“I got spanked my whole life and turned out fine.” How many times have you heard (or maybe said) that? It seems like an easy solution–children misbehave, good parents smack their bottoms, they stop. They learn they shouldn’t do that. Simple, right?
Not exactly. It seems more and more parents are refusing to correct their children, and that can be hard to watch. But are they wrong? Why does seeing a child cry or scream upset people so much?
“People whose parents used to hit them can feel distressed in that situation. It is hard for them to see a child throwing a tantrum,” child psychologist Anneliese Wildermann said. “They feel a strong impulse to yell or hit the child. They don’t understand that’s a normal part of a child’s development and find it unbearable to see someone cry or scream. If the parent doesn’t punish the child in public, they can feel resentful,” she said. Unfortunately, this kind of reaction is a typical sign of trauma. “They need to convince themselves that the treatment they received as children was good for them. Otherwise, that would mean their parents hurt them for nothing,” Wildermann said.
While plenty of people say they “turned out fine,” many struggle with issues such as depression, sleep disorders and alcohol or drug abuse. It is not uncommon for childhood trauma to also cause trust issues, panic attacks, social anxiety or other underlying conditions.
Of course, parents from older generations had less access to quality information. Most didn’t know the first thing about psychology or child development. Studies in the area were not as accessible as today, but there are adults who will still choose to close their eyes to the evidence around them. They feel safer repeating the mistakes of past generations.
Just like hitting a computer won’t get it to work faster, it is important to understand how a child works. As it turns out, many of the “bad” behaviors of a child are a positive sign. They show that their brain is developing properly.
“When children are 2 or 3 years old, they may start defying their parents and refusing to do simple things. This happens because they realize that they are individuals that can make choices,” pediatrician Thelma de Oliveira said. “A well-informed parent can encourage the child to make small choices throughout the day. Insisting on showing the kid who is boss will only damage the child’s self-esteem and their bond with that parent,” Oliveira said.