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Recently, I read Parenting a Child With ADHD – Is Spanking Helpful? by ADHD expert Keath Low. Low does a good job of explaining why it’s difficult to parent a child with ADHD, and offers some general guidelines on how to do so appropriately.

From my perspective, some critical considerations about whether or not to spank a child with ADHD need to be added to the discussion.

Full disclosure

My mom hit me until I was 17.

Does that mean I’m biased or an expert? Both.

But my convictions are backed by research.

Global reality check

By the year 2000, 31 countries had enacted prohibitions against the physical punishment of children.1

According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, our understanding of the effects of physical punishment on children has shifted dramatically in 20 years. Perhaps, but that new understanding clearly hasn’t permeated the ADHD community.

Let’s consider seven critical factors that suggest spanking may be especially detrimental for ADHD kids.

1.  Hypersensitivity

In Canada, proposed legal amendments suggest that spanking could be used if it “… poses no reasonable risk of harm that is more than transitory and trifling…”

But who’s to say if the harm is “transitory” or “trifling”? It’s not like we ask our kids what they thought of the spanking they just received. I can just hear it:

Parent: “So, how was that Johnnie? No permanent scars I take it?”

ADHD child: “Don’t sweat it, mom [dad]. What’s for dinner?”

Sounds like Sci-fi, right?

We’re all different. But given that children with ADHD have higher emotional and physical sensitivities, it’s likely they’ll be more sensitive to physical punishment than other kids.

Even if you ask them, how do you know your sensitive ADHD child isn’t more hurt than you (or maybe even they) realize?

You don’t.

Highly sensitive kids, rather than being supported and encouraged, are often criticized, teased and shamed for their trait of hypersensitivity. This further discourages them not to disclose the level of hurt they’re actually feeling.

2. Anger + impulsivity = recipe for disaster

In Low’s article, she says (and rightfully so) that kids with ADHD can be exasperating. Her description of these kids is:

“…highly active, doesn’t seem to learn from mistakes, needs frequent monitoring and redirection, is impulsive, reactive, demanding and temperamental, or has aggressive or destructive tendencies…”

True enough.

But consider this: 1) the majority of adults with ADHD are not diagnosed; 2) chances are, one or both parents have ADHD.

When you add it up, it’s highly likely that an untreated adult is doing the spanking.

This means that the description “…highly active, doesn’t seem to learn from mistakes, needs frequent monitoring and redirection, is impulsive, reactive, demanding and temperamental, or has aggressive or destructive tendencies…” could just as easily apply to the spanker as to spankee.

Yet Low’s advice to parents is to:

“Plan ahead… and when those incidents occur, take a long deep breath — or two or three or four deep breaths — before responding to your child.”

On paper, that sounds like good advice. But for parents with undiagnosed or untreated ADHD, planning ahead and pausing before acting are precisely the skills they don’t have.

Allowing an impulsive person with a hair-trigger temper who’s twice the size of a child to use physical force for discipline doesn’t sound safe or sensible to me.

Allowing an impulsive person with a hair-trigger temper who’s twice the size of a child to use physical force for discipline doesn’t sound safe or sensible to me.

Until or unless an adult has successfully treated their ADHD, I would propose that any and all physical punishment be off the table, completely, without exception.

As for me…

The last time my mom smacked me I was 17. We were at a grocery store. I was being mouthy.

I finally hit her back. She never hit me again.

Do I have regrets?

Hell, ya. I regret I didn’t do it sooner.

If you’re still with me, tune in tomorrow for PART II to learn about research showing that spanking can increase the risk of drug and alcohol abuse later in life, and 4 more compelling reasons why spanking an ADHD child might be more damaging than you realize.

_________________

1. Durrant, Joan and Ensom, Ron. (2012). Physical punishment of children: lessons from 20 years of research. Canadian Medical Association Journal, DOI:10.1503/cmaj.101314, p. 1

 

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    Last reviewed: 12 Apr 2013

APA Reference
Kessler, Z. (2013). Spanking Hurts ADHD Kids More Than You Think, Part I. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/adhd-zoe/2013/04/spanking-hurts-adhd-kids-more-than-you-think-part-i/

 

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