Some babysitters still think that spanking is a valid way to control children. But the truth is that it's an outdated form of discipline that does more harm than good. So what should you do if it turns out that you've got a spanking babysitter?
What should you do about a spanking babysitter? You should fire them immediately! Spanking is a form of physical punishment, and hitting a child is never okay. You may also want to report the babysitter if they belong to a babysitting association, and inform other parents in your community who may use their services.
In this short article, I'll explain why spanking isn't okay and give advice on what you should do if you find out that your babysitter is spanking your child.
Is it Okay For a Babysitter to Spank Your Child?
A Harris poll from 2013 found that 81% of Americans say that spanking a child is sometimes appropriate. However, I can't agree with that just because it was the majority opinion.
As far back as 1989, the World Health Organization began a concerted effort to ban corporal punishment of children in its Convention on the Rights of the Child. In response to the surge of interest, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children laid out a broad definition of what constitutes physical punishment and abuse. A wide range of reputable organizations such as the American Psychological Association have done studies showing that physical punishment of children (including spanking) causes harm and can lead to an increase in aggression, mental health problems, antisocial behavior, and physical injury in kids. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its policy on corporal punishment and added that verbal punishment is also considered abusive and causes harm to children.
Spanking may still be far more common than you think. But it's on the decline as more and more parents realize the damage that it can cause to children. Spanking doesn't only cause problems in the short-term, but it also impacts kids’ development and the relationships they will have for the rest of their lives.
So in my opinion, no, it's never okay for a babysitter to spank your child.
There are far more effective and less damaging ways for parents and babysitters to keep kids from misbehaving, including positive reinforcement, active listening, distraction, patience, respect, and consistency.
Hitting a child is unnecessary, and it’s never okay.
Learn about other boundaries that you should set for your sitter by reading my article 19 Babysitter Rules All Parents Should Enforce.
Setting Discipline Expectations with Your Babysitter Up Front
If you've thoroughly vetted your babysitter, hopefully, you'll never run into a situation where they resort to spanking your child.
Before your babysitter ever steps into your house, you should have a conversation about exactly how they should approach disciplining your child. Most commonly, this would be discussed during the babysitting interview.
Read my article Warning Signs of a Bad Babysitter (19 Red Flags to Avoid!) to prevent a lot of potential problems before they occur!
It's important for you as a parent to let your babysitter know what you expect. The statistic that I shared at the beginning of this article shows that there are people who still consider spanking a valid punishment. Your babysitter may be one of them. So it's important to let them know up front that you don't think it's okay.
Different families will have different discipline styles, so it's best not to assume that a babysitter has the same beliefs regarding discipline that you do.
Let them know from the start exactly what methods you'd like them to use to manage your child's behavior. And more importantly, be clear on what methods you don't want them to resort to, including spanking.
What You Should Do if Your Babysitter Spanks Your Child
Having a conversation with your sitter up front about spanking will greatly reduce the chances of them hitting your child. But it doesn't eliminate the risk entirely.
Some less scrupulous sitters may agree to not spank your child. But when you're out of the home, they feel they know best and then spank your child anyway based on their personal beliefs.
Other sitters who aren't properly suited for the job may become overwhelmed if your child is misbehaving and resort to spanking in a moment of weakness.
You might catch the babysitter in the act of spanking when you come home, or your child may confide to you that the babysitter has hit them while you were away.
Whatever the reason a babysitter provides to justify their spanking, you must fire them immediately—especially if you had already let them know that spanking is not allowed in your home.
You may feel uncomfortable with the idea of firing a sitter and not be sure how to do it. Check out my article How to Fire a Babysitter Politely for some guidance.
Discuss Alternatives with Your Sitter (Is it Okay for Babysitters to Discipline Children?)
By saying that babysitters should not spank children, I'm not saying that sitters can't use any form of discipline at all. Kids still need limits to be set and enforced so that they don't just run wild!
So yes, it's okay for a babysitter to discipline your child. Just not by resorting to physical or emotional punishment or other harmful techniques.
I recommend that my babysitters use positive direction that focuses more on praise and encouragement instead of punishment. This form of discipline is more about teaching children a better way to do things.
Another gentle form of discipline is called redirecting. Babysitters can steer kids away from bad behavior by getting them interested in something else. A good sitter can still enforce consequences and use rewards to reinforce good behavior (video), but using distraction or humor instead of punishment by instilling guilt and shame.
A well-trained and experienced babysitter will also be appropriately emotionally connected with your child, so they can talk through feelings together before negative feelings build up, and kids feel the need to act out.
There are many preferable ways that a babysitter can discipline a child besides hitting them. It is helpful to review this guidance from the AAP on healthy discipline strategies and even print out and discuss it with your regular babysitter.
Warning Signs of Spanking or Abuse to Look Out for
This is all well and good if you're aware of the problem. But how would you know if a babysitter is spanking your child behind your back?
It's easier to know if a babysitter is spanking your child if they're older. If you have your suspicions, you can simply ask them if the babysitter has hit them.
If physical punishment isn't normal in your household, your older child may come to you for help and let you know that a sitter has spanked them on their own. Although in some cases, kids may be too afraid to tell parents that a caregiver has hit them for fear of retribution. So just because your child doesn't tell you that a sitter is hitting them isn't a guarantee that it's not going on.
The situation gets more difficult if your child is between birth and 5 years of age, when they may not have the communication skills to explain if something bad is happening. In that case, you need to know the signs to look for yourself.
Physical Warning Signs of Spanking or Child Abuse
Common signs of physical abuse include bruises, black eyes, cuts, and other injuries in places that are unusual for a child of that developmental age.
Of course, kids get bumped and scraped all the time. But if your child is getting hurt a disproportionate amount while in the care of a sitter, it's likely they're either being abused or neglected. Either one is a reason to fire your sitter immediately, even if you don’t have proof.
Behavioral Warning Signs of Spanking or Child Abuse
Your sitter may be spanking your child, but not hard enough to cause any permanent mark. However, spanking or hitting can still cause emotional changes in kids that you should look out for.
If your child suddenly has a big shift in their behavior, it may be a sign that some form of abuse is happening. Some kids may suddenly develop more aggressive behavior if they're being abused, while others may shut down and become more sad and quiet. You will usually be able to tell that something has changed because their personality is different.
If your child suddenly starts to put up a fight when it's time to leave them with their babysitter, that could be another warning sign, particularly if they never had problems being left with that (or any) sitter in the past.
Separation anxiety is normal at certain developmental stages, and a child crying when you leave isn't necessarily a sign they're being spanked or abused. You know your child better than anyone and know what kind of behavior is outside their normal range.
In my opinion, spanking is an outdated discipline technique that needs to be done away with.
Many reputable studies have shown that spanking a child has many short-term and long-term effects on their well-being. Hitting a child can be a traumatic event that leaves an emotional mark for the rest of their lives.
I feel that parents should have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to babysitters spanking their children. Let your sitter know upfront that spanking is not acceptable in your home, and offer them alternative discipline techniques to employ instead.
If your sitter still ends up spanking your child, or you have seen warning signs in your child, that should be grounds for firing them immediately.
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The Perfect Gift For Your Babysitter
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- Matthew Taylor, Kidsit Founder