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Eva Mendes's favorite parenting advice has provoked disagreement on social media: Don’t spank your kids.
The Hitch actress, who shares two daughters, Esmeralda, 6, and Amada, 4, with Ryan Gosling, shared it on Tuesday with a glam Instagram photo. "I'm often asked what my favorite red carpet dress is," she captioned the post. "This @versace is definitely up there. I’m not often asked what my favorite parenting quote is, but I’ll post it anyway. Please slide if you care."
The quote, credited to mom blogger Racheous read, "Spanking does for a child’s development what hitting a spouse does for a marriage."
Followers leapt in: "I don’t know. I was spanked and now I’m a respectful adult. And believe me, I deserved [it]. I was a brat."
"Love you but completely disagree," wrote a follower. "The goal in raising kids is not to have to spank, but it’s correcting before they can reason behavior out with you. Completely different than hitting someone."
"Spanking is a way of teaching, not hurting or abusing," wrote a fan.
When a parent added, "I think everyone is different and I respect everyone’s decision, but for me, I spanked not often but I did," Mendes replied, "Thank you for your comment. So happy to agree to disagree. Want this page to offer that in a loving way. We all parent our own way and I have no idea what I’m doing most [of] the time. This didn't come with a manual so when there's something that resonates with me, I pass it on. Lotsa love."
Other parents agreed with Mendes. "…I have three kids so I understand the urge to spank! (Also most of us were raised in cultures or families where physical discipline is routine and accepted so I get it) Spanking, though, is a loss of control on the part of the parent. As parents [we] are trying to teach our kids how to communicate in a healthy way even when we are really, really upset. We are also helping them build those internal controls so that they do not lash out on others when things do not go their way or they are frustrated, angry or upset."
"If an adult hits an adult that's called assault and they can press charges and end up in jail yet when a defenseless child is hit, it's called discipline," wrote one. Another added, "I got my [ass] kicked as a kid and it didn’t serve me. It normalizes abuse and doesn’t teach kids how to articulate their feelings."
According to Dawn Brown, a psychiatrist in Houston, Texas, spanking is "one of the most widely-debated parenting topics," but it doesn't work in the way parents might hope. "Spanking does not teach children appropriate ways to manage their anger or regulate their emotions," she explains to Yahoo Life.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has a definitive position on corporal punishment, defined as the “non-injurious, open-handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behavior," on the basis that spanking hurts children's emotional development, causes aggressive behavior and increases the risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems — even when parents believe their approach is well-intentioned. "In cases where warm parenting practices occurred alongside corporal punishment, the link between harsh discipline and adolescent conduct disorder and depression remained," said the AAP in a 2018 news release for its updated guidance.
Spanking can also cause neurological changes in a child, says Brown, the effects of which can be seen in adulthood. "We know it reduces the brain's gray matter, the part of the central nervous system that influences intelligence, learning ability, speech, emotion and memories." And a 2017 study by the University of Michigan concluded that being spanked as a child was "significantly associated" with mental health problems, alcohol use and suicide attempts in adulthood.
If nothing else, says Brown, spanking sends mixed messages to children, especially when disciplining them for hitting other children.
What makes spanking a particularly tricky topic is its intergenerational component, according to Sheryl Ziegler, a family therapist in Denver, Colo., and the author of Mommy Burnout. "If you were spanked as a child, you are likelier to spank your own child," she tells Yahoo Life. "Then, we have a cycle of parents who deal with stress in this way, that is tough to break."
Some parents feel spanking is justified, but it actually doesn't prevent children from acting out. "It's a momentary shock to the child's system, but it won't stop negative behavior in the long run," says Ziegler.
According to both experts, parents should check in with themselves when they reach that breaking point. "When parents spank, they're usually in 'fight' mode, not 'flight,'" says Ziegler. "[At that point], parents are functioning out of full-blown fear," she says.
Ziegler suggests that parents give themselves a "time-out" in these heightened moments by taking deep breaths and walking away, while saying, "I am frustrated" to model conflict-resolution skills. "That way, if someone is being mean to your kid at school, he or she can also walk away," says Ziegler.
Brown also suggests a "cause and effect" form of punishment by removing privileges. "It comes down to, 'You made a poor choice and this is the consequence," she says, adding that this technique is useful if a child has "a huge investment [in the activity]."
But discipline can also resemble praise, says Ziegler. "You can divert from the [negative behavior] by saying, 'You did a great job cleaning your room' even if they aren't listening. You're directing attention to something positive." Brown adds that positive reinforcement can be used regularly to encourage good behavior. "Let's say your child acts out at recess, but they had two really positive days at school," she says. "Reward them for that."
Finally, redefining "punishment" can help parents avoid harsh approaches. "Punishment has a negative connotation but kids can learn through it," says Brown. "It shouldn't cause harm — it should teach correct behavior."
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