In fact, I used to hit other people's kids, and I thought about hitting kids that I saw act up in public quite often. I have not spanked in over five years and my youngest three children have never been spanked by anyone ever. In fact, I don't even punish my children at all.
"Well, surely they must run positively wild, right?" No. They don't. They act up a little each day, they have spats, they can be mean to each other, and sometimes they even talk back to me. But, you know what? I act up a little each day, sometimes my husband and I have spats, and we certainly answer back if we disagree with one another. How can I expect my children to "behave" better than I do? "Well you and your husband are equals so it's okay to answer back to each other. And you probably have spats about important things, not toys." If my children aren't my equals then what are they? Less than me? Less what? Less human? Less important? Less feeling?
Do you know what they are? They are less experienced. They are important human beings with strong feelings that they have less experience dealing with. The way I see it, it is my responsibility to help them understand those feelings and find appropriate ways to deal with anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, love, jealousy, crankiness etc. I can not see how hitting them or secluding them from the family can accomplish that goal. More likely, if I hit them, they will see that I deal with my own strong emotions with physical aggression. If I give them a time out, they will see that I can not accept their strong emotions and require them to "behave" in order to feel they're worthy of my company. Those are not the messages I want to send to my children.
I want children who know that I love them no matter what they feel, and I want my children to know that they can come to me and that I will help them find the tools they need to cope with life. I don't think any (good) parent wants children who do whatever they're told by anyone more powerful than they are, or who can't make decisions on their own for fear of screwing up, or who hide their emotions for fear of rejection. No, parents want their children to grow up to be responsible, happy, loving people who are confident in their choices, easy on themselves when they make mistakes, and are not afraid to share their heart. Punitive parenting doesn't produce that kind of person; it produces the kind of person who looks at things they'd like to change and doesn't have the confidence to do it, who hurts other people because they've been hurt themselves, who doesn't know where to go in life if they aren't told. I see these things in my own child, my first born, whom I used those methods on; I see it in other children and adults all the time.
In these past five years I have worked hard to gain back the trust of my son, and I have worked even harder to try to show him what a capable, intelligent, loving, and responsible person he is. It's gotten worlds better. When I first switched from punitive parenting to a respectful approach I was met with fury, opposition on everything: a terror child. It took all I had (and lots of parenting books) to stick with it, but I did not give up on my son. He's now more "well behaved" than he was before, but he's also more confident, helpful, and loving. I am so sorry that I had to learn how to be a mother after I'd already been one for five years, but I am thankful that I got another chance to do it right and that I made these changes before I started that vicious cycle with my daughters- the next generation of mothers.
If you are interested in learning more about the negative effects of punitive parenting and ideas on how to parent without punishment please check out some of the books and websites listed below.
How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka
The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn