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Mamas & Papas: do you get physical with discipline?

A recent Facebook thread of comments somehow became group sharing on our own parents' forms of corporal punishment.  Many of us had our own stories of being disciplined by "mother's helper", a paddle, a ladle.  Me?  My dad used a leather belt with a metal buckle.  He used to tell me to count to ten, one count for each lash of the belt on my bottom.  Once, I lost track counting.  He said, "What number?!"  I was frantic and I cried, "I don't KNOW!"  He yelled, "Start over!"


When I think back on those days, I cannot even remember what wrong I had done.  All I know is that I did something wrong and I should try to remember not to do it again.  Being the only girl of three, I did feel that I didn't bear the bulk of the brunt of the belt.  My brothers got it so much more.

I know we have all been there, when our own kids just. won't. listen.  Or, maybe they just. WON'T. MOVE. in your hurry to get out the door.  Perhaps even, they just. will. NOT. STOP. CRYING.  Throwing a tantrum. Begging for snacks. Whining. Fighting with the sibling. 

Sometimes we, as mamas and papas, are just pushed to the absolute limit, where we can try to dig deeper, but it seems there is just no more patience in the bank.  I have reached those limits, and I have grabbed my child, wrapping each of my hands tightly - oh-so tightly - around each arm.  I have felt my hands wrapping tighter and tighter, squeezing and shaking.  I have seen tears well up in eyes right before my very own, and the words uttered, "Mama, you're hurting me!"

But, then: I step back.  I stop.  Those words, those wells of tears, make me realize that I do have deeper to dig.  I do have an emergency store of patience.  I usually cash in on that emergency stash, and walk away. I have gone to hide in the dry bathtub, fully clothed, where the porcelain can cool me off.  As many times as I have been so very close to whacking the kids upside their heads, I don't.  But, I can sometimes see myself in my head doing so.

I realize this is such a sensitive topic, as we all have different parenting styles and limits.  Have you come close to reaching the point of no return?  Have you done the squeeze and shake, the silent pinch, the mother's helper, the bottom whack?  Have you resisted, perhaps using calming mechanisms such as the walk-away, pseudo-hypnobirthing, the hug-even-tighter move?


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Bravo to urban mamas for bringing up thus sensitive subject. Like many aspects of motherhood, we feel pressure to have the craft of discipline perfected, and dare not think of ever crossing the line into physical dicipline. I could so relate to the emotion in this article. As the mother of a 2 year old, I do find myself running out of patience and at times have also done the arm tightening technique, only to feel terrible afterwards. I've learned the value of walking away to take my own " time out" and it really helps.

Well written. Perhaps I am gifted with a deep well of patience. It was always the more emotional punishments that got to me when I was young. Groundings were the worst. I am much more apt to take away privileges or send my five year old to his room...those sorts of things. It's more time consuming but it works for us. I can't stand the thought of physically punishing the kids. There is a deep part of me that become physically ill when I think about it. Not judging. Just my own personal style.

I grew up in a very dysfunctional, physically abusive household and because of that - I always want to do better and do right for my children. At the same time the dysfunction and abuse made me a very strong, empathetic, compassionate person. Stress does not get to me since I was exposed to many difficult stressful occassions as a child/ yound adult. (slight bright side to a painful childhood). I do not engage in physical discipline yet at the same time - I am very firm with time outs and following through on utimatiums - leaving stores after the first warning, etc.

As the parent of an Asperger's kid, who feels the need to challenge every single issue, is hyperactive, has no filter, no self control quite often and is always wanting to debate with me about every single issue.....yes, I have reached the end of my rope many times. Add the two year old to that mix, who is now trying out tantrums and...well...
I think the hardest thing for me is that with my son standard parenting suggestions don't work and things that help only help sometimes depending where he's at on that day. The only thing that consistently works to stop whatever total chaos he's in is to yell or grab him. Neither are what I want to do but I do find myself doing it sometimes, particularly if it involves the 2 year old somehow. It's a hard road and to make it worse we're always judged by the people with perfect kids because they just don't GET that I'm dealing with something different, since my son has an invisible disability. So the scorn I receive from others when my son is acting inappropriately or I'm not responding the way they think I should (and doesn't actually work for my kid anyway, wish it did) makes everything ten times worse and me even closer to losing it. And that is our life in a nutshell.

My absolute favorite instance was when my son was screaming, and I mean SCREAMING and having a meltdown in the car a few years ago, kicking the seats, etc. I stopped the car, removed him and told him he could not get back in the car until he was calm. Well of course I had to actually remove him from the car by pulling him out and he's screaming and so this couple with a perfect, sweet little girl felt the need to stop, stare, and sit there/gawk. The man felt the need to call across the street to see if my son was "OK." To which my son responded, because you can't talk to my ASD kid when he's having a total utter meltdown, "shut up you a#$##!"
They responded by saying really loudly--"NICE--great parenting you've done there." It was horrid. I'm actually a really nice person and usually I have tons of patience and I actually do really well given the challenges my son presents with and usually he's a nice kid but...when you're autistic you just don't have the skills to pull things off sometimes. We work hard with a behaviorist, etc but there are times when it's just....what it is. Autism can be hard. I just wish the rest of the world was a bit more compassionate. I hate having to be the bad parent in everyone's eyes all the time. It makes me not want to do a lot of things/go a lot of places because I get so tired of being judged. Despite that, we're usually out and about, but just hanging off to the side quite often.

I struggle with this too. I don't hit my daughter but.. well.. When it almost alwas comes up for us is when we are out and about and she decides to test the verbal warning (which I am very consistent about)and the consequences (also consistent). So when you are out of the warnings and she is giggling under the play structure, I feel like I have very few good choies. I can drag her out and cary her to the car with cries of "ow mommy you are hurting me!" I can say OK bye and walk away and risk her running into the parking lot after me. Because I am out of warnings and she is calling the bluff. Granted she'll have a time out after I corall her and no more playing outside this afternoon but...

The ther time we get into this is when she is consistently trying to twist out of my grasp in traffic and then cying that I am hurthing her as I tighten my grip. Or if she decides to hit or kick and I grab an arm or leg to stop it. likely to hard.

There are just times I don't know what to do.

So timely for me, today was a day that, sadly, I spanked my child. My child, in utero, was active and difficult. From the first breath in this world, my child has been active and difficult. We do everything that we can. We read parenting books, we have taken our child to numerous doctors, chiropractors, and herbalists. We avoid sugar and blahblaah. And still, there are days, like today, when my child is TERRORIZING the household for hours, and NOTHING works; not protein, nap, ignoring, redirecting, yelling, time out, and of course not spanking. Spanking your child feels awful. And of course, there are apologies, hugs, and explanations afterward. And then I sit in my miserable, guilty stew for a day or more. For us, there is no easy answer. What parent wants to lose it? yell? guilt trip? spank? grab? threaten? bribe? shake? pinch? say insane things? Of course we all want to be perfect and do everything perfect every perfect day. I guess, for me at the end of a day like today I just hope for forgiveness, and more perspective, and a new day to try to be a better parent. It is just so very hard.

My mom used to use water, rarely, as a punishment. Like when my sister and cousin were in a knock-down, drag-out fight, and my mom and aunt each grabbed a kid and stuck them both in the cold shower. Stopped the fight right away. My mom had a juice pitcher that she would fill with cold water and threaten to dump on us. I don't ever remember her actually dumping it on me, but boy, when I heard that water running as a kid, I would stop whatever I was doing and make a run for it. I have yet to do this to my kids, but it does seem to be a way to get their attention without physically hurting the kids (as it just gets them wet). I think you'd only have to actually do it once or twice, and then the threat of the cold water would be enough to get them to behave. That's the theory, anyway. When the timeouts aren't working, and you are in your home (or backyard), it is another alternative.

Thanks for your honesty jc. I really feel your pain, truly. Our oldest son has Autism and the meltdowns can be very draining. I too and my husband have had to deal with the meltdowns in public and I know the kinds of looks we get sometimes. People who don't live it really don't understand. You are right it is an "invisible disability." From the outside Adrian appears absolutely perfect but then he will get upset at a playground because nobody will play with him and run off and cry or he will get too rough with the other kids and I have to step in and be firm. I remember once at Walmart in Washington years ago when Adrian was about four years old. He was sitting in the cart and having a tantrum and I knew from experience that the more I talked to him the worse it would get. I have learned with him(if possible) that it is best to let him get his feelings out as long as he is not hurting himself or others or damaging property. At home time outs work best for him. I ask him to go down to his room until he calms down. The only problem is he is very strong for a nine year old and a good sized kid, his Dad is 6'6". When he is really upset there is no way I can even hold onto him. It is always so upsetting and I have been at a loss as to what to do. He hurt his brother the other day and the playstation was taken away for the rest of the weekend. With both of our sons I guess consistency is key. Sometimes I feel like all I am doing is threatening time outs and they just ignore me after awhile.

"Worst mom": You're not. At all. The next day IS another day, and you WILL be a better parent for this self-reflection.

Hang in there, everyone.

jc and Heidi -
thank you for your comments. our oldest has AS and PIP {Parenting In Public} I know it can be mortifying sometimes. I do feel that there is a lot of awareness in regards to other parents with kids this age - unfortunately, it is common enough that everyone seems to know someone on the spectrum or with other 'invisible disabilities'.

I have, however, had a hard time meeting other parents. It would be great to meet some, as well have my son meet more children he can relate to. Maybe create a local meetup.

I would also like to meet up with other Aspie parents.

As a rule, we don't spank. I've come to believe that it undermines what we are trying to teach our child in that it models violence and bullying. That said, I spanked my child a couple weeks ago when he threw the needle nose pliers at my head. It all happened spontaneously and it really got his attention. We talked it out afterward and in the end I don't think it was a bad thing. He hasn't thrown anything since (and I mean not anything). Is that horrible? I still feel like modeling peaceful negotiating tactics is the way to go.

Two friends each told me something really great about parenting this summer. One, a teacher, said that if you get into a power struggle with a child, you've already lost.

The other is the parent of grown children. He said that he'd never lost his temper with his kids when he didn't end up regretting it--not just because of the bad feelings it created between him and his kids, but he regretted it tactically. It didn't get him what he wanted.

Great food for thought!

shoot, i posted a response and i think it sent to an individual person instead, and now i will try to reconstruct it - sorry to the person it went to!

i completely understand "losing it" and all the challenges people shared here. i am also really relieved not to be reading anyone being a proponent of spanking, intentionally.

that said, there are so many other options beyond spanking, punishments and rewards, for parenting. the entire punishment/reward model is rooted in a flawed paradigm - relationship based parenting is so much more effective, and long term (yes, even for kids on the autism spectrum!)

there are some great resources out there for such parenting:

"connection parenting" by pam leo

"parenting from the inside out" by daniel siegal

and for kids who tend toward being explosive or more challenging than average, "the explosive child" by dr. ross greene is fantastic. his whole approach of viewing explosivity as a symptom of a brain deficit, similar to a learning disability being a deficit, is really refreshing. he uses "collaborative problem solving" to build tools/strengthen areas of deficit. you wouldn't punish a child for having a learning disability right?

for handling explosions in public, the book "the bipolar child" might provide some support...

time outs are disconnecting, as is all punishment models (and reward models) - and for all kids, this is really not ideal - but for kids on the autism spectrum, for whom a primary challenge is their tendency to disconnect into a world of their own, relationship building is really so valuable and essential. i have several friends with kids on the autism spectrum who use no punishments or behavior modification approaches (rewards) and their kids are thriving. every child does better in connected relationship.

Thanks Lyla for your input regarding time outs. It is a factor I had never considered, what you say makes sense though and I appreciate it and will seriously be thinking about it.

I am not a hitter. I don't solve problems with adults in my life by hitting, so I can't imagine trying to solve problems with my child by hitting. But it is amazing to me how quickly those thoughts can pop into my head sometimes. Thank goodness for self control, I suppose, although I know I have "helped" my child into time-out a little roughly a time or two and it does feel yucky. I have a new understanding for folks who lose it with their children and hit/yell/etc when upset. What I struggle with is the aggressive discipline that parents put a lot of thought into. I don't understand it.

Lyla, I like what you had to say about connected parenting. I try to be mindful of that when ever possible. I have had a few instances where my child has needed a pretty strong message about what he has done being wrong and my instinct is to send him to his bed for quite awhile. When that happens for me, I always offer him a "time-out space" near me as an option. So, for example, I've had him sit at the kitchen table while I cook dinner or something instead of going to his room for a long time. I think we both feel better about it. The message, I hope, is that you may not play and have all your freedoms when you misbehave, but you are still connected to me and I will not abandon you when you need me.

As a father who grew up in an abusive (traditional) home I have found that being a parent who strives to do something different with my own children is a daily effort. More so than any other experience in my life, I realized as a adult that our parents more then we could even imagine teach into us these hurtful behaviors, that we MUST strive to move past the yelling, spanking and hurting that we grew up with. Its not easy, I think the key to success has been having a supportive community of like minded people who also wish to end this cycle and do something different. Listening to our children is really the heart of meeting their needs and ending conflict, I think the next major portion is to end conflict with your spouse to set an example for your children of love, not to lie to them about your own conflicts but not to share it with them either this has been my biggest struggle, not arguing with my spouse when My feelings are hurt, because If I argue with my spouse when she hurts my feelings it becomes just as easy to argue with my tween in the same way. . I am working to build a supportive community for fathers.. at http://www.portlanddads.info a great place to share your thoughts and feelings with other men about fathering…. Also Lyla has a wonderful connected parenting class I would HIGHLY recommend to anyone.. Most of all Dad’s when trying to break the “tradition” those what sometimes feel like natural feelings inside of you.. Take a few minutes outside of what ever situation you are in to look in the 3rd party and try and stay objective.. Remember no matter what.. no one especially your children ever mean to hurt your feelings.. Quit Taking It Personally.. (QTIP) and Listen to what they are REALLY saying to you.. Best advice I EVER received..

I will never forget the time 6 years ago when my daughter was 8, we were in the Tanasbourne Old Navy and she pitched a fit, screaming, tantrum etc. She was hungry, I had shopped too long...I promptly put all my stuff down and we walked out to the car all the while she was screaming...while trying to put her in the car seat she arched her back, kicked screamed..you know what I am talking about here..I had to literally push down on her legs to get her in, I was crying exhausted. I turned to close the door and a mom with her kids scolded me for throwing her and pushing her into the car seat..which I did not do.

1/2 hour later a sherrif is at my door, the mom reported me. He saw happy little girl sitting at the table with snacks..He dismissed the case straight away.. Apparently cops get called a lot for this,he wished moms would help instead of judging an already stressful situation. So even if you don't hit, you can still have the cops come. Scary indeed!

I am not a hitter either, and of course I don't solve problems with adults by hitting. But never in my entire life have I ever wanted to hit an adult. On the other hand, I *have* wanted to hit my sons on occasion. I have wanted so badly to make them feel just as awful and angry as I felt in that moment, to use a visceral and physical method of *making* them feel my rage and the degree of their transgression. I have wished I could say, "Wait till your father comes home," the way my mother used to. And let them sit up in their rooms knowing what was going to happen. But while I have rejected all that, I have no problem at all imagining doing it or understanding what makes other people do it.

I have come to think that parenting is more about us than it is about the child's behavior. When we say, "he's a difficult child" we might ask ourselves, "what is it about his behavior that is difficult for me?" Because that's what it really boils down to. What buttons does it activate? What hurts does it remind us of? What fears does it bring out?

My parents disciplined with violence, spanking was often an excuse to take out their fears and hurts on me because they were unable to cope with them.

Of course, I would follow the same pattern, except that I was aware of this and wanted to do better. And do better I have. It wasn't until I started seeing a spiritual life coach that I began to understand that all the "problems" with me and my child (who's almost 5) began with my need to heal my own hurt child-self.

I highly recommend "Connection Parenting" by Pam Leo. It has made a huge difference in how I connect with my son - who, by the way, hit me with a drum stick just the other day while expressing his very BIG angry emotions. The bruise is still on my nose, but it is the only "damage" that remains from that experience. I did feel anger and frustration rising, gave myself a time-out, and then returned to hold him in my lap, and let him know that I was listening to him, that it was okay to be angry and sad.

I learned from my own parents that we are to be afraid of people with big angry feelings. That those are bad, unacceptable feelings that must be buried. That expressing them made you a bad person. But I know that this is NOT true, that these are emotions just like anything else, and can be expressed too. Just not by hurting another person. And that's what I'd like my son to know: that he can express himself, his needs, his hurts, and know that I'm listening and that he's not a bad person and to not bottle them inside only to have them appear later, doing more harm to self and others than had they been expressed to begin with.

I like the "helping not judging" comment when having a bad moment. I was once in a Target parking lot having the worst time trying to get my son to the car. He was screaming and trying to get away from me while I was also carrying packages and 8 months pregnant and some really great lady saw me about to burst and asked if she could help. I looked at her and said, "YES!!" then started crying. She helped my son into the car, gave me a hug and recommended a book then went on her way. Thank you again, helpful understanding mama!

I have two, one in high school and one just starting elementary school (crazy, I know) and I have to say that looking back on parenting and discipline these many years and thinking about the experiences of my friends as well, the one thing that stands out is that no two kids (even in the same family) are the same and so in many ways your parenting has to be flexible. My older child is a very bright girl who will go toe to toe whenever she can. She is naturally energetic, argumentative, stubborn and when she was younger a real queen of the tantrum. We did the usual leave baskets of groceries and drag her to the car, fight her into her carseat (she chipped my tooth once with her head she was thrashing so badly), drag her kicking and screaming to a safe place to cry it out, do the firm arm grab when she was about to touch something awful...ack. The type of physical and emotional energy it took to deal with her would wither my son. He is calm, mellow, cooperative, never cried as a baby, happy go lucky fellow. Same parents, same family, same house, same rules...totally different human.

Lyla, we use (and have on his IEP, etc) CPS (Collaborative Problem Solving--Ross Greene's approach), which is the best thing we've found. It, however, also creates even more stress when in public sometimes since we're not "disciplining" him the way people think we should. It's really hard for people to wrap their head about something like CPS unless they've dealt with an explosive kid.

As for the ASD/AS parents, it would be great to meet up!

jc and others: I have been in nearly exactly those situations, and had my son, too, scream obscenities at passers by trying to help. I've had many an unhelpful, viciously judging comment. I've also had police and children's services come to see me after a particularly bad screaming fit; on a few occasions, the belief was that my husband was abusing us. (once, I had dropped a plate on my toe, entirely independently and with all the windows open, shortly before Everett lost it. you can imagine what the neighbors thought.) I've learned that judging others from their public behavior is, while hard to resist, an enormous misuse of one's social energy. I have become more forgiving.

and I subscribe very much to the concept that punishment doesn't work. I can see that other techniques work better; it's as mamasita says, I almost always regret punishment.

however, I'm constantly at the edge of that breaking point, and often pitched right over it, due to the challenges of my oldest and youngest boys, who DO address problems with other children and adults by hitting, kicking, throwing things. I thrice daily am faced with the "mama, you HUTTING me!" comment from Monroe, who will express his anger frequently and physically against me or his brothers. most typically, this happens in the middle of the night, when he wakes up wanting to nurse (I finally weaned him, after three years & two months, two weeks ago) or just needing comfort and lashes out by screaming and kicking me. hard. and, if he's mad enough, kicking his brothers or biting me. all I have in my toolbox is to hold him, tight, until he relents. I'm always "hurting" him, because what else is there? I'm exhausted, I need sleep desperately, and all I have in the world is to hold him so that he can't hurt me, wake his brothers. the physical reflex of defensive anger is nearly impossible to quell. I hold too hard; if I don't, he breaks free. honestly, it doesn't tear me up inside like it used to. I apologize a lot and tell him I love him constantly. but I have no other tool -- were I to have a room to lock him in, he'd just hurt himself or destroy something. (I'm not saying that in speculation. I've tried it and it's been disastrous.)

I don't believe in spanking, at all, but I've done it. it usually happens when one of the boys hurts another boy on purpose and with extreme results. my mama bear instinct is at war with itself and I don't know what to do. if it's a good day, perhaps I'll get by with calm words and gentle physical restraint. if not...

I'm also frequently in the situation of defending myself against anger run wild from my eight-year-old, who's built like the all-state wrestler / running back his dad was. he broke my tooth a few weeks ago (he was thoroughly regretful and apologetic). I held him with extreme prejudice.

I feel that I have an extraordinarily well-developed gentle, non-violent parenting philosophy; an insurmountable store of patience; and a reality that often sends me tumbling down the stairs to the accidental death of my inner zen mama. the other night, on the way home from my parents' house, my dad driving, everett lost his rational behavior utterly and was doing increasingly dangerous things that threatened to send us into oncoming traffic. it was late, long after dark, and my dad had to drive back to his house (over an hour) after dropping us off. I had a huge exhaustion headache. I had wanted to spend the night, but here we were, headed home and I needed needed needed to get there, get somewhere, sleep. we were on the side of the road off highway 26 and he was kicking and thrashing and I was not pleasant in my 20-minute-long battle of physical domination in order to get his seatbelt safely on. I didn't spank him. but I can't say that I was anything I ever thought I'd be as a parent.

I've read most of the books mentioned. they inform my philosophy. but when a kid comes at you with fists flying, spitting and swearing, not responding in kind is against every instinct you've got.

wanted to quickly add my voice here - we are another family who doesn't use punishments of ANY kind - no bribes, no threats, no time-outs, etc. I have 4 spirited children, ranging in age from 6-19, and I totally get "losing it". I do have limits and I am firm about protecting my limits (i.e. "I will not let you hit me" as I hold the hitting hand) but I also rely heavily on relationship with my kids (which is important when they grow taller than you!) and guide them by being an understanding listener, modeling problem-solving skills as well as our family values, and remembering their developmental stage. There is no quick-fix, whether you hit, punish, or use connected parenting approaches - it's still hard and messy at times - kids don't behave like adults no matter what you do and you still have to repeat things over and over again and wait until they grow up.

There are some parenting philosophies that honestly make me think spanking would be better - anything that teaches parents how to manipulate their children and yet still be "liked" by them - putting way too much burden on the child (actually makes the young child think that the punishments were something THEY chose, etc.) - at least spanking is something associated with "losing it", and sometimes a parent will apologize to their child, reassuring that spanking is the parent's problem/issue, not the child's!
One thing that I have found, besides great relationships with my kids - they are safer in the world because 1. they don't need to sneak or lie to me, about anything - I know where they are going and what they are thinking of trying and if they are worried or concerned or whatever and 2. they are not taught to blindly follow authority - they won't be talked into doing stupid things, or risk themselves in order to be "good" or accepted.

i really hear the pain and stress and exhaustion that comes from having a *beyond* spirited child. i have one too.

the ONLY things that have helped are:

- time
- transforming our life to diminish all stressors *for the child*, which includes (and is actually centrally dependent upon) unschooling
- letting go of doing things that don't work for that child
-letting go of caring what other people think and focusing on my child and those needs, in the moment
-avoiding unnecessary limit setting that might trigger an explosion, and finding really creative ways to "yes"

i have written a few things about thinking outside the box and about paradigm shifting, on my blog:

www.lylawolf.blogspot.com and there are also many great links to the right under various categories.

Mamasita - I really like your words of advice. I am also aware that, "if you get into a power struggle with a child, you've already lost."
However, how does one avoid the power struggle?

My daughter, who actually thrills me with herself at least once a day, will never miss an opportunity to buck. Whether there are options or absolutes, drama is involved. (She is three, so regulating her emotions isn't her strong suit). From tying a shoelace to what cup her water is in, each one minute action takes ten minutes.

Then somewhere along the line I start yelling back. And after, the message that I feel I've conveyed is that she is a ball and chain. ....I have a lump in my throat.

lea, there are surprisingly few situations where a power struggle is inevitable, but it's a paradigm shift. once we, as parents, shift *our* paradigm, the kids no longer live within the power struggle paradigm and they can relax into trusting that we are there to help figure out solutions that meet their needs.

when you say "whether there are options or absolutes, drama is involved" - i would say: there are always options. but if your child is in a state where options cause drama as well, it sounds like she has a lot of pent up emotions that she needs to release - and THAT is at the root of her drama, rather than it really being about the cup or the shoelace.

another good book with wonderful connecting ideas in it for helping kids therapeutically, through play, is "playful parenting" by lawrence cohen (there's another book by that title that's different, and not the right one.)

the site www.handinhandparenting.org has good articles along these lines as well, and teleclasses too i believe.

other than pent up feelings, i have found that another cause for endless power struggles and drama is an overly stressful life from the child's perspective. the child's life does not necessarily have to look stressful form an adult perspective, but for *that* child, it might be.... more parent-child separation than the child is ready for, too many activities, an imposed sleep/wake schedule that runs counter to the child's internal rhythm, family stress, and not enough time for play and daydreaming and exploration, all create stress for kids - some more than others.

so, some ideas to mull over perhaps...

Raising a son on the Autism spectrum as well and the comments about parental judgement are so true. So now when I see a child in full blown tantrum, I smile at the parent, assure the child his or her parents love him or her, and lend some verbal support to the parent.

This is my "pay it forward" to parents who struggle with their children's meltdowns. The parent(s) are thankful, the child stops screaming.

Some very good comments that have gotten me thinking - thank you! I especially like the suggestiom about a connected time out. My sons are 2.5 and 9 mos and both gentle types, but with the older one I've definitely had to restrain myself a few times.
I don't know the right answer. Like many of you, I too grew up with an angry and abusive parent (mom) and I CLEARLY recollect thinking as a child "how can she hurt me, she's my MOM?" It was very confusing and emotionally damaging. So, all I know is that I don't wanna do THAT... I don't want my children to ever think that line. So I breath. Separate myself calmly if possible. And take an anti-depressant to help keep each small stressful situation just that, rather than allowing it to culminate into an explosive situation.

A big thank you to all the mamas and papas for sharing your stories! It makes me feel better about grabbing my 20 month old son a bit too hard a couple of times. I find that the grabbing usually happens when he doesn't listen to me and is about to get into a dangerous situation (running into a street, etc.). The other day we were in a neighborhood park with our dog and as I picked up the poo, I see my son literally running towards the park entrance towards the street. I just dropped everything, took off running and luckily reached him at the same time he got to the sidewalk of the street. I grabbed him by his little arm a bit too firmly and was a bit angry that he didn't listen to my calls to stop. He cried and I felt horrible, but after I apologized and kissed him, he seemed fine.

I also don't believe in spanking, but found myself giving my son a firm swat on his diaper-padded bum for the first time yesterday. He had bit me too hard that time and I just reacted without digging deeper into my patience well. I usually do time-outs and also fake cry to get the point across that it hurts me (since he usually hits, bites, kicks, pinches, etc. and then laughs like it is a game).

All of these comments, suggestions and stories are greatly appreciated to give me new ideas on how to react and to not feel too bad about it.

I do have one question, though- How do you deal with your child's father not sharing your discipline tactics? For example, my son bit his father and laughed (as he usually does), and his father pulled his hair (he calls it a "light tug") back!! I was furious and it caused a big argument that has yet to be resolved (he still thinks there is nothing wrong with it!!). (back story- father was badly physically abused growing up and thus does not think a little pull of hair is that painful/big of a deal compared with leather belt/wire hangar/etc. beatings.) Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

My 2-and-three-quarters has been testing the No-Running-Away-In-A-Parking-Lot rule. Repeatedly. The other day, he did it and was almost hit by an SUV that couldn't see him--my husbands yelling stopped the SUV but not my son. He had a stern and terrified talking-to afterward and seemed very alarmed and upset by our fear, but expressed only defiance. My husband told him, "if you ever do that again, I'm going to give you a spanking."

I don't think my son even knew what he meant.

We don't hit because we believe it's wrong when we're trying to teach him that it's not okay to hit people, even when they aren't listening to you.

I wonder: should we spank him? We've talked to him calmly and gently about not running away in a parking lot, and what could happen. We've also talked forcefully and angrily and fearfully. Neither approach seems to work. He's fascinated and fearful, but somehow that fuels his compulsion to test the rule. I don't want to hit him but I'd rather it be me than a car...I'm at a loss.

Tsubaki, I don't think spanking would help. my just-turned-three runs away frequently and I've used the so-called "natural consequences" -- you're always going to have to hold my hand, or let me carry you, if you can't be responsible for listening to my directions. I don't want you dead, therefore, you'll be restrained. at this age (or, really, at any age) kids who aren't affected by stern voices and the hard feelings engendered by disappointing their parents aren't likely to be motivated by physical pain. some children are motivated to avoid negative consequences, but even then, when your child is running away he's almost certainly not thinking about what might happen when he's caught (or if he's hit by an SUV). his action is completely disconnected from its consequence -- the more often this happens, the more sure I'd be that he's not thinking ahead AT ALL. if he can't be afraid of a car, unlikely he'll be afraid of your hand on his bottom.

lots of people spank out of fear. this, as far as I've heard researchers say, is a rather unhelpful lesson -- scare me and it will hurt -- because the child likely never wants to scare you in the first place, doesn't want to be scared himself. (of course, 'make me angry and it'll hurt' isn't a helpful lesson either, but it's lots more common and sometimes hard to resist.)

I think your only sensible reaction here is to not let him out of your grip. test him on less dangerous walks -- say, a sidewalk with a buffer between you and traffic -- and when he's able to listen to your instructions on the safe places, that will be your cue to let him try out somewhat more dangerous terrain. it's a hell of a lot of work to raise a kid like this. but it gets easier, tiny bit by tiny bit.

also: always wear shoes you can run in! that's the lesson I have for you :)

Lisa: been there. could you send him off to the other side of the world for a year? (kidding. mostly ;) my husband, too, was badly abused as a kid. while he doesn't think abuse is sensible or great and he theoretically is against spanking, this hurt-me-I'll-hurt-you thing sprung somehow into his subconscious. we've had a lot of long discussions about this, and I've argued many a time my fervent dislike for any violent response (either physically or emotionally) and, while I think he connects on an intellectual level, as one of our counselors says, "your gut comes from your family." in other words, your parental instinct is not an evolutionary superior trait, but something you've learned from being soaked in it as a kid.

tell him this, tell him how even a taste of the abuse he suffered as a child is too much -- perhaps appeal with a devil's advocate perspective, how much is too much? when will he stop? if pulling hair is ok, what about slapping? why is one ok, but the other not? etc. -- and if you can (and if it would help), find allies with professional degrees who agree with you. most special ed teachers in PPS are now on board with the concept of natural consequences -- the man who wrote "the explosive child" has conducted a few trainings for Oregon special ed teachers, and the organizing philosophy of behavioral educators is now the concept of "kids do well if they can" are are never helped by a punishment model. (sadly, the school system's disciplinary code still reflects the old way, which is why we have kindergarteners with Asperger's suspended for hitting their teachers)

I had a long talk with him once that seemed helpful -- basically, my point of view is that, when he's shouting at one of the children, belittling them, or spanking them (which he has only done rarely), my own mothering instinct is to protect them against him, and that there is nothing in the world that will change that emotional response. this sets up a damaging and ultimately family-splitting you-against-us model that will not just (in my opinion) damage the children, but also change our relationship from one of partnership to one of adversaries. which does he want to be? I can't change my mama bear instinct, so it's up to him. I've said after much thought that I don't care whether its inconsistent for us to have different parenting approaches: the kids will know to their bones that I love them unconditionally and peacefully, even if it's a constant struggle, and I'm exercising my right as a co-parent to be utterly inflexible in this.

once, we were talking about how one of his high school coaches behaved, yelling at them for bad performance and making them all suffer for the bad behavior of one (you know, brant misses the field goal and you're all going to have to do six laps). "did this help?" I asked. "did it make you want to do better? did it make brant care more about kicking the field goal? did anyone ever perform better because they wanted to avoid getting shouted at?" nope, he replied. well then.

I truly believe that discipline issues are one of the biggest stressors on nearly every parenting relationship. we come into this with very different experiences, and it's not something we usually talk about before we have young children. good luck.

One thing that my husband and I did to get ourselves on the same parenting track was take a parenting class. When we had our first child we were coming from two VERY different places and it nearly destroyed our parenting partnership. While we worked at it for 4 years, our real catharsis came at our Incredible Years parenting class. Having the time to meet and talk and practice techniques was so helpful for us to connect as co-parents. We are FAR from perfect, but we tend to listen to each other more and talk about our thoughts regarding parenting on a more consistent basis. We will probably continue to take a class every year so we can keep up our momentum.
As for spanking... well crap, I have failed a couple of times. I hold myself to the standard of "no spanking", but about once a year, it seems, I lose it and do it anyway. The guilt is terrible, but I just look myself in the mirror, tell myself that perfection is not an option, and try to move on. I try to use the situation to come up with a plan for the next struggle so that I can have more tools to use instead of physical punishment.
I must say, it sure is nice to hear from others about their struggles with this. Make me feel not so alone. Cheers!

Hitting your child only teaches them to hit.

And don't kid yourselves... it's HITTING. It's not "spanking", or "swatting" or "corporal punishment", it's HITTING... out of anger and frustration. You're trying to get your child to stop what they are doing out of fear of YOU.

Don't hit your kids. And please, don't bond over talking about hitting your kids.

Jen's comment makes me wish that UM had one of those functions where you could rate comments on their helpfulness. "Not helpful," click.

This conversation, on the other hand, has been great for helping me think about my own parenting. I/we have been moving toward what I think is what some here are calling "relationship-based" or "connected" parenting, and away from rewards, punishments, etc. Mostly it's been a really positive shift. That said, sometimes I worry that parenting by guilt might become a part of that relationship-based parenting. Any insights on this?

Jen, please quit judging. We are all trying to parent better. If you've read the responses, you will see that only a few parents have actually admitted to spanking their kids...

I'm not condoning spanking either, but I have. It's happened a few times and I'm not happy about it.

Some of use have kids with temperaments who are not as easy as others and the usual parenting techniques don't work. If you haven't been driven to the edge, you can not relate.

molly what do you mean by parenting by guilt? i would like to understand so i can respond.

also, in answer to the spanking question - here is a recent article about how ineffective AND damaging physical "discipline" is:

Yes, all was well until reading "Jen's" comment. Ouch, Maybe Jen has a child that never pushes her limits, or maybe she doesn't even have any children. We aren't here to relish in how we "hit" our kids- seems like we are all frustrated and ashamed! We have a "no spanking" policy, have read countless parenting books, try to "teach" instead of discipline, etc. I still feel physical tendencies with my child. Especially in days where things build up until I just blow. Have I hit my child? No, but I have come real close. And I have used force, either verbal or physical, that I am not proud of. I don't know what the answer is. Perhaps this is one of humanity's many tragic flaws.

Of course I knew my comments would be "threatening" to the flow that's taking place here. Of course it's "not helpful" for those of you who are seeking solace with others in a similar situation -the I-hit-my-kid-and-now-I-want-you-all-to-tell-me-it's-OK situation. You should be welcomig another train of thought instead of trying to ban it. This is so
similar to the blog last year where the unemployed and hurting woman actually wrote on
urban mamas "someone gave
me a gift box of food, which is great and we need it, but it's not organic food. What should I do?" Good reading, really.

Thanks jen for reminding me why I've all but stopped reading blogs. That you feel it's okay to be "threatening" in what many consider a safe place says more about you than you realize and I hope your smug moment of self-righteous satisfaction was worth derailing what for many was a helpful thread.

I just wanted to add that I've found this thread particularly helpful, and timely for me. I've had similar struggles with my child lately, and while I haven't violated our no-spanking policy, I have been on the brink.
Someone, I think Sarah, mentioned how we all eventually parent from the gut. I, like many here, grew up in a yelling/spanking household, and when all the tools in my toolbox are failing "(redirection, "time-in," and even time-out, which I don't particularly like doing and agree can be ineffective) it's very tempting -- frankly, it seems so instinctive I can feel it in my bones -- to just use force, verbal or physical, to get my child to do what I need her to do.
It all comes down to control issues, which I'm exploring personally, as well as some anger management issues. It's not until I became a parent that I realized there are things I need to address so I can be the parent I want to be.
And I don't think anyone here is condoning spanking/hitting, whatever. But obviously many of us have felt backed in a corner, out of options at one time or another, and it's tremendously helpful to hear what has worked and what hasn't worked for others. I never feel more isolated than during those really tough parenting days. I appreciate a place where we can all reach out.

Back on track.... there have been many suggestions for books, discussion of different philosophies, etc. I feel like reading books only gets me so far... and there's not much motivation to read when there are a thousand tasks that need to be done before bedtime. I would certainly be interested in taking a parenting class with my husband and am looking for recommendations. What is the ONE class you'd recommend as most helpful in helping you be a more connected parent, and building a strong, loving relationship with a 'difficult' child while maintaining effective discipline??

i second lee's question! i've read books and sought support in lots of ways, but i think a class i could attend with my partner would be great. there are tons out there. have you taken them? which have you liked or not, and why? if you have an answer, i'd like to hear what the angle/content/approach was of a class you recommend. thanks in advance, mamas.

please check out our class, as a few people mentioned:


the next class is oct. 23d

Lyla, thanks for trying to respond to my question. I guess I mean: does relationship-based parenting (fully admitting here too that I'm not entirely sure I know what that means) risk having your kids do things b/c they don't want to make you feel bad. As in, "you know how much I love you and you do THIS?" As in, misbehaving is a kind of betrayal of that good relationship. Does that make sense? I love my mother and mostly think she did a great job raising us with love and without violence, but there was lots of guilt-motivated discipline in our house, which I feel sometimes inclined to repeat but want to avoid! I want my kids to act in certain ways not only b/c they know I want them to (and we're close and they want to please me), but b/c they want to, themselves.
If I'm not making sense, I should probably go read some of the books others have recommended...maybe I'm just misunderstanding the basic concepts.

A response to Lea about avoiding the power struggles:

First, I fail to avoid them more often than I'd like to admit, but I am learning to try try other approaches when I realize that it's happening because (like my friend with grown children said) I am always dissatisfied with the results. It's unproductive and it's a big bummer for everyone.

One thing that works really well with my spirited 6 year old boy is to say, "Wait, what's going on here. Can we talk about what you want and what I want and see if we can work it out?" He will usually say yes and with a little help start to articulate his feelings. Then, even if he doesn't get what he wanted, he feels heard and understood and it seems to help him reset.

We also find that humor can work incredibly well if we can use it before we're so mad we can't. ;) I too recommend "playful parenting" by lawrence cohen.

As to the judgmental "threatening" comment about this thread condoning hitting, I'd just offer a gentle reminder that if you want to change the way people do things, attack usually creates so much defensiveness that it actually makes matters worse. In fact, it's a dynamic that is closely related to the sort of power struggle issues we're talking about. You will find it much easier to inspire people to change if you don't judge them. Otherwise, you run the risk of encouraging people *not* to talk about it, to cover it up the way it was done in the past. I think it's a very, very good sign that we can talk about it and support each other through it. Ultimately, change is going to come as a personal evolution, one parent at a time.

You said that very well, Mamasita.

" does relationship-based parenting (fully admitting here too that I'm not entirely sure I know what that means) risk having your kids do things b/c they don't want to make you feel bad. As in, "you know how much I love you and you do THIS?" As in, misbehaving is a kind of betrayal of that good relationship. "

ah thanks for clarifying! my answer is a resounding no! relationship/connection based parenting is not coercive or based on guilt in any way! think of it like this: when you have a relationship with someone whom you respect, love, care about, and by whom you feel respected, loved and cared about, do you WANT to contribute to their needs and wellbeing? i would guess yes! and do they need to guilt you into it? if someone in that role in your life asked if you'd be willing to help with something, or do something for them, i'd guess you'd really consider it and mostly try to make it work. and if it didn't work for you, you'd say so, and expect that that, also, would be ok with that other person.

it can work the same way with our kids. when we have a relationship based on trust and connection, our kids mostly WANT to help out, contribute to our good feelings, etc. - but not at their own expense of course. but if they really feel they have a choice, the answer will much more often be yes - and joyfully so. and if they know they won't get in "trouble" for being truthful or open, they are more likely to come to you when they are teens, and seek your advice, support and guidance.

there is no guilt, because my kids are *truly* free to choose to say no to a request - and i don't expect them to be MORE generous than they are developmentally or individually ready for in any given moment, just because of "all i give them" - does that make sense?

relationship based parenting is about the *primacy* of the relationship - above all else - above teaching lessons, "discipline", house work, etc. once the relationship is truly strong all else clicks into place.

larry cohen puts it succinctly: "connection trumps everything"

Yes! Much sense indeed. Thanks very much...will pick up the suggested readings now.

a lovely tidbit from an article i just read:

"Neediness expresses itself differently with different kids. Abundance expresses itself similarly in all.

Neediness creates various interpersonal problems, health difficulties, psychological stress and sorrow. Chronic neediness becomes a vacuum that cannot be filled.

Abundance in one person provides benefits for others. A child with all the trust he needs can trust others. A child with all the time he needs can share that time with others. One who has freedom won't begrudge freedom in others."

sandra dodd

Really helpful information here. I haven't liked my 8 year old much lately (though I still love him of course) and he even said, "If I play soccer well, what will I get?" He was expecting a reward! # 1 on my list is to stop giving rewards for doing anything. Rewards will come without strings attached from now on. #2 will be getting rid of threats. I love this community!

I, too, came from a childhood of many spankings. I have never spanked my children, but definitely have those thoughts on occasion. I think that it's my background as being hit as a kid that keeps me from doing the same - i know that it doesn't work (or you'd only have to do it once, right?) and it feels horrible. I use time -outs, and have given myself a time-out when I feel that I am going to say something I will regret.
I have, however, once used my son's hand against himself. He hit me constantly, and HARD, when he was younger. I was so tired of being hit. One time when I leaned down to give him a kiss goodnight and he once again slapped me across the face, I took his little hand and gave him a very light slap on his own face with his own hand. Needless to say, he freaked out. I felt so horrible! I told him that that's what it feels like when he hits me. There's not a good reason to do something like this, really, but I will say that he never, ever hit me again. He almost did a couple of times and stopped himself. I'm not recommending doing this, just wanted to share that I understand that out of control feeling.
I try to remember that mostly, when the child is being out of control it's actually scary for them to feel that way. I try to sit down, hug my kid, and let them just cry and be frustrated for as long as I'm able to. They feel safe that they can express those emotions with me there. But at a certain point it's time to up and keep going. I think allowing them to express it helps them to get over it, instead of trying to suppress it altogether.


I would love to attend your parenting class with my husband. He is a wonderful and loving father, but coming from the South, he leans a bit more toward 'old school' parenting. Parenting together is important to both of us. But I disagree with his methods sometimes.

However, the 23rd is our daughters Birthday Party, so we can't make that date. When will you be holding another class?

I guess my only comment on this post would be that any form of discipline, if it is done with love and respect for your children, can be effective and draw you into closer relationship with your kids. Even spanking. The problem is that most people resort to spanking when they have reached their limit and they are reacting in anger. No child should be punished in anger. It is our job as parents to help mold our children and teach them how to respect authority, but also to be imaginative free thinkers. It's a fine line. Because so many people have abused their power by physically hurting children, it makes parents shy away from any sort of spanking. But, you could just as easily abuse your power by putting a child in time-out for 3 hours or even days. Any form of discipline can become abuse if a parent is acting out of anger or selfish, cruel intentions. Just the same, any discipline that is done in love can teach and mold our children and shape them into healthy, happy adults.

Sorry, you can't convince me that spanking is an expression of love toward a child. And in no way does it get around invoking the power differential in a most base way and physically hurting by doing it when calm versus angry. Ridiculous.

i was spanked as a child and my husband wasn't. we've discussed parenting and discipline forever - maybe because we grew up so differently. while we don't spank, it's so important to remember that it's possible to be abusive using only time-out or talking. and while the thought of spanking as discipline seems wrong to me, i would point out that culture plays a huge role in how we come to this conversation. there are plenty of cultures in which physical punishment is ubiquitous. i'm convinced that most parents in those cultures love their kids like crazy. just like most parents everywhere. and i've seen evidence that most kids in those cultures grow up to be happy and healthy adults. just like most kids everywhere.

is spanking right? i don't think so. am i in favor of anyone ever hitting a child? no. but all parenting happens in context. the big picture includes also intention, communication and culture.

i have been having trouble posting here - maybe this will work.

lea - we don't have another class scheduled yet, but keep on eye on the web site or send me an email to get on our notification list :)

also - re: discipline out of love and respect vs. anger - i actually am LESS of a fan of spanking intentionally and "with love" than because one "loses it" - not a fan of spanking at all, but i have a great deal more compassion for losing it and lashing out and then making amends than i do for parents who CHOOSE to hit their kids, tricking themselves into thinking it's loving discipline. the scientific evidence (and common sense) all point to that belief being entirely false. discipline means to teach, and people don't learn when they are in pain or afraid.

i also disagree with the basic premise of "no child should be punished in anger" - no child should be punished - period. punishment is ineffective at best and destructive to relationships AND long term mental health at worst.

Very well put, Lyla.

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