How were you punished as a child?
March 5, 2005 1:22 PM   Subscribe

How were you disciplined as a child?

The topic of disciplining children and corporal punishment came up on the most recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, in reference to Jamie Foxx's Oscar speech (in which Foxx talked about his grandmother who "whipped him").

How were you disciplined as a child? your parents? ...teachers? ...other authority figures?

What kind of effect did this have on you at the time and now?

How has it influenced your treatment of others? (Such as how you discipline your own children.)
posted by jca to Human Relations (88 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Father was a spanker. He used the seat of a wooden chair that had split in half. Fortunately for me, he wasn't around long enough to administer his punishment past my sixth birthday.

Mother spoke to me. She explained what the behavior was and why it was objectionable. I could ask questions and describe why I had chosen to do whatever it was. I appreciated this method because it didn't make me feel as though I were unloveable or inconsequential. On two occasions, she grounded me - one involved my having been arrested @ 15 y/o.

Corporal punishment was allowed within the school system with parental permission. My mother never gave hers. Most of the authority figures in my life have had conversations with me. Whether or not I listened or adhered to their guidelines depended upon my level of respect for them i.e. no respect = no change in behavior.

While I do not have children of my own, a former partner does and I spent a good deal of time around them. While they would occasionally arouse my ire, I never came close to striking them myself due in large part to remembering what it was like when the huge man that was my father jerked me upright by the arm in order to make better contact with my backside.

I believe the relative absence of physical punishment in my formative years has led to me not resorting to physical violence toward intimates.
posted by sillygit at 1:48 PM on March 5, 2005

Occasionally with a spanking, usually just a warning would suffice.

My cousin, on the other hand, gently picks up her children and whispers something in their ear for about 30 seconds. None of them will tell us what she says, but it works. She has 4 kids all under age 7.
posted by MrZero at 1:54 PM on March 5, 2005

My god, MrZero, your cousin is a 'child whisperer'! If it works she should market the secret.
posted by Dipsomaniac at 2:11 PM on March 5, 2005

My parents would speak in a very quiet, menacing tone and "threaten" to spank me, but they never actually did. It worked pretty well.
posted by invisible ink at 2:26 PM on March 5, 2005

Rarely spanked, hot sauce and soap for naughty language: I now struggle with my colorful language and have learned respect and tolerance for others. Hmmmm. Show respect, get respect.
posted by caddis at 2:32 PM on March 5, 2005

My siblings and I got "time outs," which were always administered in a very calm, measured way. We got to rejoin the fun when we felt "steady," so it was a good way to learn self control. If we popped back up two seconds later and proclaimed to be "steady!" the response was "great!" unless it became obvious that we were still tantrumming, in which case we were just placed gently back on time out until we were really steady. My parents have told me that they learned the technique in a book called "Children the Challenge," although I've never read it.

I do think it's important to not be too threatening or menacing towards children, since they're still learning how to behave and picking up cues from authority figures.

Perhaps my parents' gentleness made me a bit of a wuss-- I do remember getting yelled at by a teacher once for throwing food in the lunchroom in 2nd grade, and I was so broken-hearted I cried for an hour and ended up getting sent home sick. However, I'm a pretty gentle adult now (still sensitive, though) and I adore children, so I think my parents' tactics worked as far as the ultimate goal of raising a polite, considerate person.
posted by bonheur at 2:37 PM on March 5, 2005

Further advice: do not start a clay fight in art class, that might get you locked in a closet; do not send a trombone case, with the trombone inside, down a 100 yd icy hill, that might get your fanny spanked (hopefully it is still numb from sliding down the hill) and do not pretend to grind a girl's pencil to a stump and then refuse to give the teacher one of your pencils (sometimes pre-pubescent boys have such strange ways of saying "I love you"), that might have the teacher who has not the strength to pry your pencil from your hands lean her teeth toward the matter.
posted by caddis at 2:42 PM on March 5, 2005

When I was young I'd get hit with things. Usually a wooden spoon. Then when I got older my parents stopped trying to discipline me 'cos they knew it wouldn't make me stop doing whatever I was doing.

Depending on what I did at school, I'd get sent home or sent off with a police officer. Strangely, by the time I hit 7th or 8th grade the schools were so used to my behaviour that showing up drunk as a lord didn't even phase them.

Now I hate authority figures with a burning passion, and do my best not to act like them.
posted by cmonkey at 2:47 PM on March 5, 2005

My mom was once so enraged at me (I was a huge pain in ass as a child) that she threw a meat fork at me, you know, those two tine jobs that you might use to lift a roast. It flipped end over end, and stuck in my shoulder. She never imagined that it would even come close to hitting me. I ran to my room and locked the door, telling her that I was gonna call the police.

I also went to Catholic elementary school in the late 1960's. The nuns really were in loco parentis. We were making our firs holy communion, and I was messing around in the church, trying to get my friends to laugh. Sister Saint Herman lifted up her habit, jumped over the pew, and proceeded to smack the shit out of me with a yardstick.

By the time the Fat Guy came along, my older brother and I had pretty much broken our parents in so he got off pretty easy,
posted by fixedgear at 2:48 PM on March 5, 2005

I was never once punished as a child. No spankings, no groundings, no time outs, no nothing. My mom said she didn't believe in punishment. Somehow this managed to instill a powerful sense of responsibility and guilt in me, and it managed to keep me in line... most of the time. I probably had a pretty large guilt complex when I was in high school, but it's gone now. Psychological reprogramming can be more powerful than any sort of physical threat; if I can get away with it, I imagine I'm going to try the same thing with my future children.
posted by painquale at 3:00 PM on March 5, 2005

Fines! Various infractions would result in allowance deductions. The money wound up in a fine jar.

I so hated losing money to the fine jar.
posted by debgpi at 3:10 PM on March 5, 2005

I was paddled in elementary and middle school. All the time.

My parents never did much, just yelled and grounded me. All the time.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 3:19 PM on March 5, 2005

Both of my parents grew up in physically abusive households. where beatings were administered sometimes as punishment, sometimes for no reason other than grandpa was drunk. I have the utmost admiration for my parents and how they deliberately transcended their upbringing and provided a warm and loving environment for their family. However, corporal punishment was administered frequently, and at times devolved into cathartic beatings rather than legitimate attempts to modify behaviour. There was a tendency for arguments with the father and older sibling to become violent, until I grew larger and put a stop to it (using violence myself).

I'm a fairly normal adult. I generally avoid conflict, though I can be ferocious in martial arts, and I sometimes respond to intimidating invasions of my personal space, with involuntary violence. I would prefer that use of force always be a conscious decision, but sometimes reflex is more timely.

I am a firm believer in the use of positive reinforcement in most things. However it is clear that negative reinforcement is effective in stopping behaviour. I do not have children yet, but plan to refrain from use of corporal punishment unless I have exhausted all alternatives. If I do resort to it, it will have to be performed in an extremely clinical manner, with no possibility of abusive behaviour creeping in. I'm really only thinking of dire circumstances, such as curbing dangerous behaviour.
posted by Manjusri at 3:20 PM on March 5, 2005

I got paddled with a fraternity paddle that my grandfather gave my mom. She denies it ever happened, but she's very good at forgetting things that picture her unfavorably. I also got grounded a lot, often for minor infractions. Early on, I'd just be grounded for the rest of the day, or maybe a day or two, but as I got older the groundings became much longer. I would be grounded for a week, sometimes two or more. The thing is, my parents would forget that I was grounded after a few days, and the grounding was over. It was hard to take it very seriously after awhile, and eventually I just pointed out that the groundings were useless and my parents stopped grounding me.

I don't have any kids yet, but when I do, I plan on being judicious with my punishment, but very firm with it. A punishment that's not fully carried out is ineffective.
posted by me3dia at 3:33 PM on March 5, 2005

I'm not sure how, but I guess I always knew (as far back as I can remember) what was acceptable and what wasn't. Throughout my childhood I was only ever afraid of letting my parents down - they let it be known through encouragement what they regarded as acceptable and constructive behaviour. Through this method I believe I enjoy a very open relationship with my parents. During my teenage years whenever I went off the rails (various typical teenage misdemeanors) I really felt I had to own up straight away and then we would just talk about it. I knew they would understand and help me without overreacting, and they always did. Yet I still felt punished and would always rectify my behaviour. Looking back I can't quite believe it myself, but it seems to have worked.

My parents were fairly liberal and I was only screamed at or spanked if I really tried their patience.
posted by fire&wings at 3:34 PM on March 5, 2005

I was never spanked, was given the very occassional time-out. Not much yelling either. I think I was a pretty well-behaved child. Extremely sensitive though - any punishment I did get made me cry. I'm still pretty overemotional and don't have much of a thick skin. I had some rebellious moments as a teenager, but I turned out okay, I'm still a pretty anti-authoritarian person in general, but I get along with people.
posted by mai at 3:35 PM on March 5, 2005

I was a very very trying child (and stubborn), so I have a lot of experience with this. Hence the length. I hope it helps.

My mother: When I was small, I was spanked a few times with the wooden spoon. Thereafter, a threat was sufficient. I threw tantrums constantly (I still have a very bad temper), and was once thrown into a very cold shower to get me to stop. Once she took away all my books & toys after warning me multiple times. Nothing anyone ever did got me to stop throwing fits permanently. I was just that kind of kid. Also, I think expecting a kid to be rational once they've lost it instead of teaching them how not to lose it once they've calmed down is a doomed effort. Generally, being punished for losing my temper just made me feel extra misunderstood and resentful.

Outside of that, my mother basically let me do whatever I wanted as long as I wasn't "in trouble" or grounded (usually for the school complaining about me). Unlike kids whose parents would just arbitrarily tell them they couldn't do something or go somewhere, I was allowed anything within reason unless I had screwed up. I don't know if that made me screw up less, but it did make me respect my punishment more. It wasn't arbitrary. Further, my mother explained the reasons for rules once she realized I was a lot more likely to do (or not do) something if I understood the reasoning. Other adults (teachers and daycare workers) never got this & reaped the whirlwind. Also, she picked her fights. She wouldn't make food I hated, then fight with me about it, for example.

Teachers, etc.: This was the eighties and timeouts were king. These were useless. I was never convinced that just because someone was an adult meant I had to respect them. So if an authoritarian and arbitrary adult told me to do something, I basically ignored them or told them where to stuff it. This led to timeouts, which I used to stew and work myself into greater hatred, thereby guaranteeing I would never be sorry or do what they asked. After all, they had proven themselves to be assholes. When I was thrown out of class, I was happy because it meant I could read. When I was told to apologize, I did so insincerely and added another reason to my "Why Adults Are Assholes" list.

Basically, meeting me head-on was doomed. The only people who got me to do what they wanted were those creative enough to make what they wanted the only logical conclusion or those who obviously respected me and discussed things--those who weren't "because I said so" types.

Results: I still have no respect for authority. I have boatloads of awe that my mother made it through my childhood. I've realized that some kids are just willful and nothing you do besides playing on their logic will help. Once I got older, I did well in school and was generally well-behaved because I felt reponsible for my own happiness and interested in my own life. Despite my shenanigans, there were adults who believed in me and pushed me to do my best, so I felt some responsibilty towards them and formed an image of myself as something worth being reponisble towards. That's the only thing that finally worked.
posted by dame at 3:38 PM on March 5, 2005

I was smacked occasionally as a kid when my Mom would get so frustrated with me that she wouldn't know what to do. I would always cry like hell because of the injustice of it all. When I got old enough to smack back, it stopped. More to the point we had a Dad who we didn't see much with a fierce temper problem. He never hit anyone, but I saw him reduce a chair to splinters once and was sure he would kill me if given a good reason. As a result our Mom would threaten to tell our Dad if we did something really bad and we'd beg and plead with her not to. The whole situation sucked. My Mom still has lousy control of her temper so even now that I am an adult person every now and again she'll fly off the handle and yell at me in public. There was a lot of yelling and general negativity and emotional abuse in my family and I'm pretty rigid with respect to what I will and will not tolerate in my own home as far as aggression and violence and name-calling, etc. My sister is very similar in this respect.

I wasn't afraid of teachers or other authority figures for this reason -- they were significantly less scary than the people at home. As a result I mouthed off frequently to teachers and other kids. I got my arm broken by the class bully in 5th grade because I was giving him a hard time, which I think cemented my irrational fear of angry people. I don't have kids and don't really want them, only partly because I don't know if I could be a good parent and be reasonable when I was feeling unreasonable. I feel that I've had very few reasonable role models for anger management in my immediate family and even now I have a hard time dealing with angry people without getting really flustered and/or righteously indignant, neither of which are usually warranted emotional responses.
posted by jessamyn at 3:46 PM on March 5, 2005

One other result: Conflict doesn't really bother me. I have to fight for myself a lot less than when I was, say, five, and everyone but my mother thought I should just shut up and listen to them, so I have a high tolerance. Also, I expect people to be angry if I screw up, so I'm not really surprised when they are. Actually, I'm suprised so few people are.

And just so people are clear, I wasn't abused or surrounded by abusive adults. I just had the ability to make very nice, wonderful people lose it. One of my teachers actually told my mother last year that I was the only student she lost her temper at in something like thirty-five years. Then she asked my mother to apologize to me.
posted by dame at 3:50 PM on March 5, 2005

Mom was a yeller, and when she really got mad a hitter. Her yelling was designed to make you feel small, she'd call you pathetic and stupid. Or make you stand in a corner and scream at you. Then she'd feel bad later and be cloyingly affectionate. I remember a time when I was a round seven when she dragged me into my bedroom, yanked my pants and underwear down and spanked the hell out of me. I don't remember what it was I did, but I sure remember the punishment. She was also fond of open handed slaps to the face. But i was a difficult child in a lot of ways, so who can blame them.

Dad was calmer, but when he went off, he went off. I remember coming home drunk one night, and him putting me in a headlock. I thought I'd pass out, but I pushed him pretty far.

Other times they did more convential punishments like groundings and stuff but they had hot tempers. My sisters didn't catch it as much as me, but I was the first born and the experimental child. I remember a conversation with one my sisters in my 20's where she was gushing about how great her relationship with our dad was, and I half jokingly said "I have bumps on my head to remind me of what he used to be like," and she said "Don't act like dad used to hit you," and for a while I wondered if I was nuts or something, but we just experienced him differently, I guess.

I don't know wheteher it benefited anything or not. It demystified violence for me, that's for sure. And it gave me a lifelong hatred of seeing anyone made to feel small. Did it tech me anything beyond that? I don't know.
posted by jonmc at 4:12 PM on March 5, 2005

In general, both of my parents would calmly talk things over, and they never really lost their temper with me. My dad spanked me (pretty lightly) a few times as a kid; but only when my behavior was REALLY over the line.

When I was young enough to (sort of) believe it, dad told me that he had a "magnetic hand" -- it had an inexplicable attraction to the super-charged evil molecules in bad kid behinds. When my sister and I would get crazy on long car trips, he would make this mechanical whirring sound under his breath, and do a hand motion in the air. When this happened, we would laugh at the craziness - but we still kind of believed that it might be possible, so we'd promptly cease with the shenanigans. That wondrous magnetic hand actually worked wonders!

I mentioned it to him recently and we both cracked up for hours.
posted by sluggo at 4:14 PM on March 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

Final note: I remember a few times where I'd get bullied at school in my junior high years, and my mom would act disappointed in me as if it were somehow my fault. That made me feal worse than any spanking or slap. I'm not sure why.
posted by jonmc at 4:15 PM on March 5, 2005

Of course, I got off easy compared to my dad and his siblings. Their words to describe discipline were this, "If he didn't like what you said at the dinner table, he'd throw a fork at you."
posted by jonmc at 4:19 PM on March 5, 2005

My father never disciplined me. My mother would destroy things that I considered valuable.

On one occasion I had come home late from a friends house and she walked me into my bedroom where I watched her sweep everything from every surface onto the floor after which she proceeded to stomp on my belongings until she tired. I don't think I've been late since I was 13.

My god, MrZero, your cousin is a 'child whisperer'! If it works she should market the secret. This makes me laugh. When I was a nanny I did the whispering all the time and it always worked. But I'm not telling you what I said either. ;)
posted by FlamingBore at 4:25 PM on March 5, 2005

Also a big fave at stores & restaurants: "Do you want to go sit in the car?" Somehow, I never did.
posted by dame at 4:31 PM on March 5, 2005

Also a big fave at stores & restaurants: "Do you want to go sit in the car?" Somehow, I never did.

I got that one a lot, too. I remember we went on a tour of West Point once, and they drove to a military school nearby and threatened toleave me there, they thought it was hilarious until I started cryaing. I was around 8, I think.
posted by jonmc at 4:34 PM on March 5, 2005

When I was really little, belt or wooden spoon. Later, they figured out they could trust me, and if I did something wrong it was worse for me to disappoint them then to get a whuppin'.
posted by Hildago at 4:35 PM on March 5, 2005

Got spanked formally a few times, slapped a couple of times to shock me out of making a fuss, and once when I was dishing out some sass my mother clouted me hard enough to send me sailing across the kitchen floor to fetch up against the far counter. I think it shocked her as much as it did me - she was a strong woman. In the street, she would sometimes clip me hard on the wrist with a little flick from her fingers, and that always stung.

But I don't think my parents were unnecessarily brutal. I can't have been a fun kid to bring up. No kids myself, either (probably not entirely coincidentally).
posted by zadcat at 4:36 PM on March 5, 2005

I also remember a time in junior high when my mom got called in for a "parent conference" (1/3 of the school got the same treatment), mom went at me for weeks. I remember her saying "They probably want to send you to a special school, for kids like you."

That stung for a while. I remember that after a rather uneventful conference, she was fine.
posted by jonmc at 4:42 PM on March 5, 2005

Jon, did you ever get "I can't understand you when you talk like that" as a response to whining? That actually cracks me up now. I would get all gruff and then proceed to complain in a gruff tone. My mother would then answer the complaints reasonably.

(What does it say about us that we remember our "favorite" punishments? Does it have something to do with Italian mommies?)
posted by dame at 4:44 PM on March 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

I was hit with whatever was nearby, yelled at, had things thrown at me, and called names by my parents. Somehow they thought it was effective parenting. And I grew up thinking that that went on at everyone's house. It wasn't until I was away at college that I learned otherwise.
posted by smich at 4:45 PM on March 5, 2005

Jon, did you ever get "I can't understand you when you talk like that" as a response to whining? That actually cracks me up now.

Sometimes. I also got a lot of "Aren't you glad you don't come from a bad home," when they'd hear a story about horrendous child abuse. They'd also get very envious when they drove through rich areas: "Don't you wish we lived here?" Even though, when I got older, some of the most fucked up people I met camme from wealthy homes.

(What does it say about us that we remember our "favorite" punishments? Does it have something to do with Italian mommies?)

It's that hot blood. ;). Although, it's the Irish side of the family that had the most violent tempers when they went off. I still have very mixed, conflicted feelings about "discipline," to tell the truth.
posted by jonmc at 4:49 PM on March 5, 2005

Wooden spoon, broken yardstick (a shorter stick hits harder), breaking toys that I loved... Also, preventing me from reading. (If caught reading at the wrong time I would get a beating.) Lots of mental/emotional stuff.

One time my stepfather swung a baseball bat at me. He missed; put a big dent in the headboard of my bed.

Needless to say I think all of this was wrong and if I had children I would never ever treat them this way.

(This is where an anonymous answer feature would be nice... I would say more.)
posted by litlnemo at 4:50 PM on March 5, 2005

Oh, I left out part of the answer -- how this affected me at the time. It made me hate the person who did it, that's what. It didn't teach me respect or love or anything like that. It taught me hate.
posted by litlnemo at 4:52 PM on March 5, 2005

(This is where an anonymous answer feature would be nice... I would say more.)

me, too.
posted by jonmc at 4:55 PM on March 5, 2005

I'd be happy to post anonymous answers. Email is in profile.
posted by dame at 5:02 PM on March 5, 2005

Ach. Domestic violence is the big "secret." i remember, last time I visited my mom & dad, we reminisced about my childhood and the nieghbors we used to have. I mentioned the guy up the block, who used to take our Little league pictures. My mom mentioned that he used to beat up his wife. All i remeberd about him is tha they had a CB radio in their car and that their son around my age was considered the toughest kid at school, and that they had a pool at their house which made the ultra-cool.

It's amazing we're all not more warped.
posted by jonmc at 5:09 PM on March 5, 2005

I was sent to my room until I (and my parents) calmed down, after which we would talk about whatever the problem was. It worked pretty well, mostly because I get over things quickly. I'm not sure how well it would work for other kids.

However, if we were away from home and I threw a fit, my parents would leave. I mean just drive away and leave me there. I do not recommend this, little kids can't tell if you're just teaching them a lesson or really gone for good and I'm still paranoid about being abandoned. I am capable of a complete screaming, sobbing, shaking-all-over meltdown if you ditch out or flake on me, which always shocks people because I'm otherwise remarkably calm and rational. So, yeah... don't do that to your kid.
posted by cali at 5:10 PM on March 5, 2005

Weirdly enough, I wasn't traumatized by my punishments. They just gave me a bit of a martyr complex. Then again, I've always been convinced I was right. (In theory, I know I might not be, but until someone can prove it, then I'm going to assume I am. Maybe that's why I love Metafilter.)
posted by dame at 5:25 PM on March 5, 2005

My parents didn't believe in spanking, and I was an abnormally well-behaved child, so my first ten years or so were very pleasantly uneventful. I got seriously mouthy at puberty (difficult post-divorce times for my mom and me) and, I think mostly out of frustration or just fury (at everything, not just me) my mom went through a smacking phase that lasted until I made a move like I was going to smack her instead. I think she saw herself reflected in me and I know it freaked me out pretty good that I would raise my hand to my own mother so that sort of snapped us both out of the phase of being nasty to each other.

I got grounded a lot in junior high and high school, mostly for grades (one week per C), sometimes for being an asshole (getting detentions, being a smart ass, the time I wrote "FUCK OFF" all over my jeans in permanent marker), occasionally because my mom and I had different ideas of good housekeeping habits (grounded for two weeks for leaving a wet towel on the bed, for Christ's sake). Once or twice I lost TV privileges but Mom usually went soft on that once my homework was done, and I probably lost phone privileges, too, but I don't remember that being a big deal.

No corporal punishment in any of my schools. I think my mother would have burned the place down if a teacher spanked me in class.

Other than the smacking years, I think my mom was reasonable with her punishment techniques, even though they didn't work. I still did all the things the punishments were designed to deter me from doing (drinking, smoking, screwing, doing drugs, slacking in school, getting detentions, being messy). I just got better at not getting caught.

I don't know if anything would have worked, though. I was hell bent on being a badass. Anything more strict and I probably would have seen that as an excuse to be an even bigger punk ass (a la "my parents don't understand me, let's break into this gas station and loot," etc.). In hindsight, I'm lucky I was stealthy (or that my mom was good at living on the banks of denial, whichever) or she might have felt compelled to kick me out of the house or something and then who knows what would have happened to me.

As for shaping me... I think my parents' punishment preferences are pretty low on the life shaping experience scale.
posted by jennyb at 5:32 PM on March 5, 2005

well, dame, Imight've wound up with the martyr complex were it noot for hearing my dad & uncles wax nostalgic about ruler-beatings from nuns and the like from their childhood. I just sort f took it as part of a the passage to adulthood, so to complain about it would make me some kind of pussy.

I was hell bent on being a badass.

Me too. I think a lot of us of a certain demographic grew up in thrall to the Cult Of The Badass. It led me to do all kinds of stupid shit as a teenager and even as a young adult. i remember mrs. jonmc worrying during our broke days that I'd hold up a 7-11 or something. Thankfully I never did, although several people I associated with gave me ample opportunity.
posted by jonmc at 5:38 PM on March 5, 2005

I was spanked by both my mother and my stepfather all the way into my teens. When I was younger, this was often preceded by a grabbed arm and the question, “do you want to go to the bathroom?” Because sheds were hard to come by, I guess. My cousins never got spanked—their parents did timeouts and all that, but it never seemed to work and they were all brats. I always felt perversely proud that my sister and I were not little hellions, even though I hated being spanked so much. It got so a hand that even looked like it was raised to hit would make me cringe.

I can only remember two times when I was slapped in the face: once when I kept my mother waiting for over half an hour after school because I was helping the teacher clean up (felt so happy, teacher’s special helper and all that, went sauntering out to the car in my cowboy boots and my long blue dress . . . SMACK) and once in a fight with my mother at 16 or so.

Grounding was pretty useless for them because I was a bookworm and my room was full of reading material. When I was six, they decided that I liked pretending to be Ozma of Oz too much and was “losing touch with reality” and took all my Oz books away. I didn’t get them back until late high school.

I did fight back, once. My stepdad was sitting on his ass like he always did on weekends and wanted me to make him a glass of tea, and I said no. My refusal enraged him and he chased me upstairs. I locked myself in my room and by the time he had broken the lock I was standing on the other side of the door with a baseball bat. This may have been the last time he tried to spank me.
posted by amber_dale at 5:39 PM on March 5, 2005

I dunno, jon, maybe. But you say you were all for being a badass. I was never interested in that. I was all about not being treated as though I had no rights just because I was a kid. I remember being suspended for insubordination and thinking, "Yeah, that's right, I'm not subordinate to you just becuase you're an adult." And then when I had to do yardwork all day (my mother wasn't about to let me enjoy my suspension), I just worked myself into a righteous rage about how I was being sacrificed to adults' absurdity. In my mind, I hadn't done anything wrong, so I couldn't be a badass.
posted by dame at 5:53 PM on March 5, 2005

Beatings with "the stick": a leather paddle with a hard rod sewed on the inside. It left huge welts and bruises. My mother would use it for whatever she wanted, no offense required. Since my father sometimes worked nights, she'd often line me and my several siblings up and yell at us for hours, sometimes with us standing there, pants down, as she paraded up and down the line administering shouts and beatings at will. I remember standing for hours, so long that the world would fade out and my vision would narrow to a tunnel in which the colors were inverted, light was warped, and focus was impossible. Sometimes these sessions would happen at the dinner table. Hours and hours they would last, like interrogations, and you knew you would not come out unscathed. She wanted confessions, vows of redemption, breakdowns of will. You learned to lie about everything: admissions of guilt were guaranteed to get you severely punished. There was no clemency for honesty and no amnesty for implicating others. If you lied, she might only be guessing, and you might get off relatively light and your siblings would appreciate your lying to keep them out of it. I played the martyr a lot: I was a favorite target, which meant the others could go unpunished. She was a tyrant.

My father was more fearsome, but his beatings were rarer, and usually made worse by an overwhelming feeling of injustice. This was because whatever my mother told him, he believed, and she was an exaggerator and a liar. He would beat you based on her evidence and there was no appeal.

No offense went unpunished and no punishment was ever finished and you were never completely absolved. You could be repunished for the same offense months later. Any favor you asked—to go out with friends, to participate in a school activity, to have spending money for some books or trinket—was inevitably denied, as any past offense, real or imagined, could be dredged up at will as sufficient reason to deny you.

Other punishments were equally unreasonable. Our children's bedrooms would be tossed like jail cells—clothes, beds, belongings on the floor—in the search for contraband, or just as a reminder of who was the boss. A single dish that wasn't well-washed would mean that everything in the kitchen cabinets would have to be rewashed—including Christmas dishes, turkey platters, every plastic storage container, everything. I washed everything in those cabinets dozens of times. Television privileges would be denied with a simple "no"—no explanation given. "Help" with homework by my father would become exercises in endurance: he checked the work, and if it didn't match his answer, you were made to redo it, with no discussion of what might have gone wrong but with lots of yelling, smacking, and "you will sit there to you get it right."

They made us write "I will not..." kinds of sentences thousands of times. The only revenge for that was that it left deep impressions on the surface of the dining room table. It was made slightly easier by learning to hold three pencils at a time to write the same sentence on alternating lines.

All things were presented as punishments. If you couldn't get a new pair of pants because you'd outgrown your highwaters at age 13, it wasn't because money was tight, it was because you didn't deserve it. Summers, we would be locked out of the house all day, and, like all such events, it was presented as "you've been bad; you're to stay outdoors" even if the real reason was that they wanted us to get out and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. When my basement bedroom got too cold to heat, I was told to sleep upstairs on the living room floor because I could not be trusted downstairs, not because it was 45 degrees in the basement.

Other things: my mother would threaten suicide by rattling her pills in their bottle in the pocket of her night robe. If you came home with news of a good grade on a test, you were not congratulated. Instead, you were asked how come you always didn't get such grades. Any Christmas or birthday gifts you were given were begrudged: you got the feeling they were done as a formality, to keep up appearances, and you knew that for the coming year you would be told you were unworthy of them and undeserving of anything like them.

I realize this answer is outside the scope of the question, but it's nice to vent.
posted by TurkeyMustard at 5:56 PM on March 5, 2005 [2 favorites]

My dad would spank me, hard, with a belt. It was terrifying and painful. Sometimes either he or my grandmother would use a switch, and they'd make you get your own switch. I tried outsmarting them by getting a wisp of a switch once. Once.

In my teens I talked back and punishment became more verbal than physical, but what got me on a more equal footing with my dad was when I knocked him down and choked him when I was about 17. That's the most violent thing I've ever done to a person (I have a very violent temper with things, though). I was such a handful that my brother and sister, both younger, didn't get spanked hardly at all. The thing is, I was a good kid and never got into any real trouble.

My mom would mostly say she was disappointed or upset, and the worst thing she ever did was throw a glass of water in my face once. It was so out of character and so mild compared to my dad that I thought it was really funny.

The difference in discipline styles was a problem, because, like in a lot of families I guess, we'd tell things to our mom and hide them from our dad. The secrecy caused a lot of problems for us. A more unified and balanced approach would've worked better.

I suppose that these days we'd say what my dad did was child abuse, but I've always felt he was doing what fathers his age did. I didn't like him much during the spanking years, but once I grew up we got along a lot better and I always loved him.

I don't have kids, but if I did the only physical thing I think I might ever do is a swat on the bottom for shock value.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:02 PM on March 5, 2005

My parents didn't hit me, but boy did my dad scare me sometimes. He didn't yell: his voice would go monotone and his normally twinkling bright blue eyes would TURN GREY. This didn't happen often, but whenever it did, I got right in line.

There are a million reasons I'll never hit my son. Mostly, I believe that consistency in applying punishments is much more important than their severity. Luckily, he's a really good guy.
posted by Eamon at 6:08 PM on March 5, 2005

Spanking.. by anyone and everyone.

In small southern towns, you have what we call "Community Parents." That's just another way of saying that anyone who sees you act up can give you a pop on your but in public.

I've been spanked by so many people who are not my mom and dad... but I don't mind it. They did it because they love me, and it worked.

To this day whenever I go home I still bump into people in the mall, Wal-Mart (of course), and in church...
posted by bamassippi at 6:09 PM on March 5, 2005

Time-outs, yelling, and talking-tos mostly; spanking when I was really young. The way my parents treated an argument or infraction was radically different, and it's had quite an effect on how I deal with problems. My dad was a tough-but-fair kind of guy. He made it very clear that certain things were unacceptable, and gave the reasons why so that you never felt like the punishment was arbitrary or undeserved.

Whenever my mom got mad she took it out on us verbally and without restraint. Punishments were given without any explanation beyond "Because I said so, and I'm the mom, you're the kid" (she still uses this now, and my brothers and I are legal adults!). Her decisions always took precedence over Dad's, though, so most of our exposure to discipline was through her.

Basically, this meant until mid-high-school I dealt with problems by going into self-righteous, violent, screaming rages. Then I thought about the differences between my parents' behaviors and realized I mimicked my mom's and the negative effects she had, so I stopped and now try as hard as possible to deal with things the way my dad does. Also, it's contributed to my brothers' and my poor relationship with Mom.

Anyway, the point is treat your child with disrespect, and that is how the child learns to treat others. Treat him with respect, and s/he will respond with the same. I think the most important thing is to make sure your kid knows why he's being punished and what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable behavior--y'know, treat him/her like a human being. I don't believe corporal punishment is always a bad thing provided it's used sparingly and you're not beating the kid. For instance, Dad was the one who spanked, but 'cause they were given carefully and with a good amount of talk they never felt like random violence or like violence was an acceptable solution to problems.

(It may have helped that he's told us since we were, like, 8 or something to never get into a physical fight unless you were trying to kill your opponent . . .)
posted by schroedinger at 6:27 PM on March 5, 2005

It depended on who was doing the disciplining. Once I asked my grandmother what the mark (was a birthmark) was on her face was and I was sent to the corner where I had to stand for I'm not sure how long. My mother preferred to send me to my room or if she was especially furious about something I had done she would use a wooden spoon on my backside usually breaking it in the effort. I was grounded a lot but I never recall her explaining why what I did was wrong. It was all arbitrary, one day I had to wash my mouth out with soap for swearing and the next month she said it was ok to use the word I had been punished for in the previous month. There was a lot of yelling and screaming, emotional and physical abuse. Not sure my sister would say the same thing though, the punishment she was given was far gentler. One of my mothers boyfriends on the other hand liked to beat me and once went so far to pull out a gun. My teachers and other authority figures never laid a hand on me and preferred to try and reason with me.

I think how I was treated had a lot to do with my desire to never hurt another person and deciding a long time ago to never have kids. I have no tolerance for bullies ... "an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind" sums up my view on violence because of what I went through.
posted by squeak at 6:31 PM on March 5, 2005

Good god. What a bunch of awful stories! I don't know how y'all turned into mostly normal adults.

Myself: I was spanked twice, both times for fighting with my sister. She got spanked, too. We were very young, it was bare-bottomed, and it wasn't hard: the shock of it all was more damaging than the actual spanking.

She and I were also booted out of the car for fighting, when we were miles from home. Which was out in the middle of godforsaken nowhere. My dad drove out of sight. We freaked. He came back a couple minutes later. We were exceptionally well-behaved from then on.

In about grade sevenish, returning from a shopping trip, my mother asked me to help unload the groceries. I told her to fuck off. My dad nearly slammed me through the window beside the door and told me to never, ever swear at her again. I distinctly remember wishing he'd put me through it, so he'd feel bad about losing his temper. But... I never, ever swore at my mother again.

And that's about it. Other than torturing my sister, and the one swearing incident, I didn't do anything to get punished. I was a model child. Much to my shame...

Worth noting that my father was beat by his father, and consciously chose to break the cycle. I admire him greatly for that.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:33 PM on March 5, 2005

Wow, reading this is making me sad. It is a little out of the norm of AskMe, but is incredibly cathartic and poignant. I hope Matt doesn't kill it.
The very few spankings I received I know I deserved and I thank my parents for their good judgement. I think now I will go hug my own children.
posted by caddis at 6:38 PM on March 5, 2005

Oh yeah! Occasionally Mom told me "Sometimes you make it very difficult for us to love you." I don't believe she ever told my brothers that, but I think I was the hardest kid for her to handle--I was as stubborn as she was and far more aggressive than anyone else in the family, so it probably often felt like I was the one causing all the problems.

I also think the catharsis is good, but Jesus, are there any more people who underwent "normal" discipline? What is normal discipline, anyway?
posted by schroedinger at 6:48 PM on March 5, 2005

Yes, some very sad stories here. Especially Turkeymustard — that's truly vile behavior... How horrible for you.

My parents did not spank us, though I don't think they ever sat down and made it a policy between them. On the other hand, I never, ever thought they were pushovers; I had a healthy respect for them and never felt that I could misbehave with impunity. I still don't really understand how they did it... They never grounded me, or punished me with work or taking away any of my possessions, or withholding anything. I think it was just they are very strong people in terms of personality, so even though they didn't punish much, one didn't really feel like testing the limits.

I know that I'm quite lucky in this, and I think it's particularly fortunate for me, because I can have a very bad temper when it "crosses the line". If I didn't have wonderful role models, I'm very certain this could have led to a lot of woe in my life. About school... There was still corporal punishment when I was young, and though I never was a victim (I don't think that I would have allowed it, anyway), I can remember feeling absolutely enraged when I saw others paddled.
posted by taz at 7:19 PM on March 5, 2005

I was never spanked. My mom was usually judge, jury and executioner, in that she would mete out the punishment and then inform my dad when he got home ("ambrosia did X, Y, Z and so she loses TV privileges for N period of time")- restricting TV access was her favorite punishment, graduating up to grounding if it was more serious.

We took a lot of long car trips when we were kids, and when we would get to that antsy stage in the back seat ("mom! she's LOOKING at me! make her stop!") My dad would pull over by the side of the road, make us all get out and run around the car in circles. He would stand there, watching, telling us to run faster, until we were all tired out. Then he'd let us back in the car and we'd get back on the road.
posted by ambrosia at 7:33 PM on March 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

My mom, who grew up in a horribly abusive household, used to whack me really hard from about age two to age six. She'd leave bruises. Usually it was because I was annoying her and she didn't know how to deal with me, not because I'd necessarily done anything bad.

Then we moved to a different country, where my mom was informed hitting children was illegal. She sat me and my three-year-old brother down and told us that she wouldn't be hitting us anymore. And she didn't, even after we moved back to the US, though she did have uncontrollable yelling fits before she found therapy and Paxil. Of my four younger brothers, only the oldest was ever hit by her.

I remember one time when my brothers and I were really driving her nuts, my mom kicked us all out of the house and locked all the doors. She told us we couldn't come back in for two hours.

I don't feel horribly scarred by the experience, though I don't really think it taught me anything or benefited me either.

My mom is a huge improvement from her parents, too. She and her siblings were beat for everything -- not making it to the toilet on time the day after potty training began, not figuring out how to use a fork fast enough, knocking over a glass of water at the dinner table. She didn't really reconcile with her parents until the last few years of their lives.

My dad, who may have been spanked once or twice for particularly egregious behavior as a child, was never a hitter. He would say, "I'm going to put you back in your box if you don't cut it out." I didn't know what the hell he was talking about, but the idea of being put in a box scared me so much I always snapped into shape.

I have pretty good relationships with both of my parents these days, though living more than 2,000 miles away from them probably helps.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:34 PM on March 5, 2005

ambrosia -- that car running story is brilliant!

A couple of times on road trips my parents pulled the car over and left me and my brothers on the side of the road. They'd circle the block or loop around on the highway and pick us back up.

I don't recommend even brief child abandonment, but the experience may have something to do with my willingness to travel and be in scary places all alone at a young age.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:39 PM on March 5, 2005

I also think the catharsis is good, but Jesus, are there any more people who underwent "normal" discipline? What is normal discipline, anyway?

It's the second question that's it, no? I'd say telling your kid they make it hard to love them is five bazillion times worse than smacking 'em every now and again. Even when I was utterly awful, my mother made it clear that she loved me and it was just the behavior she didn't care for. Others would say not.
posted by dame at 7:42 PM on March 5, 2005

croutonsupafreak: In what country is it completely illegal to hit children?

My story: Dad was in the Navy and away for most of my childhood, so mom was the primary disciplinarian. She had a belt, but we ran away from her when she got it out so she never got any real spanks in with it. I was one a horribly behaved child with her, but an angel at school and around other adults. I threw such tantrums that she had to physically restrain me to get me to calm down. This went on from age 3 to 15. I still don't know why I was so angry with her and regret it to this day. We have a great relationship now. I think the last time there was a real conflict with my parents was when I said "fuck" in the middle of a yelling screaming fight with my mom and my dad just lost it. He threw me on the ground and I was truly in fear for my life. My mom had to pull him off me (I was a 110 lb 16 year old girl, such a fair fight). He had a serious temper but we rarely saw it, and only if we were openly disrespectful to mom in front of him. I still hate him for the way he treated me when he was angry, even though he has found Jesus and apologized for it more than once. They tried grounding me, but were never consistent. My parents sucked at discipline and have made me fear having children because I won't know how to deal with them appropriately.
posted by chiababe at 7:51 PM on March 5, 2005

I forgot to mention a great technique one of my friends uses with their 2-1/2-year-old when he starts getting rowdy. She whispers, "I can only hear you if you whisper." He totally falls for it, gets into it, and calms down.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:54 PM on March 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've got two sisters, one brother and Catholic parents. Spent a lot of time "kneeling for my sins." Fighting or similar bad behavior put you on your knees "praying" for up to an hour. We'd try to slip pillows beneath us to ease the pain of the hard tile floor, but getting caught always extended the punishment.

My mom would always threaten to put uncooked rice (or corn!) under our knees if we complained too much and even though my sisters swear they have rice scars, I don't think she ever actually did that (since she would have had to clean up the rice afterwards).

Whippings were less frequent but not unheard of. Mostly, my dad snapping his belt was enough to scare us into submission. My mom would whip us with whatever was near: spoons, shoes, rolled up magazines, and on one green lightsaber (I could hear it "whooshing" as it flew through the air at my ass.)

Now that I have a child, I think that I'll reserve spankings for only the most egregious offenses. I'm not completely anti-whipping, but one of my best friends is, and when I was talking to her recently about disciplining children, she started to cry when I mentioned that paddlings were within bounds for me. She cried and cried and said, "How could you hit your own child?" And that really made me question my blase attitude about it. I really, really don't want to ever have to resort to it.

On a side note, I have two nieces that are regularly under my care. I never, ever whip them (their dad made sure I understood that he and my sister are the ONLY ones allowed to ever lay a hand on his girls.) So, when I have to discipline them, I resort to psychological torture. I *sigh* and say that I overestimated their maturity level (they are 8 and 6) and I wonder aloud about all the benefits allowed to polite girls.

My sister finally asked me if I would just whip them, since my method sent them home with such low self esteem, they'd be lethargic and depressed all evening.

Now, I just promise them McDonalds if they're good. Hey... ain't my kids.
posted by ColdChef at 8:13 PM on March 5, 2005

She cried and cried and said, "How could you hit your own child?" And that really made me question my blase attitude about it. I really, really don't want to ever have to resort to it.

I'd really, really not want to have to strike a child. That said, swattings are within bounds for me, while spankings push the edge hard.

We have fundamentally primitive brains: our conscious mind is a thin veneer on a billion years of survivalist evolution. Animal mothers will only put up with so much shit before they give their young a nip to change behaviour. The little ones need to know how to behave.

So I believe there is are situations where a swatting is the most appropriate guide for some behaviours. Useful, for instance, to break a child out of a stuck loop, repeating a destructive or severely disruptive behaviour hysterically. Gets their attention unstuck. Lets them choose a new behaviour that's better for them.

I don't see spankings as a useful device, except as establishing a power relationship. And I think a power relationship based on punishment is the weakest such relationship. I'd rather choose one based on positive experiences and feedback.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:53 PM on March 5, 2005

...sorry, I just realized that was conversatonalist, and thus inappropriate to mefi. Matt, feel free to delete.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:54 PM on March 5, 2005

I was spanked when I misbehaved, but usually later, not in the heat of the moment. The waiting for the spanking was awful. The actual spanking was done with the flat of the hand and wasn't particularly painful, just humiliating. When I was 11 my father changed over to chatting with me.

Both of my parents had tempers, and would occasionally lose it, but they mellowed out as I got older.

I have mixed feelings about corporal punishment. I feel like I turned out all right, but I suspect that not being spanked might have been better.
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:22 PM on March 5, 2005

I'm going to remember "I can only hear you when you're whispering" for when I have kids. Genius.

My parents tended towards expressing disappointment, which worked (works) really, really well for me. They swatted my bottom a few times when I was little, as did my grandmother, and I remember it not hurting at all but crying anyway because I knew they must have been very unhappy with me. My parents got divorced when I was seven and mostly handled discipline separately from then on. My mom suspended TV privileges or allowance a couple times. I lost my temper a lot around 14, and would hit my younger sister and mouth off to my mother--I don't remember what she did about that. After the divorce my father was very angry and depressed for a couple years and would yell at my sister and me if he didn't think we were being respectful or obedient. We walked on eggshells for a while, and I remember physically cringing, even though he didn't hit us at all. Things were much better once he was on an even keel, though, and he never had to deal with teenage petulance.

Favorite discipline: From the time I was about four to eight, my dad, who has a wonderfully warped sense of humor, used to threaten to use "the skin-peeler," an alarming metal device that lived in the basement. Part of me knew he wasn't really serious, but on the other hand I couldn't imagine what else it could be. Realized a few years ago that it was a pair of fireplace tongs.
posted by hippugeek at 11:07 PM on March 5, 2005

For the most part, I was sent to my room. Even though I normally loved being in my room, it lost some of its appeal when I was forced to be in there. Early on, there were threats of spanking for worse offenses, but it was never acted on. Later, this became groundings (i.e. no leaving the house for n days).

My mom once threw a stapler at me in a fit of rage, but I really deserved that one.
posted by waxpancake at 11:08 PM on March 5, 2005

Three beatings that seemed like they would never end, one of which was done with a leather dog's leash, meant that every time my Mother dished out a backhander across the face, I terrified that another belting was on the way. I lived in constant fear of her temper which only seemed to appear when my Dad wasn't home. In every other way she was a great Mother and while I have no doubt that she loved me, these incidents left me with conflicted feelings about her.

I once gave one smack each to my two boys and don't know who felt worse about it afterwards. I was devastated that I had done it and they were devastated that they had pushed me that far. I had always promised myself that I would never hit my kids as I am also quick tempered. My sister never hit her son for the same reason.

Although not Catholic I attended an all girl's school taught by mainly Irish nuns. They never used any form of corporal punishment, didn't shout at us and never gave out lines or used detention and yet we were all very well behaved in general. It was only in later years I realised that whenever we became unruly (which wasn't often) the class would be taken to the School Chapel. The quietness of the Chapel and the prayers of the Rosary repeated in soft singsong voices calmed us down without any of us even realising what had happened.
posted by Tarrama at 11:25 PM on March 5, 2005

FFF apparently you never learned not to tattle. Go stand in the corner, I'll deal with you latter.

Such a light note to begin my tale of inconsistency and mostly emotional abuse. I can't say I recall early discipline, but I sure recall it after age 6 or so. Mostly from mom, dad was mostly to scary to misbehave around!

Mom was a screamer and would go into rage. Yard sticks were her favorite weapon, but I was a big kid, and they broke too easily. Dad eventually gave up finding her thicker yardsticks. Many scenes of being chased through the house, from the kitchen to my room, me slamming every door I could on the way. I'd land on my bed facing mom, legs and arms up in defense. Eventually I was too strong, and could grab her hands and restrain her.

Once when I was around 8 my dad actually used a paddle on me, for daring to say 'fucker'. I didn't say it to my parents, nor had I any clue what it meant or how extreme it was. After all, mom always assured me I was a son of a bitch (yes, that was her favorite, perhaps reflecting my status as an adopted child).

I remember being grounded, but I don't remember actually doing it much. Perhaps because I also learned to retreat to my room and read (many many thanks for that lesson!). On the other hand, any chores were treated like punishment, and my parents usually spoke of work as though it were a 'doom' destiny of everyone. I grew up with the most horrible work ethic imaginable! Once when I was around 14, my dad beat me up with his fists, just over something I said (not sass, not profane). I thought my nose was broke.

At school, paddling was used. I dealt with it mostly okay, 'till at age 12, when confronted with it over false charges, I discovered I was utterly terrfied. It took me YEARS of self analysis to understand that I saw it as a sexual threat. Perhaps the confusion was partly because, in fact, the principle involved was attractive. (this occurred mere weeks before I first became aware of sexual desire) I've mentioned elsewhere on MeFi the total loss of my childhood that this led to (I got sent to juvie, because I was a terrified child who ran home. And isn't it cute that it was in juvie I discovered the desire to have sex with another male inmate? For years I blamed the juvie experience on my being gay, even though sex didn't take place).

Also when I was a kid (which always refers to life before age 12, for me, due to the experience above), my parents threatened to "put me away". What a horrible threat to use! The emotional abuse was so thick I often disparately wished my parents would use spankings, and be done with it.

I envy those whose parents used the rational approach. This didn't happen at my house, and likely wouldn't have worked. I discovered very early that I could reason circles around most adults in my life, and this only made them loose their tempers. Can you say 'contempt', boys and girls? Thank god my own early gayness got me under the tutelage of intelligent, rational men!

This is a fascinating question.

posted by Goofyy at 11:37 PM on March 5, 2005

Disciplined by parents and step-parents: spanked (belts, wooden spoons, rulers, whatever was handy), slapped in the face, yelled at, verbally abused (told I was worthless, shouldn't have been born, etc.), grounded, privileges discontinued (TV, reading, etc.). If dishes or clothes weren't washed to certain standards ALL of it had to be redone (cupboards and closets stripped bare and re-washed). If any housework or yardwork wasn't done to certain standards it would be done and redone until it passed inspection and then I'd still be punished.

I was 26 the last time my mother said she wished I had never been born (I'm now 38). We get along for the most part, but on occasion I remember that and it still hurts.

All of the above taught me that I'll never be worth anything. Abuse from a couple of my brothers just reinforced it.

Today I can't tolerate raised voices. It makes my stomach sink to my feet and fill my throat at the same time. I want to make myself as small and invisible as possible. It doesn't even have to be directed at me, it can be on TV or some stranger yelling at someone and I still cringe.

I'll never have children so I can't say how my upbringing would reflect on them. I'd like to think I would have been a good parent, but I'll never really know.
posted by deborah at 11:46 PM on March 5, 2005

I was never spanked, never grounded, and never denied TV (we only had three channels anyhow). Apparently unique among this group, I was punished with work. Weeding flower beds, washing windows, cleaning bathrooms ... The youngest I recall being turned into "forced labor" was at the age of 6.

This has left me with a lifelong sense that work - especially housework - is 'punishment' and as a result I will go to great lengths to avoid doing it.
posted by anastasiav at 12:20 AM on March 6, 2005

When my mom gets upset, she screams. And slams things. HARD. Usually a door, but sometimes it has been some object. Even though it was never me being hit like that, it was vividly scary to know that it was in a way meant for me. Very chastening. Once she was washing dishes when I must have said or done something that set her off. She slammed down the dish in her hand, and an entire sink full of ceramic and glass shattered. No injuries, but still was the scariest punishment she could have come up with. And I was already well into adulthood by then.

As a kid, the punishments were more variable. More the more minor offenses, usually stand in a corner or exile to the bedroom. Being sent to bed without suppper was totally ineffective because (a) I didn't care and (b) usually had a candybar lying around there somewhere anyway.

Sometimes the tv would be locked away for a week or two. That's when you discover what a hopeless little tv-addicted drone you are. Oh man, that withdrawal could be a bitch.

A few times there was paddling (first with a ruler, then later a ping-pong paddle), and damn did it hurt. Thankfully that didn't last too long, but the paddle stayed in her desk for years and years and just knowing it was there was enough to keep that fear going. Spanking was the more frequent solution but that wasn't on a par with the paddle. A leather belt, just once. I think she realized that was too dangerous. But it stayed in the drawer, right underneath the paddle, so the point had been made.

The odd thing is that until this moment, it never occured to me that everyone else's family wasn't doing exactly the same. What an eye-opening thread. Somewhere in my mind, I guess it was taken as a given that since I was generally such a good little kid, then everyone else must be earning the belt or paddle a lot more often. That I was lucky. Plus adult family members were aways joking about the many ruler raps across the knuckles they took as kids, so even ruler smacks across the butt sounded mighty progressive by comparison.

The most devilishly creative punishment mom ever came up with, which was highly effective at making me shape up, was to open the dictionary (the big one, not the pocket edition) to a random spot and require me to hand copy both pages detail-for-detail (okay, illustrations were waived...). If the copies weren't pretty darn close to a perfect reproduction, the page count went up another page. Ohhhh, the writers cramp. But at least it helped out the English class grades.

Once in elementary school a nun made a kid go over to the corner and actually put on a paper "dunce" cap. It felt like such a surreal moment, like it wasn't possible that anyone really did that outside of cartoons. Usually though the elementary school punishments were standard Bart Simpson stuff: write some ridiculous sentence a zillion times, or stand in a corner for a while (and try not to get caught making faces behind the teacher's back). I do recall having to write a few essays on the subject of some misdeed, so a few of the teachers must have been more creative than average.

In high school detention, we had to do math problems. Things like working out the squares of the first so-many primes. Show all your work, blah blah. No calculator, of course. It usually took a good 2-3 hours for the first detainees to start turning in their papers. You were supposed to stay until the assignment was finished and demonstrably correct, so you either learned to get very fast at math or to outlast the detention supervisor's desire to earn overtime pay.

Funny that the most effective punishments involved writers cramp!

No way will any child of mine be hit, spanked, slapped, paddled, whipped, or emotionally terrorized. No way in HELL. I've used a variations of that whispering technique, and boy is it effective. Firm hug while whispering nice things in the ear. Whoa, instant calm. It's not about excusing or endorsing the bad behavior, it's about getting the child into a state of mind where they can recognize what wasn't okay and accept consequences. So, dealing with the problem without necessarily having to resort to "discipline".
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:48 AM on March 6, 2005 [1 favorite]

I was the most incorrigible child I could ever imagine and grew up in the 60's/70's.
That my parents only hit/walloped/smacked/threw things at me when I was behaving badly was a miracle. Many others would have had me adopted out I'm sure.

At school they had a rubber strap: 2ft x 2" x 1". Six of the best was the dreaded catchphrase of the time and I heard it on many an occasion.

I don't have kids but when/if I do, I think I'll follow the principle adhered to by my older P(a)ediatrician brother - that corporal punishment be used ONLY when there is imminent danger to the child - fork in toaster, running onto freeway etc. Otherwise I like the ideas espoused above of timeouts and other logical behavioural therapies that don't demean the child.

I came through my childhood ok. I'm not necessarily a well-adjusted adult [but I have potential!] but I doubt it has anything to do with the (deserved) punishment as a child.

Nice thread. *hugs* for those who had unfortunate circumstances.
posted by peacay at 2:08 AM on March 6, 2005

Spankings were reseved for life-threatening behaviors and lying. Do something that could get you killed, you got spanked. Sneakiness fell into the "lying" category, so that was also punished by spanking. I think I remember being spanked twice. Otherwise, I was subject of the "you've disappointed me" punishment, which was massively successful in keeping me on the straight and narrow. I learned pretty fast that being a decent kid meant I got to do what I wanted, and that if I screwed up, I wasn't sure what would happen, but my mom would cry, my dad would probably look like a thundercloud, and the house would be very, very quiet for some time. We are a gregarious family, so silence was punishment.

I think I turned out fine. I won't tolerate yelling, though. Voice-raising in my family means trouble, so if I yell, you know you've pushed me completely over the edge.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:37 AM on March 6, 2005

My own parents didn't beat me at all. There were a couple of episodes, but I think they were understandable. Overall, they showed incredible control and patience. I was quite a handful...

Personally, I don't think it's ok to hit kids. It's a lot like beating your wife or beating a servant. Those things may have been viewed as ok in the past but are not now. In the near future, I hope that's how society views beating kids.

If you are going to beat your kid regularly as a form of punishment, I don't think you have much imagination, and, frankly, I think there must be something wrong with you on some level. It's NOT ok.
posted by xammerboy at 7:49 AM on March 6, 2005

what a horrific catalogue of stories. i can remember my mum getting angry just once and me running out of the room, being followed by a hand on my backside, but it didn't hurt and the impression i remember was mainly surprise at her having being upset. i don't remember my dad ever hitting me. i was a goody goody student and a quiet kid, so i guess i had it easy. my sister fought much more with my parents; i guess she was spanked more, but don't remember. certainly it would only have been with a hand on the legs or backside - i remember my mum telling me, shocked, that our neighbour beat her sons with a wooden rod.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2005

I'm very surprised by the number of spanking-at-school stories. I was born in '67. There was never any sort of corporal punishment in the schools I went to (a very, very rural elementary school in an area filled with dysfunctional families, I'm sure; and a high school where most grade 12 students didn't actually graduate.)

Either a good number of you are significantly older than me, or perhaps corporal punishment was all the rage down in the USA. ??
posted by five fresh fish at 8:52 AM on March 6, 2005

I am fascinated by this "whisper" method. How does this work? What do you say? Can you actually reason with little kids like that?

(My experience with kids has run the gamut from completely awesome to utterly infuriating. So infuriating, in fact, that I'm not sure if I'll ever have any because it scared me how angry I got. But my SO and I are very adamant that if we do have kids, we'll never, ever hit them. It would be nice to know how this whisper secret works, just in case.)
posted by jennyb at 9:07 AM on March 6, 2005

five fresh fish - I'm just a wee bit older than you. I went to school in Southern California and don't remember corporal punishment being allowed in school.

I also meant to mention that soap was used when something "inappropriate" was said. That could mean swearing, talking back, or just because.

I was pretty much cowed by the time I was 11 or 12. I'm sure many people around us thought I was either mute, retarded or extremely shy. I'm still very shy and reserved and I avoid confrontation at all costs.

As mentioned in other threads, books were my escape and I'm still an avid reader. I guess that's one good thing that came of it all.
posted by deborah at 10:11 AM on March 6, 2005

The corporal: Over the knee, bare-assed, spankings, usually with the hand by my father. Sometimes standing, with a belt. I can't remember when he stopped dispensing physical punishment, although I do remember some teen times that my Mother intervened on. I don't think those would've been spankings. I think those were fights. Back to the early years, Mom preferred the wood spoon approach. Since she was home most, she was the regular administrator of the punishments. She broke the spoon once over one of us. But the spankings by Mom stopped sometime when we started laughing at them. Aunts, Uncles and Grandparents all felt it was within their rights to deliver spankings if necessary as well. I was never struck by an authority figure at the public schools I attended (in the 80s/90s).

Other punishments: Lots of time-outs in corners and being sent to my room, or being sent out to wait in the car if we weren't at home. There was some withholding of allowance, and even a few dinners. As I got older, groundings were the most popular form of discipline (especially with the added touch of no tv and no phone). In school, I only received some stern talking to; I once had to copy pages by hand from a history text, and had one detention/saturday school which did not turn out like The Breakfast Club at all.

Overall, I think my parents used every trick in the book that they could think of. They also used positive reinforcement as well. Gifts, treats, kind words, etc. It was a very carrot and stick household. They were young parents since both my sister and I were brought into the world before my 'rents were 20. And, now I have a great relationship with my father and a pretty good one with my mom. My partner was never spanked, not once, as a child. We don't have children, but if we did I like the sound of this whispering talk up thread. My hope is that I can be more consistent in terms of what behavior is expected and what discipline will occur (whatever form it may be).
posted by safetyfork at 10:37 AM on March 6, 2005

chiababe -- It was Norway where my mom was told hitting kids was illegal.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:04 AM on March 6, 2005

I'd also like to hear more about the whispering technique. What kinds of things do you whisper? Negative or positive things?
posted by schroedinger at 12:53 PM on March 6, 2005

Surprising the number of stories about physical abuse here. Ah well. I didn't experience any physical abuse, which I'm thankful for. Mostly I would get into verbal arguments with my mother, which would get rather loud, and after which I generally got time out/sent to my room/similar punishment, which I resented, because she was just as out of control as I was.

Mostly though I tried not to disappoint my parents. My teachers, on the other hand, were another story, and I was constantly talking back to them, for which I either got sent to sit in the hall or got sent to sit in the principal's office. Once I had to write a letter of apology to our school district's police department liason because I refused to participate in bowling for an award party. That was odd.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:23 PM on March 6, 2005

Schroedinger: My aunt was a whisperer. Bad things. Bad, bad, bad things. Worked like a charm, though.

When I was thirteen, my mother was so angry at me that she took my "novel" that I'd been writing for a year and put it down the dish disposal. At about that point in time, I stopped telling my parents anything about my personal life and I still freak out if anyone looks at one of my works in progress, musical or written.
posted by honeydew at 4:37 PM on March 6, 2005

At school in the early-mid '80s the usual punishment was The Strap: being hit on the hand (or occasionally backside) with a belt. If you were super-bad you'd be sent to the principal and he/she would give you the strap. I got it on the hand from my teacher on my very first day of school when a friend and I hid all the other kids' bags and coats behind the classroom piano.

My adopted dad's punishments were always physical: belt, open hand, occasional kicks. He once hit my legs with a stick when I misheard a question he asked and apparently gave him an answer he didn't want to hear.

My mother was more inclined to go the passive-aggressive route. Something would make her mad and she'd stomp around the house, clattering pots and pans and slamming doors and no one would know why or whose fault it was. It was like walking on eggshells, all the time. She got mad enough sometimes to hit, and it would really hurt. She banged my head against the corner of a door frame and gave me concussion once and another time she bit my sister on the leg - we joke about that now, but it was a pretty nasty situation.

So with that in mind, I have a serious fear now of losing my temper and hurting my son. I have smacked him: once on the backside when he ran out into the road and a couple of times on the hand when he's reached out to touch the fire or stick his fingers in my coffee - I'd rather he hurt briefly and got a fright than have permanent injuries and scarring. Mostly my husband and I operate on time-outs, one minute in his room for each year of age - he's two so he gets two minutes with the door shut. Once I managed to explain to him that I was angry and didn't want to talk to him (he'd poured a bottle of makeup into a brand-new purse) and he walked himself into his room, shut the door and played quietly with his toys, and I felt more guilty than if I'd yelled at him.
posted by tracicle at 5:11 PM on March 6, 2005

On the topic of punishment at school: I went to an extremely conservative Christian school (95% of the teachers graduated from Bob Jones University; those people were crazy, but that's another story for another day). They used an honest to goodness wooden paddle with holes drilled in it. I never experienced it, as I was well-behaved at school. However, in fourth grade this one kid was sent to the principal's office for a paddling and he was waiting outside the office and decided that he was not getting a paddling and walked out of the school. It was located right on a frontage road so he just hiked down the interstate towards his home. They found him a few hours later at a rest area about 4 miles away. I can only imagine the panic the staff must have been in when they realized he was missing.
posted by chiababe at 5:18 PM on March 6, 2005

My parents usually talked to me, after that they took away something I wanted (no TV, etc), I estimate that less than once a year before my teens I got a spanking. I hated it then, but it worked.
My dad cried harder than me when he spanked me, he hated to do it. He never spanked in the heat of the moment, and he always explained the reasons. (I always knew that he didn't have a problem with me, just with my behavior)
Some things you can't just learn with words, you need tangible disincentives.
I think a lot of people who condemn spanking are actually anti-beating, and I think it's nearly as bad to raise your voice with a child as it is to strike a child. Both voices and hands can be misused.
posted by Octaviuz at 5:59 PM on March 6, 2005

I think it's nearly as bad to raise your voice with a child as it is to strike a child.

Really? Why's that?
posted by Eamon at 7:55 PM on March 6, 2005

I generally got time out/sent to my room/similar punishment, which I resented, because she was just as out of control as I was.

Yes, but sending you to your room gave her time to cool off as well.

School punishment: We had to do the repetitive sentence thing in grade school. In junior high, I once got the so-many-word theme (HORRIBLE punishment that turned me off to writing papers, permanently). The principle and his assistant used the big wooden paddles with holes, as I mentioned above.

In after-school detention we had to copy from textbooks. 5 words per line, front and back, 5 pages. They made their signature at the top of each page at the beginning, so you couldn't come prepared. You had to select your subject from current lessons. This took about an hour to complete for most of us.

Cleverly, if you skipped class, for each hour missed you had to do 1 hour detention. This also applied to suspensions. My only point against this was the mix of kids in detention was often explosive and, like jail, opportunity for the hard cases to influence the relatively innocent.
posted by Goofyy at 8:18 PM on March 6, 2005

And, of course, I forgot the old technique of washing out the mouth with soap for swearing. SOAP, it promotes clean language. Or, something.
posted by safetyfork at 6:24 AM on March 7, 2005

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