Thursday, July 23, 2009

To Spank or Not to Spank, Part II

I was hesitant to write this column, but my wife challenged me, so here we are. I have an admission - I spanked my son for the first time this past week. Now I know what is going to happen, I am going to be inundated by throng of “I told you so” letters accusing me of being a hypocrite. As my readers may recall (all 6 or 7 of you), about 2 months ago I wrote a column that seemed to suggest that I believed spanking was wrong. Let me clarify my original point, I was not and am not opposed to spanking, I simply believe that every parent should determine what type of discipline is most effective for their own child and if lesser means are available and effective, than that is the path that should be chosen.

This week, my son chose not to travel the path of lesser means. He ended up getting himself a good ol’fashioned spanking – at church nonetheless (to paraphrase Proverbs, “spare the rod, spoil the child,” right?) My son is the light of my life, but this Sunday morning at church he must have experienced an eclipse. He was rude, defiant, and aggressive and the firm look, raised voice, and time out (my wife later suggested a time out in a crowded church lobby was probably not the best location – thanks honey) had no effect on my son’s strong will. I was left with nothing but the legendary trip to the bathroom. You all remember this trip from your childhood. The trip your parents had given you 10 warnings about and you dreaded the entire walk there, pleading with apologies and promises to not do whatever deed started this chain of events. My son had his first taste of this trip.

Once in the bathroom, my mind rushed to the research I had done and the number of articles, for and against spanking, that I had read. A couple points made a strong impression on me and guided me through this difficult process (the first time you spank your child is always the most traumatic – for both you and the child); 1. Never spank out of anger. I had to take a couple deep breathes and remind myself that I was doing this as a form of discipline – to help my son become a better child who understands limits, appropriate behavior, and consequences, 2. The goal is not to physically hurt your child, but to get their attention, or put an exclamation point on the lesson being taught. This one was easy; it was so hard for me that he probably barely felt the one whack I was able to muster. However, the emotional impact was clear – his feelings were hurt and he understood what had just happened, 3. Follow up with a clear explanation and an “I love you” so that the child understands you are not mad and your feelings for them have not changed.

When I was a child, I never believed the old saying, “this is going to hurt me more than it’ll hurt you,” but in this case it was true. A few minutes later, my son was well-behaved and looking forward to lunch, his Daddy was still upset. While this form of discipline certainly did work this time, it will always serve as my last option.

Matt Ryerson is the Vice President of Community Investment Strategies at the United Way of Bradley County. Matt’s column appears in the Cleveland Daily Banner every Wednesday. If you have questions or comments, please contact Matt at

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lessons from my Grandpa

When I was young, probably about eight or nine years old, I was spending the weekend with my grandparents on the farm. This particular weekend was filled with the classic summer storms - lots of thunder, lightning and rain all weekend long. One afternoon, the phone rang as my grandfather received a call from the neighbor woman. I remember her well; she was a sweet, elderly woman with a lot of cats. I remember this because my grandfather did not particularly like those cats and complained about them often.

Nonetheless, the call was an urgent request from this woman to ask my grandfathers help. One of her cats had gone up a tree as the storm neared and now she couldn’t get it back down. She wanted my grandfather to go out in the middle of the thunder, lightning, and rain to rescue a cat that I knew he didn’t like. Without hesitation he said, “I’ll be right over.” As he started to throw on a rain parka and his hat I asked why he was going to bother rescuing that cat. My grandfather sat down and said, “I gave that woman’s son my word that I would look out for her.” “So,” I replied, with very little sympathy. My grandfather was patient with us grandkids, but he was very firm in his message on this day, he said, “Son, your word is everything. If people can’t trust your word, they can’t trust you. If they can’t trust you, then you ain’t much of a neighbor.” He stood up and walked out into that storm. This was a “teaching moment”, a moment that my grandfather could teach me about a man’s character, your word as your bond, and what a true neighbor looked like – all in only a few sentences and one humble act.

I remember watching from the window as my grandfather climbed that ladder to the branch where the cat was perched and rescued him from the blowing storm. It was clear the neighbor woman was thankful as the wrapped the cat in a towel and hugged my grandfather. My grandfather came back into the house soaked from head to toe. I remember my grandmother giving him a big kiss on the cheek as a “thank you.” I don’t remember ever talking about that situation with my grandfather again. In fact, I don’t remember talking to anyone in my family about what my grandfather had done. But the vision of my grandfather on that ladder in the middle of that storm is etched into my memory and the lesson he taught is there as well. My grandfather did not often teach with words, he taught with actions. He taught by the way he lived his life. He was honest, loving, humble, hard-working, honorable, and a man of his word. I got that message loud and clear on that rainy day and I have wanted to be just like him ever since.

The messages we send our children are often not with the words we say, but with the actions we take. Be conscious of this fact and you will be able to take advantage of the “teaching moments” we so often experience in life and have a lasting effect on our children.