In total cognitive dissonance re: physical punishment. Please help.
April 25, 2016 7:05 AM   Subscribe

I may be having a child soon, and it just hit me that in my mind physical discipline = success (I don't know any better). Could you please convince me that this is wrong and that there is a way to successfully raise children without terrifying them? Please help me deprogram myself.

I was brought up by a violent mother, and in some ways, the physical and emotional punishment worked (I am relatively successful and very disciplined), while in other ways not so much (trauma, being too hard on myself, etc.) I am not talking about some nebulous light spanking in situations where the child did something dangerous or in big-deal situations that happen once or twice in a childhood. I am talking about belts and shoes and kicking, screaming and name calling to get your point across. This is what I grew up with and I am in terror that I might turn into this the minute I have a child. I am terrified that one day I might have to call CPS on myself.

I guess part of me cannot believe you can actually raise a healthy, successful child without resorting to physical punishment, probably because I have no experience with this parenting approach. At the same time, part of me knows people who grew up without being terrified of their parents exist (friends I respect and admire - in a visceral level I cannot believe they became the people they are today without some degree of violence - I call it violence because that is what physical punishment is and I want to get rid of this stupid belief I have). Like I have this feeling that everyone says they do not use physical discipline but in reality they do and they just don't talk about it. Like peeing in the shower or something. This is what I was told as a child and I guess it sank in.

I would like to raise a child so they turn into an adult who is professionally successful, disciplined, responsible and with high standards, but not perfectionist to the point of eternal unhappiness. I want to raise an person who will love themselves and be happy with their own identity, and who is respectful of others. I also want to end the cycle and raise an individual who will never have the mental conflicts I am having right now.

I want to model good coping, anger management skills, but I never received that myself, and though I have a very good relationship with my husband (we have had some arguments but we never yell, call names or do anything violent) I am very fearful that I will turn into my mother once the baby arrives.

What I am looking for is anedcata, academic research, books, opinions, anything that will make me stop believing deep down that sparing the rod is spoiling the child. I want to deprogram myself and give my child a happy, safe childhood.

Why yes, I am going to therapy.
posted by ADent to Human Relations (49 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
It's mentioned in an essay about the Backfire Effect:

So, how about spanking? After reading all of this, do you think you are ready to know what science has to say about the issue? Here’s the skinny – psychologists are still studying the matter, but the current thinking says spanking generates compliance in children under seven if done infrequently, in private and using only the hands. Now, here’s a slight correction: other methods of behavior modification like positive reinforcement, token economies, time out and so on are also quite effective and don’t require any violence.

American Academy of Pediatrics literature search
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:21 AM on April 25, 2016

I would encourage you to get primary book/workbook recommendations specifically from your therapist, since they may very well have a sort of program of their own associated with a preferred text. But, if they don't (and you've asked, not waited for them to say), you should share a list of resources you get here and pick one to work on with them. This is not something you should be off-roading without your therapist's participation.

However, as a very 101 thing, if you have not already done it, is my standard recommendation of The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Because what you're experiencing right now, the anxiety, is actually a much much bigger deal than a past experience of physical punishment. Manage the anxiety to manage your behavior.

Still, tell your therapist you're doing the workbook and bring it in with you every week to discuss.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:25 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Toxic stress is a good concept to learn about. Harvard Center on the Developing Child has a lot of good videos.

Read up on Adverse Childhood Experiences as well.

CDC has some relatively good materials on parenting for being free.

Behavior therapy / parent training is always an option if you and your child need additional techniques:
Triple P (Positive Parenting Program)
Incredible Years Parenting Program
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy
posted by typecloud at 7:26 AM on April 25, 2016

Does it make more sense if you think of a cat? When you see a happy, well-adjusted cat, do you imagine it was treated violently, or lovingly? People are really not that different from cats, I think.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:28 AM on April 25, 2016 [37 favorites]

You may also want to consider your goals for your child. The longer I have kids, the more I want them to grow up to be happy adults, rather than professionally successful or have high standards. You nod to that in the last sentence, but consider that as a goal in itself -- that might help with a different framework.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:29 AM on April 25, 2016 [35 favorites]

How do you learn best? Are you a person who learns by reading, or by talking with others, or in some other way?

If you're a reader, I'd start reading some parenting books. Not just the scary articles about how beating children is child abuse that will scar them, but real books that give advice and techniques and explanations of how to use positive reinforcement and how to deal with frustrating moments. 1-2-3 Magic is one that gets recommended a lot for parents of young children.

If you like to talk to others, there are parenting classes and/or support groups. Your pediatrician or hospital may be able to refer you to one. Or if you're a part of a community group or a church or any other type of community group, they may have one.

I get the sense that, on some level, you're trying to scare yourself out of using fear and violence against your child, by learning about the terrifying things that does to a child. And it's possible that may work. But I think that if you want to break the cycle fully, you also need to stop making decisions based on fear. Don't beat your kid. But also, don't not beat your kid because you're too afraid to do it. Instead, work on finding a way to do it because you find a way to trust yourself and your skills as a parent enough that you believe you can do this without fear, and with love. That's going to be better for both you and your family.
posted by decathecting at 7:30 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

You might benefit from reading the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.

Also, physical discipline can easily end up as your children having genuine post-traumatic stress disorder as adults, and to your children as adults flinching every time you get within two metres of them, so there's that.

Seriously, my parents were BIG on physical discipline, and as an adult I'm genuinely scared if they come up to me and try to hug me or pat me on the shoulder. As an adult, I refuse to let them touch me. As an adult, I have literal nightmares about my parents every month.

I'm still working with a PTSD counsellor to undo the massive damage that their physical discipline did to me.

Don't do that to your kids. They deserve better, you deserve better.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 7:37 AM on April 25, 2016 [12 favorites]

You can often find free or heavily subsidized parenting classes through your city or county's Child Protective Services or with agencies they give grants to. Google your county + parenting classes to find them. A lot of people think those classes are only for people who have had run-ins with CPS, but that's not the case at all. They're available to anyone within county boundaries and are often useful for any parent (I've known people who were professionals in child protection who learned a lot taking those classes when they had kids of their own) and there should be no shame or stigma in going to them. I've seen a bunch of people from abusive and neglectful backgrounds of their own, plus serious drug problems they're dealing with, learn to become very aware, connected, and loving parents through classes offered by the county. Those kinds of classes usually explicitly address corporal punishment vs. other options, and if they can help people who have already actively abused their children learn how to use non-violent punishment, they should surely be able to help a parent who is this concerned about avoiding that before the child is even born.
But remember, you've done the first step already: You recognize that this is a problem and you don't want to do this to your child. That's huge, don't underestimate yourself. Even though you're fighting with cognitive dissonance you haven't just accepted the idea of using violence on children. Already you're better off than a lot of people.
posted by katemonster at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2016

Something else for you to explore in therapy. If you are worried that you might beat your child, you have good reason to be afraid. Violent energy is inside of all of us and it will come out if we are pushed hard enough. All of us have this; everyone has the capability to do great harm to others; everyone carries unprocessed pain that causes them to lash out. Everyone has a dark side.

You are probably going to feel very tempted to distance yourself from the darkness inside, to wall it off, to identify it as 'other' - like that violence is something only a monster would do, and you're not a monster, so you would never do it. There will be a lot of pressures around you reinforcing this because we as a society like to believe in our own goodness and we like to demonize people who do harm as not like us. You already feel the tension though, right? You can sense it isn't true that you're innately good and pure, and you sense that the line between you and your violent mother seems disturbingly thin.

You know that scene in Empire Strikes Back where Yoda sends Luke into the swamp to face his dark side, and he fights the phantom Darth Vador, and reveals his own face under the mask? As Yoda said, "in you must go". The path towards 'deprogramming' goes straight through the darkness. The things you are terrified of are true. You really do have the ability to do great harm and you really could turn into your mother. Accepting and integrating this is the first step towards breaking free from it. Not doing harm is a conscious choice and you can only make that choice when you feel and understand your own ability to do harm. It is good you are asking this question and starting therapy. If unsure of the path, head straight into the fear.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:55 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

First thing to realize as a victim of abuse: Your successes are DESPITE your upbringing, not because of it. We know now that children who are physically abused have less grey matter, and that psychological abuse leads to a a higher chance of conditions like MDD. (source - source ) There's no "ends justify the means" argument to make about parenting. The rational, kind approach is always going to be better, but it requires a lot of empathy and patience.

Sure, abuse leads to obedience. Obedience out of fear. It's something that works when you're young and the world is simple. But it can lead to a very confusing adulthood, as there's no hard and fast rules for life. Kids eventually have to learn to obey their own needs as adults. One cannot wholly obey a parent their entire life.

I developed ptsd from childhood and I'm just starting to learn how to navigate the world without constant fear. I still cannot let people touch me, even casually. I have nightmares weekly. My experience of abuse wasn't even that awful in comparison to others, but it's mangled my understanding of the world(and myself) so much. It's the job of a parent to teach a child their inherent worth, and that they deserve trust. If you constantly overstep physical boundaries and emotional ones, your kid will never learn what respectful treatment of them looks like. Which can set them up for a life of seeking abusive partners,as well.

Obedience is not success. Having a child that takes orders does not mean you can magically make their life path "perfect". Teaching a child to love themself and to have mutual trust-based respect with you will lead to far better things than terrifying them into submission.
posted by InkDrinker at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2016 [31 favorites]

This book about toddler discipline helped me solidify my thinking about not just why but how to discipline children peacefully.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:01 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Asking the question is a huge first step, so kudos to you! It's really tough to move beyond the model that you were raised with. All parents have their own childhood hardwired into their thinking, and our attempts to raise the next generation are a in constant dialogue with our own upbringing. I suggest looking through the articles on the One Tough Job website. There's a whole section on discipline and behavior. It's also worth reading the articles on development. As a preschool teacher, I notice that a lot of adults expect behavior that's not developmentally appropriate for children, and react negatively when children don't meet standards that they are not ready for (for example, expecting empathy from a 3-4 year old).

Elsewhere on the One Tough Job site, there are Massachusetts-specific listings of resources for parents. I don't know where you are located, but these could give you an idea of what parenting resources are available in your state.

Good Luck! Parenting is an amazing journey!

Full disclosure: One Tough Job is a project of the Children's Trust of Massachusetts, a fantastic agency that works to prevent child abuse and neglect. I serve on their board.
posted by SobaFett at 8:08 AM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

In other spheres like diplomacy, or public order, violence is correctly understood as resulting from the failure of other methods of maintaining peace or resolving disagreements. Violence is failure.

Your mother likely tried other methods to have order and discipline in your home. When they didn't work, there was violence. Would she still have been violent if she understood how to maintain discipline in other ways?

Most parents have built up their skill in managing the behaviour of their kids to such a level that they never resort to violence. Indeed, a lot of parents, myself included, are so resolved to succeeding with these other methods that they don't consider violence an option at all. This said, I don't avoid violence in disciplining my child because there is a prescription against it. I'm not violent with my child because I have better ways teaching my child the best way to behave.

Successful schoolteachers, camp counselors, and sports coaches have totally abandoned the use of violence to discipline children.

There are lots of books and resources on childrearing. Be calm, communicate clearly, and be consistent.

I can't imagine the shock and fear on my son's his face if I used violence in these situations. I know it would change our relationship at once and forever.
posted by thenormshow at 8:23 AM on April 25, 2016 [5 favorites]

Authoritative vs Authoritarian parenting style:
Authoritarian parents believe that children are, by nature, strong-willed and self-indulgent. They value obedience to higher authority as a virtue unto itself. Authoritarian parents see their primary job to be bending the will of the child to that of authority - the parent, the church, the teacher. Willfulness is seen to be the root of unhappiness, bad behavior, and sin. Thus a loving parent is one who tries to break the will of the child.
Authoritative parents are also strict, consistent, and loving, but their values and beliefs about parenting and children are markedly different. Authoritative parents are issue-oriented and pragmatic, rather than motivated by an external, absolute standard. They tend to adjust their expectations to the needs of the child. They listen to children's arguments, although they may not change their minds. They persuade and explain, as well as punish. Most importantly, they try to balance the responsibility of the child to conform to the needs and demands of others with the rights of the child to be respected and have their own needs met (see page 891, above).

My students have always had trouble with the words 'authoritative' and 'authoritarian' because, over the years, they have come to be used almost synonymously. But they are fundamentally different, just as the words 'punishment' and 'discipline' are. Authoritative parents teach and guide their children. Their goal is to socialize their children so they come to accept and value what the parents value. They hope their children will internalize their goals. They are shepherds. The word 'authorative' was chosen to imply that parents have power because they are wiser and are legitimate guides to the culture.

Authoritarian parents, however, exert control through power and coercion. They have power because they exert their will over their children.

Interestingly, authoritative parents tend to be MORE strict and MORE consistent than authoritarian parents. They set fewer rules, but are better at enforcing them. The children of authorative and authoritarian parents tend to be equally well-behaved and high achieving. The children of authoritarian parents, however, tend to be somewhat more depressed and have lower self-esteem than those of authoritative parents.
I don't want to rule my child with fear and power. One day that child will be bigger than me, so then what? I'd much prefer showing my child respect, to give them reasons and examples for why some rules are there. To acknowledge their opinions respectfully, try to find the "yes" as much as possible (play in the rain? OK, let's get your rain boots and waterproof jacket on), and make hard rules where health, safety and respect for others is necessary (you have to sit at the table with me if you want to use your scissors). I think this fosters a more mutually respectful relationship. I'd like to have a relationship with my child when I am no longer bigger than them.
posted by jillithd at 8:31 AM on April 25, 2016 [14 favorites]

Corporal punishment doesn't work. It doesn't. I suggest that you grew up well in SPITE of your upbringing, not because of it. The kids I've known from violent homes are typically self-harming, bad decision makers, seeking love in all the wrong places and addicts. People who wanted their parents to demonstrate love in a kind and gentle way and who were met with hurt and shame instead. This is NOT a legacy you want to pass down to your beautiful, wanted and innocent baby.

Now, let's frame this as though it were an interaction between two adults. Let's say that you had an employee who needed correction in something. Would your response be to yell at that person and to demean them? No. Would you hit them? Absolutely not! Why, because we believe in the dignity of people and frankly, hitting people is assault and you can go to jail for that.

There isn't a black/white thing about discipline. It's not, beat your kids and get good citizen or let your children run free and get hellions.

Think about Behavior Modification in the framework of Rewards for behavior you want to see and consequences for undesirable behavior.

Setting a routine for children and having firm and predictable guidelines is 80% of parenting. My Dad, a behaviorist, says that it's all front loaded. That if you're firm and follow through when your children are young, that it's a LOT easier as they get older. Is it carefree? No, but you won't have kids acting out in harmful ways. By the time my sister and I got to high school, we were pretty autonomous because our parents could trust us to make good decisions. If we screwed up, the consequences were natural and we solved the resulting problems. This is how you raise good humans.

I will say that my Mom was a yeller and I would give SO MUCH to not have been the butt of her frustrations. But I'm the oldest. It only took a little therapy to get her pessimistic and defeatist voice out of my head.

Families are complicated, but violence shouldn't ever be a part of them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:32 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I was brought up by a violent mother, and in some ways, the physical and emotional punishment worked (I am relatively successful and very disciplined), while in other ways not so much (trauma, being too hard on myself, etc.)

Are you sure these two things have anything to do with each other? Some of the most financially and socially successful people I know were most definitely not physically disciplined as children. Not as in I believe that's the case, but I know that's the case. Maybe there's a small chance that your own self-control and organization is related to this aspect of your upbringing, but there are many ways to instill those values, most with much more success and without the trauma of being smacked around as a kid.

I get a sense of self-rationalization in your post. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. We tend to view our current successes or failures as a result of our upbringing, but that's only one factor. Therapy is the go-to thing for ask.mefi, but it couldn't hurt -- you need to understand that you are the person you are due to choices you make and actions you take every day. And those actions can include treating your children with love and respect, and affirming your own values.
posted by mikeh at 8:38 AM on April 25, 2016

It's interesting, it sounds like we've had reverse experiences, in that I had a very difficult time imagining a marriage where no one turned monster, but felt pretty confident about relatively violence-free parenting. The thought patterns you describe are so, so familiar to me, but with the word "marriage" subbed in for "parenting". So you might want to think through some of the ways you work through things with your husband. Think of a time you have been super frustrated, or angry, or frightened in his presence, and the choices you made not to scream, throw pans at him, or say terrible cutting things. How did you do that? Did you choose that moment to say you loved him even if it wasn't true right that second? Did you go for a walk? How could you modify those behaviors with someone much smaller? What resources do you want to already have in place to help you make good choices? Parenting is at times hard and wearing, but it doesn't change the toolbox that you already use daily. It sounds like you have done an amazing job of developing a set of tools that your mother didn't give you, tools that enable you to have respectful, fulfilling, non-violent relationships. You already have the tools to be a respectful and non-violent parent. (Not perfect! Never perfect.)

Anecdata: I was hit only once as a child, never with the level of violence you describe, raised by a parent whose childhood was considerably more violent and frightening. I think I am a pretty successful human, and I think that parent did an amazing job of making other choices at times they could have hurt me. They are the reason it is very easy for me to imagine my parenting path with a minimum of violence (which it has been, so far). It is possible to change, and this change is undoubtedly a good one.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:42 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's another Alfie Kohn parenting book option.
posted by metasarah at 8:45 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Periodic emails from the Yale Parenting Center keep me mindful that gentler approaches can be effective. The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child, from YPC's Kazdin, might be something to consider reading.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2016

This answer will probably be more brief than the question deserves; I have to take my 2-year-old to the doctor shortly for a check-up. While I'm there, I will talk to her about how it's okay for her to be afraid of getting a shot. I will sit with her and her feelings and be present for them. I will not shame her for feeling things.

These have been my parenting mantras:
  • I will not hit. Hitting is off the table completely. It is not an option, ever. I remember how it felt in the moment of hitting and remember how it felt after, and even now, the fear and terror and sense of deep betrayal. I will not make my child feel the way I felt.
  • I will teach her that she does not have to be afraid of her feelings. She will be able to name them and master her expression of them. She will not be someday sitting at her desk at school, crying without knowing why. She will not someday burst into tears at work when her boss gives her feedback. She will be able to take pride in her accomplishments in a way I never have.
  • I will be the parent I never had. I will nurture myself and love myself and extend kindness to myself, and in doing so, I will be able to better care for her.
  • I will apologize when I make mistakes. And more importantly, I'll learn from those mistakes to be able to do better next time. If I raise my voice, and feel crappy about it, I'll apologize to her, genuinely and sincerely. I will model what humility looks like for her. And next time, I will remove myself from the situation before it escalates, to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again.
I was also an obedient but successful child. But I was sometimes violent and also sometimes terrified. From my teens into my twenties, I had terrible panic attacks. I'd break things or fight with my friends and not know why. It has taken SO much therapy to heal from those experiences.

It's more difficult to parent this way. It requires physical and emotional presence and a shit ton of empathy. It takes longer, I think, than just making your children cowed and afraid. But I want my daughter to be successful and whole in ways that I never will be. We're doing this together, growing and learning about feelings.

I'd like to second How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Alfie Kohn and Janet Lansbury. Laura Markham is good too, and when your children are very young, William Sears' approach might help.

But I really think the master of all of this is Mister Rogers. I sing The Mad that you Feel to myself all the time. We watch Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Daniel Tiger. My daughter is 27 months old and better able to express her feelings than my 67 year old mother. Just this morning, she told me she was mad. "What do we do when we're mad?" I asked her. She took a deep breath, counted, then told me that she "feels better."

Feel better. Be better. Do better. It's the only way out of the cycle of abuse.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:52 AM on April 25, 2016 [43 favorites]

One thing: Make a promise with your spouse that both of you will *never, ever, ever* yell in anger. Don't raise your voice in anger, period. No matter how pissed off you get, try to remind yourself that you are not allowed to yell. If you can live up to the promise not to yell in anger and work on peaceful and calm communication then you can begin creating the conditions in the home that drastically reduce the chance of chaos and misunderstanding that increases the chances of the kids bearing the brunt of it. Sometimes, though, no matter what, the violent response is just gonna come up and flood you, but for the sake of the promise you made, shake with rage before you yell and strike.

And maybe cut way back any stimulants like coffee and the like.

All the hugs. It took me five years to figure this out after my kids were born. My kids and I are still working through and talking very openly and frankly about the ways I screwed up when they were young. Don't be like me please.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you do facebook or other social media, add some gentle-parenting-focused people/pages so that you get little doses daily. Most of them do acknowledge that they themselves, or their readers, were raised differently, and that it can be a challenge to respond the way we want to, rather than how we were taught. They also are usually willing to help deconstruct why their method works, even with different kids' personalities, so it doesn't feel like you just have to take it on faith. Specifically, I love Nurshable lots (and she just had her fourth baby, so great timing for you to follow along!), and have been enjoying the Peaceful Papa for a couple of days now, and once you get started there are lots more that will be suggested.
posted by teremala at 10:03 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The very fact that you're asking this question shows that you will most likely be a wonderful mother. So don't sweat it so much.
posted by Pechorin at 10:27 AM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

My husband and I both come from hitting families and, like you, we both worried about how our theoretical future children would fare if we didn't hit them.

We deprogrammed ourselves initially by watching lots and lots of Supernanny (UK version for preference). There's been some backlash about her methods, but the show does provide lots of anecdotes about how the key to behaviour control is consistency. If a child knows that they will receive x consequence, they modify their behaviour.

It was such a relief for me to realise that it wasn't necessary to hit. I just needed to find some alternative approach and apply it consistently.

We read many of the books mentioned above and settled on a basic approach that made sense to us and seemed to build skills for future adulthood.

And, since you wanted anecdotes, my first son is 4. We've never hit him and his behaviour is just as good, if not better, than his peers who have been hit. Furthermore, he is confident and we have a lovely relationship.

His little brother is only a week old, so no data is available yet.
posted by brambory at 10:45 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

For some more anecdata, we absolutely do not hit our children, and we talk about this openly with many of our friends, who also do not hit their children. We're not all secretly beating them to keep them in line. In addition, most of these peers also weren't beaten as children (and aren't lying about it), and are mostly highly successful.

There is this kind of idea that pops up now and then from older people that goes "well, kids these days are terrible. if their parents were beating* them, they'd be better behaved." The thing to remember about this is that people have been saying "kids these days are bad" since basically forever. Never, ever take that seriously. There is no hideous degeneration of today's children because fewer parents beat their kids.

Children are people. You'd never hit a coworker for fucking up, and there are good reasons for that. The same reasons apply to your children.

*They always say "spanking," but I call it what it really is rather than trying to make it sound like something reasonable by using a less violent sounding word.
posted by hought20 at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2016 [6 favorites]

I grew up being spanked and yelled at (and beaten, once) and it didn't occur to me that there were other and better parenting options until I married a man from a country where spanking is illegal. Even before the law, his parents had never hit him or his brothers. That amazed me. And time and time again I saw really excellent parenting skills, in public, in that country. Of course, not-hitting isn't magic; you must know what to do instead. So recommending 1-2-3 Magic, among other books, to help you on your journey. Congratulations for recognizing this issue!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:23 AM on April 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

I also was treated with violence as a child, but unlike you, I never thought it made me successful. It left me dealing with a lot of insecurity, anxiety, and inability to trust people that I've spent years working on. Somehow most of my peers who had positive parenting experiences as a kid don't tend to deal with that stuff nearly so much.

I've read tons about parenting since becoming a father, and the top book on my list is No Drama Discipline. The authors, a psychiatrist and a therapist, do a great job of showing that physical punishment (and other forms of punishment as well) are counter productive, because the essence of discipline is teaching, and kids can't learn when they feel threatened and upset. The rational parts of the brain shut down while the more animalistic, reactive parts come to the fore. It's really reading in detail (or listening to the very good audiobook, which is what I did). It made a believer out of me. Honestly, what it did is give me permission to throw away the stick-and-carrot approach to parenting, which I wanted to do anyway, but wasn't sure if it would be best for my kid. As it turns out, moving beyond reward and punishment into modeling, conversation, and gentle teaching is exactly the best thing for kids. You don't have to hurt them to raise them into being productive, happy people.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:44 PM on April 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

Since you asked for anecdata.

My dad spanked us, with a belt. I loved him and in many ways we were very close, but the threat of violence was always there, and tainted our relationship. I knew that I could only disagree with him so much or he might hit me (or when I was older) yell and scare me. I loved him but I hated him too, and yet I was confused because the only way I saw a parent dealing with anger was his way.

(I still hate to hear men yelling in anger. I cringe. Even when it has nothing to do with me.)

Many years later I had a kid. I was very sure I didn't want to use belts or anything like that but I guess I wasn't as clear in my own mind about spanking=violence, because I did spank my son, a few times, before he was 6.

Then one day I was told he hit a kid in his class, and I was confronted with the lunacy of having to punish my child for hitting when I had been hitting him.

So I decided to stop. And since he was old enough, I enlisted him in it; I told him "we will have a rule in our family: we don't hit. And that means Dad and I don't hit you either." And I apologized to him for hitting, told him that's how I was raised but now I understood that it was wrong. And he took it seriously; in fact he had to teach me not to "play hit" as my family did because that upset him too. And so I stopped, even though I had never considered that real hitting.

And there has been no subsequent loss to our family harmony. We still don't hit in our family. If there is conflict, we try to solve it with words (discussion), with actions (leaving a place, picking up a mess), or when necessary, with loss of privileges (his computer, TV, whatever). And that does take care of it.

You will find things that work for your kid too. Not all the time, not perfect--but then spanking does not work all the time, either. I knew lots of kids that grew immune to it, or that just got wilder, even. Spanking just introduces a new violent factor, it does not solve conflict.

You can do this.
posted by emjaybee at 12:45 PM on April 25, 2016 [11 favorites]

I want to model good coping, anger management skills, but I never received that myself,

I grew up getting face-slapped as a disciplinary measure. Not, like, very painfully, but humiliatingly.
Anyway, I've had problems reigning in my temper. In particular, I seem to have internalized that if a child disrespects my authority, (by laughing at my reprimand, for instance) then this is cause for panic and rage. I thought I was not authoritarian, but deep inside I apparently believe that my authority is both sacred and endangered! Thanks, dad.
I've gotten a lot better at recognizing the impulse and examining it instead of reacting. But not gonna lie, it's taken a few rough years.
I think what helped me most was a system of what to do, rather than what not to do. "Don't yell", is strangely ineffective. But this works a lot better: "if you feel ready to yell, walk away instead. It's okay. Even no discipline is a better lesson for your kid than being yelled at."
It's simple and clear enough that I can follow the instructions even when momentarily emotional.
What also really helps is hanging out with parents whose parenting style I admire. It's just better than reading a book. You see them reacting to different things and you see it working. I feel like I come out of these play dates as a better parent, I take with me new ideas and hope. And also, sometimes they slip up and that helps, too.
And lastly, what helps is apologizing. Apologize immediately. Stop in mid sentence. Say, "I yelled at you and that was wrong. I'm sorry." We remember the stuff best that we say ourselves. Saying it will help you remember to stop in time / apologize the next time. You'll apologize even sooner. And eventually, you'll catch yourself before it happens.
posted by Omnomnom at 1:19 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Physical punishment does (or doesn't do) the following things:
1. Physical Punishment doesn't teach a child what type of behavior to do instead of the behavior you are trying to correct.
2. Physical Punishment teaches a child to lie.
3. Physical Punishment teaches a child that they cannot trust their parent.
4. Physical Punishment does not teach a child to generalize a skill to another environment.
5. Physical Punishment impacts a child all the way through their lives. Adults who are punished physically as children have a lower tolerance for frustration and less impulse control.
6. A child who is physically punished will be more likely to struggle with addiction as an adult.
7. A child who is physically punished will have a harder time regulating their emotions as a teenager and as an adult.
8. Adults who were physically punished as children are more likely to have volatile adult relationships.
9. Bad behavior is an attempt on the part of a child to get a need met (even if it doesn't look like that to us), and punishment does not teach a child to meet their needs. It teaches them that their needs are wrong.

I think you probably know most of this. I think the thing is, you don't know what the other options are. Most of the suggestions above are good resources and places to start. I also recommend Love and Logic books, if you're okay with that philosophy's Christian flavor.
posted by dchrssyr at 1:58 PM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

One last thought from me:

You child is going to love you so much.

I am 100% sure that you loved your mother as a child, and that you hold affection for her now. All children do. It's probably why, in some ways, you want to excuse her, to see her parenting as right and good. And I'm sure as a child, and maybe even now, you yearned for that love to be reciprocated, to be cherished and nurtured like you deserved to be.

I wanted to believe non-violent parenting was possible, but I was afraid violence was somehow inevitable even after books and processing and therapy. But once my daughter was here and I saw how vulnerable she is and how absolutely full of love for me she is (alllll she wants is to be with and be loved by Mommy and Daddy), I couldn't do it. More, I was able to really see palpably and for the first time, how wrong the spanking and yelling and name-calling my mother did to me truly was. Because I was tiny. I was soft. I was small. And I adored her so much.

We all want to be loved and validated by our parents. Hitting and violence breaks that love fundamentally, erodes a sacred trust that is inherent in the parent-child relationship. You can be the parent that your child wants you to be. I believe in you, and one day, she or he will, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:08 PM on April 25, 2016 [21 favorites]

The advice above is all so good. I know exactly how you feel because I have a similar background to yours and was also very worried when I was a young parent: I agree with everyone above that change is possible. My children are adult now, and they are so disciplined and hard-working and also really thoughtful and caring, it's amazing. We often talk about how some of their friends and relatives who have "stricter" parents have gotten into much more trouble, of all sorts (like I did, when I finally escaped from my authoritarian parents).

Yes, both have done things that weren't smart: drank alcohol as minors, lost their phones and/or purses, hung out with the bad guys. But we talked about it, and they resolved to take care of themselves, for their own sake - while their peers just continued down the road of teen-experiments and conflict. As parents, we decided early on that all the kids from school should see us and our home as a place where one can safely talk about problems and come even when one has been extremely stupid (kids know well when they have crossed the line). We started at the kindergarten-level and have stuck to the plan, even after we split as a couple. When all the friends see us as "cool" parents, it contributes to our own kids' confidence in us. But we are definitely parents, not friends. We have rules, and there are consequences. It's just that those consequences are neither curfews nor physical punishment.

My kids can remember almost every single time they have been called out for doing something wrong. Because it is that seldom. If they have done something which is not good, but they didn't know it, then I would explain the situation to them. If they did know, then came trouble. Once, at 4-yo, my daughter stole something, well knowing it was wrong. I was angry for about ten minutes. She has never forgotten.
posted by mumimor at 3:01 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have three great kids that I didn't spank. They are quiet, polite, and charming to be around. I try to model the behavior that I want them to mimic. It seems to be working. All three are high achievers, by the way.

There is an exception. I only spanked when it was a matter of life and death. The first time any of my children ran away from me in a parking lot, they were hit. There are some things that I don't think you should waste time in explaining. But, that was it. Discipline has always been very creative. My son needed more of it than my girls. What worked with my son:

He lost the right to all electronics. If he mouthed off about the punishment, then he lost light as well. It only took one time of me cutting off electricity at the breaker to his room for him to know that I was serious.
He always had to write an apology letter, even if it wasn't sent.
He did not get electronics (or electricity back) until he did one icky chore. I kept a running list of awful things that I didn't want to do, and would let him choose when he misbehaved. The more offensive behaviors got him three things off the list. While he was growing up, I never had to wash a window or clear out any hair clogs. I have a friend who uses this technique to get her hot tub cleaned. Kids, mostly boys, are going to act up. We may as well benefit from it. I was so consistent with my son that the moment he did something bad, he came to me with his devices, told me what icky chores he was going to do, and began writing the apology right away, without any prompting. He is now 18 and still writes apology notes.

I too was raised by being yelled out and hit. It surprised me when I had to fight against doing the same thing to my kids. It's something that is buried deep and will come out. I learned to take timeouts for myself.
posted by myselfasme at 3:16 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

A study published today reviews five decades of research on spanking. Here's the summary:
The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to defy their parents and to experience increased anti-social behavior, aggression, mental health problems and cognitive difficulties, according to a new meta-analysis of 50 years of research on spanking.
Link to a more descriptive summary. Link to the paywalled (but affordable) paper.
posted by Ookseer at 3:22 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've seen a lot of fantastic parenting skills coincide with people who have had teacher training and done work as teachers or in other professional childcare roles.

I think that if I were to ever raise a child, I would definitely be signing up for some classes.
posted by aniola at 4:04 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

Like I have this feeling that everyone says they do not use physical discipline but in reality they do and they just don't talk about it.

Absolutely untrue. A lot of people consider "physical discipline" abuse, and never engage in it.
posted by kapers at 4:22 PM on April 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'll put it this way.

I just saw someone on my Facebook feed share an article about new links between spanking and mental illness, anti-social behavior, and other behavioral problems in children and teenagers. I was able to IMMEDIATELY map that even on a micro level to the child in my family who received the most spankings growing up.

Now, I guess it could be a chicken and egg thing, but even if the problem was that said child was prone to mental health problems, acting out, etc. (and was thus spanked more for how that manifested) wouldn't the better solution have been to address the root causes of his bad behavior?

In the best case scenario, what did spanking accomplish besides beating on a non-neurotypical kid? In the worst case scenario, did my parents pave the way for future problems via their choice of disciplinary method? And seeing articles like that, how much guilt must my parents feel?

It's just not worth it, in my opinion.
posted by Sara C. at 5:51 PM on April 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Myth of the Spoiled Child is the Alfie Kohn book you need to read. Please read it before your child is born. I am a firm believer that it is both wrong and counter-productive in so many ways to hit a child, and even to scream at a child. But Alfie Kohn can do a much better job than I can in explaining why.

Additionally I'd like to say that success in raising a child should be measured by how happy and well-adjusted and motivated your child is, not by how much money-earning potential they have or what degree they have. A happy, well-adjusted, and motivated kid who becomes the same as an adult will tend to do well in life, and what I mean by that is they will be productive, content, and a good person. You can create an academic machine or anything else out of a kid through coercion and terror, but the mentally-scarred person they become will face life-long struggles and never reach their full potential and never be fully happy. The greatest gift you can give your child is mental health. With that, everything else is possible.
posted by OCDan at 10:49 PM on April 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

My partner and I decided, probably well before we had kids, that we wouldn't hit them.

Even if you call it spanking - I couldn't imagine doing that to my partner, how could I do that to someone so much smaller? So much less capable of understanding?

It was difficult at times, not because we wanted to hit her, but because we were surrounded by people who would be angry at us for not hitting her. Even if she were being good, if they were hitting their children they would then be angry at us because our daughter found it terrifying and because we still didn't do it.

We can both remember the visceral terror of an adult hitting us. Knowing you are smaller, you have no recourse, you have nothing and the person you love most in the world and the person who says they love you the most, is hurting you for doing something wrong. Maybe a mistake, maybe childhood cruelty, but a mistake nonetheless since you are a child. You do not have the same cognitive capabilities as an adult. You have enough to know in your heart and soul that they are hurting you and they call it love in some way.

My child is teaching herself katakana, she plays viola, she made tiny popin kitchen takoyaki balls with me this afternoon. She also woke me up at 3-5 am five times last week until I sat down and said 'you cannot do this please, I am so tired because I have all these other things to do' - if I'd hit her, told her she wasn't allowed out of her room, would she have learned anything about her effects on me and the effect of sleep deprivation? Would I have had any opportunity to show her compassion and kindness and empathy? Would I have achieved anything but obedience?

Because that's the key - if your primary goal as a parent is obedience then, well, physical abuse can work quite well. If your primary goal is raising an empathic, kind, human being who relates well to others? It works less well because it creates and enforces a hierarchy that the only release from is getting to the top of it.

Sure, my dad hit me and look how I turned out: I'm doing a PhD, I own my own home, I've been married for ten years, I have a Masters Degree and a wonderful child. I write short stories and novels and other things, I am a friend to many and I am well known for my kind and empathic work with other students at university. I have a lovely cat and a couch from Ikea and I am planning a kitchen renovation and just last night I had dinner with the old man and my mother and we talked about my upcoming trip to the US.

Sure, my dad hit me and look how I turned out: crippling mental issues resulting in Generalised Anxiety Disorder and PTSD - the latter from a rape that I still blame myself for because if nothing else is made clear by physical abuse it's that the person being hurt caused this - I've been in therapy for five years, I still have meltdowns and processing issues and there's no end in sight for the therapy or the medication I take just so I don't get stuck in a mental map of 'you are an awful human being who doesn't deserve to live' because I missed my bus.
posted by geek anachronism at 12:48 AM on April 26, 2016 [17 favorites]

People may say that "kids these days" are worse than they used to be. But that's not reflected in the violent crime rate, which has been dropping since the early 90's in the US. Teen pregnancy is down, too. The data really doesn't support the "kids these days" narrative. It's tricky to figure out what exactly might have caused this, but a decline in spanking at the very least isn't leading to an increase in really serious bad behavior.
posted by Anne Neville at 6:49 AM on April 26, 2016

As someone who was beaten growing up, I attribute a very large chunk of my severe complex PTSD to my parents. I have nightmares every night, even with my medication. I have major anxiety issues. I don't know how to safely express emotion, and am only now learning how to be in a healthy relationship.

Thing is, beating a kid doesn't really change their reasoning. For me, it just made me sneaky, a damn good liar, and someone afraid of hearing my father's voice or going into his study, even when he wasn't in the room/house/STATE. It teaches the kid that violence is the only answer, it certainly doesn't teach them relational nuances, and you wind up with another generation that's facing the exact problem you are now!

So please. Do whatever you can to break yourself out of the trauma.
posted by gloraelin at 7:02 AM on April 26, 2016

First thing to realize as a victim of abuse: Your successes are DESPITE your upbringing, not because of it.

THIS. Do you have siblings? I do. I turned out "well" despite the violence, but I have one sibling who is a drug addict, one who doesn't speak to my parents, one who moved across the country to avoid them, and one who only gets by via self-medicating with weed. I am the only one who is able to maintain successful adult relationships. Not coincidentally, I've had the most therapy.

You were going to be fine no matter what. You were born with discipline and drive. But that doesn't hold true of every child. Violence is traumatizing and damaging, but you can break free of the cycle.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:46 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

just saw this and thought of this thread:
Their study, which was published in the April edition of the Journal of Family Psychology, was based on five decades worth of research involving more than 160,000 children. They are calling it the most extensive scientific investigations into the spanking issue, and one of the few to look specifically at spanking rather than grouping it with other forms of physical discipline.

“Our analysis focuses on what most Americans would recognize as spanking and not on potentially abusive behaviors,” lead author Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas, said in a statement Monday. “We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents' intended outcomes when they discipline their children.”
(sorry if it's already somewhere above).
posted by andrewcooke at 10:13 AM on April 26, 2016

Just a note to say that I respect you so much for reaching out about this issue and I hope you're doing okay reading about how the affects of physical discipline. When I wrote my answer to your question above I didn't really think about how it might be triggering for you based on your past or feel preachy or like judgement against you or you parents.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:22 AM on April 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thank you, everyone for these replies. I think I have overcome the backfire effect mentioned above and I can finally accept what the evidence says - physical punishment is as brutal and useless as I thought it was when I was a child, before I had time to convince myself that it worked.

You have open my eyes to the fact that I have a non-normal level of anxiety about this, probably a result of my constant self-hate. Up to this point in my life I never even considered that maybe I was going to be an organized, disciplined person anyway, and all the pain wasn't necessary. I always thought that without my mom's approach I would have been a total mess, but for the first time I am not so sure.

You have made me realize that indeed what I want is a happy child, and I cannot phrase it better than as stated above, the best gift I can give my child is emotional health. It is true that I will have to learn new techniques to accomplish things the right way, instead of taking the short cut of hitting a child into obeying (I can't even believe I was considering this), but I will do the legwork and learn, and I am sure these new strategies will be useful in my interactions with others, because frankly, you have also made me realize that I am indeed still terrified of everything, and I should not live that way. I need to address my own trauma and stop scaring myself into doing things, and you brought attention to the way many things make me feel the same panic I felt when I was four and I didn't understand why my own mother was making me bleed.

I appreciate everyone's experiences and I have marked the responses that touched me the most. I really appreciate those who have successfully raised children and took the time to tell me how wonderful and well adjusted they are, because it gives me hope that I can also help my child be that way.

PhoBWanKenobi, you can't imagine how much you have helped me. Your responses (the second one in particular) moved me so much, and I cried when I realized that yes, my mother was the one person I loved the most, and she betrayed me. I don't want to break my baby's heart that way.

I have made a book list, and I will do what I'm good at: read and read and think and read some more. Then I will talk to my husband and we'll come up with reminders and strategies to make sure I never lose sight of the goal: to raise a happy, well adjusted person who will do good in the world.
posted by ADent at 12:25 PM on April 26, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm so glad my words helped. You are going to be a great parent. One last thing to chew over:

You have open my eyes to the fact that I have a non-normal level of anxiety about this, probably a result of my constant self-hate. Up to this point in my life I never even considered that maybe I was going to be an organized, disciplined person anyway, and all the pain wasn't necessary. I always thought that without my mom's approach I would have been a total mess, but for the first time I am not so sure.

Something to remember is that normal, happy, secure, well-adjusted children sometimes do act out and rebel. This is especially developmentally appropriate with toddlers and teenagers. A child who is safe will test boundaries in order to learn the rules of their world and to individuate themselves from their parents.

Children who are abused might not rebel at all, because it isn't safe for them to do so. They might get hurt or face total loss of privileges, love, security by breaking rules. I know that I didn't, as a kid. To this day I'm a needlessly-stringent follower of rules, the type of person who will use my traffic signal on a completely empty street. It's a sign that my parents were successful, I guess--of making me super scared to be caught doing wrong. But it didn't teach me to be ethical, good, kind, or (especially) happy.

Keep this in mind when your kiddo is a toddler, especially. It can be really hard to have a kid who is a healthy, well-realized "brat" in the eyes of your internal abusive parent. But sometimes it means you're doing it right, not wrong.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:39 PM on April 26, 2016 [11 favorites]

Gentle hugs, OP. It took me so long to acknowledge that my parents were abusive, and when I did, it really shook the foundations of my life. It's hard to acknowledge that your parents were broken and that you will never get the parenting you deserve. I strongly recommend that you (and all parents) get therapy to sort out these issues before the baby comes; you have been programmed to react a certain way when under stress, and may need help countering it.
posted by snickerdoodle at 6:32 PM on April 26, 2016

I also wanted to give you a little heads up about the terrible twos. When your child goes through that stage, it will be a real test of your ability to stay calm and cool. Here's what you need to know: if your kid is having a tantrum, don't try to talk or reason them out of it. Nothing external will get through. Instead, just let the child work their way out of it entirely by themselves. So just back off entirely and you'll be amazed when you see that a kid who was screaming bloody murder and made you feel like the sky is falling will be smiling and laughing ten minutes later like nothing ever happened. The fastest way to get from A to Z in that situation is to do nothing. Just totally back off and let the kid be. In my experience, that's what will work best, and it will have the nice benefit of also being the easiest thing for you too. I know the terribly twos are not something that you will be facing very soon, but please try to remember this advice because it's going to test your ability to stay calm and it's easy to make the mistake of lashing out at the kid in that kind of very frustrating situation, but that will not resolve anything and instead will actually make it worse.
posted by OCDan at 8:52 PM on April 26, 2016

I just want to come back and agree with those saying that sometimes it will be hard. I have only had the urge to hit a couple of times, but I fight the urge to yell at my kids (which I also think is useless and harmful) basically every day, because I have a toddler and a four year old and they whine and the four year old talks to me like I'm his servant sometimes and the baby throws all her food on the floor at dinner and has epic meltdowns whenever I tell her no about basically anything.

Kids are not naturally perfectly well behaved. An 18 month old child is not really designed to sit still for two hours for a family dinner at a restaurant, and that's going to be frustrating and embarrassing for you if your family is a family of hitters with frightened children who sit there because they don't want to be pinched or humiliated or hit. A three year old is inevitably going to throw a ridiculous tantrum at the grocery store because they want a toy and you won't buy it for them and dear god, you have never bought them a toy there BEFORE so why on earth do they expect it NOW. A four year old is going to sass you and say terrible things and it's going to be really hard not to be mean right back, especially if he's articulate because that makes it really easy to forget that he's just a tiny little guy who still has no idea how to handle his big emotions and this big world. Because that's what all of this is about--kids are messy, they have big emotions and no sense of scale and they don't have the tools to manage those emotions, and they need your help to develop the tools to handle those emotions and learn from them rather than squash them down so they don't get hurt.

And I also want to note that this thread has me focusing more on not yelling, because seriously. Especially PhoBWanKenobi's comments.
posted by hought20 at 3:29 AM on April 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

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