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Interview of Dr. Penelope Leach, Miriam Arond of 'Child'

Aired April 23, 2002 - 09:45   ET


Our "Big Question" at this hour: is there ever a reason to hit your child? Well, when it comes to disciplining your kids, are you too tough, or not tough enough? In a new "Child" magazine survey of more than 2,400 parents with children under the age of 8, eight out of 10 say spanking is acceptable when done sparingly. At the same time, 20 percent say spanking is one of the most frequent responses when their child misbehaves. So what do the experts say?

Well, joining us now to tackle that question, and to take your phone calls and e-mails, from London today, Penelope Leach, renowned child psychologist and co-author of the study, and here in New York, "Child" magazine editor-in-chief, Miriam Arond.

Welcome to the two of you. I want to quickly put that phone number back up, so if you want to call us, we'll take it. The phone number to call is 212-643-0077. Doctor Leach, do you think spanking is an effective way to discipline your kids?

PENELOPE LEACH, CHILD PSYCHOLOGIST: No, I don't, and I don't think most parents think it is effective either. That is one of the things the survey shows, but it is real hard for some parents to resist. One of the things this survey showed up most clearly is a big gap between how parents would like to behave, and how they find they do. In fact, we have a sense that parents were more concerned about their own behavior -- very often, than about their kids' behavior.

ZAHN: Well, they feel very guilty about spanking, don't they?

LEACH: And I think they feel a little foolish too, because I think many parents these days do realize that hitting a child is a lesson in bad behavior, not a lesson in good behavior. It seems to work at the time, because the child who is giving you lip, or whatever, stops for the minute. He's probably crying. But I don't think many parents actually think that it teaches children how they should behave.

ZAHN: Let's move on to our first e-mail. It comes from Dana this morning, she writes: "Spanking a child is not a viable method of discipline," -- I guess she is listening to you, Dr. Leach -- she says, "the only thing spanking teaches is that violence is an violence is an acceptable solution to a problem."

What about that, Miriam? MIRIAM AROND, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, 'CHILD' MAGAZINE: Well, I am in complete agreement. I think that spanking is a quick fix, but in fact, if children really learn from what you do, and not as much from what you say, so if you're demonstrating spanking and violence, your child is going to think violence is a perfectly good reaction when they are angry, and it is not.

ZAHN: We take our first phone call, and it comes from New York City this morning. Who is on the line? Good morning.

CALLER: Good morning, Paula. This is Jason.

ZAHN: Jason. Carry on with your question, please.

CALLER: It's not really a question, I just wanted to say that I believe that child spanking is necessary in their education. Children need to learn that there are consequences to their actions. It's better to spank them at early age, teach them that there are consequences before you see them on CNN in a Columbine-type situation.

ZAHN: What about that, Doctor Leach? There has to be at some point something when you're child has done something horribly wrong or dangerous, where you have got to get their attention.

LEACH: Sure.

ZAHN: And isn't there, any -- at any point that you believe where spanking is, indeed, appropriate?

LEACH: No, but can I answer Jason...


ZAHN: Yes, please.

LEACH: Consequences, of course. Consequences, of course. From very early on, but consequences that fit what the child has done. You know, if a child is making mayhem at the dinner table and spoiling the time for everybody else, I be all for the punishment involved in putting him down from his high chair and saying you can't come back, be with us, if you are going to spoil it for everybody else. It's a clear cut reaction to how he has behaved. But a consequence that is -- there are things you can do that will make grownup people who are supposed to be in charge of you hit you? No. That's not a consequence I want children to know about.

ZAHN: Let's move on to a second e-mail from John...

LEACH: I want children to...

ZAHN: Go ahead, doctor. You want children to...

LEACH: I only wanted to say -- I want children to realize that grownups know better. That grownups are in charge. That grownups will control them when they can't control themselves, and losing your cool and taking your hand to a kid's butt is no demonstration. It's not a good example.

ZAHN: All right. Let's move on to John's e-mail. He writes: "Yes, children must be aware that some bad acts carry the maximum penalty. If they don't realize that right away, then society will have to teach them that later in life. Spare the rod, spoil the child." Miriam.

AROND: I think parents need to realize that sometimes it is enough to just tell your child something is intolerable, and that children will internalize that message. It is okay. You don't have to get into face-off with your child, you don't have to seem them saying, Yes it's true, I sinned. Sometimes, just tell your child that is unacceptable behavior, and let them sit with that for a while. Children -- when you are giving attention to your child every time they are acting negatively, you are reinforcing it, and you don't really want to reinforce it.

ZAHN: I am sure -- and sometimes they don't care whether they get negative response or positive response.

AROND: That's right, that's right.

ZAHN: They are wonderfully manipulative, aren't they?


ZAHN: Let's take another phone call from Andrea (ph), and we will let Dr. Leach answer that one. Good morning, Andrea (ph).

CALLER: Good morning, Paula. I want to say that I -- not so much a question, but that I agree with what's being said. I think it's a lack of control on the adult's part. Number one when they have to reach out and hit their child, they are teaching how resolve conflict in a negative way, and when they grow up, they are going to emulate what the adult behavior is on how to resolve conflict in their own life. And fourthly, I think that adults are physically strong. When you are talking about hitting 4, 5, 6, 7-year-old, and you are an adult in your 30's and 40's or whatever, you can do damage, and I don't think they learn to resolve conflict in their adult life or in their career as children.

ZAHN: You must have been reading Dr. Leach's books again. A quick reaction to Andrea's comments, Dr. Leach?

LEACH: I'm -- of course, I'm really glad to hear that. And can we go back for a second to this child survey. I do think parents know this. I do want to make the point that too many -- for comfort -- of the parents who say that spanking is a frequent reaction to children's misbehavior have children less than 2 years old. That means there are a lot of infants, of babies being spanked out there. And secondly, parents are worried about their own loss of control. Parents are the people who know that mostly you spank because you've lost it, not because you think "spare the rod and spoil the child," not because you think, If I hit my child now, he won't appear on CNN as a criminal in ten years' time, but because you have lost your temper. And parents are bothered about that, and I think we need -- and "Child" magazine and is trying to do this to help parents find tactics that work for dealing with that stress, that personal aggravation.

ZAHN: Sure. Believe me, we need daily refresher courses, I think. If not spanking, what else should you do? How else can a parent discipline? Stick around, we'll have Doctor Leach's input and "Child" magazine's as well.


ZAHN: And we're back now with your phone calls and e-mails on whether you ever think there is a reason to hit your child. With us from London, Penelope Leach, renowned child psychologist. Here in New York, "Child" magazine editor-in-chief, Miriam Arond.

All right. Let's quickly put up on the screen Rosemary's e-mail. She writes, "when you child is about to run in the path of an oncoming car, one swift spanking should be enough to shock them into never doing that again. It should be a correction, not a punitive action."

What about that, Dr. Leach?

LEACH: Oh, gosh. You know, it's awfully much quicker to grab that child than to swat him one. I really -- I've heard this example so many times, and it still makes no sense to me. What do you do when a child is going to run in the road? You grab him to safety. When you have grabbed him to safety, you've already shocked him, you don't have to swat him to tell him he's given you a terrible fright. Furthermore, no toddler is going to be safe from then on the sidewalk because he got swatted for running in the road. You can't trust him. You won't be able to trust him before he's 6, for heaven's sake. That's no reason for spanking him.

ZAHN: All right. Miriam, just final thought this morning on the sense of isolation some parents feel. I don't care how many parenting magazines you read, how many books you read. We are told this stuff is supposed to be instinctual. In some cases it is, in some cases it isn't. We all need help in making sure our form of discipline is consistent.

AROND: One of the things we saw in the "Child" magazine survey is that parents have inappropriate expectations for their child. They are not age appropriate expectations, and we are parenting in isolation. The moms and dads are going off to work, and they are not hanging out with other parents and their kids during the day, and so they don't really know what other 2, 3, and 4-year-olds do.

ZAHN: So we expect probably too much of our children in some circumstances.

AROND: We do. And it is very important on weekends, whatever your down time is, to get together with a play group, to invite friends over who have children, and see what other parents and children are doing and see what other 2 and 3 and 4-year-olds are -- how they are acting. And in fact, your child's behavior may be entirely appropriate.

ZAHN: Remind me of that at the dinner table tonight. Oh, yes? You're not going to eat that?

AROND: OK. Miriam Arond, thank you for your time. Dr. Penelope Leach, great to see you. Confess today -- did you ever spank your children?

LEACH: Great to see you -- no, never. Never. Not once. Not one finger. But -- this thing about expectations, that's what my message board on is trying to do all the time. Put forward to parents -- your expectations are driving you crazy because we expect so much, particularly of 2 and 3-year-olds...

ZAHN: I agree.

LEACH: ...that they really are not psychologically capable of.

ZAHN: Well, you should just be making house calls all across America.

Dr. Penelope Leach, again, thank you for your time. Miriam Arond, congratulations on the survey.




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