Friday, February 11, 2011

Herrington Toddler Discipline Philosophy [Part 2]

I feel like I covered most of our philosophy on discipline in my post yesterday, but I did want to address the issue of spanking. It was a big part of the discussion with my friends, and thus it ended up being a big part of the discussion with Peyton.

I will say first, that spanking was a form of discipline that Peyton initially did not want us to use. About a year ago when I was reading the book Shepherding a Child's Heart (which is about discipline in general, but has a LOT about spanking) we had several discussions about it. My main argument for it was (and still is) that time-out and similar forms of punishment are largely ineffective for toddlers. They need a consequence they can understand and when a stern tone, and natural or logical consequences don't work, a spanking just might. I don't feel like I wore him down or anything (he and I are both argumentative and we both stand our ground until one person is convinced or a compromise is reached) and I think he genuinely saw my side, but definitely thought it was something to be used in moderation (which I completely agree with). Without even touching on the issue of his leadership in our household if EITHER or us had ended up feeling strongly about not using spanking as a punishment we wouldn't be doing it. Period.

All that to say, aside from other reasons that have their own merit, I try to limit how much I make use of this form of discipline simply out of respect for him and for the place he originally came from.

I know that some authors and parents feel that any kind of misbehavior warrants a spanking and some even go so far as to say that it is the only effective and acceptable punishment. I disagree. Of course, a holy God looks upon all sin with disgust and disdain and even the "smallest" sin by human standards would be an offensive punishable by death, but for the blood of Christ.

However, that is not the way our legal system works (nor should it, in my opinion) and it's not the way we parent, either. Different levels of misbehavior have different consequences. For example if fourteen year old Ann Peyton sneaks out of the house to toilet paper her best friends house the consequences will understandably be different than if she sneaks out to attend a beer bash at the the home of an acquaintance whose parents are out of town. I don't think TPing and throwing back beers are the same level of misbehavior and I don't think they warrants the same punishment. In the same way, I have to say that I don't think every misbehavior now warrants a spanking (which in our house is currently the most severe punishment).

Many of these authors and parents quote Proverbs 23:13 as their reason for disciplining this way. It did come up in my conversation with my friends and it forced me to really examine how I feel about this particular verse and it's meaning and application. When I got home, Peyton and I discussed it and it came down to this. The book of Proverbs is Wisdom Literature and many of the Proverbs are precepts not commandments. In my opinion it's more about the principle than anything else. I know most parents probably do not interpret this verse to mean that using a literal "rod" is mandatory and probably use their hand or a wooden spoon or something of that nature, especially with a small toddler. Peyton and I would take it a step further and say that the Proverb is speaking of discipline in general and that if you fail to discipline your child you are not loving them well. I would like to make the point, so as not to be seen as raging liberals on the Biblical front, that even though we don't see this as literal in one sense doesn't mean we don't think the Bible is inerrant and doesn't mean we don't seek to allow it to inform all our parenting decisions. This is something that I KNOW I didn't articulate well in our conversation and I'm really glad I got the chance to discuss it with Peyton. That is the benefit of being married to someone who is at times much smarter and more Biblically literate than myself! I also think it's interesting that if you click on the link above you will see that the translation of this verse seem to express different sentiments. The translation from the The New Living Translation is Don't fail to discipline your children. They won't die if you spank them while the King James states Withhold not correction from the child: for [if] thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Clearly, even Biblical scholars disagree on what the actual meaning behind the verse is.

That said, we have and do spank Ann Peyton on occasion, but it is pretty infrequent by most standards. Although I don't believe that it's scriptural mandated or that it works for every family, it's something we are not opposed to doing and it's proven effective. We're just selective about when we do it.

I think for one thing, different things work for different children. AP is a pretty sensitive child and will often cry when we use a stern voice with her. She gets really upset when we spank her and I'm almost one hundred percent sure it is the emotional pain that's getting to her, not the physical. I feel like with a child like that you do have to be sensitive. Careful, even. However, some children are naturally more strong willed and parenting them is more of a power struggle. Graves may need a lot more spankings to realize that we are the captains on this ship and our household is not a democracy.

I also think that Ann Peyton is at a weird stage right now and I'm sure some people would accuse us of incredible naivete or of babying her, but I honestly realized in the last few weeks that I don't think she has a firm grasp on the word "no". I do think she's a smart little girl, and I *hate* it when parents use "developmental age" as an excuse to excessively baby their child, but this is something I've been purposefully trying to watch for in the past few weeks. I'll give two examples: the other night Peyton asked her if she wanted more butter beans. She shook her head and firmly said an audible "NO!" she put a handful in her mouth. On another night, she was fighting Peyton as he tried to put her shoes back on to go inside and (instead of scolding and spanking her and then carrying her inside), he decided a natural consequence would be better and let her walk barefoot across our cold carport. When I asked her if her feet were cold, she said "no" very casually. I'm sure some people would claim she was being manipulative and defiant, but I don't think she understood what was going on completely. All that to say, we can both tell when she is intentionally being disobedient and defiant because we're her parents (although, honestly, most people probably could, too), but there are times when we tell her something and she says "no" (usually casually, not in a stubborn, disrespectful way) when I don't think she knows what she's saying. We ALWAYS remind her that you do not tell your parents (or grandparents, teachers, and adults in general) no, but we don't always spank her for that.

Because I did get one question on another post about what a spanking actually looks like in our house, I'll address that here. If we tell her to do something or not to do something and she disobeys and is clearly being defiant then we spank her. Right now, a spanking is one pop on the side of her leg.

Several of the authors that I alluded to above have "guidelines" that they think are important to follow when administering a spanking. Some I agree with, some I don't:
- Most experts recommend using an object rather than your hand because the hand should be an instrument of love only. I agree to an extent, and that's what my mom did (she used a wooden spoon most of the time), but it's not always practical and I think if you're not excessive then your child will continue to identify your hand as such, and not primarily as an instrument of punishment.
- Another thing I've read is that spanking should be done privately. I COMPLETELY agree with this and if I'm ever in a position of needing to spank one of our children at the grocery store or somewhere similar, I would take them to a restroom. Yes, it's more inconvenient, but I never want shaming them to be a part of the way we discipline them, even if it's unintentional.
- One author was firm in his sentiment that no one but the child's parents should spank him or her. I would probably be comfortable with any of our children's four grandparents spanking them as well as some of our closest friends who we actually specified in our wills would take over care of Ann Peyton in the event something were to happen to both of us. However, I don't really see either of those situations arising in the near future and I honestly don't know that our parents would be comfortable spanking her anyway.
- One final thing that I STRONGLY disagree with is that the child must cry. Obviously, as I said above the mere mention of spanking or even a firm tone can bring Annie to tears (wonder where she got that hyper sensitivity from???), but that's not the case for every child and I just don't think they have to cry to have been effected by it and learn from it.

Whew! I think I've totally covered our thoughts on discipline up to this point. Of course, it's not something I particularly enjoy, but it is a hugely important task and I'm thankful that the Lord has entrusted us with it!

*** I know this is kind of a controversial subject, and I realize that people have strong views on both sides. As I always say, I encourage (welcome even) civil discourse. All I ask is that you be respectful of our family and our decisions if you choose to leave a comment.***


Mallory Pickering said...

Enjoyed reading this, SD--it's something my husband and I discuss and something I'm not sure how I feel about (spanking, that is).

A book recommendation--"Boundaries" by Cloud and Townsend. Has a great chapter in it on setting boundaries with children. Really changed the way I see discipline.

The Niemeyer Nest said...

I love reading other peoples ideas about discipline and would love to find some new discipline books to read. Evie still uses no quite indiscrimanately but she also knows that it means now. You will get it when she gets the complete meaning.

Amy said...

we are very similar....unfortunately, libbi and ann peyton are not - ha! libbi is one of those "strong-willed" children that you write of - haha!
no matter how stern we are it does not phase her one little bit. she is not prone to crying or hurt feelings (where in the world did THAT come from?!?!)

we use spanking as a "severe" consequence right now or when there is willful disobedience (i.e - immediately climbing on the coffee table after she is told not to) which is another reason that i agree with one of your points where you disagree with the author that said the child must cry....often times, libbi does not, but it is clear that the message has still reached her.

i am so glad you wrote these posts and it has really encouraged me to nail down our discipline plan. i worry sometimes that i am not giving her enough credit for what she does understand, but then other times, i worry that i am expecting too much. it is a fine line between what is developmentally appropriate and what is not. i also agree that i think teaching (or having any sort of background in education) really begins to shape certain ideals about discipline in your mind.....
thanks again for sharing!