Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On the spot not to spank

"A child cannot be raised to be loving---neither by being beaten nor by well-meaning words; no reprimands, sermons, explanations, good examples, threats, or prohibitions can make a child capable of love. A child who is preached to learns only to preach and a child who is beaten learns to beat others. A person can be raised to be a good citizen, a brave soldier, a devout Jew, Catholic, Protestant, or atheist, even to be a devout psychoanalyst, but not to be a vital and free human being. And only vitality and freedom, not the compulsions of child-rearing, open the wellspring of a genuine capacity to love."
--Alice Miller

In 2003 I went to Portugal to inform people of the dangers of spanking children. Of course, I encountered much resistance, even from the children! One day I was babysitting my niece’s little 4-year-old girl. We played a game that she was the mother and I was her daughter. She spanked me because I did not do what she wanted.
“Why are you spanking me?” I asked her.
She said: “You are a bad girl, you are not doing what you were told.”
“Do your parents tell you that? Do they spank you?”
She said yes.
I tried to explain to her that spanking is not OK and that the reason she is being spanked is that her parents when they were little, were spanked by their parents. This upset her and she told me, with tears in her eyes: “you don’t understand, sometimes I am a very bad girl.”
I told her: “you are not a bad girl, you are just a little child, and it’s not your fault.”
She was very hyper because of the abuse she lived with and the constant fear.
Later we were walking in a very busy street on the way to my sister’s house near Porto. Testing me to see how I would handle her if she misbehaved, she refused to hold my hand and wanted to walk alone. This was a very dangerous street with extremely narrow sidewalks; if she fell into the street she could be run over by a car. But she kept letting go of my hand.
Of course, my first impulse was to spank her, because that’s what was done to me when I was a child. But I witnessed my impulse and why it was there and I resisted it. I looked for a nonviolent way to solve the problem. So I held her and sat on the step of a store and I told her: “I am not moving until you hold my hand” and I explained to her why. We sat there for a while and she kept wanting to go. I said: “I am only moving from this step if you promise to hold my hand until we get to Elza’s house.”
After a while, she got tired of sitting and promised to hold my hand and we enjoyed walking and talking the rest of the way, without having to resort to any violence.
Another day, I was at my nephew’s office with his three-year-old boy. The little boy grabbed one of the employee’s calculators and wanted to take it with him. I could feel everyone tensing up, wanting to grab the calculator from the little boy and give him a slap on the hand. But they restrained themselves because I had been telling everyone the dangers of hitting children.
The employee told my nephew he could take it home and bring it the next day. But this wasn’t an honest solution either. The calculator was his, not the little boy’s, and it was not a toy for children.
I took charge, sitting on the floor with the little boy holding the calculator in his hands. I told him: “I know this is going to be painful not to be able to take the calculator that you like so much, but it is not yours and we will not leave here until you give it back.”
I told him: “we cannot always have what we want and I also feel disappointed when I don’t get what I want and it’s ok to feel this way.”
I helped him accept his feelings and after about 20 to 30 minutes he understood what I said. Tears ran down his face and again I told him that I understood his pain and that it’s ok to feel sad, and then he gave the calculator back.
I accomplished all that without violence. Of course, I could have grabbed the calculator out of his hands, but that would have not taught the real lesson. Instead, it would have taught him the lesson of violence to pass to the next generation. The circle of violence is hard to break because the compulsion to repeat is great. But I was able to break it and this is the achievement in my life I am most proud of.
That day in my nephew’s office, I gave everyone there an example how to solve a problem with a child without violence. Of course to accomplish this took time. It would have been much faster to do it the old way with violence, but that would not have helped the little boy to learn to be and feel his own painful feelings when disappointed.