The spanking kind

This extract from The American Home (now Better Homes and Gardens) of April 1948 was kindly sent to us by an anonymous contributor.

I Believe Children Should Be Spanked!

by Jennie P. Bramer

I have just spanked one of my young sons, and the peace that has settled over the household encourages me to say a few words in defence of spanking. And no headshaking, no stern disapproval or dire predictions can make me feel one guilty pang!

I’ll admit quite cheerfully that I am one of those parents who believe in spanking. A recent survey proved that we’re in the majority, despite all that educators have done to reform us, and I think it’s time something was said for our side of the case.

There was once a time when I didn’t believe in spanking. I didn’t believe in it when I didn’t have children – a time which now seems a bleak and barren part of the past. I didn’t believe in spanking when I was so seriously preparing for motherhood. The experience came to me rather late in life, and I approached it with profound awe.

I read everything on the subject of bringing up children, from government pamphlets to Gesell, and became a convert to the ‘no physical punishment for my children’ school. I was convinced that I should, and confident that I could, bring up my children without resorting to physical punishment.

To begin with, I’d had more than average experience, or so I thought. In addition to having studied child psychology at a university, I had done some teaching and had, for one tumultuous summer, turned our rambling suburban home into a glorified camp. “A desirable place for desirable children,” so the advertisements read.

During this period, I had proved that you can manage children without spanking. And just to confound the critics, I’ll say this: now that I have two children, I’m doubly sure I could rear them well without relying on hand or hairbrush. There’s no doubt about it – it can be done.

Then why spank? Simply because there are times when spanking is the easiest, best method of correction – best for the children, easiest for me. I’ve come to believe that punishment should not only fit the crime, but that it should fit the child and the parent. There are times when spanking does that as no other method can.

I believe in spanking because it works! It works just as it did this morning when I spanked my son; it relieves the tension and clears the air. It is easily understood by the child; it can be safely administered by the average parent, and it is a more natural and human method of correction than many of those employed by believers in non-spanking.

It’s not that I don’t believe in progressive education. Theoretically I do, and my children attended one of the most progressive of private schools during their nursery school and kindergarten days.

Nor am I returning to the old-fashioned ways of my own upbringing. I can count the number of spankings I received during my youth, and I sometimes I’ve wished that there could have been more of them and fewer of those ‘serious talks’. I’m sure my sweet, gentle father never spanked in anger and was utterly honest when he said that spanking was more painful to him than to the child.

But I’m not at all sure that the serious talks did not leave a lingering pain, a sense of guilt too heavy for some of his children to cope with as they grew older. Spanking, if properly administered, is more wholesome in its immediate effect than a talk and is less apt to foster that persistent feeling of guilt which psychologists warn us about.

One salubrious effect of spanking, which is often overlooked by those who hold out for other methods of punishment, is the resulting feeling of expiation. No doubt this is childish and immature, but all of us like that sense of somehow atoned for wrongdoing. A child likes to feel that ‘it’s all over now’, that he’s paid the price for his bad behaviour; the slate’s clean, the air clear, and the fresh start made.

A few minutes ago, my young son, the one I just spanked, dashed in with a hug and kiss for me and, with a happy whoop, rushed outdoors to play. It was obvious that he felt carefree and happy again, and that I think is how he should feel. It seems easier for both of us to feel that way after a spanking than after some other punishments. He knows the matter is closed and that it won’t be mentioned again.

On the other hand, I believe that this particular spanking will have some restraining effect on him when next he’s tempted to throw something at his brother who has angered him. (This time it was a roller skate, and the aim was all too good. It could have been a catastrophe in our household.)

In answer to those who argue that aggression should not be met with aggression and that physical force will not curb physical violence, I can only say that I am not talking about whipping or brutal treatment. Parents who treat children with violence are not average parents and are themselves subjects for the courts of the psychiatrist.

I am talking to, and about, those of us who are devoted parents, honestly seeking the best ways to get along with our children. And a lot of us parents do believe in spanking!

What of those parents who may want to spank, but restrain themselves, or of those who do spank and then feel guilty? They might feel less guilty if they gave more thought to when, why, and how to spank, and then made their actions conform to their beliefs. I have done just that, and I can now feel free from any sense of guilt in such matters.

When to spank? It strikes me that there is a period in a child’s life when he is ‘spankable’, when he is too young to have his dignity imperilled by such treatment yet is old enough to understand perfectly the justice of the action. I can well believe that this period varies greatly with different children, but with my own I’ve found that it extends from about three to seven years. A child can understand reason and justice, but to sit down and argue it out is often too trying a process – for both child and parent.

Why a spanking? It’s for those times when, as someone once said, a spanking is ‘itchingly indicated’. Obviously, it would be impossible to make a list of specific actions which call for spanking. The child and the circumstances must decide this for you.

Every parent of ‘average’ children knows that during the early years, a child often behaves in a manner indicated to ‘test out’ the grown-ups. He wants to see how far you will let him go, how bad he can be without incurring your disapproval or arousing your wrath. Fundamentally, of course, he doesn’t want you to let him go too far. He wants to feel the security of your restraint, the comfort of knowing that you never will let him be too bad.

Every mother recognises this behaviour – the defiance, deliberate disobedience, persistent impudence. It is true that children’s natures vary greatly in this respect but I’ve yet to work with a normal, healthy child who won’t sometimes show signs of trying to find out how far he can go by deliberate misbehaviour. Spanking, I find, is the quickest and most sensible way to answer him.

It is at this point, I think, that some of my really ‘progressive’ friends have failed woefully. One mother I know has a seven-year-old daughter who has been under the care of a psychiatrist for the past year. The mother, believing that she was being very ‘modern’, persistently ignored bad behaviour on the part of this child. But being ignored was not at all what the child wanted; she wanted attention, which she never received from her undemonstrative mother.

The mother practised the theory that naughtiness merits no attention, with the unhappy result that the child became increasingly frustrated, and the mother became painfully controlled and suppressed.

I want my children to know that their behaviour receives my attention, that it merits my concern and arouses my anger. Perhaps anger is too strong a word, but the behaviour which provokes it is the only kind which warrants a spanking in our household. The behaviour which evokes other responses, such as sorrow or a sense of failure on the part of the parent, is not a ‘spanking’ offence.

In short, I think parents can spank safely only when they know their fundamental relationship with the child is right. My boys know that I love them and that nothing they do can ever disturb that love. They are too spontaneous in their affection, too eager for me to be with them for me to ever entertain fears that I cannot safely discipline them in whatever way I find easiest and best.

If spanking, which becomes directly and swiftly called for by behaviour, is the easiest way, then I ‘applaud with one hand’. And that’s the method I use; paddles, straps and hairbrushes seem much too harsh.

Another reason why I find spanking advisable at certain times is that besides being a mother, I’m a breadwinner.

Fortunately, I am able to arrange my work so that I’m with my children almost as much as any mother could be. But the time I have to spend with them is precious and important. I don’t want to spend a lot of it figuring out how to get along with them or how best to correct them. I don’t want them to feel that I’m baffled or depressed by their behaviour, that it is unduly serious and that I am unable to cope with it quickly and easily.

At their present ages, at least, I want them to feel that Mother has the situation well in hand. And I don’t want them to carry around with them in later years and picture of their ‘poor, sweet, saintly mother’ struggling to support them.

I want to think of me as a person it was fun to be with, who enjoyed them and never was depressed or overwhelmed by their behaviour, and who was able to punish them if, as and when they needed it. On the other hand, I don’t want to become too much of a pal or forget that a child is always able to find pals of his own age, and that he needs a parent first.

In short, I find that spanking is an efficient way of dealing with minor problems of behaviour (I haven’t had any major ones yet) and that administering a spanking when it is deserved gives me more time and freedom to enjoy my children.

If it sounds as though I spank habitually and frequently, let me hasten to correct that impression. If spankings were required constantly, I would regard that, in itself, as proof that the method was a failure. If one wants statistics, I should say that the average rate is not more than once or twice a month.

It has been consistently higher for one child than for the other, but he’s that kind of child. And I’m that kind of mother – the spanking kind.

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