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Not too long ago, spanking was almost universally seen as an acceptable and even inevitable discipline method. Not only did society think it was perfectly normal to spank their children, even teachers, relatives, and random neighborhood "do-gooders" felt free to spank children for behaving poorly, not paying attention, or even simply asking questions.
Research showing spanking can have long-term mental health consequences — such as Elizabeth Gershoff PhD's 2008 What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children report — have been piling up. Physical punishment has legally been banned in 30 countries across the world, with more going through debates on whether to take this step at the moment. Increasingly, societies are realizing that spanking isn't just ineffective, it also represents a human rights violation.
Yes, increasing numbers of people see spankings such as those described in the Pearls' To Train Up A Child or Roy Lessin's Spanking: Why, When, How are nothing less than physical assault; a crime that would have a good chance of landing you in prison if you did it to another adult in many places.
Those are extreme forms of physical punishment, however, and they cannot be compared to the occasional "pat on the bottom" many of us grew up with. Yet, that doesn't mean that the occasional pat on the bottom is harmless, effective, or necessary.
What Is Gentle Parenting?
You may have heard the buzz words: gentle parenting, attachment parenting, consensual parenting, positive parenting, and others. Some of these buzz words are associated with whole parenting philosophies, philosophies that go far beyond "not spanking". Here's a very quick overview:
- Attachment parenting is a philosophy that focuses on fostering a connection with children. In practice, this phrase is mostly used by parents of babies and toddlers. Attachment parents aim to raise well-rounded, independent children by doing their best to meet their needs and staying connected. Practices associated with this parenting style include co-sleeping, feeding on demand, carrying young ones in carriers, and using positive discipline — modeling good behavior and trying to understand reasons behind bad behavior, rather than simply punishing it.
- Unlike attachment parenting, which has set principles and international organizations behind it, gentle parenting can be described as a parenting style that respects the child, seeks to understand them, and is empathetic.
- Consensual parenting or consensual living proponents see children as equal members of society, and aim to give them a lot more choice than your average parent. Through conversation, consensual parents attempt to reach a consensus, truly listening to the child rather than trying to impose their own wishes.
Some of these philosophies are the total opposite of authoritarian, pro-spanking parenting. They may seem to give children so much power that it's frightening, and not every anti-spanking parent will find themselves at home within these parenting styles. Parents who are interested in learning more about raising children without physical discipline will still learn an awful lot from these philosophies though, and familiarizing themselves with these styles will help them develop their very own style; one they are comfortable with.
Parenting without spanking is not always child-focused parenting, either — just look at Super Nanny for an idea of how those who would like rigid rules and parent-centered families can live without physical discipline.