The dangers of spanking are nothing new. For years, expert organizations have frowned upon the practice; many jurisdictions have banned it altogether. American Academy of Pediatrics warns that spanking is ultimately ineffective; furthermore, corporal punishment has been linked to bullying, behavioral problems, depression and permanent psychological harm.
Yet, while many parents strive for perfection, 100% of us fall short of our own standards. In a moment of impatience, I lost my temper and spanked my child– by accident. I had vowed to never lift a hand to my daughter, and I immediately realized my mistake. Have you accidentally spanked your child? These guidelines helped me recognize the problem and address it in a manner that actually enhanced my relationship with my daughter.
Identify the Trigger
“Don’t you dare,” I told my two-year-old, who was repeatedly trying to leap out of a shopping cart. She would giggle and, interpreting my demand as a game, repeat “Don’t you dare!”– and then continue what she was doing. After ten minutes of this unpleasant “game” with no compliance, I swatted her on the thigh and repeated, “I SAID– don’t. you. dare.” She burst into tears and then continued trying to leap out of the shopping cart.
In my case, the trigger for the “accidental” spanking was repeated defiance. I know that, unless I recognized the root cause of the problem, I would be tempted to repeat the ineffective punishment if a similar episode arose. If you’ve found a trigger that tempts you into spanking your child, acknowledge it– and then look toward alternatives.
Find Another Way
Spanking is not the only way to discipline your child. In fact, parenting experts like Alfie Kohn suggest that punishment itself is ultimately ineffective and counterproductive. After I accidentally spanked my daughter, I immediately tried to think of other ways to handle this and similar situations. What if I had let her out of the cart, and requested that she walk beside me? Perhaps I could have let her enjoy a game that wouldn’t be as dangerous– the kazoo in her diaper bag would be a good start.
Good communication could have prevented the problem in the first place. The accidental spanking– and the situation that prompted it– would never have occurred if I had made it very clear that jumping out of a shopping cart isn’t funny or entertaining. A lesson with a doll or an egg might suffice; a firm explanation of the dangers would set a serious tone. My daughter wasn’t being malicious– she simply failed to understand that a shopping cart is not a toy.
No, you don’t need to blame yourself for your child’s wrong-doings. You don’t need to beat yourself up or dote endlessly on your child because you made a mistake. If you shower your child with cookies and stickers as an apology for the spanking, you’ll only succeed in making him think that he has the power to manipulate you. However, as a parent, you can set a good example by apologizing for your intended actions.
After I spanked my child, I told her to look at me. Then I said, “I’m sorry that I spanked you. It’s not okay to hit people when you’re angry. I was angry because you were trying to jump out of the shopping cart.”
This explanation made it clear to her that her “game” was inappropriate– and it also set the tone for forgiveness and acceptance. My daughter gave me a hug, promptly discontinued her misbehavior, and the situation was soon over.
Two weeks later, I saw the positive effects of my apology. After our cat had snatched a cracker from her hand, she swatted him on the back. Immediately afterward, she calmly said, “Listen to me. I sorry I hit you. It’s not okay to hit people, when you angry. I angry because you taked my cacker.” She didn’t hit him again– instead, she came to me and asked for another cracker.
Forgive and Forget
I will never be a perfect parent, and neither will you. All of us are on an endless journey of growth as parents and as individuals, and we will undoubtedly make a few mistakes along the way. If you have accidentally spanked your child, forgive yourself and move forward. Recognize yourself as the dedicated, loving, nonviolent parent that you are and allow yourself room for growth and improvement.
Don’t dwell on your mistakes, but do accept that you’ve made them. Work to address your anger in constructive ways, and you’ll teach your child the power of compassion and forgiveness. If you find yourself frequently tempted to strike your child– or if corporal punishment becomes excessive– call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. This nonprofit service offers free, anonymous parenting guidance; they can help you implement positive alternatives to spanking.