May 14, 2009
I’m an adult who has spent years learning about child development and … well, OK, obsessing a little about research. About new findings in neuro-imaging technologies, how our increasing understanding of early brain development interacts with what we know of attachment theory and how all of this reinforces the idea that early relationships have implications across the lifespan.
Early relationships really, really matter. The relationships surrounding children hold implications for the sort of brain architecture we’ll be living amongst thereafter.
The adults in relationship with young children are doing a tremendous amount to not only build their brain connections, but to form their understanding of partnership, of power & pleasantries.
So, let’s review. Hitting, smacking, spanking children helps them to understand partnership … how?
Hitting children demonstrates that the Person With Power may physically hurt the Person Without. It teaches children that their adults sometimes lose it. It involves lower-order thinking (training, like a dog) instead of engaging higher-order thinking (doing the right thing because of an understanding of implications).
As the parent of a vocal, determined and intelligent child, I understand what it is to feel so frustrated by the sassiness that I’ve wanted to hit. Oh, I’ve heard that siren’s call.
I feel that frustrated more often than I care to admit. But I have never hit my child.
I won’t do it because hitting her would be an expression of my anger more than a response to my child’s behaviour.
I won’t do it because I understand that it is my lower brain – my mammalian brain – commanding those desires. My higher brain, my human brain, my beautiful juicy cortex, acts as a filter for desires.
My cortex holds all my cognitive understanding of the ineffectiveness of smacking as a tool for behaviour change and relationship enhancing.
My lovely cortex is the home of my understanding of long-term consequences: that I would feel utterly wretched if I hit my child. Probably for years.
My cortex also houses a variety of strategies for keeping calm, and for dealing more effectively with misbehaviour.
So even if I sometimes want to, I won’t hit because it’s an ugly, base, short-term solution to a temporarily challenging situation with the most precious person in my world.
So to all those mystifying people who are fighting for the right to be able to hit your children: I ask that you please spend the time instead learning some new strategies for dealing with your anger.