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June 11, 2011 permalink

An opinion piece on spanking correctly points out that parents who spank their children are within the law in Canada and will not go to jail for it. The article omits that children's aid will take the children away for spanking.



mother caring for son Bracha Mirsky

ACCENT: Spanking saved for serious situations

There is one situation where Bracha Mirsky will spank her children. The mother of five learned this two decades ago when her backyard went quiet.

"The twins, they were two-and-a-half. I had them in the backyard and I had the gate firmly closed. Five feet off the ground, there was a hook and latch, so I felt they were secure," said Mirsky, a parenting guru in Toronto and mother of a set of twins and triplets.

"They go around the side of the house where I can't see them. I keep listening for them, I don't hear them."

Nervous, Mirsky popped her head outside.

"I look one way. No kids. The other way, the (backyard) door is open. There's a tricycle pushed up to the door."

Heart in her chest, Mirsky ran out to find one twin around the front. The other was headed for the park, two roads away.

"I was having a heart attack all the way there. I cross one road, I don't see him.

"I cross the other road, he's in the park. He sees me, smiles and runs the other way," she said.

"He had made this into a game and he had no idea ... the danger he was in."

So, she did what she thought might save his life.

"I spanked him until the smile came off his face. He never crossed the road again. I'd go to jail rather than risk him crossing the road."

But Mirsky, author of What Makes Kids Tick and a certified parent and infant consultant, wouldn't have gone to jail.

According to section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada, parents are able to use reasonable force to discipline children. This law, originally enacted in 1892, was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004, though changes were proposed. The use of corporal punishment for children under two or for teenagers was ruled out, as was using instruments such as rulers and belts, or hitting a child on the face or head.

A bill that would have eliminated section 43 was proposed soon after. In 2008, it was amended and almost passed, but it never came to a vote because parliament was dissolved for an election.

So the debate remains. Is spanking a way of teaching respect or is it a path to fear and resentment?

For Mirsky, one thing is clear.

"It's a sign of parental failure, and parents have to understand that," she said. "In cases of emergency, and I mean emergency, I am willing to say that you have to use it. And what I mean by emergency is your child's life is in danger, but for no other reason."

Lana, a Sudbury resident, was also spanked as a child. Now, with three children of her own, she refuses to lay a finger on them.

"It was multiple times a day. We rarely got the belt, but that happened on a few occasions," she said of her father, who would do the disciplining.

"Growing up, I was really, really angry. It caused me to be a bully at school. I was really physical. When people would call me a name, the first thing I would instinctively do is slap them," she said.

As a parent, Lana doesn't like the idea of spanking. She uses alternate methods to get her point across.

"I know there are more effective ways, as opposed to being physical. I'd feel more sad than anything else to have to do that to anybody," she said. "(My kids) know that respect is important to me. When one of the rules are broken, you have one of the things you like taken away from you. It's very effective. They cherish their cell-phones."

For Lana, parenting is about mutual respect.

"I think we're raising adults, not children," she said.

Elizabeth Levin may agree. According to Levin, a psychology professor at Laurentian University, spanking isn't the best disciplinary option.

"Professionals strongly encourage people to try alternative methods," she said, adding that the best way to avoid Mirsky's situation is preventative measures.

"Parenting is really hard work. Spanking sometimes seems easy, but if you have a two-year-old ... you have to think that, 'I have to make a situation that's OK for two-yearolds. Breakables have to be put away,' " she said.

To Levin, spanking a child teaches them the wrong lessons.

"You are modelling that the way to deal with disruptive behaviour is using aggressive behaviour. I think if parents thought this through, they'd realize that this isn't the message they'd want to convey to their child," she said.

Spanking, according to the professor, also has to do with size.

"(Spanking) sends a message, which is the biggest person, or the strongest person is the person that needs to be listened to or obeyed," she said.

This is fine when the child is young, but once he or she hits a growth spurt, family dynamics may change.

"There may come a time in the family's life when the 10-year-old is bigger than the mom," Levin said, adding that if size becomes synonymous with authority, parents may have difficulty disciplining their child at that point.

For Levin, spanking is an ineffective way to change behavior, and can get confusing for children.

"Spanking might momentarily get the child not to engage in the action you didn't like, but it doesn't tell the child what behavior you want them to do," she said. "It says it's alright to spank somebody, which is basically violence ... let's say one child hits another child, and you spank your child and say you shouldn't hit. That sends a contradictory message."

While spanking in itself isn't abuse, it can easily get out of hand, Levin said.

"If a parent spanks a child mildly once or twice, there are probably not going to be a lot of effects. But one of the problems of spanking is it can easily get out of control. If you spank because you're angry at a child, you may spank harder than you thought you were going to," she said.

This was never Chris's experience. Chris, 44, who didn't want his full name used, isn't against spanking. Mainly because he was spanked as a child. And it seemed to work.

"My mother was a disciplinarian. I'd have a chance to explain myself. If I was being responsible, I'd get two or three mild to moderate slaps on the rear end. That was just to get my attention. Then I'd get a big hug and a kiss and asked, 'Do you know why you were spanked?' "

The Sudbury resident thinks discussing the punishment was an important part of learning right from wrong.

"We were always on our best behaviour. Right now, it's second nature for me to open a door (for others). I was very well raised," he said.

Ginette Cyr, a public health nurse at the Sudbury District Health Unit, does not recommend spanking as a punishment. For the nurse, spanking leads to a lose-lose situation.

"When a parent spanks their child, it's typically because the parent didn't know what to do. Most have said they felt bad for spanking their child," she said. "The parent feels bad and the child is feeling hurt, also."

According to Cyr, spanking simply confuses children, and can create lasting negative effects.

"The child doesn't always understand what he or she did wrong because of a spanking or yelling. It's not always

attributed directly with the misbehaviour," she said. "It's creating a stressful environment for the child to be growing up in. Sometimes, the child might not know what is expected of them."

This could lead to a lack of confidence.

"Children who live in a stressful environment and are walking on egg shells because they're not too sure what's expected of them, they tend to have less confidence," Cyr said.

Instead, Cyr recommends positive parenting approaches.

"Use directed discussion, giving clear, calm instructions," she said. "(Use) logical consequences, quiet time or time out. With all of these forms of positive parenting approaches, there's a relationship there between the parent and the child, where the parent has taught the child what's expected of them."

Positive reinforcement works for Aiden Fenerty, a five-year-old with a lot of energy.

"He's had a little bit of problems in school," said Vickie Fenerty, Aiden's grandma. "They're using sticker books and have success. (It's about) positive attention verses negative attention. ... Apparently, stickers work really well."

Fenerty is against spanking.

"I don't agree with it," she said while watching Aiden play in Bell Park. "Since my children were raised, a lot of ideas came out, like time out. That seems to work better. It gives everybody a chance to think."

Source: Sudbury Star