Written by Laurie Lafortune
Child abuse sadly is not uncommon in our country. A 2014 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal found that 32% of Canadians had experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to violence in the home, spanking with an object, or slapping.
These types of experiences were found to have a strong correlation with mental disorders, including suicidal thought and suicidal attempts.
Improved parenting skills as found in parenting books and resources such as Active Parenting can help prevent child abuse. The principles and strategies in the Active Parenting program address the common risk factors that have been found in studies of abusive parents.
One risk factor for child abuse is found in parents who have a strong belief in corporal punishment. These parents believe that corporal punishment will shape their child’s behaviour. But if parents are under stress due to employment or family factors, they are at risk of going too far with their children. They may become enraged and out of control, inflicting physical injury or even death on their children. Tragically, even infants have been victims of out of control parents.
People who would be horrified at anyone physically injuring a child may still feel that corporal punishment such as spanking is a completely different thing. But spanking also has been shown to have long term harmful effects on children. Children who are spanked as kids are more likely to be physically aggressive with other kids, and as adults, are more likely to use violence to deal with conflict their spouses or their own children. In Canada, spanking is not illegal, but spanking with an object is. Legal or not, there are far better ways to guide and discipline children and Active Parenting provides other methods which are more effective and do not harm children.
So why do parents spank their children, if it is risky and harmful to kids? The simple answer is that on the surface, and in the short term, it appears that spanking works because it stops the behaviour at that moment. Unfortunately, this reinforces parents in their belief that corporal punishment is a good method for modifying many actions of a child. What is not so immediately obvious is that harsher and harsher physical punishment is needed to have the same effect. As well, the child who behaves through fear of pain is not learning anything about self-control, self-discipline, or empathy. Do parents want a child who becomes a teenager and adult who only behaves when they are afraid they might get caught and hurt? And, as the child gets older, it will not be physically possible to spank them, and so then what will a parent do? Punishment can create resentment and children may seek revenge by doing something much worse than the original action. Spanking models aggression and violence, and sends a message that the larger, stronger person can do what they want to those smaller and weaker than them. In any other context we would consider this bullying or assault. Spanking is just another word for hitting.
Parenting education can provide the skills and techniques to discipline children in a positive, harm-free way that builds relationships, mutual respect and self-discipline. It’s notable that the Canadian Paediatric Society strongly discourages physical punishment including spanking. The American Academy of Pediatric strongly opposes striking a child for any reason. We all need to accept that spanking can harm your child emotionally and physically and in some cases lead to physical abuse.
There is a better way to teach children right from wrong and Active Parenting Education programs show parents how that can be done, without cruel punishments.