And neither are you. I don’t advocate for spanking because I know it doesn’t actually affect long-term behavior change (and it models violence). But darn it, some days I lose my cool and it seems like a completely viable option in the moment. And I will also say that there are several times that I’ve totally threatened a spanking. Case in point, one month ago.
My smart, kind, funny, and compassionate five-year-old boy was being kind of a jerk.
This is an all-too-common experience in our home, so nothing out of the ordinary was occurring. But for some reason, my son’s typical defiant behavior (e.g. telling me “no” when I asked him to do literally anything) had escalated, and now he was being overly aggressive with his sister. Even worse, our typical time-out behavior modification tactic was not working at all. In fact, it was probably making things worse. He would go into a time-out maybe once an hour at its peak, and he would become destructive in anger. He even broke a toy in the process. Clearly, this wasn’t your regular run of the mill preschooler stuff.
So of course, I panicked.
Being in the mental health field, I freaked out and went to the worst-case scenario like an emotionally explosive disorder or a serious behavior problem. I asked a few child therapists in my network what I should do, and they talked me off a ledge. They told me that this is just the result of a kid who needs some kind of attention and he’ll settle on the negative kind. They asked me if anything was going on in the family dynamics that might trigger this, and I realized that my little boy was feeling some serious sibling rivalry for attention.
My almost two-year-old has been getting more of our time these days due to her therapies, and we were inadvertently tending to her needs while assuming that my five-year-old was self-sufficient. He is pretty darn independent, but we were not giving him the same degree of time and focus that we used to because our attention was directed at getting my little one to pass all her milestones. And because he is a ball of emotion and energy, he did the only thing he knew how: he acted out to let us know that things weren’t all right.
Once we figured this out, my temptation to threaten spankings went down significantly.
After all, he wasn’t trying to be a jerky kid, but he didn’t have the emotional language to say, “Hey, I feel left out here.”
My child therapist friends also recommended using positive reinforcement, which in this case, was a sticker chart. A short Amazon delivery later and we have an awesome magnetic star chart and an eager little boy who very much wants to earn his prizes for completing his target behaviors each day. We found a winning combination because we took a step back and had the luxury of a child therapist on speed-dial.
But that doesn’t mean I’m some sort of patient parenting master with all the answers.
Before I thought to phone a friend or two, I yelled and screamed and got into a battle of wills with a five-year-old, and I was losing. And I really did want to smack his defiant little butt when he sat there and disrespected me or laughed when I was trying to discipline him. Thankfully, my husband empathized that he felt the same way. Then, when we calmed down, we realized that we were in over our heads and it was time to call in reinforcements.
So that is my advice to the mama who sat there and thought about spanking or even went there with their child. Sometimes things escalate to that point, and it is ok (and totally normal). It’s also ok if you gave into temptation and are now looking for a better alternative. I would advise you to think about what’s going on inside the mind of your child and see if you can find a way through the problem together.
Behavior charts are a great choice, but sometimes it can be one-on-one time or maybe even removing over-stimulation or taking a calming break together.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, but there are better approaches than spanking which, as tempting as it is, won’t fix the problem.
So the next time you lose your cool, I raise the mom-salute to you in solidarity, and I encourage you to take a breather and think about phoning a friend. We’ve all been there, and maybe some of us have a few ideas that might work for you. If not, I’m sure you can at least commiserate over a glass of wine.