If you want to start an argument, and clearly I do, start a discussion about spanking. It gets way out of control, way fast.
Let me lay a disclaimer here, I was spanked as a child. I did not turn out to be a serial killer. I just have lovely parents who were using the common discipline tactic of the 80’s, spanking.
Let’s take a moment of collective silence for the 80’s. The clothes, the music, the terrible hair … let it wash over you like a warm bath, ahhhhhhhh …. now back to business.
But, here is what I know about myself ….. spanking taught me nothing. Nothing positive, that is.
Fear and Shame
By no stretch of the imagination was I spanked excessively. But, I still feel the message quite clearly. Be fearful of authority figures because they have the power to hurt you. I can remember quite clearly the message I internalized as a child. “If you do something wrong, hide it. That way you can avoid the punishment.”
I also internalized that when something happens that you don’t like, it is okay to respond with a physical hand. It was very confusing to know that my punishment could be a spanking, but later on if something happened that I didn’t like, it wasn’t okay to lash out in response. This is a reaction that I continue to battle with, even today.
Aggression begets Aggression
Let me nerd out on you for one second. Dear old Albert Bandura posits, according to Social Learning Theory, that children learn and model their own behavior after whom they identify as role models. If a child sees that the response to an unwanted behavior is aggression, then they may model this behavior themselves, aggressively acting out in some way. This may be towards the parental figure or perhaps later towards a peer. It is important to remember that aggression or anger is not always physically acting out. There could be some form of emotional outburst that seems out of line with the tenor of the unwanted behavior-sobbing, isolating, panic attacks, etc.
So, when you know better, you do better.
By the time I had my first child, I had a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Master’s degree in Social Work, and several years working as a clinical social worker under my belt. My husband is a psychiatric nurse (I know what you’re thinking, the Fuselier house must be FUN with a capital F!). We had decided that we would not be spanking our children and animals (everyone knows the dog is my favorite anyway).
I thought that it would be as easy as saying “we don’t spank” and then it would be done with. But, going back to my old friend, Albert Bandura, my husband and I had clearly internalized the spanking response we had both learned in childhood. Even though we made a conscious decision not to spank, spanking did pop up as my first instinct in response to toddler defiance (there is nothing more frustrating than a tiny version of yourself freaking out with limited language skills).
I had to consciously identify alternative and healthy behaviors to counteract my instinct to spank and teach a better way of reacting to my child.
Deep breathing techniques
It’s amazing what a little extra oxygen and time can do to anger and fits. It’s like hitting everyone’s release valve.
Next time you’re feeling like you are going to lose it or your child has already lost it, try this:
- Sit in a chair or criss cross applesauce, as my 5 year old would say.
2. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart.
3. Seal your lips.
4. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale, with sound, through your mouth.
5. Repeat for 5 breaths.
6. Sit in silence with your child for just a few second. Notice if the anger in both of you has subsided to the point where you can calmly talk about what just happened.
Make a joyful noise. A very loud joyful noise.
Especially when my son was too young to process his emotions with words and could not fully understand what I was telling him, I would “OM” at him. I would “OM” at him loudly and for a long time. Sometimes he would join me, and sometimes he would stare quietly at me like I was from another planet. The sound of the “OM,” when done correctly, truly calms the nervous system. This goes for me and the listener/aka the tiny version of myself that has totally lost his mind. A singing bowl is also a wonderful tool that will give a similar response. Check the You Tube video out below and try to convince me that you don’t already feel a tiny bit calmer just listening to it – I’ll wait!
Of course, if you don’t prefer the “OM,” going outside and yelling at the top of your lungs is always a nice alternative. What has personally begun working quite well for me is to begin making ridiculous animal noises at the top of my lungs. It usually makes us both crack up! It is hard to laugh and be angry all at once!
Make a Calm Corner, for you and your child.
I purchased the Time in Tool Kit from Generation Mindful and it was way worth the money. It is a whole restructuring of our outdated view of discipline. Instead of sending my little guy away in punishment, we include him in healthy behaviors that don’t isolate him from us. This teaches him that when he approaches a problem or a concern, he should bring it to us without hiding away (see guilt and shame above).
One of the most genius tenets of the program is to develop a “calm corner” in which the child can take time to dial their emotions down. In their calm corner, they have a box with things that help them to, you guessed it, calm down-coloring books and colors, stuffed animal, music, etc. I made a calm down “area” next to my bed for myself that includes an adult coloring book of swear words (I have quite the potty mouth), my wireless earbuds so I can tune everyone out, and an emergency single serving wine (I’m looking at you, High Key Wine – I’m counting down the pregnancy days until we can be together), Shea Moisture coconut milk bath powder, and Olive and Ani Lunar Oil.
This is my journey of figuring out this thing we call parenting. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying to do better. For me and my family, spanking is not an option. We hope to move in a more positive direction every day. But, we definitely know that we have lots to learn.