The Truth About Spanking

To spank or not to spank…that is the question! And let’s talk about infants and early lilbradytoddlers– babies under 1 year of age through to toddlers of about 18 months of age, and what happens to the children AND to their families when spanking starts at a young age!

So why DOES infant/toddler TSK act so badly?

1)    Is he trying to make Mom and Dad frustrated and angry on purpose?

2)    Or is it normal for his age to act that way?

3)    Or… is it genetic?  After all, sometimes his cousin and even his Dad (or Mom,) act badly, too!

Well, it probably IS NOT 1) doing it “on purpose”. TSK may test you by throwing something on the floor over and over to see how “Mr. Gravity” works and because you pick it up, TSK may think this is a “game”.  But he probably won’t be thinking, “Hmmm…let me see if I can make Mommy really mad and then sad!”

So, that leaves 2) Normal development for TSK is causing the behavior and possibly 3) Genetics; we do know that some people in a family seem to think and act similarly, but we don’t understand how much is truly genes and how much is that environment thing, again!

But could there be a developmental problem with TSK, like autism or hearing loss, or some other reason the TSK is acting aggressively?  The answer is YES!  Sometimes parents think TSK is being bad, when there is some other problem! Hold that thought! We’ll come back to it later!

Now, ON to the Studies:

The first study of almost 3,000 families, and published in the journal, Child Abuse and Neglect, found that 30% of parents spanked children at 1 year of age.  Now, along with this was the sobering fact that more of the families who had spanked their one year olds were investigated by child protective services, than the families who didn’t spank their one year old; up to 33% more were investigated, and it wasn’t necessarily on the spanking issue!

The second study looked at child personality as the reason parents get frustrated and spank, again starting at the 1 year age.  This study was in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence and told of about 2000 families taken from 20 large American cities over a 10 year period.  The families were assessed at the child’s birth, at 1 year, then 3, 5 and 9 years of age.  Almost 30% of mothers reported spanking their kids during their first year of life, increasing up to almost 60% by 3 years, then for 5 year olds spanking occurred with about 55% of parents, and as late as 9 years of age, almost 50% were spanked.

Researchers found that the kids who showed more behavior problems got spanked more.  The kids who were spanked as infants had more aggression and on-going behaviors, and thus more spankings, later.  So, the question is, do these infants really have more difficult personalities and behaviors, or are these infant behaviors still in the realm of normal, but parents need better coping skills?

There is a big difference in a one year old screaming and throwing things, and a 3 year old or a 9 year old screaming and throwing things. But, in the heat of the moment, all screaming and throwing is upsetting to frazzled, stressed parents. The goal is to know normal behavior at each age, and know several approaches to not let anger and frustration take over.

What does spanking do?  It can surprise, scare and hurt.  Sometimes it does all three, other times only one of the three, and if used a lot, spanking may become totally ineffective.  Parents often think it worked, if the child stops the activity, but many young infants and toddlers will go back to the activity quickly. Infants and toddlers aren’t ready for understanding why someone hits them.  Many parents think hitting should be enough for the child to “learn” not to repeat the activity, but that isn’t how the infant brain always works.  The infant brain can learn to be afraid and untrusting, and one response is to cry and to become aggressive by hitting back, or using fast, angry movements.  This may be the reason more of the infants that were hit in the first year of life “learned” to be angry and aggressive as older kids.

So, what to do if TSK seems to be a “problem” child or makes you so frustrated, you become angry and don’t know what to do to help TSK feel and act better?

1)    Check with your doctor and be sure you discuss developmental issues; most Well Child visits discuss development, and many of the visits will do a developmental screening; ask your doctor!

2)    Talk with your doctor about TSK’s routines, like eating, sleeping, and bowel and urine habits.  If any of these are “out of whack”, TSK may be grumpy and act badly.

3)    Be sure TSK is getting enough water to drink!  Many people are grumpy and think they are hungry, when they really are thirsty!

4)    Be sure you are consistent with how you act toward TSK.  For example, know when to ignore some of his bad behaviors and know when he needs be removed from a place or situation where he will just continue acting badly.

5)    Do not let him have his way if it can be harmful or develop bad habits later.

6)    Find ways, yourself, to stay in control, so you don’t get angry.  This takes practice.  Sometimes you may need to ask for help from your doctor or other trusted person.

7)    If you ever feel you may lose control and hit or hurt anyone, get help immediately!

TSK’s first 3 years are so special; frustrating as it can be, you have the power and ability to overcome all those developmental hurdles…and it starts with a hug!  Gene