Other Ways to Leave a Mark

Child

Switch your method of corporal punishment.

Ask many adults about the way they were disciplined as children and they will say, “A good old-fashioned spanking.” They will tell you they appreciate those spankings, even though they may have hated them back then– because those lashes set them on the right track and made them who they are today. Even the Bible says, “Spare the rod, and spoil the child.” However the recent child abuse case involving Minnesota Vikings

Running Back Adrian Peterson presents the question, where should parents draw the line when it comes to disciplining their children?

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Peterson faces child abuse charges after he instructed his 4-year-old son to go outside and get a small tree branch–also called a “switch”–for a spanking. When photos surfaced of lacerations covering both of the boy’s legs, Peterson’s lawyer called him a loving father and explained that this was the same discipline Peterson experienced as child.

“Well let’s define what a spanking is for starters,” said clinical psychologist Seanna-Kaye Denham. Denham is the lead clinical psychologist of the child psychiatry inpatient program at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, NY. “[W]hat Adrian Peterson did in disciplining his four-year-old son was not a spanking, but would fall under the category of excessive corporal punishment.” Excessive surpasses physical pain and leads to physical injury.

Excessive corporal punishment is abuse, and abuse can have long-lasting or permanent effects. Five children die every day because of child abuse according to a study done by the National Children’s Alliance. Another study revealed that 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children suffered from at least one psychological disorder.

“When spanking is excessive, harsh, and frequent, then you are very likely to see psychological problems, because that type of punishment produces an abused and traumatized child,” said Denham. “Children who have been abused and traumatized may show impairment in their academics, social interactions, ability to manage stress, sleep, appetite, focus and concentration, and sense of safety. And these effects can last well into adulthood. Abused and traumatized children can become aggressive or may be vulnerable to being victimized again by others, and may grow up to be abusive or to be victims of domestic violence.”

However when practiced with discipline, spanking can be effective. 32-year-old Natalia Priest got her first spanking when she was about five years old. She was spanked with belts and rulers. Priest is one of many people who believe spankings as a form of discipline have shaped her life for the better.

“At the time when I used to get spankings, I definitely used to hate them, says Priest. “However as I got older I realized that it has shaped the person that I am today—and who knows maybe perhaps without spankings I would not have been where I am today.” Priest, who has degrees in psychology and Human Service counseling sees it as necessary for a child to understand right from wrong, but the discipline comes from parents.

“I would say if you are angry about a situation then spanking your child may have consequences and can cause a child abuse case. I often say if you are angry, walking away from the child as opposed to spanking them is the best solution.”

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There are other nonphysical ways to discipline children.

• “Praise positive behavior,” says Denham. “Demonstrate with your words and body language your approval of the appropriate things your child does.” It is easy to want to immediately correct your children when they are wrong, but remember to tell your child when he or she is doing something right. It will give them a clearer idea of what behavior is acceptable.”

• Denham also states that parents should “consistently model the expected behavior in front of their children,” because when given an example kids tend to do better.

• State the rules clearly and in a developmentally appropriate manner to eliminate all confusion.

• “Time-outs are effective for toddlers and young children when properly implemented. Don’t send a child to timeout for a behavior that occurred more than 15 minutes earlier.” Denham says parents should use the common rule of one minute for each year of the child’s age. Following the timeout the parent should speak to the child about his or her problematic behavior.

• When dealing with teenagers, withholding privileges is an operative way of discipline. “Try to make sure your child knows how to earn back the privilege and choose the length of time they have to be without the privilege wisely.”

• Most importantly Denham says parents should work on developing a relationship with a child that’s based on mutual respect and love. “Parents shouldn’t humiliate their children publicly or privately.”

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