Effects of spanking

April 30th is International SpankOut Day. It was started in 1998 to raise awareness of the problems with spanking or smacking children and to provide alternatives. Eileen Hayes, a mother of four and an author of several books on childcare, has a video explaining the problems of smacking children.

In the video, she responds to the question “Should I smack my child when they are naughty?”:

“I am very opposed to smacking and obviously parents will have their own views. I think there are lots of reasons why smacking's just not a useful form of discipline. First of all, the example you're giving your child, children learn so much by example, they copy everything adults do, and if you hit a child then don't be surprised if they go and hit a brother or sister or a friend at the nursery. Also, you don't hit another adult when you want to get your own way, so it's showing a lack of respect to a child if you treat them differently. The fact that they may have annoyed you and you smack them is really not respecting your child. But also, it just doesn't work. Parents say, "Oh, it stops them". Of course it stops them in their tracks at the time, but children don't learn what you want them to do instead. They actually need the patient explanations, the time consuming teaching for them to understand why a behavior is wrong and why you want them to do something else instead.”

Avoiding raising rebellious children

When parents try to control their children’s behavior, the result is often a child who rebels. In her book Wonderful Ways to Love a Child, Judy Ford states “A child who trusts you to respect his independence has little need to rebel. The most rebellious and depressed adults are those who, as children, were the most strictly controlled. They were not allowed to find their own identity or make their own choices. Right or wrong, they were forced to dutifully follow their parent’s authority.”

Since everyone has a basic need for control, parents who try to control their children may unintentionally encourage their children to rebel in order to get their share of control. Children who are allowed to make their own age-appropriate decisions will have little need to rebel. You can learn how to provide guidance to your children without trying to control them in Lesson 3 of the Priceless Parenting online parenting class.

What does death teach our children?

Death is one of those lessons we hope our children will not have to experience early in life. However, given death is an inescapable fact of life, we know our children will eventually need to deal with it. When and how we discuss death with our children will depend on their ages and the circumstances.

We may be tempted to avoid talking to our children about things that upset us like death. Avoiding discussing death doesn't make it go away but it does make it much more difficult for our children to bring it up with us.

Instead, we can help our children cope with their feelings and ideas about death by being open to talking about it. By finding out what they know or do not know about death, we can begin to address their misconceptions and fears.

For difficult, on-going topics like death, it's helpful to aim for many short conversations over the years, not one big conversation. Children often are aware of death long before we realize it. They see dead bugs on the sidewalk and dead animals lying at the side of the road; they hear about death in stories and on TV. These situations provide opportunities for us to have short conversations about death.

Given the advances in health care, many children's first significant experience with death involves the death of a beloved pet. One mom told me the story of her 11-year-old daughter's cat suddenly dying one evening after getting into some poison. Her daughter was devastated. The daughter asked her mom to call some of her friends and tell them what had happened. Her mom made the calls. Her dad went out and bought a huge bag of candy and some chips for her.

When our children are hurting, it's tempting to try to rescue them from their pain like these parents did. While this mom was trying to ease her daughter's pain by calling her friends, she was also sending an unspoken message that her daughter wasn't strong enough to make the calls herself. Although it would have been difficult for her daughter to tell her friends, she would have experienced her own strength along with the healing that comes from telling others that her cat died.

We want our children to learn that they have the inner strength to deal with difficult times. Watching our children go through painful situations is one of the hardest things for parents to do. It may be easier to avoid trying to rescue them if we remember that learning how to process grief is an integral part of growing up.

Sexting – what parents need to know

Teens probably don’t realize they are breaking the law when they send nude pictures of themselves via their cellphones (called “sexting”). However, it is illegal and they can be prosecuted for distributing pornography. If convicted, they would have to register as a sex offender.

How big a problem is this? According to Common Sense Media, “22% of teen girls and 20% of teen boys have sent nude or semi-nude photos of themselves”. Given the significance of the consequences, it’s wise for parents to discuss this with their kids before there’s a problem.

Below is advice for parents provided by Common Sense Media in their article "Talking About Sexting":

  • Don't wait for an incident to happen to your child or your child’s friend before you talk to your kids about the consequences of sexting. Sure, talking about sex or dating with teens can be really uncomfortable, but better to have the talk before the fact.
  • Remind them that once an image is sent, it can never be retrieved -- and they will lose control of it. Ask teens how they would feel if their teachers, parents, or the entire school saw the picture, because it happens all the time.
  • Talk about pressures to send revealing photos. Let teens know that you understand that they can be pushed or dared into sending something. Tell them that no matter how big the social pressure is, the potential social humiliation will be hundreds of times worse.
  • The buck stops with them. If someone sends them a photo, have them delete it immediately. Better to be part of the solution than the problem. Besides, if they do send it on, they're distributing pornography -- and that’s against the law.
  • If you can’t deal with this, have your kids go to ThatsNotCool.com (and you should go yourself). It’s a fabulous site that gives kids the language and support to take texting and cell phone power back into their own hands.

Understanding brain development

Researchers have learned a lot about early childhood brain development over the past few years. Zero To Three has released the Baby Brain Map. It’s a web page that allows you to select an age (prenatal development to 36 months) and area of the brain to learn more about that developmental stage.

For example, if you select the age range of 2 – 6 months and click on the hearing area of the brain, you can find the answers to these questions:
  • Does hearing music affect an infant’s brain development?
  • Is the constant playing of music harmful to an infant’s brain?

There is also a box that provides suggestions for helping your baby’s brain development in that area.

Parents often want to know the developmental milestones a child should be reaching at different ages. Although children develop at various rates, they all should reach certain milestones in how they play, learn, speak and act. There is great information about developmental milestones on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Learning from observing

Young children will change their behavior based on what they’ve learned by observing others. We even have the research to prove it!

I recently attended a presentation by Dr. Andrew Meltzoff, a researcher in child behavior at the University of Washington. He showed a video of an experiment they did with 18-month-old children. While these children were being held in their parents’ laps, they watched an adult demonstrate how to make a buzzing sound with a toy by touching a certain part with a stick.

The adult then gave the child the toy and the child would immediately repeat the behavior they just saw and make the toy buzz. Next the researchers altered the experiment by having another adult, Nina, in the room complain angrily when the first adult buzzed the toy. Now when the children were handed the toy, they looked at Nina and refrained from buzzing the toy. Apparently her angry outburst caused them to think twice about buzzing the toy.

Interestingly, if Nina turned her back on the child, the child would then look at Nina and buzz the toy! Children who are 18-months-old don’t realize that just because someone isn’t looking at you they can still hear what you are doing.

Children learn a lot from observing others. What are your children learning from watching you?

Avoiding the battles

One mom told me that when she took the Priceless Parenting course, she realized how often she was falling into the Personal Assistant parenting style. She found herself helping her 4-year-old son with many things he really could do for himself like putting on his clothes. Almost every morning she battled with him over getting dressed. When he was slow in putting on his clothes, she would eventually get frustrated and just do it for him.

After she recognized the problems caused by jumping in and rescuing him, she decided to let him have ownership of getting himself dressed. If he went quickly, he would have time for breakfast. If he was super slow, he had to go to school in his pajamas and get dressed there. The morning fights over the clothes stopped. Sometimes he wore mismatched socks along with shirts and pants that didn't go together but he was proud to have dressed himself!

Using a potty whistle

Sending your child alone into a public restroom can be scary for parents. However, there comes an age when your opposite-sex child can no longer accompany you in a public restroom. Most likely your child will be absolutely fine … but still, what if someone approaches your child inappropriately?

I recently heard a talk about child safety from Sabrina Sessa with P.E.A.C.E. of Mind. Sabrina suggested carrying a “potty whistle” and giving the whistle to children whenever they need to go into a public restroom alone. Provide instruction on when to use the whistle and let your children know that you will immediately come into the restroom if they blow the whistle. It may also be helpful to establish a consequence a head of time if the whistle is blown in a non-emergency situation just for fun.

This simple idea would have given me more peace of mind when my children were young!

Parental love: the drug antidote

Teens who are close to their parents are less likely to use drugs. According to three professors of psychiatry, the authors of A General Theory of Love, “Study after study has shown that children with close familial ties are far less likely to become entangled in substance abuse. Even under ideal circumstances, teenage years abound in emotional surges, changing roles, growing pains. If adolescents do not receive limbic stability from relationships in the home, they will be measurably more susceptible to chemical options outside.”

Even though teenagers often have many activities outside their homes, they still very much need love, support and attention from their parents. Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply be around to listen to them. The time and energy we put into being there for our children will certainly pay off in many ways.

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