Monday, July 21, 2014

I Spanked My Kid.

Genmedmom here.

I spanked my oldest last Wednesday. Twice. He's only four, he's autistic, and I hadn't seen him all day. I am such a jerk.

My day had started at five a.m. I had several extremely complicated and sick patients and several extremely complicated phone calls and a load of logistical paperwork and an inpatient to see and it was downpouring when I left work and I had to walk a mile to my car and the afternoon rush-hour traffic was standstill in the tunnel and I was forced to breathe car exhaust and I felt sick all the way to Nana's house blah blah blah.

I had been truly looking forward to seeing my little man and my little bug. But all the way to my mother's house (she picks the kids up from school/ daycare), all I was thinking was that I had to get the kids rounded up and in my car and back home for baths and bedtime, and I wasn't sure what time Hubby was coming home. I was stressed that I might be solo for the whole night-night routine (Panic!!!!)

When I got there, Babyboy had a poop and a terrible diaper rash, and he didn't want to be changed, so he twisted and turned, and he started grabbing things and throwing them at me, including poop-covered baby wipes, and I yelled STOP IT and swatted him on his butt. Then five minutes later he shoved a throw pillow at my infant niece, and I yelled THAT'S IT and I spanked him.

Now I feel terrible.

I've yelled and spanked before, and it always makes me feel like the most ineffective, inept, stupid, bad mommy. I intend to avoid this primordial parenting technique. But when I'm exhausted, and I can't seem to get control of my kids, I just get so frustrated and angry, and I can't seem to access any of the more advanced parenting skills I've read about.

And, spanking works. In the very short term. Very, very short term. Babyboy stopped throwing poopie wipes the first time, and he stopped shoving pillows the second time. But he cried and wailed for Nana, who never loses it and is always calm.

So, obviously not a great parenting tactic. And if my colleagues and patients saw me lose it and get physical over poopie wipes and pillows, I would be mortified.

The best book on parenting an autistic child that I have encountered so far has several wonderful lessons and suggestions on this very topic. I've dog-eared the pages and read them several times.

The book is Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew by Ellen Notbohm (Future Horizons, 2012), and chapter 9, "Identify What Triggers My Meltdowns" is applicable to any parent of any child who ever throws a tantrum for any reason.

She writes: "If you react with anger and frustration to your child or student's meltdowns, you're modeling the very behavior you want him or her to change. It's incumbent upon you as an adult, at all times and in every situation, to refrain from responding in kind. Be your own behavior detective. Figure out what triggers your own boiling point and interrupt the episode before you reach that point. When your thermostat zooms skyward, better to temorarily remove yourself from that situation."

In my case, Babyboy may have been overstimulated, and then protesting. There were many family members in the house and in the room; I had just arrived; the television was on; it was stormy outside... and I was pinning him down to the unpleasant and even painful task of a diaper change. When he acted out, I could have held in all my frustration, got the poop reasonably cleaned up, and put Babyboy in time-out in another room, away from everyone. That may have avoided the second outburst and spanking.

Of course, there are many people who feel that spanking is acceptable parenting behavior, and Ellen Notbohm has these questions for those folks:


Does spanking follow careful weighing of alternative responses and a reasoned decision that, yes, striking someone one-quarter our size is logical, provides a good example for them to follow, and will produce the desired long-term result? Can we be sure that it teaches the child what she did wrong?

Does it give her the knowledge and skills to correct the behavior? Or does spanking spring from aggravation, wrath and desperation?

Does it foster respect and understanding, or humiliation and bewilderment? Does it enhance the child's ability to trust us? Is it a behavior we want the child to emulate?"

Of course, this all makes perfect, clear, sane sense. And I've read it, and I get it. But in the moment, I haven't been able to consistently refrain from yelling and spanking. And I'd like to.

I think the real answer is in identifying Babyboy's triggers and trying to avoid them. In my case that day, there was an even better potential solution: I could have taken him to another, quiet room to change his diaper, and, after a bit of cuddly mommy time, I could have given him some control over the process, a job to do, like handing me the wipes or unfolding his clean diaper.

That response would have been ideal. It would have required some thoughtfulness, some space, some time.

As Ellen Notbohm writes, "Many will be the wearying moment when the root cause of your child's meltdown won't be immediately evident. There may never be a time in your life when it's more incumbent upon you to become a detective, that is, to ascertain, become aware of, diagnose, discover, expose, ferret out..."

As a physician, I am so accustomed to multitasking, problem-solving, wasting no time, get the job done... With Babyboy I need to slow down, breathe, and think. Study him, and anticipate the acting out, the outbursts, the tantrums, and steer around, or make them disappear. I do think it's possible...

Has anyone else out there had any similar experiences/ got any suggestions to share?


  1. I think the point about noting your OWN triggers and trying to avoid them is key for me not losing it with my kids. I've definitely done my share of yelling, and harsh handling of my kids (yanking them, grabbing arms) that was borne of sheer frustration. I know certain tasks that put me over the edge (brushing my 4 year olds teeth), so I either delegate those, or pro-actively try to get in a calm, make-it-fun mindset. I also know that when I've had a terrible, long exhausting day, I need to do SOMETHING to lighten the mood (music, videos, a treat) and maybe even let up on the rules a bit, for all of our sakes.

  2. I would second the idea of noting your own triggers and avoiding them. For me - the mantra of "My child is not being a problem, she is having a problem" helps, even when I'm about to burst. The other thing I do is recognize when I am near bursting and minimize stressors at that time. My kids have missed many a bath night or eaten take out because I wasn't able to manage it calmly. Finally, I remember we are still human. When I do act out - I have also yelled at and spanked my kids - I go to appologize and explain that it was not an appropriate behavior and I should have behaved differently.

  3. This is part of putting your own oxygen mask on. Hard for all of us - and I think especially difficult for those of us in medicine, where self-care is (to say the least) not a priority. When Eve was that age I always had more childcare than work hours because otherwise I couldn't cope with her at the end of the day. The kind of evening you describe (solo parenting after a hectic and stressful full day of work) would have sent me into the same bad place you were in. Hard, hard, hard.

    Sounds like you've already found what you need - slow down and think. Be gentle with yourself, and with your kids. Hugs.

  4. I second the idea of having childcare lined up for when you're not able to mentally cope. I have to have a bit of time to decompress after work before I'm ready to interact with my daughter as an adult human, so our au pair works after I get home for about an hour. And my husband also does a large portion of the bedtime routine -- esp the part that involves the nightly tantrum.

  5. Thanks for the feedback, and this all makes sense, of course. I could start by using my commute better- insetad of re-hashing my day and composing mental to-do and patient followup lists, I could focus on relaxing and thinking ahead to my time with the kids... And in addition, I could arrange to have the teenage girl down the street be a mother's helper for a couple of hours on those busy evenings... Much appreciate the readers and thanks! -Genmedmom

  6. I would also not compare yourself to Nana. She has a lot more experience with raising kids than you do (simply because she raised her kid(s) to adulthood already) and she also has the stress relieving distance of being the grandmother vs the mother in a stressful situation. It's easier caring for someone else's child that goes home and leaves you free to watch trash TV, than it is to care for your own child who is upset.

  7. Love the mother's helper idea. Also love reframing the commute as time to transition and relax. Maybe listen to something in the car that you find really nourishing. hungry were you when this all happened? I find that if I get home totally famished, I can't cope with *anything* until I eat. Not with the kid, not with my husband, not with the bills or the dog or a friend texting me. Snacks must be had :)

  8. Yes, I've reached spanking point, I'll admit it. With my toddler in the middle of the night when she wouldn't just go to sleep while I was up all night nursing her baby brother during last year of residency. It prompted me to search for online solutions to that problem - set up a temp bed next to my own for her to go to quietly if she couldn't sleep.

    I beat myself up for yelling sometimes - still do that on occasion. But we are human. So are our kids. They get that if we digress, or mess up, it's ok as long as we as adults check in and say, "Wow. I was hungry/tired. I handled that wrong. I'm sorry." Not dwelling, not bringing it up two days later, just a simple Ugh. So when they mess up, they learn to forgive themselves too. It's a hard but good lesson for us all.

    Great post. Now that toddler of mine is 11 and on the brink of womanhood. Her emotions betray her hormones. It's a different game - don't react to her anger and tears - just let her feelings be. It's tough but I'm getting there. The joys and sorrows of parenthood. Luckily the game changes and we just work as hard as we can to keep up. Trying our best is enough, I keep telling myself:). Children forgive and forget much better than adults, in my observations.


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