How To Parent Derby Style

I don’t envy anyone who interviews with me to be a caregiver for my son.  They have NO IDEA what they are walking into. “And how would you handle the following situation: you’re cutting vegetables with our 3-year-old son, he’s got a knife, and he tries to slice your hand.” I showed the interviewee the slice on my hand from earlier that morning.

“Oh.  A real knife?  He . . . cut you?”

We’re super lucky she took the job.  First day, she spied my derby clothes in the closet while helping to get the Bug dressed.

“Are those . . . umm, pictures of sperm on your mom’s shirt?”
“Oh yeah!  My mom calls me Spawn.  Sometimes I call her Breeder.”

We’re super lucky she kept the job.  Despite my roller skating habits.

Over a year later, our caregiver is giving Roller Derby a go, so is her partner, and so is my son.  And as we skated together this past weekend, I watched the derby girls “skate parent” the newbies on the rink, including my son.  And I learned a little bit more about empowerment.

Now I know all about Derby Empowerment – women suddenly embodying confidence at super hero proportions – exuding power, effervescence, and a blinding glow that rivals even the brightest summer sun.  I never thought about that process.  Exactly how does that transformation into glitter ridden, immortal rainbow unicorns come to fruition?  Is this some fairytale cult?  Or a welcoming not-so-secret society of universal acceptance and love . . . for the small price of sperm on your shirt.  Pictures.  Pictures of sperm.

I understand the process better now, and wanted to share my insights with you – about the parenting skillz of my clan of kindred spirits.  Following are two pictures – not of sperm, but of how skaters are raised.

Scenario 1. Gaggles of children on the rink.  Skates?  Check.  Knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, mouth guards, helmets?  Ha!  So not cool.  Nor are they available for rent.  Children laugh and giggle, playing down their skating skills.  They get out on the rink, doing their best to stay upright.  Falls are inevitable.  Not only do they hurt, but they draw laughter, embarrassment, and a new found desire to stay upright, even if it means taking less risk.  Popular children are the ones who don’t fall.  And after a while, everyone takes a break.  “Good” and “bad” skaters are sorted, no one pushes their limits, and success is measured by the number of times you fell.  It’s a social popularity scene with little to no support.

Scenario 2. My son gets out on the rink, unable to move without holding both of my hands.  He’ll let me pull him slowly, but he won’t push with is feet.  We make it half way around the rink in twenty minutes.  Suddenly he falls and says, “I just can’t do it.”  A derby girl saw the fall, and as she skates by she yells, “Great fall, Spawn!  You used your knee pads and fell super safe!”  He smiled, stood up, and fell again – this time with zest.  Another derby girl swooshed by.  She yelled, “Hit me, Spawn, hit me!”  With vigor, he chased her.  And on her next lap around, she slowed and let him hip check her.  Of course, it knocked the bloody wind out of her and she went flying, sprawled lifeless in the middle of the rink.  Spawn forgot about his inability to skate, grabbed my hands, and said, “Let’s get her again, Mom!”  Each time he laid a derby girl flat, ten others commented on his technique.  They suggested ways to skate faster, hit with more precision, and fall safely.  It wasn’t empty praise – it was targeted support.  He was suddenly taking a lap around the rink in less than five minutes, and telling me we needed to go even faster.  He was Spawn, destroyer and slayer of derby girls.  Other children asked to borrow his gear – perhaps feeling that those not so cool pads would make them as amazing as Spawn.  He had three girls lined up to try out his sweaty pads.  They surrounded us, chattering.

Watching the derby girls “parent” my son into skating, I started to understand the mechanics of derby infatuation a little better.  There’s an unconditional love and acceptance in teaching newbies to skate that’s absent in other sports, in other life lessons, in other relationships.  Derby girls take would-be-negative experiences and slap them flat on their backs, upside down, and smother them with sunshine.  “Girl!  That fall was AMAZING.  You almost fell backwards, but I saw you twist and go for your hip instead.  Soon you’ll be falling forward!  You have GOT this!”  No judgment.  No expectations of grandeur.  Only honest support.

What I love is that this support breeds internal drive.  There’s no external motivation born of empty praise.  Feedback is honest, specific, and uplifting.  You have thick thighs?  Fabulous.  Because once you build muscle, you will be able to squat, get low, and be a hitting force of nature.  Big butt?  God, I wish I had one.  Just think of your positional blocking potential!  Thin as a rail and worried about being pancaked?  Girl, you are going to be an evasive, evaporating, jamming machine!  Whatever your starting place, no matter your physical ability, all body types welcomed – derby is a contagious cestpool of triple rainbow bliss.  I’ll take two, please.  And one for my son, too.

Dr. Rachel

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The Mommy Wars Decoded

A friend of mine recently commented, “I think one of the inadvertent results of the “Mommy Wars” (only the first world could get away with calling it that) is that sometimes we end up on the defensive when someone makes a statement about how they do things.”  However, it’s likely that parents have little intent of riling each other up when they make statements about their choices in parenting.  In fact, I think most parents are simply looking to share stories, experiences, and commiserate a little.

Despite knowing this, it’s hard not to take things personally when your friend tells you she lets her child “cry it out”.  Or when your sister openly nurses her 18 month old (when you’d stopped nursing at 3 months).  It’s easy to think there are hidden agendas, it’s easy to think your friends judge you, it’s easy to think “I’m a better parent than you because . . . and you should do what I do if you want to be a good parent.”  When a parent makes a statement about his or her parenting choices, another parent hears something completely different.  Thus, fuel for the Mommy Wars.

For fun, below are a host of examples.  While you read, consider that none of the initial statements are offensive or judgmental in nature (while the reframes are as judgmental as I could make them).  And to be fair, I take both perspectives on the issues.  Enjoy.

On Work

  • I’m a full time mom = Oh.  You’re sacrificing your career and sense of self to wipe butts and do laundry.  How wonderful for you.
  • I have a full time career = While you selfishly follow your passion in life, your baby feels abandoned.  You have no chance at a secure attachment with your child, and I’m sure you’ll fail at pumping.

On Sleep Arrangements

  • We cosleep = OMG, you are going to roll over on your baby and kill him, you pro-suffocation heathen.  This is a public health issue and criminal charges must be filed.
  • My baby sleeps in his own crib = If only you’d put your baby’s needs above your own selfish desire for uninterrupted sleep!  That poor soul is all alone and scared.
  • My son slept through the night by 4 months = You tortured your child by letting him “cry it out” at night until, despondent, he stopped crying for you because he no longer believed you cared.  He’ll likely be insecure.
  • I respond to my child’s cries at night = How’s sleep deprivation treating you?  Maybe if you gain a sense of self and get some rest you could actually be a better parent during the day.  Also, you’re spoiling your child and breeding co-dependence.

On Circumcision

  • My son is circumcised = Oh, you mutilated your son’s genitals without his consent?
  • My son is intact = Get ready for a medical nightmare – urinary tract infections, HIV, STDs, and likely an expensive surgery for phimosis.  Way to think about your child’s long-term health.

On Immunizations

  • We’re delaying immunizations = How selfish of you to rely on herd immunity to keep your child safe from deadly diseases.  My kid has leukemia, can’t be vaccinated, and can’t go to school because your kid could infect him.  Thanks for being socially irresponsible.
  • We follow the recommended schedule for immunizations = Way to expose your kid to toxic levels of aluminum, questionable chemicals, and possibly unclean animal tissues.  When he’s diagnosed with autism, sensory processing disorder, or manifests neurological issues later in life, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

On Nutrition

  • I nurse my toddler = That’s disgusting.  No child that has teeth, can talk, or can walk should be allowed to suck on your boobs.  Stop trying to satisfy your unmet sexual needs with a two year old!
  • I couldn’t breastfeed = You wouldn’t breastfeed.  How could you deny your child what science has proven is best?  Breastfed babies have higher IQs – you’ve robbed your child of intelligence.

On Discipline

  • We use positive discipline = Uh, yeah, you use permissiveness.  You allow your wild child to rule the roost.  If you’d actually enforce a little discipline, I might be able to eat a meal out in peace.
  • We use time-outs = Oh, the “forcible isolation of children”?  So you model for your child that the use of power gets people what they want, I see.

And many, many more! To all the Mommies and Daddies – you’re doing great, and I wish you peace.

Dr. Rachel

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Just Another Day in the Office

I’m pretty polite, even with no coffee and on very little sleep.  And I usually offer a friendly “good morning” gesture as I arrive in the office each day.  My coworkers aren’t as nice – and this morning, everyone was clearly in a funk.

“Good morning!”

Angry stares all around.  I swear someone growled at me, another colleague threw paper clips as I passed her cubicle, and the office kitty took a swipe at my arm before he hissed and rolled over.  EVERYONE woke up on the wrong side of the bed, and I knew it was going to be “one of those days”.  You know, one of those really tough days at the office.

I make the coffee at work, and boy did we all need some!  I wish one pot would do it, but it takes four separate brews – one coworker has to have an organic dark roast, another needs decaf, my officemate takes espresso only, and I prefer a cold brew latte.  I made it to the office on time & worked on everyone’s cups as quickly as possible – STILL, the yelling.  “Where’s my GD coffee?!” “I want it now!  Now, now, NOW!” “But I can’t wait two more minutes!”

I talk to my coworkers about helping to make the coffee & offer suggestions for respectful ways of talking to me – they just aren’t there yet.  By the time I get everyone their cups, tweaked how they like it, I’m lucky to drink two sips of mine before it’s cold.  This morning I didn’t even get a taste because all hell broke loose in the copy room.

Two grown men fought over who got there first.  As one would put a copy code in, the other would pound on the keys and cancel it out.  “Oh yeah?  Well if I can’t go first, neither of us will!”  And he grabbed the other’s pages and ripped them in half, tossing them in the air as they fell to the ground in silence.  Pause, pause . . . then absolute furry ensued.  A brawl in suits, really.  I would have intervened, but I’m still nursing the black eye from trying to break up yesterday’s fight over who got to open the Fed Ex package.

Forget this, I gotta pee!  And oh how I dread peeing at work.  Today was a perfect commentary on why.  I slipped in the bathroom unnoticed. Thank God the stalls have locks.  I bolted myself in.  And just as a trickle started, the entire office went on a group field trip to wash their hands.  Apparently they’d all had three glasses of wine beforehand because I have no other explanation for what followed.

Banging began on my stall door.  “What are you doing? Hurry up!” “Stop peeing!  Come out!” “I need to pee, it’s MY turn!”  I threw my old pad in the trash and pulled a new one from my front pocket, trying to block out the screaming and pounding.  Someone used a quarter to open the stall door.  Another coworker grabbed my pad and ran off laughing.  And as I stared into the smiling face of my officemate, our eyes simultaneously glanced over to the empty toilet paper roll (damn, I should have checked, but I had to pee so bad!).  She squealed, “I tricked you!” and ran out with the others.  All I can tell you is that getting back to my desk involved white hand towels (the office is trying to avoid paper waste) and bleach.

Ah, client meeting in five!  No problem.  Oh sh*t, there IS a problem.  Listen, my boss is a free spirit.  Most of the time she can stay clothed, but today she’s having those GD hot flashes.  “Please put your clothes on – the client will be here in three minutes and we NEED this account.  Listen, I’ll help you get dressed.  Let’s pretend your dress is a nice, cool swimming pool, and you can dive right in!” “I don’t wanna put on clothes!  I’m hot!”  Flash forward three minutes, round table, naked boss.  I’m positive the client starred at her boobs the ENTIRE time.  But no one really mentioned it.  And they did renew the contract.  I know, it’s not the way most people do business.  But wrinkled, saggy boobs is how we roll.

Busy morning!  Time for lunch.  We’re all trying to save money, so none of us eat out.  We have a break room table & keep lunch supplies in the fridge.  Lunch is part of my job, like coffee.  I pass out the food, punch straws in juice boxes, and cut up meat into chewable bites.  “I don’t like carrots!”  I ignore it.  “I want cake!”  Ignore.  “But I wanted FRENCH FRIIIIIIIIIES!!!”  Not responding.  A defiant carrot is thrown.  It hit a coworker.  Silent eyes glare.  Carrots go flying.  Juice boxes are squirted.  Mayhem.  Again.  I wipe faces, change clothes where needed, and coax everyone back to their desks.

My boss’s secretary goes ballistic and hastens me on an emergency errand to the bathroom.  Oh God, not the bathroom again.  Explosive diarrhea.  And my boss does not know how to wipe her own ass.  I mean, she THINKS she does, so it’s a really fine line to walk – empowering her to wipe herself (so that she gets more proficient), yet making sure the butt crack is clean, hands are poop free, the toilet doesn’t get clogged with overuse of toilet paper, and (in this case) that explosive diarrhea is not smeared over the entire office via my boss’s clothes and shoes.  The whole ordeal takes 15 minutes, and I’m sure the interviewee I had on hold has long hung up, I’ve timed out of everything I was working on online, and I’ve missed the soda break.

I didn’t get a single thing done on my to do list today.  I’ve had no personal space (one coworker repeatedly shoves his hands down my shirt, but we don’t really have a harassment policy).  I’m hungry.  I’m thirsty.  I need a shower, but I doubt I’ll get one.  I honestly don’t know what they’re paying me for at the office.

Ah well, it’s time to go home.  Home.  My partner has been at home all day taking care of our progeny.  I wonder what it must be like – to not fight the fires I fight at work all day.  To be able to relax.  Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to work.  You know, just played with my kid at home all day?  Because THAT would be so much easier.

Dr. Rachel

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Happy Birthday, Bug

Dear Bug,

You are 4 now.  I am not ready for you to be 4.  Today you told me that next year you will be 24, and I am positive that is true.  Suddenly, you’ve moved away from home and are plotting a life away from me.  I miss you.  Terribly.  But you are so full of happiness, and that brings me a bit of peace.  I wanted to tell you – it’s only been 4 years (24 years?) – and there is so much I love about you . . .

I love that you are Jetman, flying through the Grand Canyon with your paper towel roll cardboard jetpack – that you are Peter Pan, warding off the pirates with your pointy nail files sheathed in your rubber band belt – that you are Miss Witch, having absconded with our mop stick so that you could rubber band grass blades to the end and fly to the coffee shop in your black dress and red sparkle slippers, for a Witch bagel of course – that you are anything and anyone you want to be & no barrier stops you.

I love that you are a mixer, like Daddy.  One cereal is not good enough, you require 4 boxes to make a bowl.  You stand at the fridge and ponder what ingredients will go into your cup – cow’s milk, almond milk, maple syrup, coffee creamer, a black berry, some honey, and a marshmallow.  You drank it.

I love that you fish.  I do not kill fish – you do.  And you are clear that you want to.  “There are more fish, Mom.”  Yet it is profoundly sad to you to hook a waxworm.  We have rescue waxworms breeding in our living room.  Gnats are breeding in the habitat too.  Ladybugs are suffocating in your tackle box.  I adore your 4-year-old logic on life.

I love that you wear skirts, heels, headbands, and make up.  They are cool, and you happen to know it.  Sparkle, glitter, vibrant colors – this is the language you speak.  Peers and US culture will likely steer you away, but I support your interests and likes, whether they stay the same or change.

I love that when you kiss me goodbye, you often ask, “Mom, will you remember that kiss?”  It is impossible for me to forget!  You are so generous with your kisses – they are often wrapped in hugs as you blow them off to catch me (or any loved one on their way out).  Your kisses travel faster than a car, you say.

I love that you love me.  You want me to put you to bed, you ask for me first thing in the morning, you plead with me not to leave, and you often ask to be held.  If I can, I will always say yes.  I relish in helping you.  Because one day, you won’t want to be picked up, you may not notice if I step out of the house, you’ll want space to be a grouch in the morning, and you’ll learn to fall asleep on your own.  When you’re 24.

There’s so much I love about you, Bug.  Every trip up the stairs carrying all 40 lbs of you, negotiating with you about knives and needles, explaining for the hundredth time why sugar comes AFTER protein and veggies, cuddling with you at the end of the day – these are the moments I live for.  I adore being by your side as you learn about life.  I wish this could last forever.  But I’m learning that, although I love you more than is possible today, I’ll actually love you more tomorrow.  There is so much I love about you that I fear loosing as you grow.  And as you grow, there are boundless new things to love.  It’s a crazy wild ride, partner.  Let’s make a lifetime last just as long as we can, deal?

All my love,

p.s. – FIVE comes after four, for the record.

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Should Spanking Be Banned?

Last week, I received an email from Dr. Robert Larzelere – a prominent researcher in the field of parenting who, despite the overwhelming research on the negative long-term outcomes, wants the book left open on “conditional corporal punishment” (or corporal punishment that may be “nonharmful . . . under some conditions.”).  This email was addressed to all members of the Society for Research in Human Development, urging us to consider both sides of the research before endorsing a ban on corporal punishment.  His email is pasted at the end of this blog entry, and I urge you to take a look – though lengthy and technical in parts, it’s critical for us to understand that the spanking debate is alive and well.  Dr. Larzelere is a renowned present day researcher in the field of parenting with enormous reach and impact.  He influences other scholars, hundreds of young minds through teaching, and families who look to experts for advice.  The fact that he is a voracious advocate of conditional corporal punishment in the face of research that opposes the practice is of great concern.

I’d like to first point out where I agree with Dr. Larzelere.  Then, I’d like to take a look at fallacies in his scientific arguments.  Last, I’d like to revisit the overwhelmingly consistent research on the negative impact of corporal punishment and offer some common sense thoughts as well.

I agree with Dr. Larzelere that it would not be wise to endorse a ban against parental spanking.  Education is at the heart of this debate – just as we would benefit from education about gun rights, abortion, texting while driving, alcohol consumption, drug use (the list goes on), our society would benefit from a large scale, national education effort on the topic of corporal punishment.  Control by an authority does have an immediate or temporary impact – be it a parent spanking her child or a nation policing our discipline – but that is all it has, as the underlying problems are still present.  We would be wiser, as parents and as a country, to focus on long-term goals and outcomes for families.  Support through education is the most effective way to create foundational change for the next generation.

Let’s take a look at Dr. Larzelere’s argument for conditional corporal punishment.  He contends that conditional corporal punishment is statistically no worse than other methods of non-physical discipline and therefore innocuous.  Let’s break it down.

Dr. Larzelere is correct (and the science verifies) that abusive corporal punishment is bad for children, whatever the measured outcome.  He rightly calls for isolating the effects of conditional corporal punishment by removing abusive cases from the group.  He then compares it to other non-physical discipline methods.  Now, this is important: just what are these “other non-physical discipline methods,” and are they an appropriate comparison group?  Non-physical discipline is defined by Dr. Larzelere as “grounding, privilege removal, and sending children to their room, and . . . psychotherapy”.  Not surprisingly, his results show that “all corrective actions by parents and psychologists appear to increase children’s antisocial behavior” – in other words, conditional spanking is no worse than non-physical (and might I point out, PUNITIVE) discipline. Therefore, Dr. Larzelere claims conditional spanking to be nonharmful, even . . . beneficial.

Though the fallacy is obvious to me, I’m assuming it’s at least a little fuzzy to those who sing the beneficial praises of spanking.  To compare spanking to ANY other punitive discipline method is to compare oranges to oranges.  It’s not surprising that spanking, grounding, privilege removal, and time-outs are all correlated positively with antisocial behavior.  Further, I’m not surprised that psychotherapy and Ritalin (see Larzelere email) aren’t helpful when parents continue to use punitive and controlling tactics with their children alongside therapy and/or drugs.  On this, Dr. Larzelere and Dr. Gershoff agree!  Where Dr. Larzelere makes the leap away from research is in his interpretation of the data.  And this dissonance, I believe, can only stem from personal history, strong rooted belief systems, and a blatant bias.

The research is clear.  A vast body of replicated literature links spanking to aggression, anti-social behavior, mental health problems, lower moral internalization, lower empathy, higher defiance, and the lists goes on.  Temporary compliance is the only beneficial outcome of even conditional spanking.  What is at stake, as Dr. Larzelere says, is the future well-being of children throughout the world.  When we find over and over again in research that control through punishment hinders moral development and breeds self-interest, how can it be said that conditional spanking even has a chance at setting our children up to be well-adjusted adults in the long run?

Putting the research aside, there are ethical issues to consider regarding research on corporal punishment.  I agree with Dr. Holden’s comment to Dr. Larzelere – “. . . the ethical issues apply regardless of the scientific debate.”  So let’s design a prospective study with randomly assigned groups of first time pregnant parents and settle this debate! Because controlled corporal punishment need be compared to discipline methods that are mutually exclusive from spanking on a theoretical level, one group of parents will be trained to conditionally spank, and the other group will be trained in non-punitive discipline methods.  (Notice the comparison of oranges to apples.)  Here, ethics may override science: Would this proposed study ever make it past the Internal Review Board ethics committee?  And even if it did, would participants be OK with random assignment into the spanking versus non-punitive groups?  Might that say something about the practice of spanking on an ethical level?

Here are a few other common sense thoughts to consider:

  • When children have a problem & we explain that we are going to hit them (and why), is this really the best way to teach them about solving problems?
  • When a caregiver is simultaneously the person a child most loves and most fears, might this be confusing at all?  Is love conditional?
  • For parents who have spanked, are you confident?  Did it feel right?  How much anger or aggression seeped through?  Did you wish an alternative strategy had worked rather than going for your “last resort”?
  • Do you want for power and authority to override the lesson?
  • Is punitive discipline sustainable?  What will you do when your teenager laughs at your threats and “does it anyways”?  Is your influence diminished in the long run?

Though I believe the research is sound, sometimes ethics, common sense, and human instinct speak louder than science.

I wonder why Dr. Larzelere holds on to corporal punishment with a death clutch.  Is he that afraid to explore non-punitive ideas – discipline that lets go of control, treats children with compassion and understanding, and embraces internal motivation, morality, and perspective taking as long-term ideals?  I do not support a ban on spanking, so on that we agree.  But to argue so vehemently for the nonharmful (nay, beneficial) effects of conditional spanking is . . . perplexing.  Please see Dr. Larzelere’s email below, and please post your thoughts on the topic!

Dr. Rachel


From an open letter to the Society for Research in Human Development by Dr. Robert Larzelere on February 18th, 2012:

“Members of the Society for Research in Human Development (SRHD) were recently asked to endorse a resolution supporting bans against parental spanking. The supporting materials included with the proposal represented only one side of the scientific debate on this important topic. Members are asked to consider the other side of the debate.

A recent APA president compared the anti-spanking and conditional-spanking perspectives, featuring Gershoff’s (2002) meta-analysis and my own literature review (Larzelere, 2000). They called these reviews “two excellent and most current reviews” (p. 208), and said “no conclusions regarding causality can be drawn” (p. 199) and that a research “comparison of spanking with alternative procedures” was a “top priority” (Benjet & Kazdin, 2003, p. 215).

Brett Kuhn and I responded to their top priority by doing a meta-analysis of all the studies in Gershoff’s or my reviews that could be used to directly compare the child outcomes of corporal punishment with alternatives that parents could use instead (Larzelere & Kuhn, 2005). Our meta-analysis revealed that:

  • Conditional spanking was linked with less adverse (or more beneficial) child outcomes than 10 of 13 alternatives it had been compared with directly. Conditional spanking is defined as nonabusive spanking when 2- to 6-year-olds defiantly refuse to cooperate with milder disciplinary tactics, such as reasoning or time out. Psychologists trained parents to use it to enforce time out for 2- to 6-year-olds from the late 1960s to the mid 1990s in the best-supported treatments for disruptive-behavior diagnoses (e.g., ODD, CD). No other back-up for time-out has ever been shown to be more effective for these kinds of children. Even the most defiant children quickly learn to cooperate with milder disciplinary tactics so that the spank back-up can be phased out.
  • Corporal punishment was linked with more adverse child outcomes than alternative tactics only when it was severe or used as the primary discipline tactic.
  • Customary corporal punishment (e.g., frequency) had equivalent child outcomes as all alternative tactics except for predicting less substance abuse than non-contact punishment in one retrospective study.

My colleagues and I later replicated the strongest causal evidence against customary spanking, namely that spanking predicts slightly greater antisocial behavior two-to-four years later after controlling for pre-existing differences in antisocial behavior (Gershoff, Lansford, Sexton, Davis-Kean, & Sameroff, 2012, in press; Straus, Sugarman, & Giles-Sims, 1997). Our two studies, however, were the first to compare these results with alternative disciplinary tactics that parents could use instead (Larzelere, Cox, & Smith, 2010; Larzelere, Ferrer, Kuhn, & Danelia, 2010) Unfortunately, both of our studies showed similar apparently adverse effects of nonphysical punishment. Even psychotherapy and Ritalin looked as harmful as spanking when analyzed in the same way. Additional analyses in our two studies indicated that these “effects” are all statistical artifacts due to selection biases from child effects that have been reduced but not eliminated by these statistical controls. Any professional can replicate those findings from the NLSY data.

A more complete summary of the scientific evidence for the conditional-spanking viewpoint about spanking bans is available in Larzelere and Baumrind (2010) at

When I asked George Holden, the author of the proposed resolution, to consider a constructive dialogue about the scientific evidence, his reply was that the ethical issues apply regardless of the scientific debate. I do not doubt the good intentions of anyone supporting spanking bans. But without reasonably conclusive scientific evidence, my question is this: When is it ethical for one group to impose a set of absolutist values on others by law rather than by persuasion?

We need the best science to reduce child abuse without undermining appropriate parental authority. After 33 years, there is still no unbiased evaluation of spanking bans, and the available evidence suggests that appropriate authority has been reduced more than child abuse (e.g., Larzelere & Johnson, 1999; Patterson & Fisher, 2002, p. 74).

I am raising these issues not just for the welfare of children and parents, but also for the identity of the SRHD as a scientific society. At SRCD’s recent Themed Conference on Developmental Methodology, Margaret Burchinal’s plenary address commended development researchers for moving beyond what econometricians call “naïve” analyses to produce stronger causal evidence, so that developmental research on early child care could influence policy rather than be discounted by econometricians’ criticisms about valid causal inferences. Econometricians use the term naïve to refer to superficial statistics that do nothing to take selection bias into account (Angrist & Pischke, 2009, p. 72). By that definition, Gershoff’s (2002) effect sizes against corporal punishment are all naïve effect sizes, because they are merely a mathematical transformation of naïve correlations (mostly cross-sectional, longitudinal at best), without trying to do anything to take into account the selection bias due to child effects. I assume she did that for consistency, even for the few studies with stronger causal evidence. Because our field relies too much on naïve associations, we keep opposing most actions parents use to correct problems in their children, including helping them with homework (Hill & Tyson, 2009) and warning adolescents about the dangers of smoking and unprotected sex (de Leeuw, Scholte, Sargent, Vermulst, & Engels, 2010; Deptula, Henry, & Schoeny, 2010) as well as all disciplinary corrections.

Of course, everyone knows that corporal punishment is used too frequently and too severely by too many parents and that positive parenting needs to be encouraged as much as possible, consistent with the long-term beneficial effects of authoritative parenting (Baumrind, Larzelere, & Owens, 2010). Without improvements in causal evidence, however, developmental scholars will have difficulty helping spanking bans be effective for children and their parents, because our methods make nonphysical punishments (e.g., time out: Gershoff et al., 2010), psychotherapy, and Ritalin look as harmful as customary spanking.

Therefore, I consider it premature for SRHD to approve George Holden’s resolution advocating spanking bans. Instead, I call for a forum to compare and contrast the competing scientific evidence to clarify what both perspectives agree on, what they differ on, and to collaborate on research to make the types of discriminations needed for science, for parents, and for the future well-being of children throughout the world.”

Posted in Positive Guidance Parenting | 4 Comments

My Promise To My Child

The following quote has had over 9,000 shares on Facebook:

“My promise to my children – as long as I live – I am your Parent 1st – your Friend 2nd.  I will stalk you, flip out on you, lecture you, drive you insane, be your worst nightmare & hunt you down like a bloodhound when needed because I LOVE YOU!  When you understand that, I will know you are a responsible adult.  You will NEVER find someone who loves, prays, cares, & worries about you more than I do!  If you don’t hate me once in your life – I am not doing my job properly.  Re-post if you are a parent & agree.”

I’ve seen this posted on Facebook by my own friends quite a few times.  At first, I was simply disturbed by the quote itself & dismissed it.  But then shock set in.  People are reposting this because it’s what they believe.  And I’m so sad that some parents equate unconditional love for children with being “your worst nightmare.”  Further perplexing, other friends of mine are “liking” this post when I’m pretty sure they don’t really believe it.  And I realized – there’s a peer pressure to like this post, or you must not love your children.

There’s another way.  Well, MANY other ways, that don’t involve the promise of stalking, flip outs, insanity, a bloodthirsty hound hunt, and hate . . . in the name of love.

A few thoughts . . .

It’s OK to take the roles of Parent and Friend out of a hierarchy.  You can be both – all the time.  Truly friendly acts are not inconsistent with being a Parent.

Most responsible adults I know do not understand that a stalker, flip out, lecturing, insane, nightmarish, bloodhound hunting parent is a loving parent.  In fact, I’d consider a restraining order if someone treated me this way.  Why does the belief persist that parents must control their children into responsibility?

I’ll NEVER find someone to love me as much as my stalker, bloodhound hunting parent that I’ve learned to hate at least once in my life.  Well, shoot and quarter me now!  While I fully understand and appreciate the unrequited love a parent feels for a child, I’d bet money most parents hope that their children find others in life who love them as much.  Grandparents, eventual partners, kindred spirits and friends, siblings, to name a few.  Do parents really have a need to claim their love for a child as paramount?  I hope people feel freer to love others than that.

Success as a parent is measured by getting my child to hate me at least once.  Wow.  In fact, do any parents have as a goal to promote hate in their child?  Must our friends hate us once for us to be deemed good friends?  Need our coworkers hate us to prove we’re good employees?  What place does hate hold in any relationship?

So please consider a different promise to your children – even if the path to achieve it seems unclear.

My promise to my child is that he can always count on me – as a parent and as a friend.  That I will trust him, listen to him, brainstorm and problem solve with him, and love him unconditionally.  He need not understand anything about my love for him to become a responsible adult.  My hope is that my son loves me – not because I need or want to be loved by him – but because his love for me is a reflection.  It’s a window into my practice as his Parent, and I hope that I have been and will be a helpful guide.  May he find abundant love in the world – from me, his Dad, his family, his friends, a partner, his own children (should he have them), and from strangers.  May he love freely, opting for understanding every time.

So please, give yourself a break as a Parent.  Take a deep breath.  Throw control and authority out the window.  Believe that a child’s nature is good.  Sow seeds of trust, respect, and understanding.  You’ll make a friend for life.

Dr. Rachel

Posted in Positive Guidance Parenting | 8 Comments

Why it’s ‘Garbage’ that Chinese Mothers are Superior: A Rebuttal

While many readers expressed jaw-dropping disbelief at Amy Chua’s picture of parenthood, I admit I enjoyed considering this controversial and scandalous position on parenting.  Perhaps the most shocking aspect of Chua’s article was her willingness to promote (in public) that calling her child “garbage” is good parenting.  As a scholar in the field of parenting, I’m fairly well versed in the research – in fact, studies do NOT link derogatory name-calling to anything positive.

Following are a few research-inspired thoughts.  While there are a couple of things that didn’t bother me about Chua’s article, I will first explain why I fundamentally disagree with her methods as a parent.  Then, we will explore the best route to children’s academic success by visiting three areas of research in parenting – the importance of free and unstructured play, the benefits of fostering children’s social and emotional development, and the dangers of ‘results at any cost’.

It didn’t bother me that Chua’s article is very stereotyping.  If we took a poll, most of us would say, “Well of course, not all Asian parents are so cruel in their progeny’s push to perfection.”  “And not all Western parents walk their way on egg shells to indulgent permissiveness.”  We are intelligent readers, after all, and know that there is great diversity in parents’ approaches to their children, even within cultures.

It didn’t bother me that the author dichotomized parenting: all or nothing ‘to the death’, ‘do it my way’ strictness versus worry-filled angst over the frail self-esteems of children who are allowed to give up.  To perpetuate this short-sighted position, the Wall Street Journal asked readers to weigh in on a poll, forcing them to choose between two extremes: “Which style of parenting is best for children?  Permissive Western parenting or Demanding Eastern parenting?”  While it might be surprising that 65% of parents are now going to call their children “garbage” when they are a disappointment, it would be equally surprising if the majority of readers endorsed letting their children give up.  Who parents their children in either of these polar ways?

Not many of us.  However, controversy fosters discussion, and I’m glad millions of people are thinking about choices in parenting.

While I agree with Amy Chua on a few points – things aren’t nearly as fun before you get good at them, doing drills is key to increasing facility, and assuming strength is empowering to children – I disagree with her teaching process.  And it’s not just me – a rich history of cross-cultural research in the field of parenting links permissive and strict parenting styles to poor outcomes for children.  Additionally, research resoundingly supports the notion that a focus on academic success early on does NOT lead to academic success later.  In fact, it stifles children’s desires to take intellectual risks.  Furthermore, punitive discipline is related to negative child outcomes across cultures.  I’m glad that Amy feels her children are well adjusted and successful, despite the strict parenting, the focus on academic success, and the punishment that rivals coercive abuse.  Amy and her children beat the odds.  However, if 100 people tried the exact same tactics, the majority wouldn’t be as lucky with their results.

I’d rather place my bets on research, adopting parenting methods that are known to cultivate optimal development in children.  So here’s some food for thought before we throw our children out with the garbage . . .

Visiting research-based literature on parenting, what is the best route to raising and supporting children to succeed academically?

First, children need ample opportunity for free and unstructured play, without TV, without video games, without ‘bells and whistles’ toys, and without a priori rules – I’m talking about play borne from children’s curiosity and imagination.  Remember connecting boxes to create a secret tunnel to an unknown land?  Remember forts made of pillows, furniture, and blankets?  Remember playing outside with friends, making up and negotiating rules to your own personal games?  Research has confirmed: creative play is on the decline.

So what.  My kid gets at least SOME unstructured playtime – isn’t that good enough?  In order to reap the benefits, experts have found that children need a full hour or more of free play each day.  Here’s what free play affords children:

  • Exploration of scary concepts like monsters or getting shots at the doctor
  • Working through anxiety and stress by replaying past events like getting a cut and bandaging it up
  • Practice at solving problems such as who will take what role in the play scenario (“I want to be the Dad!”  “No, I do!”)
  • Opportunity to develop social skills
  • Window into creativity and imagination
  • Abilities to accommodate and cooperate (for, if the play is to continue, they’ve got to work something out!)
  • Development of persistence and negotiating abilities
  • Rich opportunity to exercise language and communication skills

An example in our household: My son is afraid of peacocks.  He first saw one at nine months, and since he’s been verbal, he has retold and retold the story.  Peacocks are now an icon for anything he fears.  If it’s too dark, then there’s a peacock in the room.  If there’s a strange noise, by golly, a peacock is the cause.  Not surprising, peacocks come up in the Bug’s (as we call my son) creative play.  We often need to escape to the blanket tent to get away from the peacocks that are coming.  Then we have a chat about the fact that peacocks live outside, and if it’s dark, they’re usually asleep anyway.  We humanize the peacocks: Do you think the peacock has a family?  Do you think the peacock has favorite foods?  And we work all these ideas into the imaginative play.

Just yesterday, my husband had a look of surprise on his face.  The Bug thought he was scared.  He said, “It’s OK Daddy.  We’re inside and the peacocks are outside.  It’s OK.”  I’d like to thank free and unstructured play for helping my son process his biggest fear.  When children are allowed to process strong emotions and exercise their creativity and imagination, they build a strong foundation for later academic success.

Second, a well-replicated body of literature confirms that a focus on cognition and academics is NOT the key to academic success.  Instead, supporting children’s social and emotional development in the early years is what leads to academic success in school later on.  It is counter-intuitive on the surface, but makes a lot of sense when you think about it.  Consider the abilities of a child who is socially and emotional competent:

  • Resourceful and creative in successfully resolving conflicts
  • Able to build and maintain meaningful relationships
  • Successful at entering into and inviting others into a group
  • Pro-social – expresses cooperation, empathy, and altruism
  • Able to regulate strong emotions (sad, angry, excited)
  • Constructive with strong emotions

Now, if your goal is for your child to make straight A’s, a child who is resourceful, able to solve problems creatively, empathetic towards others, and can manage their own emotions has a much stronger foundation for learning than a child less well equipped.  To be successful academically, yes children need to study the material and practice, but when they do so in addition to feeling good about themselves and having a good relationship with their parents, teachers, and peers, they’re a lot closer to that A.

Last, a focus on the result or the product of children’s efforts causes children to take less intellectual risk.  Research supports that encouragement and process-oriented comments build an inner motivation and self-confidence in children that is far more predictive of ultimate success.  Here are a few dangers of focusing on the results:

  • Stifles children’s motivation to succeed by creating a fear of failure
  • Focusing on personal characteristics negatively affects self-worth
  • Teaches children to seek approval from others
  • Pigeonholes children
  • Promotes a self-fulfilling prophesy
  • Loss of opportunity to support children’s internal motivation
  • Loss of opportunity to teach morals
  • Children won’t take risks, instead risking perfectionism

A child, who is told she is smart over and over again, will choose to engage in easier cognitive tasks in order to maintain her ‘smart’ status.  She does not want to disappoint her fan base – an external motivation that negatively impacts her self-image.  Likewise, a parent who berates his child for making a 90 on her math test has missed a huge opportunity to guide and teach.  If the parent’s goal was to help the child raise the grade, he could engage the child in a conversation about study habits and motivation.  The child might then self-reflect to realize she does like math but isn’t crazy about the teacher – she doesn’t study as much because the class is a bad experience.  The parent and child could then brainstorm about how to make it more enjoyable.  Tackling the process, allowing children to adopt and believe in what they are doing, helping to build inner strength and confidence will go much further towards supporting academic success than focusing solely on the end result.

So, in opposition to Amy Chua’s outmoded and mistaken ideas about parenting, I stand with research.  I submit that parents can guide and encourage their children to achieve academic and personal success in positive ways – ways that teach children the value of practice, that build inner strength, and that foster children’s internal motivation.

Dr. Rachel

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Parenting: Theory Versus Practice

As a scholar in the field of parenting, as a teacher of young children, as an educator of adults learning appropriate practices with children, I have to say I felt fairly prepared going into parenthood . . . in Theory.  How hard could it be?

Then, my son was born.

Thus ensued an epic battle between Theory and Practice.  Theory came on the scene confident, fresh, and ready to take on the world.  Practice whispered gentle warnings of hard times ahead.

Theory and I were tight.  In Theory, we would not be giving my son a pacifier.  We’d read enough to know that pacifiers can interfere with nursing.  In Theory, we would never let our baby cry.  After all, my background is in Attachment – sensitive and responsive parents have securely attached children, and parents who respond to their children’s cries have babies who cry LESS long-term.  In Theory, I would nurse a minimum of 1 year – literature supports the idea that the breast is best.  In Theory, we would never praise our child – I teach my students that research links excessive blanket praise to lower self-confidence and self-esteem.  In Theory, we had it all worked out.

But then Practice came along & whispered all kinds of sweet nothings in my ear.

We introduced a pacifier after 2 months because it helped my son’s reflux.  I fought hard, but the pacifier fought harder.  It was my son’s dearest friend, and you could always find one in my or my husband’s pocket.  The way my son zoned when he saw a pacifier, his eyes glazed over!  At two, we successfully transitioned the pacifier out, but he still talks of it fondly today.

Practice taught me that no matter how responsive my husband and I were to my child’s cries, he still cried for 4 solid hours every night for months.  Had Theory heard of Colic?  Our wrists were shot from passing the baby back & forth, constantly bouncing him, hoping it would ease whatever horrible pain he was experiencing.  There were moments when both our wrists gave out, when exhaustion over powered, and when neither of us could be as responsive as we wished, in Theory.

At 4 months, after lactation consulting, after weighing my child’s milk intake at each feeding, after experimenting with every nursing position, after cranial massage, after mastitis and plugged ducts, after crying for weeks – I decided we may not make it nursing, no matter how badly I wanted it to work.  Thankfully we found a way.  But not before Practice suggested to me strongly that book knowledge and “wanting it” are sometimes not enough.

As the Bug has grown from a baby to a boy, it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid praise.  It’s easy with any other child.  But with the Bug, his beauty overwhelms me.  I am overwhelmed with pride by every piece of art, by every word he utters, by his ideas, by his mannerisms, and by his smile.  I am able for the most part to focus on his process and to encourage him rather than praise him.  When it comes to telling him just how much I unconditionally love and adore him – I admit I probably cross the line.  I’m not aware of any research linking number of times you say “I love you” to long-term outcomes, but if there are limits, and if they imply I need to cut back – on this one, I’m sticking with Practice.

I feel fortunate to have Theory and research as my foundational guide in raising my son.  At the same time, the reality of parenthood often pits Theory against Practice.  Our goal in teaching Positive Guidance Parenting is to explore a variety of parenting topics while answering the question, “What Does the Research Say?”  We believe that research is best used as a foundational guide, and that everyday parenthood helps morph research into Practice.  One answer is not the answer for all.  By being educated about best practices in parenting, individual families and parents can use Theory to create a Practice best suited to meet their family’s needs.  With research as a base, we hope to help parents practice parenting skills that accommodate their individual preferences, their family culture and traditions, as well as each person’s needs within the family.

So here’s to Theory and Practice!  Often working in concert, often working at odds.

Dr. Rachel

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