How To Talk To Parents About Gentle Alternatives To Spanking

Welcome to the Spank Out Day 2012 Carnival

This post was written for inclusion in the Second Annual Spank Out Day Carnival hosted by Zoie at TouchstoneZ. Spank Out Day was created by The Center for Effective Discipline to give attention to the need to end corporal punishment of children and to promote non-violent ways of teaching children appropriate behavior. All parents, guardians, and caregivers are encouraged to refrain from hitting children on April 30th each year, and to seek alternative methods of discipline through programs available in community agencies, churches and schools. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


You Are A Good Listener

via quinn.anya on flickr

Is there any parenting topic that isn’t potentially divisive? Certainly there are some that are less polarizing than others. But I can guarantee that no matter how you approach almost any parenting issue, someone will take offense, feel judged or at the very least question themselves.

Spanking is arguably one of the most strongly debated parenting issues. Many people see that there is only one right way to treat corporal punishment in parenting and will vehemently express their disdain for other methods.

So, how do you broach the subject in a way that allows passionate opinions to coexist while creating dialogue? Specifically, how do you support someone in entertaining the idea that there might be a different approach to parenting than punishment-especially corporal punishment?

Before you begin

Firstly, ask yourself why you want to talk about alternatives to hitting. If it is because you feel the other parent is in the wrong, then you’ve got some background work to do to separate out the person from the actions.

Once you can stop judging the parent, then you are getting to a space for dialogue.

Step back again and really look

Ask whether the parent is actually open to listening to gentler alternatives. Most often, someone really needs to feel listened to first. They may need to be heard deeply and frequently, before they are willing to listen to anything someone else has to say.

The best way to know if someone is ready to listen is when they ask to hear what you have to say. You can invite this questioning simply by being a good listener and letting them know you are available should they ever want to know more.

Starting the Conversation

Once you have moved beyond judgments and know that someone is actively seeking a different approach, then it’s time to give them all the advice you can, right? Nope. With all the time you’ve spent ensuring that they felt heard, you’ve picked out a few gems that you can share.

Share how sometimes you get really angry, and that you’re not different from other parents because you somehow don’t get mad at your perfect children. Talk about the personal lessons you’ve learned. Lessons you know so well that you can use “I” statements about. These are ones highlight how you chose not to set up a power play with your kids. They might be stories about how you succeeded or failed at meeting your ideals, but they show how family dynamics allow you to learn together. Back those up with a select few reputable resources that you can recommend for further information, if they want to.

The point is to allow them to make the idea of gentler view of parenting their own. However they learn about and utilize the tools of non-violent discipline choices is up to them. They’ll already know you can be trusted to listen and not judge them as they make mistakes, and that they can keep trying.

On the Fallacy of Facts Trumping Beliefs

When we become knowledgeable about the benefits of gentler alternatives to hitting, we tend to think that once someone else reads the same studies and articles, they will let go of everything they once practiced and never punish a child again. But, this doesn’t take into account the complex belief systems that we hold around our parenting choices.

If someone does have a moment of dramatic change like this, it invariably comes from within them. It’s a rare person who has a moment of awakening after being given some facts. And if it does happen, it’s even rarer that it is a lasting change.

More often when someone is confronted by studies that contradict their belief system, they will deny the studies and turn away. It’s understandable since those studies are often offered as a way to prove them wrong instead of to support them in deciding to consider a gentler path.

Effecting Change

So, you’ve listened and you’ve talked. Hopefully, you’ve done more listening than talking. But, now you have to let it go. This passion you have to raise awareness about gentler alternatives to hitting needs to be put aside yet again as you allow the other parent a chance to decide what to make of your conversation. You may reiterate that you are here to listen and will offer more information and personal stories if (and, hopefully, when) asked, but you support them. Period.

Now, it’s time to practice your passion. Model the parenting ideals you feel so strongly about in front of your friend. Just as modeling is one of the most effective gentle discipline tools with our children, the other parent can incorporate what they observe of the way you are with children into their own view of discipline.

And if the parent decides not to stop hitting, then you can still effect change for the children who visit your home when you model a different way of parenting around them. In order to practice gentle alternatives to punitive parenting, you have to trust and allow for differences of opinion. It doesn’t mean that you condone the choices because you continue to advocate with your words and actions.


Spank Out Day 2012 Carnival hosted by TouchstoneZ

On Carnival day, please follow along on Twitter using the handy #SpankOutCar hashtag. You can also subscribe to the Spank Out Day Carnival Twitter List and Spank Out Day Carnival Participant Feed.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

21 thoughts on “How To Talk To Parents About Gentle Alternatives To Spanking

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  6. Creating dialogue, which you talk about in your post, is how I feel that the myth of spanking as an effective disciplining tool will eventually be disproved; by bringing everybody to the table, without judgement or defensiveness, and, together, educating ourselves to alternative methods that would make the need for spanking obsolete.

    Thank you for organizing this carnival and including me in the conversation about spanking.

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  8. I feel more able to find that place of compassion for another parent after reading this. I admire your ability to break this down and give such clear steps and ideal ways to positively share the concepts of gentle discipline. Your thoughts here really apply to so many other situations when we have to make room for other people’s issues and the things we don’t agree with. Seperating the person from the action is hard but vital.
    Personally, I can’t have friends who hit their kids. I guess I might get into a situation at a park or a class she is in. I’m honestly not sure what I would do or say, but I will try to remember your words. I want to do what you describe because it’s the only way to have any chance of showing someone a different way, or starting them on their own path to healing.

  9. This is excellent advice, Zoie! I (like most of us, I suspect) I have trouble having these kinds of conversations because they feel so very *personal* to me in the moment. I will work at stepping back and listening, trying to better understand where the other parent is coming from. Ultimately, letting go and moving on is the most difficult part for me.

    Thank you again for hosting this carnival. I’m gaining a lot of insight from reading everyone’s perspectives and thoughts on this difficult topic.

  10. The shouting from the rooftops is something I have struggled me so many times in my life. For years not understanding why my telling someone ‘the truth’ didn’t ‘work’.

    Then I was blessed with people entering my life who also shouted each new ‘truth’ they discovered. People who judged those who didn’t jump on their bandwagon. I was shown up close how ugly, hurtful and alienating such actions are. It was painful at times during the learning process but now I simply hold so much gratitude for those opportunities – they’ve enabled me to become a much more conscious listener and connector ❤

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  12. So thoughtful and eloquent, Zoie. I usually try to avoid these types of conversations in person. I find it very hard to be around parents who are so very different from me. I am encouraged by your insightful approach and I may try to be more pro-active in the future.

    • Thank you, Patti. I also surround myself with like-minded parents. I enjoy the bubble of trust it affords me, too. I found there are so many useful resources to share with parents who want to try non-violent parenting, but less to open the door for them to receive the information.

  13. This is my favorite post in the carnival so far (in a series of excellent posts!).

    You wrote:

    “When we become knowledgeable about the benefits of gentler alternatives to hitting, we tend to think that once someone else reads the same studies and articles, they will let go of everything they once practiced and never punish a child again.”

    Right. This is a fallacy. While I appreciate studies and I understand reasons people may cite them, they don’t “educate” someone out of anger and fear or whatever they’re carrying from childhood (which is why we hit, yell, coerce, etc). I knew I didn’t want to hit, yell, time-out, etc. from the first moment I made these mistakes. Knowing this wasn’t enough to get me to stop. For years. Then there was the tone and words of so many non-spankers. Righteous, angry, calling parents who spank “monsters”, “reprehensible”, etc. etc. I felt worse about myself and more isolated. It is no coincidence that, as far as I know, only two participants in the carnival admit to hitting their children, and one of them only felt safe doing this in an anonymous fashion.

    Today of course I believe all those things listed are abusive, but I don’t believe I was a monster nor reprehensible. Some time ago I finally got the help I needed. And it wasn’t through articles and it wasn’t through reading the latest AP anti-spanking screed.

    Thanks for inviting me in on the carnival. If you keep running such a class-act I’m in, every year!

    • Thank you, Kelly. I have to say when you replied to my dm that you wanted to participate again, I let out a whoop! I admire your philosophy in parenting and fully living in the world so much. Your posts both years in the carnival have been exceptional. I hope to ask you back every year.

      That point you pulled out is probably the most difficult for me. When I have a Eureka! moment, I want to shout it from the rooftops. I used to do it because I wanted everyone else to see it, too. Now, if I do it, it’s because I hope to be heard (but it’s okay if I’m not.)

      If I’ve learned anything from advocacy, it’s the more informed you are, the more careful you have to be not to offend other people. Inspiring others to think about not hitting is something I’m incredibly passionate about. So, I’m even more careful to stop and think about whether I’m acting from my ego. It’s more important to me that the possibility for change is broached than it is for me to convince someone of it (or “win”)

      This is triggering and I’m going to write it without proofing because it’s hard for me:

      I am going to out myself. I avoided addressing the abuse aspect directly. Above all else, a child deserves to be safe. But, I stand by my post even in abusive situation IF there is to be lasting change and healing in the family, it MUST come from within the parent. At some point, they have to make the decision to end the violence. They can get there more easily if they are supported to find their way and not condemned or attacked. This is hard for me as a survivor of childhood abuse. My abuser is dead, but after all the anger and pain that I would need to voice to him, I would him to be able to effect change.

      • Zoie, I used to think in despair that my kids would be better off without me, because I couldn’t stop being violent in words and physicality. In the movies “abusive” parents are always horrific in action, and even if I didn’t reach those extremes, every one of those portrayals hurt me deeply. I knew I was in the wrong, but I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t find places tog et support and help. I despaired deep in my heart. But even then I knew that the children would be worse off somewhere else, for so many reasons, too many to list here… and I knew so many parents had the same troubles I had and were in the anguish I was. It was a horrible place to be. I am truly grateful I no longer have to live in that place.

        Thank you for writing brave stuff. It’s hard to be vulnerable and honest but you seem to have cultivated a safe space for it here, and you are clearly inspiring many.

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  15. Thanks for this, Zoie. I have a tough time working out how to discuss this topic, if at all, because I fear the strong feelings and divisions that can result when it’s not done carefully. This is a great reminder that loving, peaceful discourse is possible.

    • Thank you, Melissa. It is hard. Really hard. And I’m sure many will read this and disagree that my post is too soft (and I welcome discussion about it, of course.)

      There’s so much fear behind the motivation to hit and that has to be addressed indirectly because if the person were actually in touch with that fear, they wouldn’t hit or they would be making a conscious decision to hit anyway. Both of these are ways to cope. And there needs to be an opening in there for change.

I love comments and try to reply to each one. I look forward to connecting with you. Namaste

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