By Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D.
Another tragic example of parental corporal punishment that spiraled out of control occurred recently in Phoenix, AZ, when a six-year-old boy was beaten severely by his parents. Because of the extent of his injuries (which were likely caused by a belt buckle and possibly a wire hanger according to the police), the boy isn’t expected to survive.
Over the years countless innocent children have been disfigured, maimed and even killed by their parents who believed that such harsh physical discipline was somehow justified.
Physical punishment of children is never justified and is more than an occasional pat on the behind.
Corporal punishment includes pinching, shaking, slapping, punching, spanking, hitting, and beating children with an object. Unfortunately, national surveys have shown that over the past twenty years, more than 90 percent of parents with small children admit to using one or more of these forms of corporal punishment.
Studies have shown that using these methods can result in serious and tragic longer-term effects such as the children becoming abusive parents themselves, which may well be the situation with the parents involved in the Phoenix case. So what can be done instead?
1. Prevention – Probably the most effective alternative to hitting a child is prevention. By creating a “child proof” environment, where things are out of reach, children are less likely to get into trouble.
2. Show Disappointment – Let the child know that you are disappointed in his or her behavior. Make sure he or she understands right from wrong and what the rules are. Explain the consequences if the inappropriate behavior continues.
3. Take Away a Privilege – If a child misbehaves after being warned, a privilege such as watching television or playing on the computer can be taken away or restricted. Other privileges include playing with a certain toy. Never withhold food.
4. Give a “Time-Out” – Sending a child to his or her room is not an appropriate “Time-Out.” Instead, select an area that is isolated from others, such as a certain chair in the corner of a room or hallway. Make sure the child knows why he or she is being given a “Time Out” and how long it will last.
5. Catch Them Being Good – Whenever a child does something good, be sure to react with praise and other forms of acceptance of those behaviors. The more parents respond positively, the less likely children are to misbehave.
6. Create a Contract (especially with teenagers) – Write down what you want your teen to do (clean up his/her room, etc.) and indicate what you will do in exchange (stop talking about his friends that you don’t like, etc.). Be specific in indicating what you want to see and what you will or will not do. Sign the contract.
7. Be Empathetic – In words and actions, show your children that you understand the difficulties they are facing (other kids calling them names, the loss of a pet, etc.). Feeling understood helps children feel good about themselves, and such feelings lessen the times they misbehave.
8. Take a Parenting Course – All of these alternatives to hitting children have fine tuning points, which are best learned with other parents who are trying to do the best for their children. Take the time and effort to sign up for a parenting skill-building course. It’s the best continuing education you can get.
Let’s give our children the same right to be free of physical punishment that we adults have been reserving for ourselves. Human beings – young or old – are not for hitting.