I'm not saying that spanking is necessary for every child--there are parents and children who have the type of relationship in which spanking is inconceivable, and I respect that. But I know that there are those who feel that any spanking at all is abusive. I do not agree.
I don't spank often. I've only done it once to my 3-year-old son, Matthew, when he ran away from me in a parking lot, and three times with my four-year-old daughter, Helen.
My guidelines for using spanking are these: When my kids have been warned repeatedly, have been given a time-out, and still stubbornly insist on continuing dangerous or blatantly disobedient behavior, I tell them that if the behavior continues they will be spanked. If they persist, I follow through with my promise. I spank with an open hand, never more than two swats, and always after a warning and with a clear and calm explanation of why I am spanking.
In the above-mentioned case, Matthew had a habit of slipping out of my grasp and running through the parking lot of our temple's preschool. He got a time-out, and I told him if the behavior was repeated he would get a spanking. The next day he was fine, but the following day he ran away again.
I've discovered in an unscientific straw poll of parents I know that many occasionally spank their children--and none of them would ever admit it in public. We all feel vulnerable about being labeled "bad parents" in this "all-or-nothing" debate. Interestingly, when I first became a mom, my gut feeling was that spanking was unnecessary, and I could manage quite well without it. As a child, I was spanked--sometimes severely--and I did not want to be tempted to go overboard as my father sometimes did. Nevertheless, I've discovered that although time-outs and consequences work for the most part, there are instances when spanking is necessary.
In an effort to improve my time-out skills, I bought the book "The Time Out Solution" by Lynn Clark, Ph.D. (Contemporary Books) and found this advice--a last resort for a child who absolutely refuses to sit in a time-out chair:
"If your child leaves the chair, bring her back and say, 'If you get off the chair again, I will spank you.' The next time she leaves, return her to the chair and give two (and only two) spanks on her bottom with an open hand. Then tell her, 'If you get off the chair again I will spank you again.'"
So does every child require spanking? No--not every child requires braces either. But it's interesting to note that even a time-out expert turns to spanking as the "ultimate consequence" to get a child's attention when all else fails.
As promised, I took him into the temple ladies' room and gave him a not-very-hard single swat on his bottom. He was upset, of course, so I held him and kissed him--washed his face--and we talked about how important it is to hold Mommy's hand. That was about six weeks ago, and he hasn't done it since. The consequences of misbehavior are clear to him. The idea that a car could hit him is difficult for him to grasp--he loves cars, they1re his friends! But he understands that Mommy will spank him again if he runs away from her in a parking lot.
In some ways, this was a no-brainer--most of my friends who have kids had said from the start, "I don1t know if I'd spank all the time, but I'd definitely do it if my child ran in front of a car..."
The last time I spanked my daughter was a bit trickier.
One afternoon Mary, the mother of one of my good friends, visited us for coffee. Helen, then just 4, was thrilled to see Mary--she chatted with her for about 15 minutes, showed off a few of her dolls and sang a song. She went to her room to color but came back a few minutes later and began interrupting our conversation. I told her that she'd have to wait until we had finished speaking, or sit with us and color quietly.
But after repeated disruptive behavior, I warned her that if she didn't settle down she would have a time-out. After a few more minutes of her antics, she was given a time-out. I told her that if she behaved well, she could have a tea party with Mary in her room, but if she didn't she'd get a spanking. After a brief respite, the attention-getting maneuvers began again--this time with Helen climbing onto Mary's lap and removing her glasses.
I apologized to Mary, calmly carried Helen up to her room, told her that she would receive her promised spanking for continuously interrupting and for invading Mary's personal space, and gave her two swats on her bottom. I offered her the option of staying in her room or returning to the living room if she behaved well, and she opted to stay in her room for the time being. She wasn't crying. The spanking wasn't painful, but it was a demonstration to her that she had gone beyond the acceptable limits that had been set up for her.