Spanking and the Rationalization Trap: How Some Parents Use Flimsy Excuses to Justify Physical Discipline

Dec 27, 2022

In this episode of the podcast, we will be exploring the often-controversial topic of spanking, by way of a viral video that I saw this week highlighting the ways in which some parents use excuses to justify their use of physical discipline. We will delve into the ways in which these justifications are often flawed, and how they can be harmful to children. We will also explore alternative methods of discipline that are more effective and less harmful to children. Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or simply interested in the topic, this episode will provide valuable insights into the debate surrounding spanking and the ways in which we can move beyond physical discipline in favor of more positive and effective approaches to parenting.

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Podcast Transcript

Hi, I’m Dr. Brenna Hicks, The Kid Counselor. This is the Play Therapy Parenting Podcast, where I give you insights, awareness, and enlightenment about your parenting and your relationship with your kids. In today’s episode, we’re diving into a somewhat controversial topic: spanking. I know there are people who are very vehemently on both sides of the fence, and so I want to acknowledge that there are people who will not agree with my perspective here, and that’s okay. I think this world deserves to have conflicting opinions that can agree to disagree, but I want to share a really interesting take on spanking and the justification for doing so. And I want to dive into how we make parenting decisions without necessarily thinking through them always and just kind of the philosophy of the child-centered play therapy approach and why it works and why spanking is not included in that. So I realize this is a bit of a touchy subject today, but as a family, we’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes we have to talk about hard things. So that’s what we’re doing today. I want to read you the transcript from a video that was posted. A teacher and father posted a video of himself in his car and recorded a little video of himself. Obviously, I can’t play the clip for you, so I’m going to have to quote it for you. So he starts it off by saying he doesn’t like being told “how to husband.” He says, “You know, I do not like being told how to husband.”

So, that’s his intro, and then here’s what he says in the video: “If my wife disrespects me, I need to hit her, and that’s fine. If you don’t and you don’t have to hit your wife, that’s your choice. But in my relationship and in my marriage, I hit to teach her lessons. In my last relationship, I got hit with a broom and I’m fine, I’m okay. She needs to learn not to disrespect me.” This got a lot of shock and awe, right? We’re all going, “What do you mean? You hit your wife to teach her a lesson? What do you mean that you got hit and it’s okay?” We’re all caught off guard by this video clip. And then he follows it up with, “This is what people sound like when they try to justify spanking their kids.” Wow, did that get a lot of buzz? So, it got me thinking about the people who choose to spank and how they justify that decision and what that means for me as a fellow parent, as a therapist, as a parent, educator, trainer, coach, and all of the things that I am. I guess I’ll throw “author” in that hat too. You know, I have a very different approach to the way that I interact with kids, and I think that the child-centered play therapy model is the best approach, which is why I’m so passionate about it. And we’re actually very opposed to spanking. I can give you lots of reasons why, but I want to dive into this together because I want to unpack this a little bit so that we can better understand, I think, how we fall into the trap of spanking and then how we might make a different decision with some different information.

So, diving in, going deep, it’s gonna be a good one today. The path to calm, confident, and in-control parenting starts now. Alright, so let me clarify that this video, he later goes on to give all kinds of other better options. So that was just the segue to get people to, you know, learn more about what he was sharing and how he thinks there are better approaches. So it was kind of a shock value video to get people to actually consider whether or not they truly want to spank their kids. But I want to clarify, he was referencing all physical aggression towards children, so not just spanking, but you know, popping kids upside their face or grabbing their face or you know, grabbing their shoulders, any kind of physical aggression towards children in a disciplinary setting. It was enlarged to include all of that, and here’s what I think we need to unpack today.

So, first we’ve talked about the parenting prison, and you know, I’ve done videos on that and we’ve done episodes together on that. But for those of you who might be new, first of all, welcome. Thanks for being a part of the family. For those of you that have been with me a while, it’s always good to have a refresher. So parenting prison is when we get stuck in a limited set of options and we don’t know how to get ourselves free from the prison that we’re in. So we only know to do certain things, and we just do those things and we’re stuck. And what gives us the key to unlock the prison door, to follow this metaphor, is knowledge, information, and awareness.

So, with that understanding and with that premise, I would argue that if you think spanking is okay, or you spank your children, or you’ve made the decision that that’s part of your discipline routine, I would argue it’s because you don’t have the knowledge, awareness, and information that there are alternatives. And that’s not a criticism. That’s not a dig. I don’t want you to feel guilty or blame yourself or feel shame or any of those things. It’s okay to admit that we get stuck in a limited set of options, and so sometimes we need to be given new tools before we can do something differently. That’s what this podcast is about. I’m sure that’s why you listen, to have new tools in your tool belt. And that’s a really powerful piece of getting out of the parenting prison, because we don’t need to stay stuck. We just have to figure out how to free ourselves from that limited set of choices.

So, another piece of the puzzle, I believe, if you are a person who is prone to spank your kids, is you don’t know what you don’t know. In other words, we all can admit, I hope, and I think that there are things that we don’t know. But you can’t know that you don’t know them, and so there’s kind of this interesting paradox where you don’t know what you don’t know, but you know you don’t know things. And as soon as you’re made aware of something, all of a sudden, you now know what you didn’t know before. And that’s why this podcast exists, that’s why I train, educate, equip, write books, and do all these things, because the goal is to get information into the hands of as many people as possible so they can make the best decisions on behalf of their kids.

The child-centered play therapy model gives you the framework, it gives you the principles, skills, tools, rationale, and foundational underpinnings. It gives you everything, but in practice, it’s about making sure you are confident, calm, and effective in the way that you parent. Because if we leave it up to our natural instincts and reactions, we fail miserably. Parenting is not easy, and parenting doesn’t come with a handbook. I’ve had thousands of parents tell me that you know, you have to take driver’s ed to become a driver, but you don’t have to take parent ed to become a parent. People are frustrated by that, and you know, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just flying by the seat of my pants, trying to raise these kids and hope they turn out okay. But it doesn’t have to be that way. So, you don’t know what you don’t know, and when you’re open to a new option, it changes things. Trust me, spanking is not the only option. Spanking is not even an effective option, to be honest with you.

This is a related aside: I was interviewed quite a few years ago for a local news station. They were covering breaking news, which was that several counties in Florida still had paddling as part of discipline in schools. So, I think there were three counties that had not removed paddling from their disciplinary tactics as far as what the school was able to do to address behavior with kids. And so they called me and said, “Can we interview you? Can we hear your thoughts on if you think paddling a child is effective, and if it works, and if schools should be allowed to do it?” And I’m sure there’s a clip of that on my Youtube channel if you wanted to go back and watch it. But it’s important to note that studies show that when you use a belittling approach, a shaming approach, a guilting approach to children, it makes them guilting and blaming and shaming in their personality.

So, studies reveal again and again and again that spanking actually has more negative outcomes than positive. Not to mention that your kids become scared of you. Not to mention that it’s a fear-based model of discipline rather than a self-regulation model of discipline. I mean, honestly, I could go on and on about all the things that studies show about how bad spanking is for kids. But if you have been a parent that spanks, or if you were spanked yourself, I mean, that he references that in the video, right? He says, “I was hit with a broom and I’m okay, I’m fine.” And yes, that’s what parents will say to justify things. “I rode in a car without a seatbelt my entire childhood and I turned out just fine. I never wore a helmet on my bicycle and I turned out okay. I got spanked my entire childhood with a belt and I am just fine.” Let me play Devil’s Advocate here a little bit. Are you really okay with those things? Yes, they happened. Yes, they were part of your childhood. But think back to being spanked when you were a kid. How did that make you feel? What emotions are brought up when you think about a moment when you were spanked? They’re awful. There’s not one memory you would have of being spanked that you would say was a good experience. So, even if it happened to you, why would we replicate that? Why would we intentionally know how awful it was for us and do it to our own kids?

And the problem is we parent the way we were parented, often without new information, without new tools, without new knowledge. We will parent the way we were parented. So if we were spanked, we spank our kids. If we were yelled at, we yell at our kids. If we were told, “because I said so,” we tell our kids “because I said so.” The reality is, it doesn’t have to be that way. We have all kinds of new tools and new opportunities at our disposal to parent differently. But here’s what this guy who did this video said. After he does this shocking video and he says, “I teach my wife to respect me by hitting her,” he says in his follow-up, “These are the alternatives.” Instead of spanking, we have to figure out the underlying needs that are causing the behavior, causing the disrespect, causing the disobedience. What’s the underlying need? From a child-centered play therapy approach, we reflectively respond. We reflect their feelings, we reflect their content. We pay attention to what they’re going through. So he’s saying, identify the underlying needs. We have a solution for that. We reflectively respond, and in doing so, we communicate with “be-with” attitudes. “I’m here. I hear you. I understand, and I care. I can’t always accept your behavior, but I’m with you, and I understand.”

So that’s his first suggestion, identify the underlying needs. The second suggestion is identify your child’s unlearned skills. What does your child not know how to do that’s causing the problem? What do they not know that they need to be taught, so that they can be compliant, so that they can be respectful, so they know how to handle something in the future. As a child-centered play therapist, how do we handle that? With choice giving. And for those of you who may not have been with me for a while, the four pillars of play therapy are: we reflect feelings and we use choice giving. Those are two of our four pillars. The pillars provide an answer for every scenario. So if our children don’t know how to handle something, they need to learn a skill. We give them choices, and that gives them options that help them learn what to do in this scenario. If you’re not familiar with choice giving, please go back and listen to earlier episodes. If you don’t know what reflective responding is, or what reflecting feelings is, go back and listen. The moral of the story is, he’s saying we have to identify our children’s underlying needs and we need to identify unlearned skills. We already have tools to do that, we reflect their feelings and we give them choices. And here’s what his commentary is: he believes (and I agree) that people spank because it’s easier than doing the work required to better understand our kids’ behavior. We have to have knowledge about how to help them through their underlying needs and their unlearned skills.

It’s way easier to just smack a kid on the butt than to take some time to say: “What is the underlying need? What is the unlearned skill? I’m going to meet the need, I’m going to teach the skill.” It takes a lot more energy, a lot more effort, a lot more intention, and a lot more purposeful behavior. And on top of all that, we have to have knowledge about how to help, which is what this podcast is all about. This is your knowledge of how to help. Interestingly enough, he follows that up with another reason he thinks parents spank: because to not spank means that you have to manage your own emotions well. And when we don’t manage our own emotions well, it’s really hard to teach another human to manage their emotions well. So if we’re flying off the handle, if we’re getting angry, if we’re screaming, if we’re yelling, if we’re getting frustrated, if we’re losing our cool, that’s going to model for our children how to respond. To not spank requires us to control our own emotions enough to say: “What in this moment do I need to do to meet the need and teach a skill?” With intention, purpose, and thought, we learn that there are alternatives and we don’t have to be stuck in the parenting prison. We don’t have to parent the way we were parented. We are given the freedom to say: “I’m choosing something different. I’m breaking that cycle. I’m going to use new skills and new information to handle something differently.

And that brings us back to a principle we’ve talked about many times: we as parents have to be thermostats, not thermometers. If you don’t know what that means, there’s an episode on it. But when we are thermostats, we regulate, we don’t match our kids degree for degree when they’re losing their mind and being disobedient. We don’t lose our minds, we regulate. We show them what it’s like to control themselves. We manage our own emotions well, which helps them manage theirs, and it helps us meet their needs and teach them the skills they need to learn. This is such a powerful paradigm shift for us as parents to say, “I don’t have to do what’s easy, I’m willing to do the work for what’s effective.” Because what’s effective is making sure our kids learn to meet their own needs because they have the skills to do it. Being scared of getting hit is not a motivator of behavior. It’s a very different way of thinking about how we handle discipline. And I was really intrigued by this video and thought it was worth exploring because if you’re a parent who has never spanked, I can almost guarantee you it was a willful decision you made, a choice you had a reason for.

If you have spanked and you’re now listening to this going, ‘You know what, I agree, I don’t have to do this anymore. I have different tools, I’m gonna handle this differently,’ that’s the start of change. And so no matter where you are on this spectrum, from never spanking to always spanking or somewhere in between, just know that you need to use intention, purpose, and forethought in all of your parenting decisions, not just about discipline. It’s about how we connect, how we communicate, how we talk, how we show respect, how we set limits, how we give choices, how we encourage, all of the things that we talk about as a podcast family. It’s all about being intentional and making sure that we are being the most effective parent that we can be with effective tools in our tool belt. So I would love to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you think I’m absolutely full of hogwash, I’m just as happy to hear that as I am to hear you completely agree with me. So shoot me an email at [email protected]. I’m happy to hear your feedback, but please know that if you are prone to spank, it’s not the only way and it’s not even the most effective way. And I think that with alternatives, you will really be proud of the difference that can be made in changing the way that you interact with your kids in a discipline moment.

Changing gears a little bit, you can find me on Twitter at @thekidcounselor. That’s a new channel through which you can communicate with me. I’d love to hear from you via Twitter. My YouTube channel is @KidCounselorBrenna, so if you’d like to check out my archived videos, you can find them there. You can always email me at [email protected]. Thank you, as always, for sharing some of your week with me. I hope you have a great week. We’ll talk soon. Bye.

Cochran, N., Nordling, W., & Cochran, J. (2010). Child-Centered Play Therapy (1st ed.). Wiley.
VanFleet, R., Sywulak, A. E., & Sniscak, C. C. (2010). Child-centered play therapy. Guilford Press.
Landreth, G. L. (2002). Play therapy: The art of the relationship (2nd ed.). Brunner-Routledge.
Bratton, S. C., Landreth, G. L., Kellam, T., & Blackard, S. R. (2006). Child parent relationship therapy (CPRT) treatment manual: A 10-session filial therapy model for training parents. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Benedict, Helen. Themes in Play Therapy. Used with permission to Heartland Play Therapy Institute.

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