|Educating and Motivating Parents and Professionals
Around the Issue of Corporal Punishment
Build a bridge: Most importantly, try to see the issue from the individual's perspective. Listen closely, and relate to them on an individual level. Avoid being authoritative. Be informative. Appeal to their knowledge, compassion, and desire to help others/protect their children. Most parents/teachers care a great deal about their children and think they are doing what is in their best interest. Build a bridge with something like, "It sounds like you are concerned about how children are disciplined. I am, too."
- Cite research: CP relates to 11 negative outcomes, including:
- Increased child aggression
- Increased delinquent and antisocial behavior
- Decreased quality of parent/child relationships
- Decreased child mental health
- Increased physical abuse
- Increased adult aggression
- Increased adult criminal behavior
- Decreased adult mental health
- Increased risk of abusing own spouse or child
(E. Thompson-Gershoff, 2002, Psych Bulletin)
- Make an analogy: Heavy smoking results in death in only approximately one third of heavy smokers. Nevertheless, we strongly recommend against it, due to the serious health risk it poses. Findings on CP are similar - it leads to serious problems in some, but not all children. It is imperative that we strongly recommend against it, due to the serious health risk it poses.
- Point out that this is a human rights issue. That is, everyone, regardless of age or dependency, is entitled to freedom from violence. In the US, it is against the law to hit prisoners, criminals, other adults. Ironically, the only living beings it is legal to hit are the most vulnerable members of our society - those we are charged to protect - children. Does this make sense? Adults must quit using "discipline" as an excuse to treat children in ways they would never tolerate for themselves.
- Use history: Attitudes about violence can change. Hitting wives was legal prior to the 1870's. Now it is considered illegal and contemptible. Surely children deserve the same protection.
- Cite the importance of being progressive: Parents used to tie babies/toddlers to furniture to protect them from harm. Now we know this practice itself is harmful. We need to be progressive enough to change our childrearing practices when we find out they are harmful. Research has now clearly demonstrated that hitting children is not helpful, but harmful.
- Religious arguments: See www.stophitting.org for details and information about religion and corporal punishment, and for insights from clergy from multiple religions about corporal punishment.
- Confront cultural excuses for violence: In response to cultures that seem to support violence - emphasize that violence is not cultural, it's criminal. We don't excuse infanticide as "just a custom." When considering whether or not we will accept what seems to be a cultural practice, we must draw the line somewhere - Perhaps it's best to draw the line between practices that harm people and those that do not. CP harms people.
- Check "gut reactions:" Ask parents - how did/do you feel right after hitting your child? (Research indicates most parents feel guilty). Ask what this feeling was telling them. What was your conscience trying to tell you? Ask professionals, "How do you feel when you see a child being hit?"
- Point out the costs: For those not moved by emotional or other approaches, emphasize the costs of maltreatment - "The cost of maltreatment - who pays? We all do." There is a huge cost to the individual who is harmed by CP and to society who pays for the negative outcomes through health care and mental health costs, social services, lost productivity, etc.
- Use media: Show a documentary demonstrating links between CP and abuse/murder, e.g., "The Unquiet Death of Eli Creekmore." Point out that abusive parents often report starting with "discipline" then escalating. Parents who hit often report hitting harder or more often than they originally intended. Recently toddlers have been killed when parents "disciplined" them for accidents during potty training.
- Caution professionals: Confront professionals' images of corporal punishment as light swats on the diaper that the child barely feels. Unfortunately, this is often NOT what happens behind closed doors. It may be intended or start that way, but very often, it escalates to something much more violent. Caution professionals to beware what they are condoning.
- Ask questions: What will your child learn about how to handle anger when s/he sees you hit when you are angry? We try to teach our child how to behave by showing them what to do and by modeling adaptive behavior, like wearing seatbelts in the car, etc. They learn how to behave by watching us, and doing what we do. If we hit, they probably will hit, too.
- Emphasize positive parenting: Elicit and cite examples of past positive parenting behavior - times when their child made them mad, and they remained nonviolent. Point out and praise their self-control.
- Take a world view: Inform them that the US is unique in its stance on CP:
- Over thirty nations do not allow children to be hit in any setting
- Canada just passed a law making much corporal punishment in the home unlawful.
- All but 2 countries have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 19: "parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of corporal and mental violence." The two countries that failed to ratify? US and Somalia.
Manuscript under review. All rights reserved. M Knox, Ph.D. email@example.com
Back to top