Recently The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement strengthening its opposition to corporal punishment of children. Many commentators and parents have strong opinions regarding this issue. Often their opinion is based on their own personal childhood experience. You often hear the argument that, “I was spanked when I was a child and I turned out all right,” or “My parents were from the old country and when we stepped out of line we got a smack to teach us a lesson.” For anyone who comes from this perspective I have a few questions you might want to consider. What lesson are you teaching? What is the child learning? If the behaviour continues do you respond in the same way or more severely? How do you respond if your child is a teenager or a young adult? What other approaches do you use? How is your relationship with your child affected?

Teaching a child to behave appropriately or in socially acceptable ways is done by speaking with the child in order to solve the problem that caused the challenging behaviour. Hitting/spanking a child does teach them a painful physical and emotional lesson that “might makes right,” or “I am bigger and stronger than you so I can do this.” This is not the lesson parents want to teach although this is what the child learns. There is another approach that research has found to be an effective tool to disciple children ( and young adults). It is important to understand that the original meaning of “discipline” is “to teach,” not as some people seem to associate it with punishment. Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) is a research based approach used to teach children and youth the cognitive skills they need to solve problems, reduce the challenging behaviour and build their relationship with parents and caregivers.

Parenting and raising children is a difficult full time job that rarely gives parents a day or week-end off. Regardless the satisfaction and the rewards of seeing your child(ren) grow into positive, healthy, successful and independent adults is one of life’s greatest gifts.

When kids misbehave or act in ways parents would not want it is not because they are intentionally manipulative, malicious or spoiled. This is a conventional assumption that parents must move beyond for it leads to the conclusion that they must do something punitive ( spank) to make the child want to behave. The philosophy of CPS states that, “Kids do well if they can.” If they are not doing well it is up to parents and caregivers to find out why so we can help. Kids want to do well. Doing well is preferable to doing poorly. CPS tells us that kids challenge or misbehave because they “lack the skill, not the will” to behave. They are lagging in the development of cognitive skills such as problem solving, flexibility and frustration tolerance. Hitting or spanking a child does not teach them to be more flexible, tolerate frustration more effectively or solve problems without hitting, screaming or throwing temper tantrums. It teaches them parents are stronger, can use physical force to solve their problems and are inflexible as well. Parents should not model behaviour they would not want from their children.

Parents can learn about Collaborative Problem Solving by reading through the various pages on this website, attending an overview workshop or reading the various books written by Dr. Ross Greene and Dr. Stuart Ablon. The Plan B conversation format is the basis of Collaborative Problem Solving although even without formal training parents and teachers can have a powerful impact by adopting the CPS philosophy “Kids do well if they can” and talking with their child about the cause of the problem or bad behaviour and not simply focusing on the application of some form of punitive consequence. Think “skill, not will.”