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Is It Okay To Hit Your Kids?

My mom and my sisters drove me into Manhattan to drop me off at my dorm.

While we were there, my youngest sister (8 y/o) got into a little tiff with an older sister (18 y/o) & started sulking and acting grumpy.

Long story short, I eventually had to give my youngest sister a little whack on the head in the middle of the street to get her to act correctly.

And, in that moment: I got a little glimpse into why some parents hit their kids.

Before I go any further, I’m 21. So, farrrr from parenthood. This is a sliver of insight based on my experience as the oldest brother (and having once been a kid myself).

Kid Psychology


Kid shrugging

Kids follow their impulses.

They do what feels good now.

  • Spinach vs Candy → they’ll choose candy.
  • Sleep vs Games → they’ll choose games.
  • Forgive & Forget vs Sulk & Mope → they’ll choose the latter.

Kids haven’t developed the muscles to delay gratification.

And why should they? They’re usually shielded from serious consequences when choosing the immediately gratifying option.

  • Touch the hot stove → Mom takes care of it.
  • Get a candy tummy ache → Mom gives you medicine.
  • Stay up playing Among Us → Take a nap any hour of the day because they’re kids.

No (serious) consequences.

Hacking Kid Psychology


Kids wiggling around

So how do you get a kid that will always choose the immediately gratifying option to not choose that option and “act like an adult” in the moment?

You have to incentivize them to want to behave well.

Well, how do you do that?

You have to show them that that instantly gratifying option, isn’t so gratifying after all.

You have to show them that that option comes with immediate pain.

(Sounds a bit harsh, I know. But hear me out.)

You can do that by:

  • taking away something (ex: toys)
  • giving them something (ex: timeout)
  • causing pain (ie. hitting them)

And don’t get me wrong, I know some kids might be able to understand pain/consequences “down the road”

Ex:

  • Too much candy -> stomach ache
  • No sleep -> Tiredness, grumpiness, etc
  • Sulking -> Not enjoying life

But from my experience, most young kids are too shortsighted.

In order for them to “get it”, the pain needs to be experienced as soon as or sooner than the pleasure.

They need to know that if they do the feel-good option then there might be immediate pleasure, but there’s also immediate pain.

That way they will be much less likely to choose that option in the moment.

And they’ll be more receptive (even if reluctantly) to acting the “right way.”

Ex:

  • Eating their greens
  • Getting good sleep
  • Forgiving and forgetting

Will I Hit My Kids?

There’s probably plenty of arguments for not hitting your kids. But this post is me reasoning from first principles why some parents consider hitting their kids to be an option.

I’m not entirely sure if I’ll liberally hit my kids when I have some of my own. But like I said, in the right circumstances, I can see why it makes sense. But it’s not a great parenting option.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” makes a lot more sense now.


P.S.

Btw, if you have counter-point(s) to my argument, happy to talk about it over email → anthonydike@nyu.edu