Regarding the comments by the second anonymous poster...
"I don't know exactly how to say this, but I do feel that I need to defend myself. I am not offended at all by what you have said Amanda, but I do believe that there is an area of acceptable spanking. Not out of anger but out of getting a child's attention. And only when it really truly is a 'teachable moment'. I don't mean hurting a child either. But if a tantrum is thrown in the middle of the store a startling swat can do the trick with the right child."
Let me first say that I know many loving, good mothers who do spank. I would never judge one's parenting solely on that issue. The fact that I don't spank does not make me a perfect parent. However, I think there is a misunderstanding regarding the necessity of spanking, and also of the right of a parent to hit his or her child.
For me, it comes down to the Golden Rule. If I am having a fit because I'm hungry or overstimulated or frustrated because I can't get what I believe I need, do I want my child or my husband to hit me in order to get my attention? Definitely not! Would it really take that action to get my attention? No. Am I going to learn anything if my husband slaps me? Well, I might. I might learn that my husband doesn't really value my feelings, that he doesn't really want to listen to what I need, that if I express myself emotionally I'm going to get hit, not helped.
Suppose instead that my husband comes to me, puts his arms on my shoulders, looks me in the eye and says, "Honey, I can see you're really upset. I'd like to help. But I don't want to be screamed at." Then I can calm myself down, and trust that I'll be heard, and my problem will be addressed one way or another.
It's perfectly okay for a parent to set a boundary, to say, "This is unacceptable behavior. I don't want to be treated like this." But it should ALSO be okay for the child to say that to the parent. And that's often what a child is saying with a so-called tantrum. As adults, we have to remember that young children often simply don't have the verbal skills necessary to express what they need. They do learn, however, that being loud in public usually gets our attention.
This is what I've learned about shopping with my children... If we go when the boys are hungry or tired, it's going to be more challenging. If I am the one who's hungry and/or tired, it's going to be the worst. The worse my expectations, the more tense I get, and the worse the shopping experience. And if I'm in a really bad mood, I'll leave the story never wanting to go back, and doubting my entire parenting philosophy. Thank goodness those times are rare.
If, on the other hand, we are armed with snacks, and I don't worry about getting back home quickly, and I try to enjoy my children along the way, then we have a great time. I relax about whether they're in the cart or walking alongside me. I don't freak out if one of them wanders a few feet away. I let them help put food in the cart instead of trying to rush the job by doing it myself. I speak calmly about what extras we can get, and what we can't, and they accept my "not this time" more easily.
My children's behavior is often a reflection of my own. The more hurried I am, the slower they move. The more irritable I am, the more they whine. The more I push them away, the more they cling. But when I am calm, and centered, and really listening to them, they are able to cope better with their own problems and emotions.
"Or if the child is about to run across the street without looking, it makes the connection that what is going on at that moment is a bad choice."
To me, this is simply illogical. "Mommy doesn't want you to run across the street without looking because you might get hurt. Oh no, you did it anyway, and didn't get killed, so I'm going to hurt you now myself." If your reasoning is that entering the street might lead to pain, why is the pain of a spanking justified?
The "connection" argument is actually based on studies done by humanistic behaviorists on rats, which you're probably familiar with. As a Christian, I reject behaviorism as immoral because it justifies treating human beings as objects, not subjects with God-given free will and the ability to reason. Behaviorists do not believe people have souls.
Yes, children's behavior can be manipulated or "trained" with rewards and punishments. I do not dispute that. (Though there are always "strong-willed" exceptions, thank God!) But each time a person is treated as though he has no soul, no will of his own which needs to be recognized and respected, that soul dies a little. The more external motivators are used to control a person's behavior, the more his internal motivation is suppressed. That is, in fact, the goal. After a while, a person can be stripped of any internal motivation to do good for good's sake, or simply for the sake of others. Instead, they do it to avoid punishment, or only because they believe they will be rewarded.
Behaviorism dismisses the possibility that a child might have some good ideas of his own that would be worth exploring even without approval by outside interests. It ignores the importance of independent thinking in a free society.
It is also the philosophy behind the decision of school administrators in my town who are offering $100 to students who report dangerous or threatening activities by their classmates. First, if there is really a threat, the reward should be unnecessary. Second, what kind of moral lesson is being taught by bribing students to rat out their friends? What kind of community is that? The problem is that we ARE a society of people dependent on external motivators. Schools believe in this, they promote it, and they ensure it every step of the way, from kindergarten to high school graduation, with report cards and award ceremonies and special privileges for the well-behaved. Then kids arrive at college, and their professors complain that no one's really there to learn, all their students want to know is, "What's the least I have to do to get the grade I want?"
"And of course you have to explain why that behavior isn't good. I mean, it doesn't stand alone unless the reasons and expectations have already been stated. I didn't swat my daughter until she was three and I can't remember the last time I did. So for her, the effectiveness of a swat has gone away and now I use other forms of correction."
If that's the case, do you really think it was necessary for that brief period at all? If there were other things you did to get her attention before age three, and other ways you influence her behavior now, isn't it possible that there could have been an alternative to "swatting" during the interim as well?
I think that when we include hitting children as an acceptable means of discipline even under rare circumstances, we prevent ourselves from finding more respectful ways to communicate with our child.
"Generally when she acts rude towards me or is disobedient she simply needs a verbal reminder. Fortunately she aims to please and wants to be a kind person. I do believe there are ways that spanking can be an effective and non-damaging way to instruct behavior."
Most children do aim to please, if they haven't lost faith that it's possible. God is merciful, and this is a huge blessing to parents. Even if you don't believe in God, it is biologically imperative that children please their parents. Too often we take this fact for granted, or don't believe it at all, instead using rewards and punishments to control our children, and then the opportunity for mutual trust and respect is lost.
Even if the rest of your parenting is positive and loving enough to prevent damage to your relationship with your child via spanking, she is still learning that it is okay for mommies and daddies to hit, even though it's not okay for anyone else. That's hard to swallow, and hard to follow. It expresses the belief that adults are human, but children are subhuman. There are people who believe this. I am not one of those people, and neither is Jesus.