What Every Parent Needs To Know About Spanking

If you’re ever at a loss for how to piss a lot of people off in one fell swoop, criticize parents for spanking. That will do it every time. I don’t exactly understand it, but there are a lot of people who are really, really attached to the idea that spanking is a good thing and no amount of research, data or reasoning will convince them otherwise. Because “I was spanked and I turned out OK!”*

I should say upfront that I’m not an anti-spanking purist. I have swatted a child on the bum a time or two myself and don’t anticipate that being what they end up seeking counseling for. However, over the last couple of decades we’ve learned an enormous amount about how our neural system operates that we were not aware of before. And whatever your current ideas about spanking are, we now know things that our parents and grandparents didn’t about the design of the human body which every parent should be aware of before they decide to use spanking as a discipline method with their children.

The first thing you need to know is that when you spank a child, you trigger their autonomic fight or flight reaction. It’s automatic and the child has no control over it. You can train them to suppress signs of this neurological state such as crying, pulling away or facial expressions of distress, but the underlying physiological reaction will remain the same. The thing to understand about the fight or flight response is that it is the same whether you’re facing off with a deadly viper or a large adult with a belt in hand. Whether you think that a fight or flight response is an appropriate reaction to spanking or not makes not one whit of difference. It’s the way our fearfully and wonderfully made neurological system works and is not under a child’s control.

What happens in a fight or flight state is that our bodies are flooded with stress hormones which increase respiration and heart rates. We often begin to sweat. Hormones stimulate energy to be released to the muscles. When a person’s fight or flight response has been triggered, their hippocampus – the part of their brain responsible for rational thought, decision making and learning – is no longer fully connected to the rest of the brain. The primitive, reptilian part of the brain takes over, allowing us to take in more information through our senses and respond quickly, without having to stop and think. All of this is designed to give us the best chance of surviving in a dangerous situation.

This fight or flight response is programmed and we do not control it. And it activates just the same regardless of the threat being faced is real or not. The fact that you’re spanking a child and not trying to hunt and eat them doesn’t make a great deal of difference to your child’s neurological system, which is, like the rest of their body, more delicate and less fully developed than in an adult. So although it’s likely not your intention, when you threaten or spank your child, you are putting them into a neurological state designed to protect them in the event of a saber tooth lion attack. Which may not actually be the relationship dynamic you want to foster.

But even if you are one of those parents who believe that making your child afraid of you is a good thing, there’s the practical implication of sending your child into a fight or flight state to consider. As I mentioned above, one of the things that happens in this state is that the thinking, learning, reasoning part of your brain goes off line. Obviously this is completely counter-productive for parents hoping to teach a child something. To the extent that you are teaching them, you are creating an aversion response. So the child may develop an aversion to whatever it is which triggered the punishment but it will not actually teach them anything deeper than that.

The other problem is that triggering this fight or flight response excessively will cause the response to be activated more easily. Which makes sense on two levels. One is that because of brain plasticity, every time you activate a specific neural pathway, you make it stronger. The stronger a neural pathways is, the more easily the brain defaults to it. And if you’re living in an environment in which your life is regularly endangered, responding to danger quickly gives you the best chance of survival. But when it’s a parent triggering this response, this adjustment is maladaptive. Children who experience it are going to be more fearful, more anxious, more hyper-vigilant, etc. If it’s happening often enough or over a long enough period of time, a process called kindling starts in which the neural pathways become so excitable that they will engage even in the absence of any perceived threat. All of this increases the likelyhood that the child will go on to suffer from disorders like anxiety, OCD and depression because their brains slip into fight or flight mode too easily.

Those people who advocate to spank until the child is fully compliant and repentant, as certain “Christian” teachers claim should be the end result of a spanking, are actually engaging the next step of the body’s autonomic response to danger: collapse/freeze. Collapse is what happens after the fight or flight response fails to resolve the dangerous situation. You see this in animals when they are cornered by a predator and they respond by playing dead. The collapse response is meant to be a deterrent (most predators won’t eat already dead animals). It also provides some psychic protection to the animal from the experience of being cornered and eaten.

The way collapse works in the body is this: as I mentioned above, when in a fight or flight state, our body is flooded with hormones which cause a surge of energy. When we cross over to collapse, the body essentially turns off its responsiveness to those hormones and shuts the system down. At this point, the hypocampus as well as the parts of the brain responsible for memory creation are almost fully disengaged. Cellular metabolism and responsiveness to hormonal signals slows. The child is working on auto pilot. This is a normal, protective response designed to protect us from traumatic situations. Dealing with your own parents isn’t supposed to be a traumatic situation. Even if the kid’s mouthed off first.

If collapse works and the danger passes, the body then sets about returning its neurological system to a normal state. Remember, a collapse state is characterized by the disengagement of significant parts of the brain which now need to be brought back online. There’s also the issue of all those energy producing hormones and the energy itself which are still coursing through the body. And at the cellular level, metabolic functioning is greatly reduced in a collapse state as the brain has signaled the muscles not to use the excessive energy created in the fight or flight state.So all that energy needs to be discharged, mental focus needs to be regained, and normal cellular functioning needs to resume.

In animals this neurological reset process looks like shaking, running in circles, jumping around and engage in other behaviors to work off the energy producing hormones created in the fight or flight state. In humans, this discharge will often look like sobbing hysterically, shaking, moving, screaming, throwing or slamming objects and doing other things that parents generally don’t let their children do after a spanking. This means that the child’s nervous system never has the chance to return to a normal state. Stress hormones remain in their bloodstream long after the event has passed, focusing and learning takes more effort and cellular use of energy and response to hormonal signals remains muted.

As is the case when a child’s fight or flight response is triggered excessively, when a child is pushed to the point of collapse, that strengthens the neural pathways responsible for executing the collapse state, causing it to happen more quickly in response to lower and lower levels of stimulation. Children who are brought to the point of collapse repeatedly may enter into a persistent state of collapse where all of their reactions are muted and they are no longer fully engaging with the world around them. Parents who discipline this way will often believe that because their children are quiet, compliant and still, these are signs that the “discipline” is working. Children who experience this are at high risk for Complex (Developmental) PTSD and dissociative disorders.

Now, some of you are protesting that this all sounds rather alarmist and cataclysmic in light of the fact that we’re talking about spanking a child. It’s not like parents are holding their children over a pit of hungry hyenas and threatening to drop them in or beating them with baseball bats, after all. (Hopefully) But we must not forget that just like children’s bodies are more delicate than adults and require special care, their nervous system are also more delicate and require special care.

At any rate, like I said, I’m not an anti-spanking purist. I have swatted my kids on the bum now and again. But people who are strong proponents of spanking generally don’t understand what it is they are actually doing to their children. Yes, you can get a quiet, compliant, still child by spanking if that’s your goal. However it comes at the cost of doing often permanent damage to this amazing nervous system which God gave us. There are many, many other discipline methods that parents can use to actually teach their children, help them develop self-control and proper behavior without running the risk of messing up the functioning of their neurology.

If you are a parent who would like to learn about alternatives to spanking, below is a list of resources compiled by Tricia Wilson that you can use:

Websites

Books

  • Conscious Discipline by BeckyBailey, https://consciousdiscipline.com/?sT…
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish https://goo.gl/9U9cHl
  • Scream Free Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool by Hal Runkel https://goo.gl/gW6SVB
  • Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Collected by Susan Stiffelman goo.gl/qnCOeK
  • Parenting With Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids by Susan Stiffelman goo.gl/Mc7VTx
  • Unconditional Parenting: Moving From Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn goo.gl/n57O2D
  • Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Laura Markham goo.gl/RwPgFM
  • Heaven on Earth by Sharifa Oppenheimer goo.gl/8YYK6m
  • Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children From Birth to Seven by Barbara Patterson and Pamela Bradley goo.gl/BLJfMU
  • Time In When Time Out Doesn’t Work by Jean Illsey Clarke goo.gl/Z4OAqj
  • Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers by Deborah McNamara and Gordon Neufeld goo.gl/z7DOsY
  • 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan goo.gl/k30E45
  • The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis goo.gl/WecbdJ
  • No Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel and Tina Bryson goo.gl/HYYROi
  • Parenting From the Inside Out: How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive by Daniel Siegel goo.gl/3QAITW
  • Playful Parenting: An Exciting New Approach to Raising Children That Will Help You Nurture Close Connections, Solve Behavior Problems, and Encourage Confidence by Lawrence Cohen goo.gl/lUibDP
  • The No-Cry Discipline Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Good Behaviour Without Whining, Tantrums, and Tears by Elizabeth Pantley goo.gl/FK0tPb

*My 21 year old son has the perfect snarky response to the people who the “I turned out OK” argument in favor of spanking: “you think it’s ok for full grown adults to hit small children. Clearly you didn’t turn out that ok.”

 

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All People Are Real

I’ve mentioned a couple of times now that I have a dissociative disorder. A derealization disorder, in fact. Which means that when my dissociative disorder is triggered, nothing around me seems real. Sometimes things literally look like movie sets and sound stages to me. I can’t even watch movies when it’s bad because when everything already looks fake, bad acting takes on a whole new meaning. When it comes to dealing with people, it’s like being locked inside a glass bubble where sounds can get through, but they’re muffled and removed from much of their meaning somehow. I read an article about it once which described disrealization as the loneliness disease. Obviously you can’t connect with anyone when you have a hard time even seeing them as real.

Because my dissociative disorder started by the time I was 17 months old, I grew up with no conscious experience of being able to consistently see other people as real. I just assumed that this was what it was like to be human. It certainly explained the way people treated each other; if the people around you feel like objects, then you’re going to treat them like objects, right? But I knew that other people actually are real, even when they don’t feel real. And I knew what it was like to be treated like objects. I didn’t want other people to feel like that, so I decided that part of growing up and being fully alive must include learning to see other people as real rather than as actors in my environment.

Probably around age 11 I started just watching people, trying to imagine what it must be like to be them. I would watch the way they reacted to things and think, “why did they have that reaction and not a different one?” After I became a committed Christian in early adolescence, I became more intentional about it. I’d pick out people who seemed the least real, the most scary or the least appealing and think about what it might be like to be them. I’d look for things to love about them. In the process, I learned to see people as real. And to this day, whenever I notice that they don’t seem real to me anymore, I make myself really look and think about and try to imagine loving them.

Of course, I wasn’t diagnosed with the dissociative disorder until the summer of 2014, so I didn’t know that the rest of y’all didn’t need to spend nearly so much time thinking about other people in order to remember that they are real. Apparently it’s happens instinctively and unconsciously for some people. Who knew? Thankfully, I was motivated by the teaching to love our enemies and the least to really work at dealing with the problem. And then some, because I am an American after all. If a little is good, more must be better. Continue reading

Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide – 2016 Edition

Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner by Douglass Crockwell

Such a pretty picture. Now imagine that they all hate each other.

An oldie but a goody! BTW, if you read these and know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to family, you are one of the people I wrote The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life  for. It’s a collection of enlightening essays for thinking better, being better and growing where you’re planted. Even if where you’re planted is a, um, lacking in certain nutrients required for proper growth. (I was going to say something much meaner, but I’m trying to be a good Christian here.) The book is only $6 on Amazon. Buy an extra one for your sister. Or a whole bunch for your friends. Also, if you are one of those people who has been experiencing an increase in interpersonal verbal and emotional abuse over the last couple of weeks, you can follow me on my personal facebook page where I’m sharing other bits of advice for keeping yourself safe and sane under adverse conditions. (I swear a lot more and talk about God a lot less on my personal page though. Just so we’re all clear. I hate to have to make someone look like a jackass in front of everyone. 😉 )

So, best of luck everyone. It’s a bit wild out there, but just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll do fine. Happy Thanksgiving, peeps!

Since I am a contrarian at heart and everyone and their brother is doing the “Let’s talk about what we’re thankful for” bit, I’m going to offer up something completely different.  Because as important as gratitude is, I also know that on Thanksgiving there are an awful lot of people for whom the answer to “what are you most grateful for?” is “that I don’t live any closer to these people.”  So for those of you going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house which had damn well better have a well stocked liquor cabinet waiting, I’ve dug through the archives to create The Upside Down World’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide:

1. Develop an Appreciation for the Absurd: My grandmother once had to be dragged away by a horrified aunt from her very concerned inquisition into the causes of my obesity.  One of my cousins made a big deal out of being “sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk” after resolutely ignoring every smile, nod, wave or question we threw her way from the next table over at my brother’s wedding.  Where all of my other 7 siblings (but not me) stood up in the wedding. That was weird. Learning to laugh is a much better tactic for dealing with people being absurd than any other I know.

2. Learn to Tolerate Conflict: Wishing you would have stood up for yourself is only rarely less painful than the discomfort of conflict.  The determining factor being whether you hold it together long enough to cry in private or abruptly leave the table after bursting into tears in front of everyone.  Thanksgiving probably isn’t the best time to confront your family with a list of all the things they have done to hurt you, but being able to speak up for yourself is a form of self-care everyone needs to know.

3. Learn to Avoid Conflict: At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes we need to tone it down.  Not every confrontation need to happen and not every invitation to conflict needs to be accepted.  Learn to see the difference and how to stop it before it gets started.

4. Deliberately Look For the Good in People: Thanksgiving with relatives is the perfect place to put this idea into action.  One of my grandfathers used to corner us Continue reading

Falling Together

Everyone I know is at least a little worried about me. And I can understand why. I have long moments when I am completely certain that I have lost my mind. I am continually sick and am in pain on a daily basis. I can barely keep up with my minimum standards that I rely on to keep my children from showing up at school looking and smelling like they might have spent the night in a homeless shelter.

At least the money situation’s looking up. My husband was laid off – again. So he’s using the severance package he got to pay the bills while he gets a new business he was asked to be CEO of off the ground. And without the costs of a daily commute, we’re even paying the utility’s down! Yay us!

Anyhow, I suppose I can understand why people are a bit worried about me. But I have the very distinct feeling of having just fallen together. Which really looks an awful lot like falling apart and is at least as scary.

Those of you who have been reading my writing for a while may have noticed an ongoing theme that I touch on from time to time which I believe the technical term for is “abject misery”. Or maybe you were fooled by the occasional off colored joke. I can be pretty good at hiding my true feelings sometimes. But you know, I may have given off a few telltale signs.

Anyhow, the truth is that what is alarming about me and my life right now are the same things that are letting me know that I’m coming together rather than apart. I’m finally safe enough to let go of the last threads of my sanity so that the mess that my life is can finally be redeemed. I’ve never been (or felt) this safe before. I’m finally able let myself fall apart, confident that God has placed people around me that I needed to survive and come out the other side as something other than a crazy bag lady and drug addict.

(Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

(Yes, that is an actual picture of me writing with a child sitting on my shoulders.)

I’m sure that as time goes on, I’ll be able to share more about the process, which I learned a great deal from. But that’s like a book and I’m ready to tap out at about the 400 word mark here. However, I did discover what’s behind my super amazing ability to write with a child on my shoulders. It’s not nearly as amusing as that picture of Olivia sitting on my shoulders, unfortunately. It turns out that along with depression and a history of PTSD, I have a dissociative disorder that dates back to before I could talk.

Which is yet another reason I’m making the people around me nervous. Unlike other mental health problems, dissociative disorders don’t have any genetic basis. They are always the result of trauma and are almost certainly much more widespread than is commonly thought. Many people who have them are completely unaware of the fact that they are having problems.

The most severe type of dissociative disorder is dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder. You know – 1 woman, 69 personalities. The very definition of shockingly crazy. Fortunately, I don’t have that. My various personalities all know they aren’t real and are serving in a strictly advisory capacity.

Looking back, I can see that I have a history of overcoming the problem and making it work somehow. Like being able to write with a kid on my shoulders. For me, the biggest problem is the way it affects my memory and attention when I am not in control of it. Like when I have to ask my kids to repeat themselves 4 or 5 times because Mommy can’t focus on what they are saying at all. Or when I send out a post without a title again.

A dissociative disorder is always alarming because of it’s roots in severe trauma and the fact that it’s associated with a lot of negative life outcomes, some of which I have experienced. But mostly, when I learned that I have a dissociative disorder, I felt like I was being given permission to own my cool super power.

Well, that’s what I feel like in between the times when I think I’ve lost my grip on reality and have to go to my husband for reassurances that our children aren’t in any danger of being removed from our care because of me. Which is progress. I spent most of July and August asking him how he can be so sure that none of the kids is laying in bed at night wishing they were dead. Which might alarm some people, I suppose. But it’s just part of the process. It’s an ugly process, but at least now I understand what’s happening.

At any rate, as I mentioned above, I was showing signs of this problem at an age when I could barely talk. Between the ages of 1 and 3, I frequently displayed signs of having withdrawn entirely from my surroundings and sometimes from my main caregiver for extended periods. This is usually considered the worst case scenario for a child who has experienced trauma – that he or she would withdraw so completely that they would come to find their own internal reality much more interesting and engaging than the world around them. (And yes, I know for a fact that some of you just thought, “well, it is!” And you’re right. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to get there. Severe childhood trauma is the wrong way.)

As it turns out, I seem to have withdrawn deep enough to find God in my inner most being. And he led me back out again. Then when I was ready, he lead me back into the abyss so I could take back all those bits and pieces of my heart that got left behind along the way. But I’ve shared about as much as I have time and energy for today.

So yes, I know that I am alarming people. I know that I’ve alarmed some of you readers as I occasionally hear from a few of you expressing concern. And I’m so glad for that. It lets me know that I am seen. That I’m no longer buried so deep that I feel invisible. And it reminds me that there are plenty of people who can respond to someone in pain with compassion. Which can be easy to lose sight of in this world. But I’m still here. And so are you.

And now let’s listen to a pretty song about how it’s all going to be alright. Because it is. And now I know it. Praise God.

If you’re falling together, these are for you, btw:

For When You Can’t Function

Getting By On Manna

How the Dark Night of the Soul Is Like a Juice Cleanse

Can God Do What He Says He Will Do?

You’re So Sensitive!

The Gift of Delayed Grief

All About Pain: The Toughness Fallacy

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but it’s cold, rainy and windy here by me so I’ll use that as my excuse for being a Debbie Downer here. Cuz we’re going to talk about pain today. Then again, if you are the sort of person who only wants to read about unicorns making skittles droppings, you probably aren’t reading my blog. So just another day here in The Upside Down World.

It seems to me that when Christians talk about pain they talk about it either very existentially, “why does God allow suffering?”, or we talk about it very personally, “let me tell you my story about being in pain”. We start from the assumption that pain is a valid, important topic, but even our most sincere efforts to address pain from either an existential or personal perspective tend to fall short. When they do, we almost always turn to attempting to minimize or dismiss other people’s pain. And let’s not even talk about the nonsense that comes out of our mouths when we try to moralize about pain or the behavior of people in pain!

In order to do better, we need a better understanding of what pain is, how it works, why it matters. Which includes getting rid of several dangerous misconceptions about pain. Even people who are personally familiar with suffering tend to believe a lot of false, unhelpful things about pain. Nearly all of us internalize our culture’s prejudices, erroneous assumption and ignorance about suffering and when life goes south, these internalized ideas just make things worse.

Obviously, this is a subject which could be a book, but you’ll just have to make do with a few blog posts. And I’m not even going to put them in the right order, so nya!

Anyhow, I wanted to start today by addressing probably the most common misconception about pain. That is once you’ve been in serious pain, additional pain will not affect you as much. You will have gotten used to it. Continue reading