Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Alice Miller, Physical Punishment, Ideology, and Reasoned Approaches to Parenting

On a number of recent occasions, I’ve come up against statements and ideas ascribed to Alice Miller, the late Swiss psychoanalyst. As Neil Samuels noted in a comment on one of my posts about physical punishment, Miller attributed war and other distressing actions and propensities of adults to their childhood experiences of punishment. I haven’t read all of Miller’s work, most of which is popularized and non-empirical in nature, but my impression from what I have read is that she argues strongly against all forms of physical punishment and categorizes together everything from a smack with the open hand onward, considering all of these behaviors to be deleterious. (If I’m wrong about this, no doubt I will receive speedy correction.)

I think there are many reasons to keep physical punishment to a minimum. An obvious one is that an incensed parent with an angry child may lose control and do physical harm. A less obvious one is that physical punishment may simply escalate everyone’s anger and make it more difficult to get the situation under control. Physical punishment may also substitute ineffectively for explanations and advice about how to behave. (There are a dozen more good reasons, but that’s not my topic just now.)

My concern in this post is to focus on the outcomes for parent and child of choosing one or another among the range of disciplinary methods, including both rewards and punishments of various kinds. (Negative reinforcement is not the same as punishment and does not lend itself well to use in everyday situations.) I think it is possible to consider what methods work best in specific circumstances and to use a reasoned approach to choice.

Miller, on the other hand, is primarily an ideologue. Her claims are based on a belief system that lacks empirical support, as are the claims of her companion-in-ideology, Lloyd DeMause, one of the founders of the “psychohistory” school that claims profound, although undemonstrated, effects of prenatal events. DeMause, Miller, and others have concluded that cause-and-effect relationships are plausible, not in the light of empirical work about families, but on the basis of statements by people like Frank Lake and Stanislav Grof, whose understanding of early development is founded on experiences with LSD. (These people were also strong though perhaps indirect influences on Nancy Verrier.)

I argue that an empirical, pragmatic approach is a more desirable way to think how people should act toward children, than an ideological one is. My reasoning is that there are multiple factors that help determine the outcome of any adult actions toward children, so it is unlikely that we can name a single factor and a single mechanism that have the same outcome for all children in all circumstances. An ideological approach argues that the truth is the same for all.

Here are some factors that seem to make a difference to children’s reactions to physical punishment:

1. Cultural differences: A smack on the bottom has a different meaning and therefore effect on children who have often seen other children get smacked than it does for those who have never seen such a thing and/or have heard it mentioned in discreet, horrified tones. There are great differences between cultural groups in the use of and attitudes toward physical punishment. Some groups would never dream of striking a child or using any other physical approach. Others, like many African-Americans, believe it is the obligation of parents, grandparents, and close family friends to employ physical punishment regularly. When a social group approves of the use of physical punishment, the children of that group do not respond as negatively to their experiences of mild punishment as do children whose group strongly disapproves.


2. Age: As a general rule, Europeans and North Americans believe that physical punishment is inappropriate for infants under a year of age and for older children and adolescents, but that well-thought-out physical punishments may be effective and suitable for many children from about age 2 to age 5. The reasoning about infants is that these children are too young to understand rules or to be expected to control their own behavior much, and that punishment may teach them to avoid adults at a time in development when their socialization depends on a lot of contact. The thinking about older children and adolescents is that physical punishment offers them challenges to physical fighting such that the child may win, or the combat become so serious that someone is hurt or the child runs away from home; in addition, many laws about child abuse would classify physical punishment of adolescents as abusive in itself.

Preschoolers, on the other hand, are capable of learning rules and regulating their behavior within reason, but are impulsive, over-confident, and able to hurt themselves and others unless carefully trained. Careful supervision and cue-ing of behavior can do a great deal, but many preschoolers show undesirable behaviors (like running into the street, or hitting each other, pets, baby brothers or sisters, or their parents) that are quite difficult to correct without the use of physical punishment. Balancing the possible consequences of those present behaviors against the long-term effect of punishment suggests that for everyone’s health and safety, brief, mild physical punishment may be an excellent choice. Many parents today attempt to use “time-out” methods but are unable to keep the child in the “time-out” chair or room; physical punishment as a back-up on a few occasions is likely to make it possible to transition to “time-out” alone.


3. Temperament: Children’s constitutionally-determined personalities may have strong influences on their responses to physical punishment. Some children have relatively little response to pain or other strong stimuli, and in my opinion should NOT be physically punished because of the temptation the adult may feel to escalate the punishment until the child seems to notice it. Others are extremely sensitive, and in fact are so overwhelmed by almost any kind of punishment that they forget what they are being punished for. However, some are attentive to physical sensations, but at the same time can notice and understand the adult’s admonitions and learn effectively what to do or not to do.

I believe these differences in children’ s responses to physical punishment, when coupled with the complete lack of anything but proof by assertion that physical punishment experiences are responsible for war and other social evils, lead us to only one sensible conclusion. That conclusion is that no single rule about punishment of children is applicable across the board. Parents need to consider carefully the characteristics of a child, the family’s social group and attitudes, and the goals they are trying to achieve through punishment or any other action. (This consideration, of course, has to happen during a calm time, not as the child pulls away from the parent and heads into traffic again.) The sense of righteousness one receives from ideology is much stronger than a reasoned approach can give, but I would suggest that a pragmatic, reasoned parenting mode is far more likely to produce happy children, families, and societies.

22 comments:

  1. I didn't realize Miller had gone that far, but I've only read a few of her books.
    So, let's see, physical punishment CAN be neutral in terms of harm for kids between the ages of one and twelve, as long as they're not too sensitive, or too insensitive, and toddlers need it to learn not to hurt anybody.
    I would suggest that many (I SO want to say 'most,' but I don't have the data) toddlers learn this hurting behaviour from the people who are physically punishing them. No?
    I would also suggest that ideological views are difficult to avoid and 'punishment, no' seems safer and a better default than 'punishment, yes'for lots of reasons.

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  2. Miller is not the only person to have declared Austrian and German child-care beliefs of the late 19th century to have been an abusive system, in which punishment of any kind had a position that formed part of the entire abusive approach, designed to intimidate and oppress children.

    I didn't say physical punishment was neutral between ages 1 and 12, although that's what laws often say. I said it could be helpful between 2 and 5. In my opinion, if a parent is finding that a child older than 5 responds only to physical punishment, it's time to re-think the plan and to find qualified help (i.e., no life coaches or similar).

    I know you would suggest that aggression is learned. That's a position that has been taken frequently from the behaviorist days onward. However, just think a bit about the natural history of aggressive behavior, as observable when you care for infants and toddlers or spend much time in nonparental child care settings.

    From the time that babies are able to control their movements, they do things that have the potential for hurting other people. For instance, most nursing babies bite their mothers at some point, and even gums can be very painful to the nipple. Babies kick you in the face when you're changing their diapers and stick their fingers up your nose as they explore your face. The baby doesn't intend to cause pain, nor does it understand that someone else experiences pain. It may even find it funny that you jump or flinch when hurt.

    Toddlers change this behavior to something more instrumental as they develop a desire for autonomy and don't want their diapers changed, don't want to take the medicine they need, do want to grab someone's glasses or earrings. Parents use physical force to accomplish things they feel the baby needs to have done or to prevent things from being broken or themselves from being hurt. My bet is that babies learn to use physical force (not necessarily hitting or biting, but including those) from these ordinary care routines, which they would rather avoid.

    As toddlers mature, they begin to understand that others can experience pain or displeasure, and when angry they think this is a pretty good idea. If they keep on thinking that their anger justifies hurting someone, they will not do well in society, and we begin to teach them alternate ways to express anger and achieve their goals-- using words, for instance. But it's easier to hit people, in anger or just in play, and many parents with the best intentions in the world find that their patient admonitions and demonstrations do not do the whole job of getting the child to stop hitting or biting, but one or two episodes of mild physical punishment do.. (I'll always remember one of my children saying after I smacked him for hitting me painfully in the face: "No hit Mommy!". He never did it again.)

    An important point here is that the child's hurting of others comes BEFORE the physical punishment for it. It may have been learned from other forms of physical force, but not from the punishment.

    I agree that if socialization can be done without physical punishment, that's admirable.It probably can be done for some families in some circumstances, and more power to them. However, I think it's a better idea for parents to think about their goals and the methods available, and to make a reasoned choice (which they can change if it doesn't work well) rather than to adopt a simple mantra that is supposed to govern a complex process.

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  3. (I'll always remember one of my children saying after I smacked him for hitting me painfully in the face: "No hit Mommy!". He never did it again.)
    While this little anecdote is mildly charming it does little to show the long term effects of hitting a child. This incident sounds as though you may have been out of control (smacked) and your child's response begs the answer "I can because I'm bigger".

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  4. No, of course it says nothing about the long-term effects. I put it in the post because it is an example of real-world child and adult behavior, also because people like to read stories.

    As a matter of fact, I can because I'm bigger, because I can see what will happen down the road if he doesn't stop hitting people, and because society assigns to me the responsibility of socialization. I too was initially convinced that I could bring about this needed behavior change without using force, but I did not succeed. I do still think that in theory it should be possible to manage without force, but things may not work in that "pure" way when a parent must also earn the living, care for other children, and so on, rather than spending the whole time in anticipation of the need to re-direct some oncoming action of one child's.

    Like other practical enterprises, childrearing is usually a matter of choosing the "least worst" option that will give a needed outcome. Physical force, in the form of mild physical punishment, unwanted diaper changes, and administration of medicine, may sometimes be the "least worst" path to choose.

    [Are you thinking that "begging the question" can be modulated to "begging the answer", and it means "requires the answer"? Not so. "Begging the question" means avoiding the question. ]

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  5. "Physical force, in the form of mild physical punishment, unwanted diaper changes, and administration of medicine, may sometimes be the "least worst" path to choose." False analogy.

    begs the answer "I can because I'm bigger"

    Begs the answer means precisely avoiding the answer. Which you did.

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  6. Is avoiding the answer different from avoiding the question? Which question or answer do you think I avoided?

    Also, why do you think the analogy to other uses of physical force is a false one?

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  7. I would like to go back here and revisit this thread, which began two years ago. It is extremely vital as it demonstrates many misconceptions that attempt to shamelessly serve as an excuse for the perpetuation of what in no uncertain terms is child abuse under the guise of "child rearing practices" and to borrow the title from Dr. Miller's brilliant book, "For your own Good."

    When you make the apologia,

    "1. Cultural differences: A smack on the bottom has a different meaning and therefore effect on children who have often seen other children get smacked than it does for those who have never seen such a thing and/or have heard it mentioned in discreet, horrified tones. There are great differences between cultural groups in the use of and attitudes toward physical punishment. Some groups would never dream of striking a child or using any other physical approach. Others, like many African-Americans, believe it is the obligation of parents, grandparents, and close family friends to employ physical punishment regularly. When a social group approves of the use of physical punishment, the children of that group do not respond as negatively to their experiences of mild punishment as do children whose group strongly disapproves."

    Yes, indeed they "do not respond as negatively to their experience of mild punishment...." as they have been brain-washed (ideologically) taught and carry forward that pandemic ("For your Own Good.") under many generations of support of abusive ideological practices
    to their children and their children's children. Your justification for what is simply, essentially, quid pro quo is Alarming as you are euphemistically watering it down to the "particular culture and associated beliefs" rather than the universal fact that it is criminal and physically and psychically harmful and Must, in NO UNCERTAIN terms, be condemn for the Lie it is, for its wanton criminality sitting nicely ensconced (steeped) behind the perpetuation of myth, per culture.

    "2,..."The reasoning about infants is that these children are too young to understand rules or to be expected to control their own behavior much, and that punishment may teach them to avoid adults at a time in development when their socialization depends on a lot of contact. The thinking about older children and adolescents is that physical punishment offers them challenges to physical fighting such that the child may win, or the combat become so serious that someone is hurt or the child runs away from home; in addition, many laws about child abuse would classify physical punishment of adolescents as abusive in itself."

    So, in other words, and let's speak in a more transparent and less cloaked manner, shall we, by being frightened and intimidated into submission "they" are learning a most invaluable "moral lesson" under the pedagogy of, "GIve a child an inch s/he will take a mile." They are learning to curb a potential lack of empathy by experiencing its non-empathic ramifications first hand (as toddlers or older) under the guise you need to learn limits and "For Your own Good" under the gentle smack on the rear by their loving elders/primary caregivers. Absolute BS!

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    1. If you'll read more carefully, you'll see that I'm attempting to analyze attitudes and practices of physical punishment as they are applied to children of different ages, as well as the rationales people use and the outcomes they expect. In my opinion, although physical punishment can in some-- perhaps many-- cases be "wantonly criminal" ,this is something we can't figure out unless we think about a full range of factors that determine parents' motives and children's responses.

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    2. Jean, you see however, that is not just "examining" that is examining with the thought that a pin prick (i.e., occasional "smack on the face for wayward behavior ) might not be comparable to a stab wound and therefore if we examine on a case by case basis as well as per cultural differences,we would come up with a much more fair assessment rather than my "sweeping ideological statement" that any situation and use of physical force to instill an understanding of boundaries values morals; curb inappropriate behaviors is wrong. Isn't it fascinating that it is dependent upon parent's actual motives (i.e. teaching the sometimes out of control aggressive wayward child a lesson) and child's responses (whether they "get it" or not). If I gently smack my spouse for transgression of certain basic morals and values and she, while not "injured" benefits from this lesson I suppose an argument could be made that the lesson (since words and reasoning were formerly not successful) now a success.. There is truly NO difference. The difference lies in that our children are entirely dependent and vulnerable and therefore to act since they are in a sense "our possessions" gives us, we feel, the inalienable right to do so without without fear of incrimination contingent upon the parents motive. We would not find it acceptable to give a gentle smack to our spouse, yet under the pedagogy, "For Your Own Good" we have a different set of values and responsibilities to
      our children, where in certain cases if certain aggressive behaviors, etc., are not curb can turn into little monsters.

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    3. Children are not only dependent and vulnerable, but cognitively immature, and they need to be socialized if they are to form part of a social world that's at all pleasant to live in.

      They don't want to be immunized or taken to the dentist, but we do these things because we are actually capable of knowing what's "for their own good" to some extent. Making appropriate decisions about these things is not a right but an obligation, and one that many of us would like to escape at times!

      In the same way, we as parents have an obligation to guide children to behave appropriately toward others and to resist temptation, "for their own good" as well as for everyone else's good. I don't say this always or even often requires physical punishment to accomplish, but I refuse to accept the idea that it can always be accomplished without such.

      When it comes to factors that might cause aggressive or antisocial behavior, I am much more concerned with non-physical but emotionally-abusive actions like isolating or terrorizing children, and with "intrusive parenting" as described by Brian Barber.

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    4. "Children are not only dependent and vulnerable, but cognitively immature, and they need to be socialized if they are to form part of a social world that's at all pleasant to live in."

      That is almost verbatim saying, that children
      are potential little monsters if we do not enforce proper child rearing practices, which may or may not include physical correction (smack, spanking) on occasion.

      First of all children are not cognitively immature but emotionally and empathically receptive. It is precisely pleasurable dyadic emotional interactions that guides, set the foundations and maturation of prefrontal cortex development. Now, if the parent allows the child to have "free rein" (an unfortunate loaded term) and do whatever without engagement, without providing a safe and ongoing basis, opportunities for continual open reflection/conversation this is equally abusive.

      "They don't want to be immunized or taken to the dentist, but we do these things because we are actually capable of knowing what's "for their own good" to some extent. Making appropriate decisions about these things is not a right but an obligation, and one that many of us would like to escape at times!"

      That is a terribly unfortunate non-sequitur . Taking a child for flu shots or the dentist is not the same thing, and it is extremely abhorrent to me that you would place it in the same bin as an occasional, "for your own good" smack on face or the buttocks. Even a child of 18 months or earlier KNOWS the difference. The primary caregiver is there to comfort his/her child after the frightening experience of haircuts, flu-shots and the dentist. In the other instance the primary caregiver who should be a source of ineffable and unquestionable trust is directly acting in violent manner (no matter which way you spin it) under your ideology which of course has its roots for centuries, across most cultures, "For Your Own Good."

      Now if the child begins to effectively understand that s/he has acted in an inappropriate manner then you would doubtlessly view that as a first step or type of success. How is your views of Spare the rod and spoil the child" or "Give a child an inch and s/he will take a mile."

      The idea of no lasting effects or the illusory nature of repression, that you speak of elsewhere is unfounded. It is very well documented beyond dispute that many mass murderers either of Ted Bundy caliber or up-ing the ante, a Hitler and Saddam Hussein, et al have made others pay for the crimes that were inflicted upon them under the rightful correction of Child rearing practices."

      No, this of course does not mean that everyone will attain such infamous glory as the above with hitting, but the very notion that physical correction does not have a lasting effect and is is in fact a core violation of trust and lends itself to the (unquestioned) perpetuating view of the deprecating nature of children is unmistakable.

      The child despite what in my opinion and others is a distorted and somewhat populist view, is not a partner in a transaction. S/he is completely dependent (especially at the ripe old age of two years old) upon positive interactions. That violation of primary caregiver acting in a violent manner (as much as you would like to view it in many instances as incidental and necessary) actually sets up the conditions of mistrust. No doubt you would say that it does not have any lasting damage (pointing to your own children and many others, including yourself) but I would beg to differ. It provides the resounding message that "might is right" that children are in part not knowing, cognitively immature and in a very real sense a tabula rasa. Now, if you hit your child you need to apologize that what you did was not right rather the complete and absolute distorted pedagogy, again, For your own good."

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    5. Really, you think children are not cognitively immature? I'd like to know how you reach that conclusion. Most people working in the field would hold that they are not only immature, but so different in their thinking abilities from adults that they can be considered, as Piaget put it, "cognitive aliens".

      In thinking over your arguments, I have to conclude that you have bought into a simplistic psychoanalytic position, like Alice Miller. You appear to attribute all personality characteristics to learning from early social experience, and you are convinced that aggression must be learned. In other words, you are the one bringing the tabula rasa concept into this.

      I would suggest that aggression in response to painful or frustrating events is unlearned, but that people learn to choose ways of behaving in response to such impulses. For example, how do children learn to respond with kindness to another person's discomfort? Young children often respond by laughing or even striking the person who seems distressed--- expressions of pain and unhappiness are very complex stimuli that can be unnerving even to adults. Ideally,people learn to respond to a distressed person by comforting rather than shouting, laughing,or running away, and much of that learning results from the modeling of caregivers. Others learn in the same way to attack anyone who is weak or frightened. But, the anger component of the initial response was there to begin with, and can be seen in infants who have never been punished in any way. You don't get rid of aggression by eliminating all punishment (or even just all physical punishment)-- it will never go away-- and the point is not to eliminate it but to re-direct behavior that may follow aggressive impulses. That happens gradually during the course of childhood , and can occur perfectly well even though parents occasionally use might to enforce right. Everyone has to learn the lesson that what others do may not be right or possible for oneself to do; the policeman can arrest me, but I can't arrest him, and my employer can fire me,but I can't fire him.

      As for perpetuating unquestioned views, I'm afraid that's what your position is doing. Try thinking about multiple factors that can help decide whether in a given case, a given level of physical punishment is appropriate--- appropriate, that is, in terms of a child's developmental outcome, not in terms of a belief system.

      Incidentally, isn't manipulating the child by "positive interactions" just as much a use of might as spanking is? If we weren't the clever big people who had the bag of gumdrops or knowledge of when to hug or say "good girl", we wouldn't be able to do our positive things.

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    6. "Really, you think children are not cognitively immature? I'd like to know how you reach that conclusion. Most people working in the field would hold that they are not only immature, but so different in their thinking abilities from adults that they can be considered, as Piaget put it, "cognitive aliens".

      I have been working in the field for the last fourteen years with toddlers diagnosed (often misdiagnosed) with ASD. What I said in part was an attempt to get you define and place into context per our discussion, "cognitively immature." I suspect how you are defining "cognitively immature" is part of a now antiquated and inaccurate bifurcated view ( i.e., primitive emotions of child versus later rational thought). This is no longer valid as it was say fifty years ago. We can begin with Piaget's now premature perception of the child's ability to understand basic preoperational to operational concepts, cause/effect, I press button light goes on or bell goes off (but did not go far enough as S. Greenspan has pointed out, rather mother smiles baby smiles back, thus cause/effect learn in co-affect gesturing) to Theory of mind. Now, appreciating perspective from the viewpoint of other (or shared perspective) is more to the point here.

      Now your thinking is that young children lack perspective taking,consequently are "cognitively immature" and thus in need of the proper rearing corrective maternal and paternalistic hand to properly guide, direct and redirect the "child's behaviors." Essentially, the parents are there to help guide and curb the toddlers subcortical dominance or over active limbic system, amygdala communicating with the out of whack hypothalamus.and associated adrenal and pituitary functions. We can also entertain here the selfish or angry gene concept that idiots like Dawkins believe that we are all born with. Without this (basic moral moral) guidance (your view) the ability to unlearn later aggression or rash impulse become more difficult. Now, they are not cognitive aliens. Let us invert this and say, they are emotionally and empathically receptive. It is loving nurturing attachment and engagement around their natural impulses; attributing purpose meaning and intentionality (rather than redirecting, for example, in the simplistic language of ABA, inappropriate to appropriate behaviors) that help in the Development of prefronal lobes, executive functioning, praxis, which later includes logical critical thinking, grey area thinking, comparative thinking; thinking off an internalized set of values and so forth. It is precisely the nurturing of the emotions and embracing of the child natural intent or affect (and neither re-directed behaviors, either of the CBM or applied behavioral and/or moral guidance/redirection) that engenders the foundations of the child's healthy sense of "self-with-other." This point is crucial, yet often missed, as it is Not the curbing of child's immature or negative impulses but the deeper fact of the embracing of the emergence of the child's simple to complex diverse affective states that enables rational thought and moral boundaries to occur. The emotions (through, don't have the space to get into here, two-way dyadic emotional problem solving with primary caregivers) that guides bio-psycho-socially the maturation of the prefrontal cortex or executive functioning. The key words here are embracing and engaging rather than in an infantile manner wagging a finger and "re-directing behaviors, either in typical or non-typical (ASD) primary caregiver/child dyadic development.

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    7. "In thinking over your arguments, I have to conclude that you have bought into a simplistic psychoanalytic position, like Alice Miller. You appear to attribute all personality characteristics to learning from early social experience, and you are convinced that aggression must be learned. In other words, you are the one bringing the tabula rasa concept into this."

      Fascinating, that you would characterize Alice Miller's psychoanalytical position as simplistic. Again, infants/toddlers (and older) learn from the neuronal connections that are made from infancy forward through primary caregiver nurturing based practices or lack thereof. The bulk of the enormous plasticity of those synaptic connections are made during the first several years. We often (those who follow a Developmental rather than behavioral based approach) see when there are classical biological based challenges, such as in ASD that by not "redirecting" what appears (our unconscious conditioned knee jerk reaction) as inappropriate verses appropriate behaviors but rather by joining in with the child's world. I am firmly convinced that many adults including so many practitioners in the field because of layers of defenses, repression, in childhood instrumentally mitigates against enacting a more Developmental based approach (i.e., children should be seen and not heard, or modern day version of this; also give a child an inch s/he take a mile; give a child with ASD an inch and s/he take 10 miles).

      It is only when we as adults learn how to slow down and emotionally and empathically connect. For example, Attributing intentionality , purpose and meaning to the child's actions (other than self or other injurious) that we begin to clinically and meaningfully deepen affect reciprocal attachment and engagement. Circles of communication begin to form. What appeared to be a lack of receptive understanding or more than typical cognitive deficit is often our own inability (as adults to put into practice often because of our own repression/theory of mind with our own children) to slow down and emotionally connect and build the foundations of functional emotional development.

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    8. "I would suggest that aggression in response to painful or frustrating events is unlearned, but that people learn to choose ways of behaving in response to such impulses. For example, how do children learn to respond with kindness to another person's discomfort?"

      By primary caregivers empathizing with them, with their experiences By forming early on the affect reciprocal attachment and deepening engagement; child learns cause and effect as well as empathic awareness not by pulling a string and bell rings but a smile begets a smile a frown a frown, etc . A very nuanced moment to moment process essentially non-verbal. which forms the foundation of meaningful two-way engagement, supporting the child's autonomy, emerging sense of self with other which in turn allows a separation from primitive all or nothing limbic based reactions, the emergence of idea or symbol formation and then the ability to verbally, pragmatically, use verbal language. It is in that back and forth bonding that forms the foundations of empathy (i.e., I know that you know that I know...) that the further maturation of the executive functions (prefrontal lobes) occurs, eventually comparative thinking, reflective thinking, grey area thinking and so forth. It is the affective or emotional foundations that lead the way, that guide development, that procures emotional and deep empathic thinkers.

      Young children often respond by laughing or even striking the person who seems distressed--- expressions of pain and unhappiness are very complex stimuli that can be unnerving even to adults..

      This only holds water with respect to children who have been brought up unfortunately millions continue to be in non supportive, non-nurturing environments. The lessons of bonding or empathy are learned from infancy onward. It either happens or it doesn't. If it doesn't then the extreme likelihood of acting out" or contingent upon the psychological dynamic of the child withdrawing increases exponentially. The acting out is often a transference of the aggression of the parents not connecting with the child and thus the child not feeling heard,validated communicated with and can communicate openly without fear of reprisal or repercussion often results in the above.

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    9. "Ideally,people learn to respond to a distressed person by comforting rather than shouting, laughing,or running away, and much of that learning results from the modeling of caregivers. Others learn in the same way to attack anyone who is weak or frightened. But, the anger component of the initial response was there to begin with, and can be seen in infants who have never been punished in any way."

      By the anger component there from the moment of birth, one can only imagine that you are referring to the utterly false proposition of the selfish aggressive or angry genes that we are all born with. That is entirely unfounded.In fact entirely nonsense.

      "You don't get rid of aggression by eliminating all punishment (or even just all physical punishment)-- it will never go away-- and the point is not to eliminate it but to re-direct behavior that may follow aggressive impulses."

      It is not about re-directing behaviors. It is you as an adult acting less to the externalizing behavior and instead beginning to (more empathically, hence theory of Mind) understand the language behind the behavior(s). For example, the difficulty that the child might have in accessing and openly communicating thoughts, feelings, emotions and your responsibility to make it safe and encouraging for that child to 1) Gain access and 2) You (the adult) not feeling (unadmittedly) threatened.

      "That happens gradually during the course of childhood , and can occur perfectly well even though parents occasionally use might to enforce right. Everyone has to learn the lesson that what others do may not be right or possible for oneself to do; the policeman can arrest me, but I can't arrest him, and my employer can fire me,but I can't fire him."

      Magnificent! You mean, to borrow the well title, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed." We learn to humbly show deference (or violently act out) against those who hold power over us, whether it be abusive child-rearing practices or local or national governments. I am sure that those who hold power in North Korea would adamantly concur with your perspective.

      Fortunately, although that sometimes takes time and money one can bring charges in the court of law against the policeman who unjustly stopped you, did a strip search or arrested you and who in turn have formal charges brought up against the nice police officer and duly be arrested. Equally, one can bring charges against one's employer for unfair firing based upon discrimination what ever, and regain one's position and/or back pay and damages.

      Unfortunately, the silent screams of children against the abusive practices of their caregivers have had a more difficult go at it but even that has fortunately changed and continues to change from decades ago, where a parent hitting their child was viewed as strictly a personal family matter, fortunately today it is viewed as a crime..

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    10. "As for perpetuating unquestioned views, I'm afraid that's what your position is doing. Try thinking about multiple factors that can help decide whether in a given case, a given level of physical punishment is appropriate--- appropriate, that is, in terms of a child's developmental outcome, not in terms of a belief system."

      Physical punishment is abuse and/or psychological/emotional deprivation. It is NOT acceptable, Period. It must always be condemned and viewed as a criminal act, just as spousal abuse is. This is NOT relative to one's cultural, personal belief systems and in fact does impact moderately to severely a child's developmental outcome, in terms of healthy integrated functional-emotional development.

      "Incidentally, isn't manipulating the child by 'positive interactions' just as much a use of might as spanking is? If we weren't the clever big people who had the bag of gumdrops or knowledge of when to hug or say "good girl", we wouldn't be able to do our positive things."

      The fact that you would relativize or conflate the two I find extremely unfortunate. Conflating the two in the same breath or in such a singularly reductionistic manner seems a bit perverted to me, even if to simply make a point.. First of all, it is NOT about manipulation but rather sincere warmth, engagement, trust and interaction. These are not just empty or fanciful adjectives. They are the building blocks, the cornerstones that help construct all healthy primary caregiver/infant, toddler development. Despite your deprecating view here (or implied, unless the proper "discipline is employed") of children as limbic controlled potentially aggressive little monsters, it is often rather the out of touch out of tune adults because of their own experiences which indeed do include repression that often prevents them to learn exactly how to read the language behind the "external presenting behaviors" rather than abreact.

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    11. Neil, I've published all your comments, as they may be of interest to other readers. However, I don't propose to post any more unless they contain more information. You are depending on proof by assertion to put across your two main points: 1) Humans are not innately inclined to anger or aggression (why do you think this? It's not good enough to just call it nonsense). 2) All forms of punishment are child abuse, a term which you haven't defined separately from this statement, and which you may be using only to mean "what I don't like".

      I give you full credit for having read Greenspan and so on, but you surely can't think that he thought young children were at the same cognitive level as adults.

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    12. Neil Samuels, I received your two lengthy comments, but I am not going to post them, as they contain no new arguments about whether humans have an innate capacity for aggression, and because you made an inappropriate personal remark about me.

      Unfortunately I am not able to post only a portion of your comment, but I would like to respond to your statement that it is not abusive to shout and frighten a child in an attempt to keep them away from a hot stove, or to spank a child who goes into the street, following this action with an apology. I certainly agree that these acts are not abusive in any ordinary sense of the word, and the good intention of the punisher presumably removes their moral repugnance.
      I would point out, though, that under ideal circumstances (when a parent has plenty of time and energy) these would not be considered ideal child management strategies. If the issue is actually teaching the child something, a minimum of emotional upset is a preferable way to establish learning and memory. However, most parents today are multi-tasking and practical considerations make ideal strategies hard to pursue.

      I want to remind you, and any readers who are following this discussion,of my actual position about punishment, as I've written about it on this blog. I recommend minimum use, but if punishment is used it needs to be very close in time to the "naughtiness" to be effective. Delayed punishment is worse than useless. In addition, I've pointed out that both children and adults interpret punishment in different ways in different cultures, and there is little evidence that occasional experiences of mild physical punishment in the toddler and preschool years are harmful.

      As for my own actions, I too have held that child-rearing without physical punishment is the ideal. I have pointed out, though, that I was unable to use other management methods to stop one of my children from hitting me occasionally. One day, he hit me in the face quite painfully, and without intending to I smacked him once. He put his hands on his bottom and said quietly "No hit mommy" and did not do it again, ever. I believe that smack was effective because I had stated the message many times before, because the punishment was within a second after the unwanted behavior, and because it was not a hard blow or accompanied by frightening behavior on my part (so was much less emotionally arousing than it might have been). I should point out, by the way, that as a single parent I was without adult back-up to help convey a message about behavior, and this is of course a situation in which many parents find themselves, and one in which they need to consider all their options for bringing up a child who will be a useful member of society.

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    13. No, Neil, really, I can't keep on with you saying the same things over and over. I'm sure you can find some other forum. I am working to a deadline right now and can't take time to do this. I would suggest that you read Robert Plomin about genetic factors in antisocial behavior, and that if you want to be constructive you can describe, in detail and with practical applications, how you propose that parents work to make all children grow toward being good citizens without any physical coercion or punishment whatsoever.

      As for the bonobos, species differences are enormous, and you can't pick another species because you like its ways and declare that this is how humans can be. You might want to read my comments on this blog from a couple of years ago, discussing how Harlow might have had very different results if he had chosen a different monkey species.

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  8. "3, Temperament: Children’s constitutionally-determined personalities may have strong influences on their responses to physical punishment. Some children have relatively little response to pain or other strong stimuli, and in my opinion should NOT be physically punished because of the temptation the adult may feel to escalate the punishment until the child seems to notice it. Others are extremely sensitive, and in fact are so overwhelmed by almost any kind of punishment that they forget what they are being punished for...

    However, some are attentive to physical sensations, but at the same time can notice and understand the adult’s admonitions and learn effectively what to do or not to do."

    So, again, in other words, if the child is particularly sensitive-and attentive then the (potential) benefit of (albeit mild) physical punishment, under the pedagogy of the fourth commandment, "Honor thy parents", can indeed go avery long way in keeping a curb on future potential "a moral " or bad behaviors and promoting appropriate behaviors (especially if done, "administered" properly, in moderation). The child stands to gain an inarguable understanding of the inexorable will of the parents and cultural beliefs with respect to right, wrong, basic morals, and so forth.

    You have magnificently made a case for the unabashed diseased and pedagogical beliefs that promote the virtues of repression and violence!

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    1. I don't think a sermon or an appeal to ideology is a substitute for reasoned discussion, but apparently you do.

      Curiously, both my sons, now adults and fathers themselves, state that they don't remember that I ever punished them in any way,physical or otherwise! I have no idea what to make of this, but no doubt Alice Miller would say that their lives were so devastatingly traumatic that they have Repressed It All. For my part, I'd be more inclined to take this as an example of the fact that a parent's use of punishment is not necessarily associated with a child's experience of being punished, and a parent's rejection of punishment is not necessarily followed by the child's thinking he has not been punished. I.e., it's not so simple.

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