Take a moment to imagine this scene: Someone much bigger than you who also has control over your life, either hits you or strikes you with a belt or a switch.
Really try to picture this situation in your mind and then put yourself into this scene. What are you feeling?
I bet your heart is racing, you’re having trouble catching your breath, you feel shaky and weak in the knees, and you probably want to cry.
You might want to hit back and you’re certainly having trouble thinking clearly. Depending on the circumstances that led up to being hit, you are most likely feeling a couple of the big 8 emotions—fear or anger immediately, and then shame or sadness later on.
Your emotions are all over the place and it probably will take hours or even days for you to feel normal again. You’re in Emotion Mind, and in this state of mind you’re more likely to think irrationally and act impulsively.
This is what a child feels when a parent or caregiver uses physical discipline. Sounds horrible, right?
The recent indictment of NFL player Adrian Peterson for child abuse has started a national conversation about corporal punishment that is long overdue.
However, I feel the conversation has completely ignored two key aspects of this issue: how emotionally damaging physical discipline can truly be and that overwhelming and poorly managed emotions, for both the aggressor and the victim, are at the core of the problem.
In order for anyone to make smart decisions, you have to be in control of your emotions—which is key to Wise Mind Living.
There is a ton of research suggesting that the use of corporal punishment ultimately leads to increased anxiety and depression, increased aggressive and antisocial behavior, decreased self control, lower self confidence and impaired self esteem.
There is also strong evidence that it doesn’t actually help a child make better choices in the long term. In fact, the exact opposite has been found.
Corporal punishment, because it doesn’t teach the child anything about why they should behave in a certain way, doesn’t help the child internalize positive moral values. Instead, it actually encourages a child to make antisocial choices that will help them not get caught, like lying and stealing.
Sadly that seems to carry forward into adulthood as well, because research evidence shows that having experienced an aggressive parenting style in childhood is highly predictive of adult antisocial and criminal behavior!
So does any of this make corporal punishment sound like a reasonable way to motivate Wise Mind behavior in children? Of course not! Then why are so many parents still defending their decisions to use corporal punishment? Two words: Emotion Mind.
Research suggests that most parents use corporal punishment when they themselves are experiencing intense negative emotion—exactly when they are in Emotion Mind.
Hitting a child is never a Wise Mind choice despite the fact that proponents of corporal punishment try to suggest that it is. When you listen to them talk about their choice to spank or hit, you will almost always hear that there was a big and distressing emotion driving their choice.
Many parents use physical discipline as a last resort when they are feeling frustrated or desperate for their child to behave differently or when they are scared that nothing else will work. The parent’s own Emotion Mind is driving their behavior toward a choice that will not help and is likely to make things worse.
As a parent myself, I know first hand just how emotionally dysregulating parenting can sometimes be.
I also know that practicing Wise Mind Living strategies, so you can identify and manage your emotions, is the key to coping with the stress of parenting. Here are two tips for how to manage the distressing emotions that can undermine your ability to be the best parent you can be:
Give yourself a time out
Kids aren’t the only ones who can use a time out. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed or frustrated by something your child is doing, walk away before you yell or hit.
Make sure your child is in a safe place and then find a quiet space where you can be alone for a few minutes—the bathroom is almost always an option. Once you are there, try doing a slow breathing exercise or a brief relaxation exercise to calm your body.
Then take a moment to try and get some perspective. Asking yourself a few questions will also help:
1. Am I overreacting to this? Will I even remember this in two months?
2. Would I feel the same right now if I was in a better mood, less tired, or less stressed out?
3. What would my best friend or someone who really cares about me say right now?
4. What have I learned from past experiences that could help me now?
Then remind yourself that this will pass and your child will eventually grow up.
Ask for help
If your child is having an ongoing problem with behavior and/or you’re having an ongoing problem and feeling overwhelmed, talk to your pediatrician or your child’s teacher, seek professional help, or talk to a trusted friend about it.
It’s important to remember that when it comes to being a parent, no one, not even the experts, has all the answers. However, getting someone else’s perspective and support can make all the difference because you do not have to manage this alone.