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"He Hit Me"


A mother was in the grocery store with her two children. The children were arguing over what cereal to pick. As the sister made a grab for a box, the brother swung out with his fist and hit her on the face. She squealed loudly in response. The mother quickly surmised what had occurred. The sister was now yelling, "he hit me, he hit me!" The mother went over to her son, grabbed him by the arm, and slapped him on the face saying to him in a very strong and intolerant voice, "Don't hit your sister!" The whole incident took seconds to unfold, but the effects will last a lifetime, and not for the better.

How many times have you tried to change your child's behavior through employing physical punishment? Far too often, we believe that acting in a physically angry fashion toward a child is a sure-fire way to get the child to change his behavior. Yet, far too often, we are displaying the very behavior toward them that we want stopped. Paradoxically, we are attempting to change their behavior the same way they are trying to change someone else's behavior. But, while we think our son is wrong when he hits his sister; as a parent, are we right when we hit him?

Current research findings indicate that physical punishment does not work. While we want our children to learn the moral reasons for displaying good behavior, corporal punishment does not accomplish this goal. Children who do experience physical punishment do not improve their behavior, and they are less likely than others to express empathy for others. Parents often report they use corporal punishment because the child behaved aggressively, such as hitting a sibling or stealing. What the current research shows is that by using corporal punishment, you cause your child to increase his aggressive or antisocial behaviors. Physical punishment plainly teaches a child that one can use force to achieve desired ends. Children learn how to be physical and angry by watching parents. They in turn go out and do it in their social interactions.

Research indicates that corporal punishment is associated with more, not less, childhood aggressive actions. What does this mean? It means that the more we use physical punishment as a method to make our children behave. The worse they will behave. As we continue with corporal punishment, our child becomes less and less empathic toward others. This is a nice way of saying our children become mean and uncaring about another individual's feelings. We will see an increase in their physical aggression, verbal aggression, physical fighting, bullying, antisocial behavior, and behavior problems generally.

As an effective parent, to encourage a child to behave differently, you have to do the opposite of physical punishment. You must move away from your child for a brief period of time when the child misbehaves, stop yelling, and be quiet. The child senses your distance, feels uncomfortable with it, wants you back, and looks for a behavior to encourage you to engage with him. Your job is then to watch for that positive behavior and respond to it (with a hug, a smile, or positive verbal response), and you will be training your child to behave. Hurting children does not help them learn. Your job is to model good behavior and respond to them when they do well, ignoring the poor behavior. It is that simple, no one gets hurt, and your child learns.

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