When I walked into the exam room I saw a mother, her son and a ping pong paddle that had MOM’S PADDLE written along the handle. I thought it was a joke.
But it’s no joke. I am a doctor, I treat lots of kids and families. Most of us think that hitting kids is wrong. This mom had a difficult kid, an upbringing where she was often hit and no training in positive parenting. Regardless of a child’s behavior, rudeness, sassiness, attitude or language hitting is not the answer. The negative impacts of hitting and spanking have been long documented and impact everything from cognitive development to adult violence. From decreasing self-esteem, to negatively impacting trust to insuring that children don’t share feelings, the impact of corporal punishment impacts children across all cultures and socio-economic classes. A recent study of 400,000 children across 88 countries, points to the many countries that ban corporal punishment in all settings—the home, school, and all institutions, — and how lower rates of violence are reported in subsequent years. Doctors who see children need to ask parents about how they handle discipline and offer guidance, resources and referrals for parents in need.
Just like we ask if there are guns in the home and if so, are guns kept separate from ammunition and locked away; just as we ask about the use of bicycle helmets and seat belts and water safety, doctors can ask parents how things are going with regard to discipline in the household. Corporal punishment is alive and well in the United States, the statistics are disturbing. This conversation and offering support and resources should be part of the office visit. Positive parenting can be taught. Offering parents other options to spanking, connecting families to local and online resources and talking about progress at subsequent visits are all ways health care providers can help stem the ongoing epidemic of hitting children.
If hitting is the way discipline or disagreement is handled, that is what a child learns. I work with parents in one-to-one settings to strategize about preventing discord. I share resources for raising healthy, confident kids without resorting to spanking, hitting or other forms of violence. We practice skills that enable children (and then teens and adults,) to handle disappointment, disagreement and other people’s aggression without responding with physical violence. Sometimes I do role-playing with a parent, pretending they’re in a testy situation with their child that might lead to an urge to spank as punishment and we practice other ways of handling the moment. I practice conflict resolution strategies with parents, like those articulated and helpfully illustrated in books like Siblings Without Rivalry by Farber & Mazlich.
For some families, challenges are multiplied by kids with psychiatric diagnoses from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to Oppositional Defiant Disorder to Autistic Spectrum Disorder. There are many approaches to helping these kids in the pediatrician’s toolbox. Helping with negative behaviors is one way to decrease the behaviors that lead parents to lose control and use hurtful physical discipline. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) also bring a perspective and evidence-based set of effective approaches to the treatment of ADHD and other challenging conditions that lead to difficult behaviors. NDs are trained to treat the whole person, including physical and more emotional components. Sometimes the stress of family violence, including spanking, is an integral or maintaining cause of a child’s physical illness. ND work to identify and treat the underlying cause of illness.
As to the little boy whose mom used a ping pong paddle to keep in line, we worked together over some years to address his ADHD and wild, inappropriate behavior through diet, exercise, removing food allergens and mindfulness meditation. Mom enrolled in a positive parenting class and committed to doing better. It took time, encouragement, finding the right supports and consistent follow-up, but the family is in much better shape now from all their efforts. Hitting is no longer part of their home.
Some parents were not parented well, including being hit. I am a strong believer that the cycle of violence can be stopped. Statewide programs teach parenting classes to parents, local and online resources offer support and consciousness raising. All can help. As parents we have the chance to model positive behavior like problem solving, respecting other people’s bodies and talking out our differences. When we help our children gain these skills, we give them tools for a lifetime. We have enough information and research to show that hitting our children is just not a good idea. Not good for the individual child, not good for the family and not good for society.
To read about positive parenting look here.
To find a naturopathic doctor near your see here.
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