . . . because it really doesn't do any good to vilify the parent who spanks. As I always see in positive discipline writing, it's the behaviour, not the child, that needs correction. Same goes for us all, does it not?

From hedra ~ So, to expand on the abuse cycle commentary . . . (hopefully making some sense)

There are three types of people in an abusive system. Abusers (A), Victims (V), and Deniers (D). (Deniers are also enablers, BTW. I won't go into them here.)

Abusers functionally cannot process their (negative) emotions internally. In order to process emotions that overwhelm them, they must see the emotion expressed on/in another person's face/body/voice. Seeing their emotion on another person reduces their stress levels (it actually functions that way neurologically!) This is a normal process in human development, but gets out of control when someone fails to learn how to process their own emotions, or more to the point, fails to be supported in the development of the process.

So, in normal development a child may ignore you when they feel ignored (making you feel their otherwise-stressful-and-not-understood emotion), or may hit you when they are angry (which makes you angry). The interaction generates relief for their emotional stress. The process is actually neurological: especially when we are young, we need an external reflection of our emotions to help us reduce our stress reaction to those emotions. This is why we instinctively make sad sounds when our baby is sad. And also why we make happy sounds when our baby is happy (reflection works in a positive way, too). In both cases (even with positive emotions) stress hormones decline rapidly when someone reflects our emotions back to us.

But if this process doesn't develop into the ability to understand and manage our own emotions, it gets stuck. We continue to create situations where others reflect our own emotions, in an attempt to self-medicate the stress level. Abusers are desperately trying to get the proper response, so that their stress hormones can be managed more effectively. They abuse as self-medication for relief of unendurable stress. Victims who have the same system failure do the same thing - they instigate the process to reduce their stress.

Spanking as described in the OP is exactly this pattern. The parent feels a lack of power or control, which makes them feel angry or like failures or bad parents (who can't control their kids). So they spank, which causes the child to express the parent's emotions (I am angry, I don't have control, I feel bad). If the child continues to cry, the parent feels frustration and shame (WHY don't they stop, and was I a bad person to hit in the first place?), so they spank again (making the child frustrated - not able to express their emotions properly, and feeling even more shame for their lack of control of their crying). But neither party has actually progressed - nobody learned anything, nobody grew. It takes a concerted approach (such as talking therapy) to re-train an adult to be able to manage their own (overwhelmingly stressful) emotions effectively.

Now, take a look at the child's perspective on this. For the child to develop their own emotional stability, they have to have someone reflect THEIR emotions back to them. But the parents in this case DO NOT DO THIS. When the child feels anger and shame at being hit, the parents respond with love and affection. This is a totally unreasonable response from a neurological standpoint. It fails to decrease the stress response to anger and shame. So anger and shame become more out-of-control emotions, rather than things that can be managed and processed. The parents are meeting their own neurological needs (reflecting their own emotions in the kids) rather than meeting their child's needs (reflecting the child's emotions in themselves). It is fundamentally selfish, and it just perpetuates the process. The child is left unable to process their own emotions (stress level is too high to cope), so when they experience those emotions again as adults (and parents) they must repeat the process on their own kids. Unless they've managed to bypass the problem (healed in other ways, such as with therapy - which allows for another adult to moderate the reflected response properly).

If you have parents whose normal process is to reflect your emotions (reducing your neurological stress), and who have at worst a neutral emotional response to your negative emotions (not angry when hitting you, for example), then the long term impact is lessened to the point where it is probably immaterial. But if there is any other disorganized response to emotions already, BOY, you are just raising people with high-stress reactions to emotions, and those can often end up being abusive people. And btw, you can be BOTH an abuser and a victim at the same time.

From kiki's_momma ~ Wow, you gals are deep. I think some of this discussion is getting over my head. LOL. But I do think what you say about the release that comes from hitting is a good point. My mom, who actually was pretty AP before there was such a term, admitted to me that she spanked my sister and me a few times when we were toddlers. But, she said, she gave up spanking us because she figured out that it didn't work to stop our misbehavior AND she realized that the only good thing the spanking was doing was making her calm down. She found if she clapped her own hands together when she had the urge to spank us that it had the same effect of helping her de-escalate her own tension. Then she could cope with us better. I thought this was pretty insightful of her to realize this about her own behavior. I'm not sure I would have made that connection in her place. I don't know if the hand clapping was done also as a threat to us, but I guess that might have better than getting the actual spanking. I don't have any memories of being spanked as a child.

From coracle ~ Your mom sounds like a very smart lady. I will definitely try the hand clapping. I have also had some success with a suggestion I got from a therapist: saying out loud (or even yelling), "I'm so mad I want to hit you!" DS of course asks, "Are you going to hit me?" and that takes the wind right out of my sails. I can then honestly answer, "No. Hitting is wrong, and when I hit you before it was a very big mistake that mommy made. This time I'm going to use my words instead." The few times this has not worked for me are when I just plain didn't think of it. The head--or the heart--has to be faster than the hand.

Hedra, very interesting info. I've printed your post and stuck it on my fridge so I can read it a few times when I am more awake. One thing grabbed me:

This is a normal process in human development, but gets out of control when someone fails to learn how to process their own emotions, or more to the point, fails to be supported in the development of the process.

I have wondered how I became a hitter since we were not spanked much as toddlers and never as older kids. My mother suffered a major stroke and was hospitalized for 5 months when I was 2 but then returned home and was able to care for us. She says I didn't recognize her. (Bowlby estimates it takes about 3 months' separation to sever a primary attachment in children under 6.) Her face was (and is) half paralyzed, and her speech *extremely* slow and labored, especially under stress. Even with a normal healthy instinct to reflect her kids' emotions, she may have been physically unable to do so when stress was high. I have, as you say, healed in other ways. But being a parent has uncovered this area (rage) that clearly needs more work.

It's very ironic: DH thinks a swat on the bottom is fine, but has never hit ds because I am opposed to it. I DON'T think it's fine, but have slapped him 15 or 20 times already since he started crawling. (OK, THAT's very hard to type!) I am working and praying for a time when we both know I'm never going to hit him again. DH was angry the other day and DS asked him, "Are you going to hit me?" DH: "No, I'm not." DS: "Mom does sometimes." I so want that to become something that happened a long long time ago and then I never hit him again no matter what.

From BrandiL ~ Hitting has no place in a loving and respectful relationship; whether that be between a husband and wife or a parent and child. I have NEVER hit my child because I love and respect her as an individual. She deserves to be treated as such, with all of the same human rights. And this includes not being hit. I think the term "Spanking with love" is ridiculous, and I am in total agreement with the original post.

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