Push-Ups and Other Punishments Are Back in Schools

At least 166,000 children are being struck by school faculty in the US each year. This is according to the National Initiative to End Corporal Punishment’s website. Surprised? The NIECP says that 19 states still allow corporal punishment in schools. Even more shocking to some, is that this includes schools that have a zero-tolerance policy for violence. So, what are the most common reasons cited for the use of corporal punishment?

Fighting, aggression, and disruptive behavior.

That’s right; violence is being met with violence. Tough Love. Corporal Punishment. Might Makes Right.

These are doctrines known to be used by totalitarian regimes. Unfortunately, these ideals are still commonly reflected in our society.

Corporal Punishment Today

According to a Reuters news article on August 25, the southwestern Missouri town of Cassville sent consent forms to parents to sign, which then allow school officials to use corporal punishment to handle what they term “unruly students.”  

The Cassville School District website claims corporal punishment is an option “only when all other alternative means of discipline have failed” and needs to be administered without any “chance of bodily injury or harm.”

A local farmer quoted in the Reuters article claims that most parents in the area support the idea.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Violence begets violence . . .” When you use violence, in any form, to control children, you are demonstrating to them that violence is an acceptable response to circumstances you do not like. Schools that allow corporal punishment are teaching children, the ones they consider to be aggressive, to use aggression to achieve their goals. Of course, the other children see and learn the same behavior: violence can be applied when an authority figure deems it necessary.

Where do you draw the line?

What Experts Say

Mitch Prinstein, Chief Science Officer with the American Psychological Association, said, “Decades of research shows corporal punishment will not reduce inappropriate behavior and is likely to increase aggression, rage, hostility, and it could lead to depression and self-esteem problems.”

Prinstein says parents are the experts on what works for their children but need to be educated on very substantial scientific literature demonstrating that corporal punishment is not an effective way of changing undesirable behavior.

Interactions and Reactions

The expression, “hurt people hurt people,” has been attributed to many. According to quoteinvestigation.com, the person who first said it was Charles Eads, at a school board meeting. Do hurt people hurt people? What is your experience? Think back to a time you were verbally attacked or abused.

Now remember how you verbally struck back, even if you didn’t express it out loud (perhaps it was not a safe environment for you to do so!) How did you feel? Perhaps at another time you “got even,” maybe “taking it out” on a different person? Perhaps you know the allegory of kick the cat where an aggrieved person takes out their aggression on another person or thing?

When schools embrace corporal punishment, they are creating hurt people who will go out and hurt people. 

Now that we know better, shouldn’t we do better?

How can you keep the respect and trust of your children while maintaining structure and order? One way is to be confident in your ability to lead your children.

Five Tips to Maintain Balance & Minimize Child Misbehavior:
  1. Establish firm boundaries and lovingly enforce them. Kids feel safer when they know their parents are leaders who set and enforce rules. The key is to be consistent with the rules and their enforcement. Write down the household rules; let your children have a say in what the rules are. You’ll get their buy-in with the rules when they are involved in creating them.
  2. Have routines they follow. Create a structure for your family, with consistent mealtimes, homework, playtimes, and bedtimes, at least for the weekdays. Give them responsibility for completing tasks that benefit the entire family. Rewards for the completion of tasks are also a great way for your kids to develop responsibilities and know outcomes.
  3. Seek to understand why your child is acting out. For younger children, it may be associated with attention seeking, or they have unfilled wants or desires, or they simply do not want to do something. They may be coping with sensory issues or struggling with undiagnosed disabilities. For older children, acting out may be associated with attempting to impress peers, engaging in exploratory risk-taking, or struggling with emotions or mental health. Or they may simply be expressing their autonomy.
  4. Have consistent and understandable consequences for misbehavior. The use of behavior modification tools such as loss of privileges, time outs, restitution, and positive reinforcement, has been proven to be more effective than negative tools such as corporal punishment.
  5. Give children praise and acknowledgment for their efforts, in addition to praise for their accomplishments. When you only praise accomplishments, you teach children that only the end goal matters and that there is no benefit in the journey. When you praise for effort, you teach them that every step on the journey to achieving a goal is a valuable part of their path.

Children do not come with a maintenance manual. And you, as the parent, were likely not issued a foolproof child-rearing manual. Forgive yourself and move forward. Most parents tend to follow the examples of their own parents, or perhaps other adults in their lives. Seeking help from a conscious parenting coach may benefit parents, especially parents who are traumatized or triggered by their children’s behavior.

There is no shame in seeking solutions and learning effective tools and techniques for the most important job you will ever hold.

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