NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
AN EMPHATIC ‘NO’ TO SPANKING
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.
Q. What is your position on spanking and effective discipline? How to teach toddlers consideration and empathy?
A. Discipline is such a passionate concern for parents, and few childrearing practices stir up more heated debate than spanking. Why? Because our beliefs about discipline come from the most highly emotionally charged experiences of our own childhoods and from our visions of the world we must prepare our children for. Often deeply rooted in class, culture and religion, as well as personal experience, these beliefs deserve our best efforts to understand them.
Our belief is that spanking is not necessary, can be harmful and certainly does not serve the purposes of discipline. Punishment that merely stops a problem behavior in the moment – and any aversive stimulus applied to a misbehaving child can accomplish this – does not teach the child, nor does it prepare him for the ultimate goal of discipline: self-discipline.
Discipline is not punishment but teaching. Punishments that do not teach will not help the child learn to control his behavior when parents are not present or once the child is too big to be physically dominated by parents. A child who has not been disciplined to learn self-control by the time he is old enough to be unsupervised by parents, or old enough to fight back at parents who spank, is a child in danger.
Many parents who were spanked as children tell us that they do not remember why they were spanked, or what they learned, but that they sure do remember being spanked, how it felt and how angry they were. Many remember feeling less trusting and accepting of their parents’ authority and wisdom when physical force was used against them.
Some parents, though, say, “Look at me. I was spanked as a child, and I turned out OK.” To them, we ask, “Did you turn out OK because you were spanked, or in spite of it?”
For more on discipline, including effective strategies that do not employ spanking or physical punishment, see our short book, “Discipline: The Brazelton Way,” published by Da Capo Press, 2003.
Q. I am writing to appreciate you for being such a fine pediatrician who cares as much about the parents as you do about our children … I felt you were like a friendly grandfatherly type of doctor sitting by my side as I faced each developmental phase. I’ve always felt that my daughter is my teacher, and with your guidance, I learned to listen and observe her better so I could support her to develop her potential
A. It is good to hear that I was able to get across to you what I truly believe, that parents need support at least as much as they need advice, and that their best teachers are not the “experts” but their children, if only parents can really watch and listen, as you have been able to.
Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.
Before Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.
Reprinted with permission from the authors.