Monday, August 30, 2010

{Bringing Up Boogie} Spanking, Time-Outs and the Soul Train Line: Getting To the Discipline That Works For Us

When I was a kid, I was always in trouble for doing something stupid. I don’t have the space to go into detail, but just trust: If there was an absurd way to break a rule before it was even a rule, I found that way. (“No luging on the front steps!”) I was threatened with beatings um... I mean spankings. I was never grounded because well, I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere anyway so what were my parents going to do? Ban me from the kitchen? (“You can’t open the oven!”)
While spankings worked on me, they didn’t for my youngest brother. On the rare occasion that my other brother would get in trouble—usually inspired by something that was the baby’s idea—he didn’t need spankings. A stern word or yelling would send him into an avalanche of apologies and “I’ll never do it agains.” I don’t remember my sister ever getting a spanking or even in trouble.... I’m going to have to investigate that further. Mostly, my friends were grounded, given time outs, or deprived of their favorite toys or activities while they were encouraged to “think about what they did.” When I became a parent, I was so dazed and confused that I didn’t really read up or study various punishment methods. I just figured, like my parents did, that I would know based on the personality of my kid.
And then Boogie happened.
Let me start off by saying that generally, my son is a good kid. He doesn’t throw tantrums just for the hell of it. As a matter of fact, his tantrums consist of him frowning, folding his arms and giving me the side-eye. Sometimes if he finds the matter particularly troubling, he will also add an, “I’m never going to be your friend, mommy. Never ever ever ever ever.” He will then eventually find a grandparent to sing his tale of woes to, and I’ll usually respond by asking him, “Are you grandma’s friend?” He replies, “Yes. But not yours,” and I respond with, “Well, good. At least you have somebody.” And then I leave him to get over himself.
Still, I struggle with the disciplining. I’ve tried time-outs but I have to be honest and say, well... I don’t really know what the point is. I sit him in a chair and tell him not to move and tell him how disappointed I am in whatever it is that he did. But my son is 3. By the time I get to the “think about what you’ve done” part, he’s pretty much forgotten what he did. I now use time outs to calm him down when he’s crying but not really as punishment.
I did hit him once. He was cranky because he was tired, but he was still refusing sleep. I don’t get this. You’re tired, that’s why you’re acting like a crazy person, but instead of just going to sleep, you want to carry on like the Tasmanian Devil on that narcotic. I yelled at him and threatened to throw all his toys in the trash. That just made him more upset and he started screaming. Screaming. (Something you should know about me: I don’t do screaming. I don’t care if you’re a three-foot toddler or a six-foot grown man, you ain’t gon’ scream at me.) I couldn’t believe what was happening. I wanted to break down and cry watching this demon child scream and throw toys around instead of just laying his little ass down and going to damn sleep! I ran over and grabbed him by the shoulders and yelled, “What is wrong with you?!” Bad idea. My son paused in shock for a second and then resumed screaming. 
That’s when I made the executive decision: I decided to spank him. 
I didn’t want to do the whole pull down your pants/lie across my knee/BAM BAM BAM thing. First of all, he was a strong ass little boy. Like, I’m pretty sure at night, when the rest of us are sleeping, he’s lifting weights in the basement. I’ve already seen him do four push-ups in a row. The boy is not human. Second of all, that just seems so dramatic and more about submission and domination than discipline. In my opinion.
A quick smack would do. Boogie’s been potty trained since he was two, so there was nothing between my hand and his ass but a pair of monkey pajamas and Spiderman underwear. So I whipped him around really quickly and “Pop!” right on the butt. There was a silence after that. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to say something like, “And there’s more where that came from!” or “I wish you would!” or “Say somethin’! I dare you!”  Yeah, I had no idea what to say. Boogie was stunned, too. He turned around and gave me this “What in the hell did you just do?” look. He didn’t cry. Honestly, he kinda looked like he was going to hit me back.
The whole situation just felt… wrong.
I’ve never hit anybody in my life. To be honest, I’m not very good at it. I realize it was for disciplinary reasons and to get his little butt to calm down, but while Boogie was looking at me, I started feeling a little ashamed of myself. Like I had to explain. Sure, technically, it worked: Not only did he stop screaming, he put himself in the bed and said, “I’m sorry I was screaming, mommy.” But beyond the spanking, he was more crushed when I told him that because of his poor behavior, I was canceling our date at the park.
Boogie’s whole face fell but he nodded like he understood. I honestly don’t know if he does or if he doesn’t.
What I do know is that though I’m not for or against spanking in anyway, I have to find another way to discipline my child. If it works for you and your family, go for it. But time outs seem to work well for me, and telling him he can’t do something he wants to do seems to work best. Boogie doesn’t like to NOT do things or have his stuff taken away so I think that may be the go-to punishment as he gets older. 
As for the screaming and crying when he doesn’t get his way, I’ve learned to walk out of the room, shut the door and turn up the TV really loud. Eventually, he stops. He comes out of the room and apologizes. I hug him and tell him that he cannot act like that because he will never get his way that way.
I’m not sure how all of this is going to work as he gets older and bigger than me. I’m hoping that at the end of the day, what I have is a good kid who won’t give me too much trouble. But if it ever gets to the point again, that the only thing I can think of is to spank him, well, I’ve got an emergency bag packed. I’m going to gather my favorite shoes and some money and leave. He can have the house. I’ve always wanted to be a Soul Train dancer.

* * * * * 

About our MyBrownBaby contributor:
Bassey Ikpi's "Bringing Up Boogie" is a new weekly feature, exclusively at MyBrownBaby.  Bassey Ikpi is a Nigeria-born, Oklahoma-bred, PG County-fed, Brooklyn-led writer/poet/neurotic who is the single mother of an amazing man-child, Elaiwe Ikpi. She's half awesome, a quarter crazy and 1/3rd genius... the leftover bit is a caramel creme center. A strong advocate of mental health awareness, Bassey is currently working on a memoir about living with mental illness and producing Basseyworld Live, a stage show that infuses poetry and interactive panel discussions about everything from politics to pop culture. Get more Bassey at Bassey's World.

If you would like to be a featured contributor on MyBrownBaby, email your essays/ideas/blog posts/rants/musings to Denene at denenemillner at gmail dot com. 

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  1. When I became a parent someone said to me," you can't beat a child for everything or else you'll be beating them all day." I didn't get it until my son got older. I was reared under the good ole' grab whatever is in reach and go to work, spared the rod, spoil the child ideal. However with my son, I can't. When they get set in their ways a beating isn't going to do anything but add fuel to the fire. Now don't get me wrong he has gotten that ass beat on a number of occassions but it has to be really bad for us to go there. I agree that parents must use what is best for them and their child and sometimes that doesn't involve picking the switch from the tree.

  2. My Pookah is getting to the age(9 months) where I have to say no a LOT. It's got me thinking about what comes next, and how I am going to handle discipline. I am NOT looking forward to it! My parents were like yours, what worked for me(spanking) did not work for my brother(taking away toys and privilages). I guess I'll just have to wait and see what works for me!

  3. the Lady Bug is 9 months old and a trip. I say no to spankings only because the memories I have of them. I plan on using situational leadership which sounds like your parents used that on you and your siblings.

  4. This is a great post and it has really given me a lot of things to think about. Thank you.

  5. The fact that you can be so honest about your difficulties in deciding discipline for Boogie, yet maintain your wit and humor about the situation is pheonomenal. Thanks for taking us on the ride with you

  6. Such a great post!!!! It breaks my heart when I have to give my 6 yr old a hit on the bottom. But my goodness, it is the only thing that will get her attention when she is in the middle of a meltdown. I will surely grab my shoes and walk out the door when I feel a spanking coming on. Exploring how to disciple my spirited rule breaker is at the top of my parenting list! Thanks for sharing.

  7. This post was right on time. My son and I (he is 10 yrs old) just had a discussion last night about this very subject. I told him I was making it a goal to never hit/pop/thump him again. I have been doing it all of his life and, while I've toned down considerably, it feels wrong to me and has felt this way for a while. I have to say that this post saved me today. Thanks again for the humor and confirmation.

  8. I too, swore that I would not hit my child like my parents did to me (back in the days of the double wide, two rows of holes, real leather belts). So, like most book mothers, I tried time outs and toy deprivation but the day that she decided to tell me "NO" well after the terrible twos, I lost it and whacked her...umm..I mean, I spanked her with an appropriate distribution of PSI (pounds per square inch). Her response was an age appropriate chuckle as if to say, is that your best work? From that day on, I knew I was working with a professional and now, I have learned that punishment is a dish best served cold. I point out the inappropriate behavior and remind her that there will be corrective action, but it will be at a most inconvenient hour. Now, we don't have any more of those issues. Inappropriate language is met with, "Oh, you WANT your grandparents to know that you cuss like a sailor? Okay. Dialing now." Now that her "toys" are much more expensive and valuable, taking away the ipod, DS, or Wii remote also works wonders. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. Thank you for your brilliant post!

  9. I love this post! I have a 3yr old little girl and discipline is not easy.

  10. I LOVED reading this article and really enjoyed the writing style. I felt as if we were having a conversation. My daughter just turned 5 months old yesterday and she has a HORRIBLE temper, AT 5 MONTHS!!! So, I'm preparing myself for the discipline that may be required to bring her back to herself when she starts to spaz. Like the author, I don't do screaming. Can't stand it, even from my own child. I thought I could out last her during one of her fits, but she broke me. She cried for approximately 200 miles. We were on our way to my hometown and she screamed from the time we pulled out the driveway until nearly 19 miles from my Mom's house. Nobody ever believes me when I tell them how bad her fits are b/c otherwise she's the sweetest, prettiest little girl you've ever seen.

    I also think she's working out with Boogie b/c she has the strength of a 2 yr old. Her legs are strong like a clydesdale horse. When she gets something in her hands, you kinda assume that you can just pull it from her b/c hey...she's only 5 months right? Wrong. I had to readjust and really put some strength behind it to get her washcloth out of her grasp. Please stretch your hands for and say a prayer that my baby doesn't kick my ass in my sleep....LOL...

  11. Three things:

    1. The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame Proverbs 29: 15

    2. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him Proverbs 22:15

    3. He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24

    That's what the Good Book says. Spanking at every turn is not warranted, but if you don't set the tone or standard for children, they will grow up to be disrespectful AND rebellious!

    I was not that child that hand to be spanked to get a point across, but like every child, I had to be disciplined nevertheless.

    The punishment should fit the crime and be incremental. A spanking should follow failure to follow instructions. So if you did not explain that X N Such is wrong then explain, model the correct behavior and check for understanding. If by round three your kid is resolute about acting a fool despite your gentle prodding and practical instruction, then use a paddle, switch, ruler or other "rod" to get them in line… aka beat their ever-loving buttocks!

    It always hurts YOU more than the kid because you don't want to believe you are raising Satan or have a kid that knows him. (LOL) You certainly don't want to punish "innocence". No such thing as a “good” kid. If that were true, kids wouldn’t be prone to do wrong or be afraid when they get caught doing something wrong. Hence those looks they give you. Kids have insider notes. They were born with the ability to know what’s right or wrong. They just don’t have the depth to realize the consequences of choosing wrong over right.

    To discipline a child is to love that child just as much as providing for their daily needs. NEVER use your hands to spank. Hands are meant for loving not for hurting...

  12. Thank you all for your comments and for sharing your experiences. I'm glad I'm not alone in this.

    With all due respect, Jaila. I could not disagree more with your comment. First of all, I'm not a Christian so the assumption there was unwarranted. Second of all, you said that spanking is the only way to discipline a child. I absolutely disagree. It's not the only way. Black people have for too long fallen back on "spare the rod. spoil the child." and we still have a generation of children as you said, "Disrespectful and Rebellious". I'm not against spanking for those who do it but to imply that NOT spanking will ruin a child is dated and antiquated.

  13. I totally feel your pain. My son is 2 1/2 and my daughter is 1 1/2.

  14. Wow.

    Let me just say, I've written and debated spanking ad nauseum, on my own blog and among others. I've been told I should hand in my Black card because I'm AGAINST corporal punishment.

    I have a precocious 3 year old, who does what 3 year olds do. He gets into everything, has a fierce independent streak, and wants to test and try everything. But guess what? That's what he is supposed to be doing. My job, as a parent, is to guide him in his quest for independence, mold his behavior so he is respectful in his communication, well-mannered, etc. My job is to nurture his intellectual curiosity (which is what leads to a lot of OOOPs moments) and encourage him to grow, with my full support, to his full potential.

    It is NOT, however, my job to beat him into submission, beat him into obedience, and beat him into some mindless drone whose behavior is nothing short of Pavlovian.

    From birth, I established order and rules. We follow routines (children NEED order and routine). We exemplify and reinforce the behavior we want him to adapt. We correct him on the spot when he errs. And guess what? 95% of the time, it doesn't come close to requiring any physical discipline.

    I'm more interested in teaching my son why doing something is wrong and why he shouldn't do it rather than teach him to fear some arbitrary wrath. As a Black mother, I had to question why so many Black parents are so quick to pick up the "rod" and beat their kids. Where do we get this from? What, exactly, are we teaching out kids?

    My son is learning empathy. My son is learning to apologize and be sorry for his mistakes. My son knows how to address adults, conduct himself in public, and he gets many compliments on how well behaved he is.

    And it wasnt beat into him.

    Most parents spank their kids out of frustration, anger, in the heat of the moment without taking time to figure out WHY the child is acting as he/she is. Meltdowns happen, mostly when kids are extremely tired. Kids get angry when they're too hungry and havent learned the words to express it. Children act out when they dont receive enough attention and thats our responsibility.

    I've popped my child maybe 3 times in his life, pinched him maybe 2 times. Thats all I've needed. Each time, I wanted to cry myself. Instead, he responds better to deprivation, loss of toys, loss of TV privileges, loss of snacks/dessert, etc. Those things bother him more than any physical discipline I've ever tried.

  15. You have to figure out what works for each child. All you had to do was give me the look, but that never worked on my brothers. One of them you had to spank & the other didn't care about a spanking, but if you took away his toys....... Not training your child is bad parenting - but htat training/discipline can come in many forms. not just spanking.

  16. Someone is going to be offended by next comment but.....

    Spanking is lazy parenting.
    It makes YOU (the parent) feel better because you think you've done something when really you just acted out of frustration due to an inability to control your child.
    Look at the comments. Your child did something that annoyed you so you hit them.
    That's ridiculous.
    Wanting your kid to fear you in that manner is ridiculous .

    Jalia, not a personal attack but you sound ridiculous.
    "There is no such thing as a good kid."
    Girl, what?!

  17. Many times, i think we as parents fail to see that the little ones are our carbon copies, it just eludes us to think that their behavior is already in them at such a young tender age....

    I have a 3 year old, going on 13, whose vocabulary and mannerism, only solidify that which I consider a "mini me" could exude....

    Her, "excuse me, I'm having a conversation, I need a moment", and other one liners, are just indicative of the person I am nurturing.

    Failing to see that when she is defiant, consistent in her pursuit of her opinion, is my failing to see that she, in spite of her age, is truly a remarkable individual.

    That being said, I have put a good beating to her behind, many a times, she is even threatened with a "tool" which has been donned her "best friend". But, in understanding, we both have been able to move through situations without the "threats".

    No matter the book, no child can be raised through a manuscript, thank you for the humor in an otherwise, sometimes hazy day.

  18. Bassey--

    I enjoyed your post!

    I think as Black people we have long used the excuse that "spare the rod, spoil the child" has proved effective. However, it has not. We just continue to use the methods that we have internalized by our oppressors. I also believe that putting fear in a child to control them might work for you short term but think about the psychological pains they may bear as an adult.

    Now I must admit I think discipline (i.e. this toy will be taken away because you failed to clean your room) is necessary but physical abuse (beating, spankings) is not the only way. I think we, as a community, should discuss openly ways that we parent and discipline so that we can find ways that do work without using physical acts to "discipline" a child. If that makes any sense.

    I appreciate everyone's commentary. Even those I do not agree with. It allows us to have a true dialogue about a serious issue.


  19. Benee - yes, thank you! I agree so much with what you wrote.

  20. This story resonated with me. My daughter was being particularly willful and I allowed myself to get to the point where I couldn't think of anything to do but to spank her. I popped her on the hand, and you will never believe what she did... She laughed. Laughed! I knew then that I would never hit her again, because 1) it was obviously ineffective and 2) it made me feel like the worse mom in the world. We use time out and it is as effective as it can be on a 2 year old. Thanks for this article. Sometimes as moms, we go through these experiences and feel like we are alone. I am surrounded by mothers who spank their child, and they look at me like I have 3 heads when I say that I don't spank mine. It helps to have a forum such as this to read your experiences and know that I am not alone.


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