Guest Post from Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka: Alternatives to Spanking December 12, 2012 09:41

They were standing in the hallway of four-year old Larkyn’s child care center as she stomped her foot in defiance. Despite her mother’s pleas, Larkyn adamantly refused to put on her jacket in order to join her class outside on the playground.  “I’ve got to go to work!”  Mom exclaimed in exasperation fiercely fighting the urge to strike Larkyn and force her to comply. 

That’s when Lynn the director of Larkyn’s child care center stepped in. “Larkyn, I see you don’t want to put on your jacket. What’s up?” 

“I want to stay inside!”  Larkyn exclaimed. And before Lynn could question further she added, “It’s too windy outside.”   

“Oh, you don’t like the wind?” Lynn clarified. 

“I don’t!  And there’s a big garbage truck out there.” Larkyn declared. 

“So you want to stay inside because it’s too windy outside, but really because you don’t like the big garbage truck?” Lynn offered.  Larkyn’s shoulders suddenly relaxed, realizing that Lynn understood.

Lynn sighed, “Well, there are no teachers to watch you inside, but what if you put your jacket on and when the garbage truck leaves I’ll take you out to your group. Would that work? Larkyn nodded in agreement and slipped into her coat. 

Lynn did not strike Larkyn, demand that she stop this nonsense and put on her coat, nor ridicule her for being afraid of the wind and the garbage truck. Nor did she “give in” and bring a teacher inside to watch Larkyn alone. Lynn understood that behind every challenging behavior there is a feeling and need and if you take the time to discover that feeling and need you can work together for a win/win solution. 

If we are really honest, spanking is actually about our own frustration and feelings of powerlessness. It teaches a child nothing other than demonstrating that if you are bigger than someone you can hit them. You might be thinking, well I was spanked, and it never hurt me. But the research tells us that spanking is like smoking. Not all smokers get cancer but we don’t know who will and will not. The same is true of spanking, some children may not be emotionally harmed by a slap, but some –and again we do not know who, can suffer lifelong emotional damage.

The reality is we NEVER need to strike a child. When a child is not complying, there is always a reason and it’s not to embarrass you, make you late for work or drive you crazy. By stopping and listening you are teaching your child to be a problem solver who works with you. This is a life skill and the basis of all strong relationships.

So next time you are tempted to strike your child, take a long deep breath and simply ask, “What’s up?”  By doing so instead of hurting your child both physically and emotionally, you will be connecting and building that relationship that keeps him working with you even during the tough times.  Now that’s worth a few minutes of your time.  


Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, Ed.D., is director of and author of Raising Your Spirited Child and Sleepless in America. For more parenting tips, visit her blog at