A recent study on parents who spank their children indicated that corporal punishment still occurs far more frequently than previously thought.
The study’s lead author, psychologist and parenting and child development expert George Holden, noted that the parents reacted “impulsively or emotionally, rather than being intentional with their discipline.”
Perhaps most importantly, the study revealed that physical punishment as a disciplinary tool was ineffective. Given that 73 percent of the children who were spanked waited less than 10 minutes before acting out again, Holden received even more statistical support for his previously held belief that hitting kids is “not the most effective way of dealing with them.”
So, what is?
Many parents deal with their children’s perceived misbehavior by taking away toys, separating them from their playmates and the good old fashioned time out. But for strong-willed kids like I was, none of these methods were effective.
Like many kids with ADHD, I wasn’t bad; I was bored. And I needed a higher level of engagement to fall in line. Fortunately, my father realized this fairly early on and developed a new form of “discipline” that produced immediate results and long-term positive effects.
My dad could be described as a bad-ass with a brain: He’s a highly specialized Army officer veteran and a brilliant general surgeon. Perhaps it was his Special Forces background as a Green Beret or his Ranger training that led him to employ diversionary tactics when conventional methods failed.
Growing up, I wasn’t especially fond of being the only 5 year-old on the block who had to pass “room inspections” or have my toys “squared away” before I was “given leave” to go play. But looking back as an adult, my father’s method of making me read the encyclopedia whenever I started bouncing off the walls was the best thing he could have done.
He would assign a topic and say, “Learn about the aardvark and I’m going to quiz you after.” It was punishment in the sense that I was forced to stop whatever I was doing, but it also had a purpose in that it kept my mind occupied and presented the type of mental challenge I clearly lacked.
I am not saying it was easy. I am sure the first few times he doled out assignments I probably thought something along the lines of, “Fine. I’ll show you!” And then I proceeded to learn absolutely everything there was to know about aardvarks because I was going to nail every question he could throw at me. If it weren’t for my driving need to prove him wrong, it may not have worked as well as it did.
So that’s just it: It was effective. It helped me change my behavior in that moment and it conditioned me to seek out books when I was bored. Obviously, that happened frequently and apparently it worked. I grew up to become an attorney and a writer with all sorts of random knowledge that serves me well when watching Jeopardy!. To this day, Dad’s the only one who can beat me.
It also turned negative attention into positive reinforcement. Due to the nature of my dad’s work, he was gone or on call much of the time, so whenever he was around, I am sure I did everything I could to get his attention. Rather than having memories of being constantly chastised for simply trying to get a parent to notice you, it’s a gift that many of those times for me were spent bonding with my dad over our shared love of books.
For one final double-duty practical benefit, this type of punishment with a purpose forced me to sit there quietly without whining about when my time was up – it was up when I was done – so it also allowed me to have some control over my circumstances. As a kid, that’s one of the most frustrating things about your existence: Nothing about you is up to you. And any adult can confirm that feelings of powerlessness often lead you to act in ways you wouldn’t otherwise.
So, in terms of transitioning my dad’s diversionary-based discipline into a more modern day application, instead of an encyclopedia, find an educational blog or article on the web and give your strong-willed kids reading assignments and related tasks.
* Make a game out of finding grammatical or spelling errors.
* Assign a goal like, “Read about dogs and be able to name and discuss five different breeds.”
* Challenge your kids to a test of mental wits by posing the question: “Who can tell mom the most facts about lions?”
If you make the punishment more of a game, not only will your kids be distracted from their misbehavior in the meantime, but they’ll also learn to seek out mental stimulation when they find themselves besieged by boredom, pestering you or picking on each other.
And those are the types of actions that warrant this type of response. As confirmed in Holden’s study, spanking was the punishment of choice for the most benign misbehaviors. Instead of popping your little people the next time they act like little people, plop them down in front of an encyclopedia. At a minimum, they’ll get really good at Jeopardy!.
Rheney Williams is an attorney-turned-writer and concept creator in Charleston, South Carolina. Rheney writes about her projects which focus on enhancing your home and your family within it at www.rheneywilliams.com.