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March 23, 2010

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I've read your article and it's well written. Looking forward to more.

If all the research told me that a child who was hit grew up to be more successful than one who was not, I would still not hit my child. I am normally a very research-based parent when I can be, but sometimes moral arguments are more persuasive than practical ones.

From that article it says the Gunnoe study was based on a survey of 2600 individuals. I find the correlation between smacking and "success" very iffy. To really test and reproduce this kind of assertion would you not need to test on identical twins and separate them into a smack group and non-smack group? How did Gunnoe account for personality differences, individual motivation levels?

The first article (about permissive parenting) also has interesting ideas about the impact of culture on parenting style. I also wonder if some groups chose a more authoritarian style because they feel more susceptible to being judged to be "bad" parents if their kids aren't toeing the line.

Agree completely with @Dr. Confused's sentiments.

Agree with @Jennifer about the inherent issues with research methods. In social scientific research such as this how is a random sample really obtainable? And how do we define "success"? Is the child who has straight A's but say, suffers from anorexia truly a total "success?" How do we measure how well-adjusted someone is? Or do we look only to objective measures such as level of education, future income, etc.

I thought the first article was too quick to conclude there's causation where perhaps there is only correlation. If authoritarian parenting causes an achievement gap, that's one thing. But the conclusion about the merits of permissive parenting doesn't logically follow. It presumes only 2 parenting styles - why couldn't we just as easily conclude assertive parenting has merits?

Heh. I was kind of joking, too. That kind of experiment wouldn't be ethical, which is why Gunnoe resorted to surveys, but I always question the validity of surveys because the researcher is looking for a correlation no matter how loose. It just strikes me as silly that one factor, smacking, is being highlighted, and nothing else like maybe the children were taught better coping skills to deal with physical punishments that helped them overall to get better grades, etc.

I personally despise studies like this because it's just not a study!

Yeah... I of course agree with all of you. You do all know the fairly robust finding that children of alcoholics are also better off than their "normal" peers, right? At lots of stuff I can't remember. But basically school, adjustment, social skills, etc. Um... perhaps it might be a third variable working? Like they had to learn to cope with a whole lot of hard shit at 6 years old or so and that, in SOME ways served them well, but that doesn't mean I'm going to go guzzle a bottle of vodka in hopes that my kids will get higher SAT scores.

Well, actually, I might have some vodka. Very soon even. But I won't think I'm doing it FOR the children.

(You can see why I'm not writing posts, right? Do you see what I'm spewins?! I am not in a good place, people!!!)

OK, I'll argue in favor of spanking. I'm from an Amish/Mennonite background where families have multiple toddlers/infants at a time and lots of manual labor. Recommended non-spanking discipline methods are usually more time-consuming than spanking for children younger than 3, because it requires a parent to compel the child to remain in time-out (at least for my 2 year old)

Second, children who are spanked more are often less compliant children. To really understand spanking, we need a set of normal, healthy families who are willing to be randomly assigned to either spank or not spank throughout their children's childhood and see what the extremes look like.

In my own family of four children in six years, one brother was extremely non-compliant and got spanked more than the other 3 of us put together. My parents had to supervise him intensely in high school to keep him out of trouble.

I argue that the high-spanking frequency he received as a toddler/preschooler reflected his noncompliance, not his home life, since my parents spanked only in response to his pre-defined misbehaviors. If it were his home life, why didn't my parents spank the other three of us equally?

@Twin Mom: I don't see that you're arguing in "favor of spanking"; you seem to be suggesting that spanking is not only a function of how parents choose to parent but also about who the child is -- his/her temperament.

I agree. Some kids are more likely to push parents far enough that the parents either (a) get too angry to do anything but spank, (b) use spanking as what is conceived as the best way to tame children or (c) use spanking for the precise purpose of shoving down certain types of behaviours. However, we still have to wonder whether there was a sort of feedback process with your brother (who is very similar to mine, by the way). So, your brother was tough to handle, probably because he was more needy and that didn't work in his family context. He expressed himself in a way that was oppositional, which elicited more rejection (that sort of is what spanking/smacking/whacking/ is). Being spanked/rejected/physically intimidated may have made him feel MORE insecure, angry, vengeful, resentful, which may have made him more of a shit towards his parents. I don't deny that there are complex relations among the partners, but it's certainly not as simple as some kids deserve to be smacked more than others.

"You do all know the fairly robust finding that children of alcoholics are also better off than their "normal" peers, right?"

I had not heard that, but it explains my husband. He is the child of a single alcoholic parent. His childhood was pretty fucked up; we're talking serious physical abuse, removal from the home, group homes, rape by his peers (who chose him due to his vulnerability) etc. He is one of the most well-adjusted, resilient people I know. It has always been quite confusing to me that I am the crazy one in the family.

Well, that is seriously interesting stuff for me since I was smacked and hit/whooped as a child.

I think the missing third variable may be the new line of thinking about kids as dandelions or orchids. I was just reading that long Atlantic article by David Dobbs on how dandelion and orchid kids grow in response to environment, and I will stick my neck out and say that I was probably a dandelion kid who grew despite the humiliating whoopings my grandmother gave me. :p

I think you all would like that article!

Here I thought I was striving towards being 'authoratative' when actually I'm working at being more 'permissive' as a parent. Does reasoning with a child actually make you a permissive parent? Maybe I have the definitions mixed up.

@Dr. Confused: I love you for this: "It has always been quite confusing to me that I am the crazy one in the family." SERIOUSLY made me laugh out loud.

@Jennifer: I'm going to download that article now!

@paola: Reasoning is a sticky thing. It should go up with the child's age so that by adolescence, that's the main form of "discipline" or persuasion you use with your teens, presumably because they need to learn how to use it in the real world (and they also give you no choice). The reasoning that can get "too permissive" is the type that goes on and on and that is aimed at a, say, 3 year old who won't put on his shoes. Yes, giving him the "why" once is a good idea. Trying to persuade him about the merits of footwear on winter days for the next 30 min might be verging on that more "permissive" level where some parents can't or won't lay down the law at that point. Make sense? Also, some kids like Tracy's boy are MUCH more compliant if reasoned with from the beginning and not give a strict directive. While others (like mine), if given any more than the most rudimentary reasoning, will "take a mile". As usual, it's a bit of a nuanced issue and the article simplifies it too much for the sound bite, in my opinion.

@Isabela

I get it now. Thanks for the clarification. I can see that it depends on the kid. My 5 year old is the easiest kid to reason with. But then he is a very easy going child in general. My 3 year old? No Way. I could reason with her till the cows came home and she wouldn't budge. Sometimes you just have to say 'you're not wearing those sandals out in the snow and that's that.'

Hmmm...quick toddler question on the parenting style question. I like to think that I'm falling into the Authoritative style, although I'm only 18 months into this parenting gig. But we have one persistent conflict that I don't feel I'm dealing with consistently, which seems far too permissive (and likely to confuse my daughter).

So, my daughter is very well-behaved, and easy. BUT, she hate to wear bibs. She rips them off, unless they are the kind that tie behind the neck. At breakfast (b/c I don't have the time to change her after breakfast, before we leave for work/school), I always put her in the one that ties, and she seems okay with it. Which means that bib is still drying and not available for dinner. At dinner, she'll rip off her velcro bib, say "no bib," and keep eating. At that point in the day, I don't really care if her clothes get dirty, and I usually give in and she eats in her clothes, and I invariably end up soaking her shirt overnight. But this is clearly inconsistent, and she's too young to understand *why* a bib is useful.

I realize this is super-small in the big scheme of things, but what do you do here? Have separate rules for breakfast and dinner? Buy more bibs that tie in the back? Drop the bib rule and let her clothes get dirty, focusing instead on more important things? Am I getting worked up and questioning my parenting style over nothing?

Claire: In my opinion, this is clearly a "Buy more tie bibs situation." As a mother of three kids in 2 years (1, 1 and 3 now), I pick my battles and I wouldn't pick that one.

@Isabela:
Good comments on the needs of the child not fitting with the style of the family. It made me realize that some families are more open to letting children become their own people, and my family was not like that. Two of my cousins were parented differently and ended up having children without being married, one as a teen. My parents saw this sort of outcome as a result of not being "kept in line." It's hard to know how much to let a child be his own person, how much he'll grow out of, and how much he needs discipline in order to (hopefully and eventually) develop his own self control.

I've read your links on discipline books and several of the books. Any suggestions on discipline for one-to-two year olds who cannot be constantly supervised (I have housework to do) and do fairly bad things, like bite each other bad enough to bruise?

Claire, I'm with Twin Mom. Either buy another tie bib, put the wet/dirty bib on her again in the evening (it's just going to get more dirty) or do away with the bib concept altogether. This is not worth a power struggle with your daughter.

We don't do the bib thing. The bops just wanders around in shirts with spaghetti sauce all over the front. My mother thinks it's horribly disgraceful but I really don't care.

@Claire: I'm with TwinMom and Dr. Confused: you've got to pick your battles and this one isn't worth the big one, I think. I'd buy the extra bibs. You're not being permissive if the child doesn't actually KNOW that you're caving to her whim every time. So, with some things, I try to figure out what real lesson there is in what I'm trying to "win." If it's not a big one, I let it go. (e.g., for the life of me I STILL can't get one of my boys to dress before breakfast. I stopped trying. He gets dressed in 2 min AFTER, otherwise it takes 15 min of wrangling and crying and freaking out. Because I don't even bother asking him to get dressed when I'd prefer, he doesn't have the impression that he's "winning" all the time. In other words, there's no power struggle. With other things, of course, I don't adjust because doing it my way is more important.)

Also, 18 months SUCKS. I caved WAY more during that period than any other. Not with anything that was about aggressive behaviour, but with other stuff. Otherwise, I would have been in a power struggle about 95% of the time. I wouldn't try to classify your parenting style definitively during this MASSIVE developmental transition period.

@Twin Mom: In terms of suggestions for discipline for kids that can't be constantly supervised, this is a really tough one because between 1 - 2 years old, they DO need almost constant supervision. It's not about discipline so much as setting up their context to be safe (from stuff and from each other). It's just the nature of the age, not just about twins or whatever. So, my first suggestion would be to try to get a mother's helper type of person in 1 - 3 times per week. This person can be a high school student that's relatively cheap. She can supervise, play with, corral, etc. the kids and you can do the housework in peace. When my twin boys were at the biting stage (one was a real biter, at around 18 - 20 months), I would just separate them. Easier said than done, but I would put one in a baby-gated room in sight of me and the other in a jolly jumper (this could usually amuse them for 30 min at a time) while I cleaned. Or I'd put BOTH in a jolly jumper in the room I was cleaning (although this was more like at the 1 year old stage rather than 2 years old). GOOD LUCK. This is the toughest stage, in my opinion.

@Isabela
We live in a rural area with no high school students nearby, but maybe I could make something work. The house is pretty safe but the twin interactions are not, and my three year old bites them too, sometimes. He's old enough to get sent to his room. And I might try the bouncer again with the mobile twin. (One is walking, one is still just crawling.)

Right now, the twins are 14 months old so we haven't hit the defiant stage yet, which came for my older son when he was about 18 months. I mostly redirect rather than discipline now, because I try to discipline/punishment primarily for defying instructions or known rules (like no biting).

It's encouraging to hear that other people have relatively undisciplined children at 18 mo- I did!

Thank you - those answers make me feel much better.

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Hi, I'm Isabel

  • I'm a developmental psychologist and mom to two awesome 3-year-old boys. My area of expertise is social and emotional development and most of my research is on interventions that help make families and friendships healthier for children. More about me...

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