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

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