By Sandra Doyle is your typical socially awkward engineer, living with a husband, 2 children, 3 dogs, a cat and a hairless rat.

The recent changes in South African legislation on corporal punishment reignited the debate on spanking children as a form of discipline. Unfortunately, the predominant thinking amongst most South African parents is that it’s a no-brainer: of course you should.

As a matter of fact, there have been numerous studies published in peer reviewed journals on the fact that there are literally no good outcomes from spanking (Elizabeth T. Gershoff, 2016). But scientific evidence is unlikely to convince most pro-spanking parents that spanking children is a futile exercise in discipline.

I often say that spanking is lazy parenting, and the reason why I say this is often obscured in the barrage of ‘I was spanked and I’m fine’ or ‘The Bible tells me to spank my child’. The pro-spanking group often erroneously believes that non-spanking parents just ‘tell their children not to do something’. It’s not that simple. And this is where the hard work comes in.

For smaller children I’ve often used the principles set out in 1-2-3 Magic Parenting, along with those taught by a local child psychologist.

STEP 1: You need to stop the transgression immediately, and confront the child in an age-appropriate way about their actions. They know, more often than not, that what they’re doing is wrong. That’s step 1.

STEP 2 is asking them to choose an option: the right action and a positive consequence, or the wrong action and a negative consequence. And this step, right here, is really hard work. My biggest challenge at every age, was figuring out our child’s ‘currency’; the thing that makes them tick. At one stage it was our son’s action figures, at another, our daughter’s dress-up clothes. Then it became Lego, and then it became screen time. It changes, frequently and sometimes drastically. The other catch is that you need to make it a choice that’s realistic for you: don’t threaten with no-screentime-ever-again-in-the-future-of-forever, because it’s impossible to follow through. I’ve abandoned a shopping cart in the middle of a supermarket because of this. I’ve had to leave social engagements sooner because of it. More recently, I’ve had to spend a (rainy) school holiday at home with no screen time, no TV, no movies, nothing. It was punishment for me too, but I know our son felt it much more keenly than I did.

STEP 3 is putting it back to the child in the form of ‘who made this decision’. The child needs to understand that the choice was totally and utterly theirs to make, and they are responsible for the actions that follow, positive and negative. Honestly, for each of our children, it was two weeks of close to emotional hell for us, until the penny dropped and they realised that they are responsible for their actions, and also for the resulting outcomes.

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Things change as they grow older, and of course your strategy needs to adapt, but the basics remain the same: for every action there’s a consequence, and you, as child, are responsible for your choices, and the resulting outcomes. Its hard work, mostly for the parent, but the long term benefits is supported by scientific research. You also don’t end up teaching violence is wrong, by employing violence.

Click here to find Protective Behaviours, an NGO dedicated to the goal of creating a safe environment for kids and adults.

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