We are a non-violent family. We do not believe in striking/spanking a child for any reason, just as we wouldn't hit another adult. The studies that have been done on physical punishment are overwhelming in their conclusions that spanking does not work. A blogger I respect compiled a great list of resources on why spanking doesn't work, I'm going to share some of those links along with our reasons for using gentle discipline here, too.
1) It has a detrimental effect on the parent-child relationship. Imagine it from the child's perspective - "mama and/or papa, the most important person in my universe, the one who kisses my booboos, tucks me in, feeds me, bathes me, etc. also chooses to hurt me." It erodes the trust that should be ever present in the parent-child relationship, and gives children lasting memories of pain and heart break. Spanking isn't something that just stays in childhood - both the effects and the memories are forever imprinted on a child's heart and mind.
2) As detailed on this site, spanking can have long lasting effects on a child's (turned adult's) sexual development, brain development, and behavior.
3) Hitting only promotes more hitting (by children and by adults in the form of further and more troublesome abuse) and anger (again, in both children and adults). (The previous link also has a great discussion on why spanking is not biblical. From my upbringing as a Southern Baptist, it makes me ill that any Christian would use Jesus as a justification for striking children. It's also funny to me that there exists an unspoken agreement between spanking churchgoers - I've never heard a pastor preach that violence toward children is part of the path to heaven, but people who believe it sure can point to a few select verses that they *think* support their actions.)
4) Spanking simply doesn't work - it actually tends to increase kids' aggression and misbehavior. So what's the point? And since toddlers/preschoolers haven't even developed impulse control (regardless of whether they've internalized whether a behavior is "right" or "wrong"), spanking just isn't fair. They cannot help themselves! (And let's be honest - teens and even adults sometimes have poor impulse control. Are we going to hit every person who does something we don't approve of? No? Then why hit a defenseless child?)
I have been shocked on more than one occasion out in public when I see a parent strike a child. Too often, it's not only casual (the assault is so ordinary to them that they can do it in front of strangers), but the look on their faces is often one of anger and barely controlled violence. Traditional spanking advocates advise parents not to spank from a place of anger, but when does that ever happen? Anger is the root of spanking a vast majority of the time. And can you imagine how a child perceives the anger twisted onto their parent's face? It must be terrifying.
Anyway - I digress.* Kieran is hitting. And the unfortunate object of his disfavor is usually my sister's cat that we are keeping while she is in Spain for a year. Poor Jack-jow (Jack-jow is Kieran-speak for Jasper) - most of the time he and Kieran are best friends. Kieran is the first one to notice an empty food bowl and make sure I help him fill it, he's constantly going over to give Jasper hugs and kisses and cuddles, he plays with him nonstop . . . and then something clicks and he wants to turn the kitty toy into a kitty whip. "Like a train, Kieran!" is a common phrase in our house - Jasper's kitty stick with feathers attached by a string should always be pulled like a train, instead it is often slicing through the air as an instrument of torture.
Per the above reasons, we refuse to hit our child for hitting. For various other reasons, we aren't planning on using traditional "time-outs" (that's a post for a different day). We've settled on a few different tactics to employ while we ride this phase out.
First and foremost, we are much more vigilant - we try to intercede on Jasper's behalf before anything happens. It can be exhausting, but isn't most of toddlerhood? The same thing goes during play dates - I make sure to watch for signs of frustration and then step in before another child gets walloped.
Along with vigilance is talking about it. We constantly remind Kieran to "use the toy like a train," we explain in plain language why we use gentle touches (hitting is ouch, we like gentle touches, etc.), we talk about Jasper's feelings (or the person's feelings, if he hits someone else), and we help Kieran think of alternatives to hitting ("Kieran, I see you wanted to play with the truck. Let's ask our friend if you can have a turn in two minutes.")
The partner of talking is modeling - we model how to ask for toys/turns, how to use things in a gentle way, how to use gentle hands, etc.
Those things do the trick, for the most part. If Kieran is especially tired or cranky, they may not. As a last resort, we will have him give us whatever he has hit with (so if he continuously isn't using the kitty toy like a train, we'll ask him to put it up for awhile). Or if he's hitting during a play date and I can't calm him down, we'll move to a different area and play with something new.
And because we're not perfect, we've raised our voices at him; but we're constantly trying to practice a more gentle form of redirection.
Kieran + Jack-jow = BFF (usually)
I hope some of these ideas will help someone else one day when their gentle baby turns into a toddler with a heavy hand. Sometimes the most helpful thing, though, is to remember that "this too shall pass." Things that seem so frustrating in the moment will only be a memory very quickly.
Have a gentle day,
*One more comment about spanking: I understand that discipline techniques are always evolving. I do not condemn the parents of past generations who were taught that spanking was an effective and acceptable form of discipline. I hope that every parent makes educated decisions about how to raise their children in *this* generation. There is no reason to keep making the same mistakes when we now have so much information available to us on the detrimental effects of the practice.