Time out for the wooden spoon.

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Time out is better than smacking

Time out is better than smacking

Ok, so today we’re going to have a chat about the wooden spoon debate. Gosh I sound like a talk show host.

Anyway, this is a serious subject and one that I have often thought about quietly, but only decided to write about last night after I received an email from a friend of mine. She works with abused children on a daily basis, so for her this subject is both very serious and very close to home.

A bit of background for you, from ninemsn.com.au:

Wooden spoon mum sparks smacking debate

A Victorian woman has been questioned by police and threatened to be charged with assault after hitting her 9-year-old daughter with a wooden spoon. Claire Davidson was warned by police that she risked an assault-with-a-weapon charge after her child revealed in a classroom discussion that her mother hit her with the spoon.

Ms Davidson said she was shocked when a support worker from Yea Public School reported the smacking to police. “We only use the wooden spoon and that is only when she is being naughty and we give her fair chance to rectify the situation and we talk her through it,” she told the Herald Sun.

She said her daughters gets three warnings and, then, “it is spoon time.” Ms Davidson of Flowerdale, north of Melbourne, was told by police she would be charged with assault if another instance of her daughter being hit with the spoon was reported again.

The incident has sparked a debate about smacking between parents and child-welfare advocates. A criminal lawyer said that whether parents are charged with assaulting their children or not depends on how severe the smacking is.

“Just because you are mother or daughter doesn’t make you exempt from the law,” criminal lawyer James Dowsley said.

My first initial opinion on this topic was, my brother and I were smacked with the wooden spoon and we turned out all right. That of course is a very simplistic and hopeful view that all people hit with an object as a child will turn out ok.

On Sunrise this morning Dr Michael Carr-Greg spoke of a study that showed many children that were smacked with a wooden spoon or another object went on to become violent adults, using violence to solve problems. Now, my question here is, what other factors contributed to these children becoming violent adults. What was their family unit as a whole like? Were they smacked lightly on the bottom with the wooden spoon as we were as naughty kids, or did their parents take it one step too far and fall into the abuse category.

Of course there are too many questions that need answers before we can say yes this study shows we shouldn’t smack our children with wooden spoons. Having said that though, I do not plan on smacking my children with objects. No, I’m not a mum yet, but going off the fact that it would break my heart when we talked about smacking our puppy with a rolled up newspaper, I don’t think I could handle smacking a child with a cooking instrument.

In the case, however of this Victorian mother, was she abusing her child? From the news story above, my answer would be ‘no’. But I don’t know the in’s and out’s of their family. Should smacking in general, whether it’s with an object or not be illegal? I’m going to sit on the fence on that one, because I honestly can’t answer that 100% either way, but the majority of me says, yes it should be illegal. If I worked with abused children on a daily basis, then I know that I would definitely say 100% yes.

Interestingly the current poll on ninemsn does not support this view:
Do you support smacking with a wooden spoon? Yes: 104,675 | No: 33,233.

Dr Michael Carr-Greg spoke of alternative forms of punishment on Sunrise this morning, such as time-out, taking away things that are of value to the child, such as computer time, games etc and grounded them. But all are to happen in short, sharp bursts. And if the child doesn’t learn, extend the time out, longer time without the computer. All sounds good in theory doesn’t it. But I’m sure there are countless parents, good parents, who have lost their cool and smacked their child.

The other side of the debate is, well are we as a society these days just too uptight about things like this, when like I said before, there are many many Gen X and Gen Y kids that were smacked as kids, and most of us are all right.

I think if you asked my friend if society is too uptight, she’d probably say no. If we were too uptight and too strict on this sort of stuff then why are there so many abused children.

A bit of a heavy puff today, but would love to hear your thoughts, and for the mum’s out there would love to hear your experiences with dealing with your children, and your views on smacking.

  • Cass Cook
    October 16, 2009

    Hey there Ami.
    I have also been thinking about this subject long and hard. As a parent i am terrified of both disciplining my chidren too much or not enough. Personally i think as a child i wasn’t disciplined enough, my brother and sister (much older than me got the wooded spoon) i didn’t and i was the one who always pushed the boundaries knowing that i had no consequences.
    Now saying that with my own children, their father sometimes threatenes with a wooden spoon because that’s what he got, but he would never ever use it because his kids have him wrapped around their little finger and he has major problems just getting cranky with them let alone ever smacking them.
    It’s a bit frustrating bacuse i end up being the bad guy, and the one who has to give the smack after i have warned them numerous times, because i believe that following through is essential to your child feeling safe and secure, and understanding consequence for actions.
    With my eldest smacking has worked in that i never have to do it anymore. We have always used the 1, 2, 3 method and i haven’t gotten to 3 in a long time bacause he knows i’m serious. Now when i talk about smacking, i do it but don’t like it, and its never more then a open hand on the backside, i always give my kids enough warnings before i resort to a smack.
    With my eldest it was harder, he has langauage delays and has suffered server frustration and aggression due to this. Time outs never worked bacause he got so worked up he bacame dangerous to himself and couldn’t calm himself down, he even broke a mirror in his bedroom once. He now is much better at communication and comprehension and is a lovely, poliet and controlled child, but it has been hard.
    My youngest rarely ever gets a smack even though he is often naugtier. If you smack him he smacks back, and i am not having that. He gets time outs and they work really well for him. Kids sometimes pushed the boundaries so far that as humans we as parents can get very frustrated and you may just find yourself smacking a little harder than you intended but this can not be the case if you just don’t smack.
    Children don’t come with instruction manuals and it is really hard to find the best way to discipline your child in a loving caring way, and discipline is essential to a childs feeling of security. I would never use a wooden spoon, and while i smacked my eldest only when absolutely necissary, i hated it, but it was the only thing that worked and when that is the difference between your child learning road saftety or getting run over than i see that as loving discipline. I don’t smack my youngest because it doesn’t work and i’m glad it doesn’t and that time outs do work because my son is being disciplined but i’m not feeling like i have to smack him.

  • Eleanor
    October 18, 2009

    Hey Ami,

    Such an important topic in modern society! I don’t know where to begin in commenting on this. I think that as you point out discipline is a matter of context. While I understand that many people would see the authorities response to this incident as an over reaction there are some critical details which are missing. We don’t know where on her body this child was hit, was the child left with bruises and what was the child’s experience of this. I also feel that authorities are in a lose lose situation. If they respond, they are taking away parental rights and if they don’t they are persecuted for neglecting their responsibilities. This particular incident also raises the question for me of why the need for an implement? If this parent chooses to use physical discipline – which in Australian society parents still do have the right to do – why could this not have been done with their own hand rather then an implement? We also know that children learn by example. So whay are parents surprised when they smack their child for doing something wrong and then their own child responds with violence toward their siblings when something doesn’t go their way. Please don’t get me wrong. I realise there are many parents doing a great job who do use physical discipline, and I agree there are occasions where a smack on the hand, particularly for younger children that don’t understand reasoning, may be necessary to prevent a dangerous situation such as touching a hot plate. But in a society where child abuse is occurring at epidemic rates and when parenting creates emotions that one can never anticipate, I believe that a committment to abandoning the use of physical discipline is a must!!!

    Thanks for giving this topic some airtime Ami!

  • Fugiel Ulberg
    October 21, 2009

    I moved to Australia 5 years ago from Auckland due to the increasing crime rate back home. I was in the teaching sector for over 15 years and I had witnessed first hand the deterioration of basic values and respect amongst children. Mainly stemming from a bunch of out-of-touch liberalists bent on treating children as adults by showering them with rights before letting the course of education and good parenting skills develop the fundamentals of ‘responsibility’.
    When growing up, my father (who was the family disciplinarian) had a 3 strike system. He would warn us the first time and conference us on whatever we did wrong. If we stepped out of line again, he would then take away a privilege, such as pocket money etc, but, would also notify us of the consequence involved if we were to repeat the same wrong doing again, which was a very hard strap on each hand, which sometimes left a welt. If what we did was very serious, then he would go straight to the third strike.
    Now my sister and I have our own families and we refrain from smacking our kids, all the while instilling within them the importance of respect for other people, themselves, property and authority. Her second eldest son started hanging with the wrong crowd at school 4 years ago when he was 11. She conferenced him quite often and went to school on numerous occasions to see his teacher for the escalating acts of undesirable behaviours. After dealing with this for 2 years and not resorting to smacking him yet, the school suggested that her son see a councellor and that he attend a behavioural correction course, along with an endless list of many other short courses such as anger management. This her son did, but unfortunately it did not yield the desired results. So one day, after the police brought him home because he had broke into a house, his father took to him with a belt. This came as a shock to her son and he did not step out of line again for 3 months. One day while having a casual discussion with his councellor, she asked him why he was not misbehaving anymore and he told her what had happened to him. Later that day, just as my sister’s husband pulled up from work there was a police car already parked in the drive and when he walked in, the police officer told him whether he was aware of the anti-smacking law that had just been passed. However, they would give him a warning on this instance, but the next time it happened he would be answerable to a judge in court.
    After this incident, her son went back to his old ways but on a more extreme level. He had assaulted a teacher, was stealing anything he could get his hands on and running with a gang who were using intimidation tactics on random people in public.
    My sister, who had exhausted all efforts and methods of discipline and behaviour management strategies then rang me here in Australia and explained to me what was happening and how her son was on a one-way street to jail. He had also been kicked out of school at the age of 15.
    I told her that I would fly over straight away and bring him back to Australia where I could discipline him the only way there was without getting into trouble with the law, as one would if they were in New Zealand.
    When I arrived in New Zealand, after trying to track him down because he had run away from home, I coaxed him into thinking that he was coming to the Gold Coast for a holiday and to visit the theme parks.
    As soon as we arrived in Australia, and we came straight home, I took off my belt and belted him three times. I then sat him down and lectured him about respect for people, himself, property and authority. Then discussed with him the effects of his actions on himself and others. I put him back into school, gave him tasks that involved responsibility at home and told him he would earn his rights back one by one. It has been almost a year since he arrived and he has never stepped out of line again and he is doing well at school.
    Sometimes, a parent needs to be reserved the right to discipline their children with a smack.
    Unfortunately, there are the very few who spoil it for the rest of us by crossing the line where it becomes physical abuse.

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