It was like any other Friday afternoon on any given playground in Ventura. Moms and dads (mostly moms) were playing with their children. Actually, it was more like the kids were playing and the parents were socializing. There were some occasional interventions by parents such as, “Be nice to the other kids, sweetie,” or “we don’t hit other kids.” While I was playing with my kids, I became aware of a 2 1/2-year-old girl who was slowly starting to “fall apart.” Whether this was caused by hunger or fatigue I had no way of knowing. All I noticed was that the little girl’s very tired mom said to her, “We have to go home now.”
As mom began to lead her daughter to their car, the little girl became more and more agitated. When they arrived at the car, mom apparently couldn’t tolerate the little girl any longer, and that’s when I heard and saw mom strike her daughter. Immediately the little girl began to cry louder and mom obviously grew even more irritated. Fortunately a few minutes later another mom began to put her kids in the car next to her and the two adults engaged in a conversation that had a calming effect on the frustrated mom.
Witnessing this incident put me in an interesting predicament. As a child abuse mandated reporter, it is my job to report to the Child Protective Services (CPS) any questionable behavior I witness. I do not need to explore the situation, all I have to do is suspect there is some sort of abuse taking place and call CPS in order for them to begin an investigation. Many professionals such as therapists, teachers and healthcare professionals are mandated reporters. These individuals are out in the same playgrounds, restaurants and shopping areas where parents and children tend to congregate. And please understand the laws are not there to get parents in trouble. The laws are meant to protect our children.
Having said that, I am also the father of two boys, 3- and 5- years old. I, too, understand what it is like to be frustrated to the point where the only apparent option is to strike my kids. However, it has been my experience that there are always other options available. The fear of being reported to CPS is a good reason to refrain form physically striking our children. However, the greater benefit in abstaining from physically punishing them might be that it can help promote long lasting relationships with our children that are based on love and respect as opposed to those based on fear.
If our child-raising techniques are mainly based on an episode or two of shows like “Super Nanny” then it might be time for us to also look in other places. As somebody who works with children and couples in therapy and facilitates preschool-aged children’s parenting groups, I can tell you that parenting resources are endless. The Internet and bookstores are filled with great resources for helping us negotiate the challenges of parenthood. Additionally, professionals such as therapists and social workers can further help individuals and couples when it comes to healthy parenting.
In the future, I will be providing more specific information for frustrated parents. In the meantime I have a few ideas for all of us to ponder. First, if you believe that physically punishing children is “effective parenting,” then I invite you to ask yourself how you arrived at this conclusion. Did you read this in a book, and if so, can you share the title of the book with the rest of us? Or, perhaps, is it because your parents struck you as a child and somehow you have internalized that children must be physically punished in order to “behave”? Yet another point to consider may be the following: Do you find yourself saying to your child, “Sweetie, we don’t hit other kids”? Yet, you find yourself disciplining your child by “spanking” them? Do you notice the confusing double-standard?
While there are many helpful techniques that could improve your relationship with your child, here are a few suggestions. Focus on improving your communication skills with your child. Use resources to research what is age-appropriate behavior for your child. And, finally, make sure you as a parent are well-rested and supported.