Friday, October 17, 2014

Ridiculousness in the Discipline/Spanking Debate

A couple years back I posted about disciplining kids and really struggling to figure out what we should do, what I was okay with, and all that stuff. Well, Judah is now three and a half, smack in the middle of testing boundaries constantly, and.... have I moved ahead at all?

So here's the thing. I would still love to not spank my children. There's enough research on the topic that is negative and I have personal reservations about how negative spanking can be when it's linked with anger. But then in the middle of struggling to discipline in the face of direct defiance, I have felt like... I just don't know what else to do! Kids have to learn to obey and behave. And yeah, I know that they need to run around and be crazy and that they get tired and hungry and struggle to keep themselves in check. I know to get down at eye level and speak to him lovingly and firmly. This, however, doesn't take care of disobedience, at least not for us, at least not right now. So, I have spanked, though not often, because sometimes I just don't know what else to do.

I am nearly finished with Shepherding a Child's Heart, the book that so many people in my circles love and recommend. I mostly hate it. There is some good stuff in there about communication and about the ultimate goal of parenting being to point a child to glorify God and enjoy Him. However, the thing that sets the book apart from other parenting books is that it specifically endorses spanking, and I decidedly hate the way they come to this decision. Essentially, they quote the Proverbs about “the rod” and discipline, and say that all other methods of discipline are insufficient, inconsistent, or punitive, and children must be spanked because the Bible says so. They also say that children should be spanked every time they do not obey quickly and directly.

Sorry folks, I just disagree. The scripture speaks about discipline, with “the rod” being a method of discipline of the day. The message is that parents must shepherd and discipline their children, not that children must be spanked. The book also has little in it of grace and there is a lot of talk of children being out of the “circle of blessing” as soon as they disobey in any way. There's no understanding of the constant “twilight' of our souls in which we are being made new but always still also dealing with our flesh. We are either in sin or in holiness and apparently we must discipline our children out of sin and into holiness. 

So. Frustrating. I ranted and raved about the book to Isaac nearly every day. 

In the midst of that frustration I engaged a community of women on a Facebook group I'm involved in. They are believers and fellow Moody alumni, and I know a lot of they (us?) follow attachment parenting methods. When that was being discussed, I threw in my questions about discipline. For those who don't spank, help me understand what else you do? What are the other options? I put in a specific example, but most responses coming from the attachment parenting crowd seem to be about overall theory. That doesn't do me much good. I need to know what you specifically do in response to direct defiance from a child.

I've since been pointed repeatedly to Laura Markham's website, and have read article after article on there and you know what? I am at a loss. According to her, time outs are no good. Spanking is no good. Parent-instituted consequences are no good. So, as I said, what do you actually DO when a child is disobedient and there isn't a natural consequence?? One page gave a play by play response and this is what I come away with. Essentially you do everything you can to avoid coming to that point of direct defiance (yes atmosphere, offer the child win-win options, redirect, etc.) , but if you happen to get to it, remove the child from the situation and talk it through.

Which.... you know.... I quite frankly do not believe that is a sufficient way to address inappropriate behavior and defiance. That is the first thing I do with my kiddo, and on occasion he is then able to resolve the situation. Often, though, nothing changes in his actions or attitude after being removed and speaking seriously together about that situation.

Secondly and more importantly, Markham's ultimate goal in discipline seems to be maintaining a positive relationship with the child at all costs. Creating a strong relationship means the kiddo will respond to gentle guidance instead of needing ultimatums. Evaluate all responses based on whether they strengthen or weaken your relationship. “Defiance is always a relationship problem.” Gosh. There is no sense that the child might sometimes have a heart problem and might make their own negative choices and firmly stand in them. 

In the end, I am equally frustrated by Laura Markham and what I have seen so far of the attachment parenting ideology about discipline of toddlers/preschoolers. On the Shepherding a Child's Heart side, the child is viewed as bad and in need of redemption via spankings. On the other side the child is viewed as good and simply in need of everything being nice and that will be enough to “gently guide.”

I think there's a theological problem in the realm of anthropology and hamartiology here, and it drives some bad ideology about parenting and discipline. There's a song I loved in college by Shaun Groves called “Twilight” that played off the image of the “dawning day and dying night” in the soul, “saint and sinner mingled in my veins.” You, me, my kids, we are stunningly beautiful, precious beings that reflect a God of grace, beauty, creativity, and love. And yet I know my own soul is also “prone to wander” and that without discipline, whether it be from the church, community, the scripture, or discipline that I myself implement on my own heart …. I do damage.

And so, I believe my children need love and relationship and discipline. As their parents, we are responsible for that. What that specifically looks like, I still am not sure. I just know I'm disappointed by the extremes on both sides, and the way the evangelical world sometimes buys into them. Anyone have any other favorite resources/books about parenting? I'm in the middle of struggling with it, and I find that reading keeps my thinking and being intentional in how I respond to Judah in this stage.


Jen said...

I love your honesty! I obviously don't have children so don't really know about the theories on discipline or what would work for me, but I have taught young children for a number of years and am now living in the midst of a large mish community with dozens of MKs. So I have plenty of personal opinions on the subject. ;-) I used to think that I was a no-spanking person. However, I see the kids who don't get spanked (who, I'm assuming are being parented Laura Markham style), and frankly we don't enjoy having them visit our home. Over the years I have evolved to believe kids need a good spanking every once in awhile. I think you've got it right that there's a mix of good and bad in all of us, and we need to respond to children accordingly. At the end of the day, I think you find out what works best for your family, regardless of what the books or the evangelical world say.

I had a student in my first 1st grade class who started acting up one week. I was on the phone with his mom every day for a couple weeks, and I know she was trying everything she could,but the behavior wasn't changing. Then one Monday he came in and behaved perfectly and kept up his good behavior. When I asked his mom about it, she said, "We tried everything: we beat him, we sent him to bed without dessert, we took away the TV, his toys, his video games. He wasn't allowed to go out and play. But it had no effect. Then on Sunday we told him he couldn't wear his suit to church. He had to wear his regular clothes. He cried and cried; he was so embarrassed. And now if he misbehaves we can threaten him with that." :-) Find out what works with your kid!

junglewife said...

Yes! I struggle with all this as well. I do spank, but they are few and far between, NOT "shepherding" style. I also struggled with that book. But, our kids ARE little sinners, just like we are! Spankings seemed to be most effective from about 2-5 years or so. I had to stop with my oldest because it started getting to the point when she was around 5 that she would get so hysterical after a spank that it would take an hour or two to calm her down! Not really effective at that point! And when they get older you can use other forms of discipline more effectively. I have Kevin Leman's book Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours and it has some good advice, a la making the punishment fit the crime. Which is great but I found it hard to apply with standard toddler defiance type disobedience. Anyway, our discipline has changed as the girls have gotten older but now I am going to have to struggle through all this again with our twins :-) no easy answers, sorry! But I think a lot of it lies in Proverbs' "train up a child in the way HE should go..." i.e. Every child is different so truly loving, effective discipline should be tailored to each child, not just a blanket discipline style, which is the problem with so many parenting books...

rachieannie said...

Such a frustrating problem! We are in the middle of that with our 3 and 2 year old boys.

We've had a lot of luck with 123 Magic, which my mom, who is a social worker, recommended to us. However, the author tells you not to spank, and gives you other ideas to use, including time outs, making them go to bed earlier, taking away fun things, etc. Which is all great for older kids (it's for kids ages 2-12), but my 3 year old doesn't know when I'm sending him to bed 15 minutes earlier!

Anyways, we do a combination of time outs (which works for our oldest because he HATES having the door shut on him) and spanking. But we spank out of anger. And one good thing the books says is that typically spanking is just a manifestation of an adult temper tantrum. That is so true for us! I just get so frustrated with repeated disobedience that I pop them on their behind to make me feel like I'm doing something. But discipline isn't there to make me feel better!

Anyways, no real answers for you. Just an agreement from a mama in the trenches that it's so so so hard. And when you figure out the best way, please let me know!

Corinna Mazzotta said...

Oh Kacie, how thankful I am that someone else thinks that Shepherding A Child's Heart is not the answer. Again & again our church recommends this book, and again & again I find that it doesn't give answers to the actual situations that arise with parenting strong-willed boys and I don't agree with much of what it does say!

We too never found the answer to your question - what to do in a specific situation when your son chooses to be defiant. I kept asking the question but no-one ever came up with a practical solution. So like you we resorted to spanking when there was no other recourse left.

I'm sorry not to be able to give you any practical help - I wish I knew the answer. We still struggle with this occasionally now, as at 12 & 10 the boys can consciously make the decision to be defiant. What works at the moment is revoking privileges (grounding them, taking away technology etc) but of course that doesn't help with your situation. :-(
We used time out a lot - on the bottom step of the stairs as it's a boring place - but that only worked while they were willing to sit there!

You're a great mum & you're doing a fab job. In the end you can only do your best - which is what you are doing. I'm not convinced there is one right way to do it - a lot depends on the child I think. Try different things at different times and find what works for you. It will change over time - so what works now may not work in 6 months time!

Hugs from a mum who's been there before you. xx

Lisa McKay said...

Oh, gosh!! This issue drives me crazy, and I'm pretty much where you're at. Dominic is hard-wired to be defiant. He just IS that way. He's not malicious in his defiance most of the time, he's just incredibly contrary, and it's SO HARD TO FIGURE OUT HOW AND WHEN TO BE STRONG AND WHEN TO SELECTIVELY IGNORE, etc. Anyway, all that to say I spank sometimes (as in, uh, most days at the moment he'll get smacked for something). After lots of statements outlining the consequence of his behaviour, and lots of counting to 4, 5, 10 etc. But you know what. I'm not sure spanking is doing much to change the behaviour either, so I'm a bit at a loss. The thing that does seem to bring him into line at the moment is taking away the thing he loves most in the world... the threat of no rides on the green lawn mower. But we're leaving here in two weeks and the mower isn't coming... so who knows where we'll be next on this front.

Kacie said...

Hah, Lisa, yes! I don't think spanking usually changes behavior any more than other methods. Sometimes when he's being disrespectful in general for several days it takes Daddy spanking him and that can change things around. But most of the time I find the removal of favorite toys to be actually effective. You won't come and talk to me about what just happened, or drink the antibiotics you need to drink? Fine, then you give up the privilege of playing with the toy plane you're obsessed with. You choose - either cooperate and play or don't cooperate and live without it.