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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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The Child is Father to the Man

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 6th 2009

hand reaching out to slap child's faceMany years ago a relative of mine commented that he did not care how cute or smart a child is. Instead, he asserted, that the type of adult they become is all that matters. He missed the point that famous poet, William Wordsworth, encapsulated in his poem: _________________________________________________

"MY heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety."

William Wordsworth. 1770–1850 ___________________________________________________

While this poem has many relevant and interesting interpretations, I will direct the readers' attention to the idea that, the way children are treated by adults directly shapes the kinds of adults they later become.

A Recent Study:

Dr. Murray Straus, PhD, head of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, conducted a 32-nation study of corporal punishment by parents. He found that the data suggest that spanking children may decrease their I.Q. scores by as much as give points.

It is already known that children who witness domestic violence run a high risk of becoming abusive when adulthood is achieved.

With regard to spanking and other types of corporal punishment, the study revealed the fact that nations that regularly use corporal had children with significantly lower average I.Q.s as compared to nations that do not spank.

Here in the United States and other wealthier and better educated nations, it was found that the incidence of corporal punishment has declined and the average I.Q. scores have increased.

As an explanation, several psychologists suggest that corporal punishment is extremely stressful for children, particularly if it regularly occurs. In addition, with chronic use of corporal punishment comes Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those children grow up to become less curious, more insecure and poorer performers in school.

Many parents in both wealthy and poor nations, resort to spanking when they feel overwhelmed and frustrated by children who may be going through an episode of being defiant and uncooperative behaviors.

While this is not the only reason why children can become difficult, part of the explanation has to do with the plain fact that growth and healthy development requires that the child learns to become increasingly self sufficient and independent. Therefore, it is necessary that parents, even when they feel challenged and overwhelmed by their child, not resort to violence to attempt to exert control. There are many ways to set limits and teach cooperativeness and respect without falling back on the old methods used by our parents and grandparents.

This month, October 2009, is set aside for the recognition and treatment of mental illness throughout the United States. It is also a time for people to think about strategies to prevent mental illness and promote mental health. One important contribution to mental health in each family is for people to learn new methods of limit setting with children without the use of violence.

Remember the poem, "The child is father to the man." What we do to our children, how we treat them and each other, within the family, deeply affects how they will behave, feel and function as adults. Spanking and violence does not promote mental health for anyone. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is a very old saying that needs to be relegated to the dust bins of history.

Want another old saying?

"The more we do what we did,
The more we will get what we got."

We want healthy, bright and functioning adults. Get rid of the rod, spare the child. Use common sense.

Your comments and experiences are welcome.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Agreed, but ... - JR - Oct 7th 2009

Hello, Allan,

There is an uncomfortable reality to be borne in mind - which is that there is every reason to believe that parents have been spanking their offspring as a means of control and chastisement ever since our bonobo-like ancestors came down from the trees, and probably before.  Like it or not, this is "natural".  Perhaps, as the only species with a "culture" capable of raising us above such (literally) primative behaviour, we should be capable of growing out of it.  In reality, there is little evidence that this is going to happen, any time soon.

Having said that - I do agree with you.  I was not subjected to much physical chastisement as a child.  However, my parents (my mother in particular) certainly retained as an option.  I was, certainly, beaten on a number of occasions.  Furthermore, the disciplinary culture of schools in my part of the world, at the relevant time, involved "spanking".  Again, I did not experience very much of it - you might say that in general, I "kept my head down".  Which, from a particular viewpoint, meant that the threat and actuality of physical violence "worked".

Ah yes, there is the problem - "keeping the head down".  I suppose I was a clever child - my parents and teachers seem to have thought so - but the practice of physical punishment tended to push me into a box from which, in some ways, I have never escaped.  It is not so much a matter of the physical pain - more the humiliation.  I vividly remember the last time my mother struck me.  She gave me a real slapping over.  I knew she was not well at the time - otherwise I am not sure I would have taken it.  I was fifteen years old at the time, and taller than she.  The pain is long gone - but the sense of humiliation and helplessness remains.  It remains.  It is part of me.

My mother died some years ago.  I love her very much.  I still miss her.  I do not know that I have really said goodbye, even now.  It sounds strange to say this but my mother had a very, very positive influence on my life, in many ways.  Without boring you with the details, she put me back on the right path at a number of points at which I might have gone the wrong way.  I know that she was proud of her son, as child and adult.  More proud, I know, than I was, and am, of myself.  But that is "keeping the head down" for you. 

I do not know whether this makes much sense.  One thing I would say - corporal punishment may have short-term attractions but, in the long term, it may be worse than self-defeating.  However "natural" it may seem, however difficult it may be to find an effective alternative, a more rational alternative to corporal punishment for children may be worth the effort of pursuing.  This is in the interest of children in the long term, and that, really is the important thing.

Nothing else occurs at this time,




Not the world I want for my kids - Beth - Oct 7th 2009

I know this is a very controversial subject and I would never want to judge anyone's methods of parenting, but I agree with you 100%.

Once when I was in my mid-20s, I got frustrated with my toddler's behavior and swatted him on the behind. I will never ever forget the look of betrayal that came over his face. I made a decision right then and there to never use corporal punishment with my kids ever again. And I never have. I have three children now. That toddler is now a senior in high school. I don't want to teach my kids that people in charge should use violence to instill fear in those who are more vulnerable. That's not the world I want for my children. I want a more kind and caring world.

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