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Friday, November 11, 2005

Wha..? Wrong pair of pants? MIC, your system of logical connection is deliciously confounding. You do, however, make a good point about the emotional abuse of harsh words, which can be just as withering as a spank.

Semantics are important here, because "spanking" and "beating" are often wrongly interchanged. "Spanking" is a reasoned and last-ditch effort to establish a boundary of behavior with your child. "Beating" is either used as humorous hyperbole (by folks like the Cos, the pre-eminent father of his time, who liked to joke that his father "hit for distance"), or it refers to something far more nefarious and abusive. They're not the same thing.

Similarly, there's a big difference between approving of spanking in principle, and actually doing it.

Just about anybody with a graduate degree in anything officially recommends against spanking, and rightly so. If any official, secular body ever were to come out in support, hordes of mouth-breathing rage-aholics would interpret it as license to "smack their kids around." Perhaps if we got each of them one of these instead, their children would be a lot better off.

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Punishing a kid seems like the ultimate slippery slope with no solution as reliable and predictable as the rising and setting of the sun. Some days time-outs work. Other days Toddler in Chief cheerfully heads for his time-out zone. Some days when TIC turns his trains into tiny missiles and I take them away, he cheerfully declares that he was finished playing with them anyway.

Still, no matter how irritating or naughty or conniving TIC becomes, I'd like to believe I'll have the wherewithal to avoid physical discipline. I would never hit my spouse, my parent, or a friend--no matter how angry I am--so why shouldn't I demonstrate that same level of courtesy and restraint towards my kid?

There are lots of annoying and irritating people out there who do dumb, inconsiderate, and down-right rude things--think rage drivers, people who dent your car without leaving a note, or important people who cut in front of you at the Post Office. I might give them dirty looks, or swear at them under my breath, but I would never hit any of them. So why would it be okay to hit my kid? It just doesn't make sense, even if the blow is designed to be "benign-yet-purposeful."

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

If I were you, MIC, I wouldn’t base your long-term parenting style on your ability to bribe a two-year-old. “Terrible Twos” is one of the classic misnomers of all time; anyone with older children knows that the excrement doesn’t really hit the oscillator until your kid turns three and starts testing boundaries in earnest. If you play the old “carrot-and-stick” game without the stick (not a real stick, mind you), all TIC will learn is how to play you like a Stradivarius.

The road to proper spanking is paved with many eminently sensible “don’ts.” Don’t spank unless you’ve exhausted all other options. Don’t spank to alleviate your own anger. Don’t ever close your hand or use an implement. Don’t spank to humiliate or coerce. Don’t spank a child who is too young to know why it’s happening. And don’t think spanking will work, because every kid will respond differently. All of these are very important caveats that demand a parent’s utmost attention before he or she decides, soberly and regretfully, that spanking is an appropriate course of action.

Where does that leave me? With just enough hubris to believe that, when extraordinary circumstances dictate, I can deliver the perfect, benign-yet-purposeful blow that will both earn my son’s undying respect and save him from the self-destructive behavior that could send him careening toward a degrading adult existence as a telemarketer. Or a fluffer. Or Scott McClellan.

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It seems like Laid-Off Dad is reserving the right to smack his kids around if they ruin the wrong pair of pants.

There's no doubt that kids are going to do bad things and annoying things and inappropriate things. But that's because they're kids. They're learning how to manipulate their environment (and their parents). They're learning how far they can push (or how annoying they can get) before they get what they want, like having ice cream for dinner. Kids don't see a difference between what they want and what they need. To kids, it's one in the same.

But smacking your kids doesn't resolve anything or teach good behavior. Even a tongue-lashing can be harmful. Lately, everything out of Toddler in Chief's mouth is a whine. "I neeeeed some mac and cheeeese," or "I waaant to gooooo to the paaaark." It's incredibly irritating, to say the least. On some of those occasions, I've said in a stern--and loud--voice, "STOP IT!" So now TIC likes to shout, "Stop it!," when I tell him to stop touching the M&Ms in the checkout. He shouts, "Stop it Mommy!," when we're at restaurant and I don't want him throwing the packs of sugar onto the floor.

Honestly, TIC has really pissed me off on a number of occasions. And probably the best thing to do is remove him from the situation. And in at least half of those cases, I'm probably exhausted and need to be removed from him for a few minutes.

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Admitting that you’ve experimented with spanking is difficult, because polite society regards it with such overt disdain. My wife and I suffered in silence for years until we finally realized that life was too short not to own up to who we are. And in the end (or, more accurately, on the end), whatever consenting adults do to each other in order to “stoke the old furnace” is our own business, and—

What’s that? We’re talking about spanking children? Oh. Well that’s different.

I am a man. And I suppose if we are to launch ourselves into the supple, familiar arms of gender stereotyping, I am genetically unable to resolve anything without putting my fist through something. You talkin’ to me, buddy? Pow! You lookin’ at my woman? Head butt! Did you throw Daddy’s underwear down the garbage chute again? Spank!

On this, the hottest of hot-button issues facing parents today, I have but this to say: During one singular week late last year, my son 1) glued our cat to an armchair, 2) put a dish towel in the broiler and laughed when it burst into flames while my wife was trying to make brownies, and 3) shoveled the entire contents of the cat box into the bathtub. If I managed not to spank him then, I like my chances for the future. But I’m not promising anything.

[Could we edit those first two paragraphs out? My mother reads this, for Pete’s sake.]

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I recently discovered the persuasive qualities of promising chocolate milk to Toddler in Chief. I needed him to sit still so that he could have his picture taken. I needed to trim his bangs. If you ____ (fill in the blank with needed task), then I'll give you some chocolate milk.

You could call it bribery; I call it discipline in the works. He's learned that he wants chocolate milk. He's also learned that when he does what I need him to do, he gets a reward--in addition to a big hug.

There are also things that TIC does not want, like leaving the park immediately, time-outs, and no trains for the rest of the day. And when he does the wrong thing--snatching a toy out of turn, throwing unwanted dinner on the floor, or clawing a friend's arm--he gets something taken away. Time-outs work wonders. And so do these types of real consequences.

I slapped TIC's hand once to discourage him from putting his fingers in the outlets. Not only did TIC go for the outlets with more gusto to get my reaction, he started slapping me. Kids are the biggest imitators. And sometimes kids want a reaction and your attention. And a smack, a spanking, or a tight grip, give the wanted response fueling more bad behavior. But an unemotional consequence, like removing the kid from the hot spot or taking away the toy in question teaches cause and effect. "If you do that again, I'm going to take the trains away." I only had to do that once. He knows I'm serious. He loves his trains.

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