The Pitfalls of Parenting

Corporal punishment is a no-go. So is yelling. What exactly can you do to raise your kids right?

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Hitting your child is bad. (But don’t yell at me for writing it. Yell at science. Multiple studies say so.)

Most school districts have moved away from corporal punishment entirely, and even though you will find some very staunch pro-“whoopings” enthusiasts, they remain greatly outnumbered by the multitudes who think that any hitting of a child is abuse.

But you have to do something as a parent to get your kids to behave. Some parents have simply traded one technique (hitting) for another (yelling).

Instead of “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” these parents are of the “Spare the mouth, spoil the child” variety. The kind of parents who angrily curse their kid out in Target to the shared embarrassment of everyone. But before you pat yourself on the back too hard for choosing to tell Junior off instead of lighting up his behind, a new study published by the University of Pittsburgh has found that yelling at a child as a form of discipline is just as bad as spanking.

The response to the study online included a lot of frustrated parents asking what can they do to discipline their children. Spanking and yelling are both considered damaging. Time-outs don’t work. Bribing your kids isn’t considered wise. So what’s a parent to do? The grab bags of go-to punishments for wayward kids are quickly becoming no-goes.

But what was bubbling up underneath all this frustration was the real concern of parents desperately not wanting to screw up being a parent. It was one of mothers and fathers who fiercely love their children, want them to be safe, stay out of trouble, do well in school and grow up to be well-adjusted adults. Parents who fear that if their children grow up to be “a hot mess,” it will be their fault because they either didn’t hit their kids or hit them too much, didn’t yell or yelled too much, tried time-outs but caved in after five minutes, who did all the things you’re not supposed to do because, let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to know just what to do when a child doesn’t mind.

The reality is, you are going to screw your kid up … a little, even if you do all the right things that the experts tell you to do. There is no “perfect” way to parent because all parents are human beings who bring a lifetime of experiences and issues to the parenting table, making them inherently flawed.

Now, there are ways to mitigate damage. Child abuse and neglect are still awful and not recommended under any circumstance. You can try not to yell or hit and focus more on reasoning with your child, talking things out, ignoring temper tantrums and focusing on positive reinforcement, as studies suggest. Or you could try my parents’ most potent method: guilt.

Before I was born, my parents made the conscious decision that they were not going to hit me or my sisters to get us to behave. It was my mother’s idea, and my father, despite coming from a household that believed in corporal punishment, decided to go along with it. Other parents, often surprised to learn of my mother’s complete disdain for hitting children, would ask her why she saw hitting as bad. She had a go-to response that was both heavy-handed and full of guilt bait: “They beat the slaves and they still wanted to be free.”