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Author: spatton

Will Physical Punishment Stop Black Kids From Killing Their Parents?

“These kids today lack discipline and they’re killing the parents!”

This is one of the popular myths I hear all the time from Black folks on social media when discussions about physical punishment come up. Far too many of us have been raised to believe anything that supports beating Black children no matter how far-fetched and illogical it is. When I hear this argument that if you don’t beat your kids they will kill you, I always scream, “SHOW ME THE DATA!”

We live in a racist country that pathologizes every aspect of Black life, and that racism is smog that we breathe in constantly. In our conversations, Black folks apply some of those same pathologies to our children. Arguments in favor of physical punishment are generally rooted not only in the fundamental belief that whuppings will serve as a protective measure from white racism, but also that our children are inherently deviant and potentially criminal. And so Black children must be contained or controlled or civilized through violence.

Because I’m sick of this kids-killing-parents argument, I decided to do a little research. Here are the facts.

There is no surge of “these kids today” killing their parents. According to data from the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System, and every study that has ever been done on parricide, the killing of parents and stepparents by children is a very rare occurrence. Killings of parents constitute about 1 percent of all homicides in the United States in which the victim-offender relationship is known.

The latest study I found on “parricide” reveals that between 1976 and 2007, there were an estimated 133 offenders arrested per year for killing their fathers, an estimated 113 offenders were arrested per year for killing their mothers, an estimated 50 offenders were arrested per year for killing their stepfathers, and an estimated seven offenders were arrested per year for killing their stepmothers. Contrary to popular belief, most of the offenders were not young children or teens; the average age of offenders was between 23 and 32.

Even though Black folks like to argue, “these kids today are killing their parents,” all the studies show that parricide offenders, 73% of them, are more likely to be middle to upper-class White males.  So not only is parricide a rare event in the U.S. and more likely to be committed by White males, in Black communities our children are more at risk of being killed by their parents and caretakers than being harmed by their own children.

An average of 365 Black children die annually as a result of maltreatment. This is a rate that is three times higher than for all other racial groups. Most of the fatalities that occur as a result of physical punishment are not committed by sadistic parents who torture their kids. Every district attorney I have ever talked to about these fatalities has reported that the parents who kill their children did so accidently while spanking.

When there are cases of kids killing their parents, there’s usually a backstory. Here is a list of factors I’m citing from studies on parricide.

  • Family isolated either by geography or behavior and life style from surrounding community.
  • One or both parents substance abusers, particularly alcohol.
  • Child has not been in trouble with authorities.
  • Guns are the most common form of weapon. Most commonly found in the home.
  • Child has told teachers, friends or someone about abuse.
  • Warnings have been ignored, or law enforcement, social services and other agencies repeatedly return child to abusers. •Precipitating “triggering” event, such as sibling leaving, divorce, loss of job, change in surroundings, leads to killings.
  • Crimes are ALWAYS premeditated, in the sense that abused children have thought about killing the abuser (or committing suicide) for many years.
  • Crimes are always unusually violent. “Overkill” is a hallmark of parricide.
  • Parent is often sleeping or in a defenseless position when crime occurs, which doesn’t fit legal definition of “self-defense.”
  • Kids historically get tougher sentences for killing a parent than a parent gets for killing a child – though most do NOT receive life without parole.

I started plotting to kill my adoptive mother during my pre-teens. I did so because I wanted her to stop whupping me. I was tired of being afraid. I felt voiceless, powerless, and that I had no one to turn to for protection. With each hit I grew more angry and resentful. I always promised, “The next time she hits me I’m going to wait until she goes to sleep and I’m going to stab her.” I even fantasized about tying her up and whupping her with all the objects she every used on me: belts, switches, extension cords, a broom, hot comb, and whatever else I could pick up. I share this because I believe that assaulting a child is more likely to put a child at risk of hitting or killing a parent than refraining from spanking them because 50 years worth of studies have shown that spanking can lead to aggressive behaviors and violence.

Black folks, we should be dealing with the FACTS – the horrific number of children in our communities dying each day and being facilitated through the foster care system.  We should be having serious discussions about healthier non-violent alternatives to physical punishment instead of deflecting and shutting down conversations by trafficking in racist mythologies about our children.


3 Reasons Why Black Folks Still Justify Whupping Our Kids

By June Allen

When I was a child I was terrified of being a parent. My earliest memory was being beaten by my mother. I don’t remember what provoked her, but I still have flashbacks of her raging hands and feet against my small, brown body.

When I found out I was pregnant, the fear of being just like her intensified. I believed that I was destined to harm my daughter, because of what I had experienced. Thankfully, the love I had for my unborn child drove me to break this abusive pathology.

I am so grateful to have found Dr. Stacey Patton’s work via social media. As a virtual big sister, she had my inner child’s back. I adored her honesty, empathy and fearlessness, which also empowered me as a black parent to speak.

In this piece, I share the 3 reasons we still justify whupping our children. I also reveal the tools that helped me process the layers of trauma, and the hope building my legacy of compassionate parenting.

1. We are emotionally disconnected from our bodies.
When we experience trauma, we disconnect from ourselves in order to tolerate the overwhelming pain. This can be helpful in extreme cases (like a car accident). but when the trauma is inflicted by our parents, it has devastating consequences on our relational well-being.

Disconnecting from painful emotions also robs us of the feelings that bring us joy. Over time, this leaves us feeling hollow, our souls feeling numb and empty. When we are so detached from our own humanity, we can’t empathize with our children’s pain.

During an early therapy session, I couldn’t answer the question, “So what happened to all the feelings around these experiences?” I was too numb to articulate my feelings.

Whilst we may not consciously recall our parents’ cruelty, memories linger in the unconscious mind and body. When we become parents, many cling to whuppings, making our children scapegoats for our unacknowledged trauma and buried rage. If we stopped whupping our children then we’d be left to face our own unresolved pain.

2. We don’t want to admit that our parents were abusive.
Our brains are wired for survival, so the child’s attachment process has powerful, primal ties to ensure success. When parents are violent, the unconscious mind uses denial and fantasy, to maintain the bond and protect us from the truth.

The Bible is also a convenient shaming tool, which feeds this avoidant behavior. Ephesians 6:1-2 says, ‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise.’ My parents were devout Christians, so with this scripture ringing in my ears, I understood that my pain was invisible and they could absolve themselves of any responsibility for their abusive, neglectful behavior by disguising it as a religious mandate.

When my mother lashed out and my father didn’t protect us, I learned that people who ‘loved’ me were allowed to hurt me. When I saw other black children being pinched, slapped, punched and having their hair pulled, I felt the pain as if it was happening to me. I kept myself small and lost myself time and time again, inside the narcissistic needs of others.

3. Whuppings are white supremacy on autopilot.
During my psychotherapy training, I discovered Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire, the 18th-century plantation diaries of Thomas Thistlewood, a vicious British slave owner who thrived on traumatizing the slaves to assert his power and maintain control.

His methods included raping 158 women 3,852 times; snatching young babies from their mothers to break any attachment and burning them to death over a slow fire. He punished slaves by forcing one to defecate inside the mouth of the accused, who would then be gagged for hours.

This book hit home for me, as Thistlewood’s plantation was in Jamaica where my parents were raised. My ancestors left those plantations with no emotional support, or true understanding of the psychological poison left behind to bleed inside our families in the afterlife of slavery. Seeing the names of his victims humanized the numbers, and allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of our intergenerational trauma.

The goal of white supremacy is to pass its poisonous legacy onto future generations. When we are violent towards our black children, we recycle white supremacist violence against us. When we hurt and silence our children, we feel a temporary sense of power inside a system of insane powerlessness.

With so many layers to heal around this issue, where do we begin? Compassionate parenting begins with being compassionate towards the self.

In 2009, I began working an anonymous 12 step program to begin healing. The meetings provide powerful opportunities for identification; the tools hold me through the excruciating surrender to my truth.

For the first time in my life, I experienced true kindness. I felt heard. I mattered. I was not alone. Over the years, I have built a solid network of black fellows who have now become my trusted family of choice.

I also attended therapy, which became my golden hour to unravel the layers of pain and trauma around my abusive childhood experiences. As a black man, my therapist challenged my fear of racial intimacy, and held the space for me to process the shame and self-loathing keeping me from greatness.

Compassionate parenting is a heart-centered journey of connection, growth and acceptance. As I consciously raise my daughter through each milestone, I am also given the opportunity to re-parent my own wounded inner child. While the inner work is sometimes slow and often painful, I have never hit my daughter and connect with her on a much deeper level.

My journey of recovery has now become a service, where I teach the power of racial intimacy, emotional sobriety and personal empowerment. My hope is that we commit to doing the work required to find inner peace, and return our beautiful, black children to the honored, sacred space in our families where they belong.

June Allen (@yardofgreatness), a guest contributor to Spare the Kids, is a racial wellness educator based in London, UK.  Join her for the podcast edition of this post where she shares more details, tools and insights at  


“I’ll Beat Yo’ Ass!” Thank God Kendrick Lamar Doesn’t Celebrate His Mama’s Whuppings

I finally got a chance to listen to Kendrick Lamar’s “Fear,” a feature song from his new album ‘Damn.’

The song takes us on a journey through his developmental stages of fear, beginning with his childhood at age 7, then 17, and 27. Each stage represents a window into Lamar’s awareness of how the toxic smog of white supremacy poisons Black life at every turn, especially our intimate and social relationships with each other.

Lamar’s lyrical analysis of his own life cycle reveals that Black folks never age out of fear because at each developmental milestone we are met with new amped up forms of devaluation by the state, other Black folks who are walking around as victims of unrecognized traumas, and from the people who are supposed to love us and provide a refuge from hate and violence.

In a recent Facebook post, I griped about how I hear so many Black parents sowing the seeds of fear in their children early on. I wrote:

It really unnerves me when I hear black people say, “I want my child to fear me.”


There’s already so much racist ugly in the world for them to fear. There’s already so many mean-spirited people in the world who hate and want to destroy us. Why, as their giver and nurturer of life, would you want to put yourself within that spectrum of angst and devaluation?

And from a scientific perspective, fear is a form of chronic stress that activates biochemical responses in your child’s body which moves them into maximum alert in times of threat, and they don’t always immediately return to normal levels.

Fear causes inflammation throughout the body and prompts biological changes that can affect the immune, vascular, metabolic and endocrine systems, and can prompt their cells to age more quickly. This cumulative wear and tear – known as an “allostatic load” – can negatively impact your son or daughter beyond childhood, and even the future health of their children because stress also causes genetic changes.

Fear is killing black people. And I’m not being hyperbolic. Just take a look at any report on health disparities. The foundation is often laid with the accumulation of toxic stress that begins in childhood.

The fear, the pain and damage of unresolved childhood traumas is the bitter root of most of what ails our communities: child abuse, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, misogyny, misandry, phobias, substance abuse, and dare I say so much of our political fecklessness. So many of us are walking around saying, “I turned out fine.” But really, so many of us are victims of unrecognized trauma.

If we prime our children to fear the people who love them most and teach them that obedience is survival and their greatest virtue, then how can we expect to raise future generations of young people to engage in effective resistance against our enemies?

Fear does not equal respect.

A few days later, a number of folks sent me messages on Facebook: “Did you hear Kendrick Lamar’s new song? He talks about beatings.” So I begrudgingly decided to check it out, thinking that it was going to be yet another one of those rap songs by a Black male artist thanking and celebrating his mama for hurting his body to prepare him for a cruel racist world.

Here’s that verse folks were telling me about:

“I beat yo’ ass, keep talkin’ back

I beat yo’ ass, who bought you that?

You stole it, I beat yo’ ass if you say that game is broken

I beat yo’ ass if you jump on my couch

I beat yo’ ass if you walk in this house with tears in your eyes

Runnin’ from poopoo and ‘prentice

Go back outside, I beat yo’ ass lil nigga

That homework better be finished, I beat yo’ ass

Yo’ teachers better not be bitchin’ ’bout you in class

That pizza better not be wasted, you eat it all

That TV better not be loud if you got it on

Them Jordans better not get dirty when I just bought ’em

Better not hear ’bout you humpin’ on Kiesha’s daughter

Better not hear you got caught up, I beat yo’ ass

You better not run to your father, I beat yo’ ass

You know my patience runnin’ thin

I got buku payments to make

County building’s on my ass

Tryna take my food stamps away

I beat yo’ ass if you tell them social workers he live here

I beat yo’ ass if I beat yo’ ass twice and you still here

Seven years old, think you run this house by yourself?

Nigga, you gon’ fear me if you don’t fear no one else”

I won’t dissect the entire song, but I’ll focus on that first verse because it is yet another testimony of a Black male rapper reflecting back on his mother’s cruelty and how that pain has continued to reside within his body and spirit as a grown man.   What it reveals is how a Black boy had to grow up under constant attack, on guard, and unconsciously reacting to his own repressed past.

Sadly, like many young Black males, Lamar’s first experiences with cruelty and humiliation came at the hands of his mother. But unlike other artists before him, Lamar does not celebrate his mother’s cruelty by calling her a “queen,” thanking her for the beatings, and crediting mother-perpetrated violence for his success.

Lamar is different from the Black boys and men that have for generations accepted the internalized “lie” that slavery, Jim Crow, and racist policing practices requires cruelty to protect Black children, especially males, from their own impulses. While his mother tried to conceal her cruelty to justify the beatings, a more honest truth emerges from Lamar’s lyrics: he never associated the beatings and the fear with safety and comfort and love.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Black mothers who whup their sons and terrorize them in early child do not truly realize the damage they are doing. And yet, the racist notions of Black boys as deviant and violent are ultimately reinforced by parents who are doing their best to minimize the stressful realities of poverty, racism, sexism, and inequality.

Like many folks in the Black community, his mother may have rationalized her violence against her son by calling the harsh discipline an expression of love that ultimately kept him safe and led to his success. But this kind of denial and justification, and even much of the joking about being whupped, feeds the cycle of abuse in Black communities and drives the truth about our traumas underground.

Think about Ghostface Killah’s song “Whip You with a Strap,” from his 2006 album Fishscale. He recalls his mother’s response to his temper tantrums:

“Take me across her lap, she used to whip me with a strap

When I was bad


Take me across her lap, she used to whip me with a strap
When I was bad

Picture me snotty nose sittin on my aunt’s lap

The kid like 5 or 6 shit I will curse back

I got it from the older folks sittin in the living room

Everybody had cups stylistic song boom

But then came Darryl Mack lightin’ all the reefer up

Baby caught a contact I’m trying to tie my sneaker up

I’m missing all the loops strings going in the wrong holes

It feels like I’m wobbling, look at all these afros

Soon as I thought I was good the joke’s on me

I heard a voice “get in the room, I get angry”

Sting my feet catch a tantrum

Spit, scream, fuck that

Momma shake me real hard, then get the big gat

That’s called the belt help me as I yelled

I’m in the room like (panting)”huh, huh, huh” with mad welps

Ragged out, bad belt yes her presence was felt

Then get my black ass in the bed it’s time crash out (crash out)

Take me across her lap, she used to whip me with a strap

When I was bad


Despite the alcohol, I had a great old Mama

She famous for her slaps and to this day she’s honored

But when I was a lil dude her son was a lil rude

I picked the peas off my plate and pour juice in her nigga food

Get beat, then I’d run and tell grandman “mama hit me for no reason”

She whipped me hard when I finished eatin

And felt that belt stingin after I wet that bed

Hid my drawers and start cryin, when she felt that bed

Caught another when I told her those the fake pro-keds

In the corner weavin and screamin trying to block my head (ahHH!)

Nowadays kids don’t get beat, they get big treats

Fresh pair of sneaks, punishments like have a ceas

Back then when friends and neighbors would bust that ass

And bring you back to your momma she got the switch in the stash

That’s back to back beatings

Only went outside for free lunch with welts on my legs still leakin yo

Take me across her lap, she used to whip me with a strap

When I was bad


While the cruel Black Mama is often placed on a pedestal, innocent black women ultimately become the targets of this repressed rage accumulated since boyhood. As Howard University Law School professor Reginald Robinson has noted, “that cruelty gets repressed, surfacing again as nearly autobiographical lyrics because these artists uncon-sciously need to reveal the truth of their cruel sufferings to others, and they need others like enlightened witnesses to validate their lyric-based personal histories, without at the same time directly confronting their cruel mothers.”

He further explains that these artists, who may not have been touched lovingly as children, become hyper-masculine as a defense mechanism as they relive their painful childhood experiences through their music. They’d never admit to it, but these men really want to assault the mothers who were the first to hurt and emasculate them.

It’s important to emphasize that black men are not born hating black women. It is the trauma they suffer that teaches them the need for self-preservation. But there are very few spaces for black men to talk about their trauma and pain other than through comedy, rap music, or nostalgic anecdotes about being whupped and turning out fine. Even speaking about their abusive experiences at the hands of Black women is often considered misogynistic.

I hope that folks will really listen to each verse of “Fear” and understand how the insanity of white supremacy requires the destruction of Black children physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. And the greatest trick of all is to invite their loved ones to participate in the process.

If we are ever going to become more politically effective warriors in the fight for racial justice, producing children who live with toxic fear in their body is the very last thing that Black America needs.

There Is No Difference Between Spanking and Abuse. Both Have the Same Karma.

It never fails. Every time the subject of corporal punishment is discussed, I always hear a chorus of people parroting the same line: “there’s a difference between spanking and abusing a child.” That’s because many people define abuse by visible injuries on a child’s body.

But there is no thin line between spanking and abuse. They both exist on a continuum of violence. The only difference between these two forms of violence is that one stems from a parent’s intent to teach or protect, and the other from malicious neglect. But while adults play semantics, children’s bodies do not process the violence differently based on wordplay or the intent behind the hit. Just ask a child if they can describe how a spanking better than a whupping or beating.

Fifty years worth of scientific studies has shown that all forms of hitting, even when there are no bruises or other injuries left behind, causes structural damage to a child’s developing brain, can compromise their immune system, places them at risk for delinquency and incarceration, poor intellectual, psychological, and chronic health problems later in life.

Studies of brain scans by doctors at Harvard Medical School reveal the devastating effect corporal punishment has had on young adults. The brain scans of corporally punished young adults (not subjects who were bruised or severely injured) show nearly 20 percent reduction in the volume of gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex of their brains, compared with those who were not hit.

When a child is threatened with a whupping or is hit, their body is flooded with certain stress hormones, which can damage the hippocampus, which may in turn affect their ability to cope with stress later in life. Gray matter is associated with intelligence, executive functioning, emotional regulation and memory. Harm to that region is linked to depression, alcohol and drug addiction, aggression, and other mental health disorders. Structural changes to a child’s developing brain can also cause impulsiveness, emotional volatility, and slow brain processing speed, which can contribute the likelihood of an individual ending up in jail.

A growing body of research suggests that what happens outside the child’s body can profoundly affect their biology within. When a parent threatens or hits a child, they can see the fear on a child’s face, see their body flinch or attempt to defend themselves, and hear their cries and pleading. But what they can’t see is the biochemical responses — the fight or flight response — they’ve ignited under their child’s flesh.

The hitting stops. The child stops crying. Their eyes are dry again. The heart rate is back to normal. You’ve put the belt away. Your breathing and heart rate is back to normal. But the biochemical responses that have been activated in your child’s body (from the moment you threatened the child) don’t always immediately return to normal. For the next few minutes, or even hours, the brain, liver, kidneys, heart, adrenal glands, gut and other parts of the immune system continue to cope with the stress. When stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction, or the sympathetic nervous system moves into maximum alert in times of threat, stays turned on.

The Sympathetic Nervous System moves into maximum alert in times of threat.

Let me say this again, threatening and hitting a child is a form of chronic stress that raises levels of hormones and causes inflammation throughout the body and prompts biological changes that can affect the immune, vascular, metabolic and endocrine systems, and can prompt their cells to age more quickly. This cumulative wear and tear – known as an “allostatic load” – can negatively impact an individual beyond childhood, and even the future health of their children because stress also causes genetic changes.

No wonder America is last in many categories of health and wellness throughout the industrialized world. And African Americans suffer even higher rates of chronic health problems that other racial groups in this country because of racial discrimination, poverty, bad environments, poor access to healthy food, and adverse childhood experiences, which includes the fact that the majority of black folks believe in whupping children.

So when you hit your child, to any degree and no matter the intent or whether or not it results in injury, you contribute to the rapid deterioration of their health and place them at risk for developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, joint degeneration, cancer, a lowered lifespan, and future generations of children who inherit genetic changes.

Hitting your child might get your child to act right in the short term, but are the risks to their emotional and physical wellbeing worth it in the long run?


Dear Mother Wit: My 3-Year-Old Is Hitting Me!

Dear Mother Wit, I have a 3-year-old son who hits me, scratches me, pulls my hair, throws things at me, punches and spits at me. Before my son was born I didn’t believe in spanking. I was never spanked. However, I was also a well-mannered child, the complete opposite of my son. I have tried every tactic to tame my son’s behavior such as reasoning with him and explaining why his behavior is unacceptable and the consequences for them, I’ve restrained him when necessary and I also use the time out method, I have been consistent with discipline, but nothing seems to work. Most times, my son tends to really hurt me. He has pulled hair out of my scalp, he has scratched the cornea of my eye and has caused me to lose most vision in that eye for a week. I just don’t know what else to do. Spanking seems to be the only option. What do you suggest?

Bruised & Confused

Dear Bruised & Confused:

Pinching, biting, scratching, and pulling hair is all normal behavior for toddlers because they haven’t learned how to control their emotions yet, they act out of a natural instinct, and children LOVE attention whether they get a positive or negative reaction.

You have a complicated situation. And you didn’t say, but I have to wonder: is your son witnessing or experiencing any kind of violence in your home or anyplace else? What I mean by that is, children who are around physical violence—especially those who see their parents or other adults fighting—grow up learning that this is normal and acceptable. I hope you’re not in any kind of abusive situation and that if you are, you get help right away.

Now let’s focus on your son. Your son is still a toddler at three years old. So when he feels angry or frustrated or even scared, he might hit, pull hair, and all that. And the worst thing you can do is spank or hit him (or do any of the things he’s doing to you) to punish him or to “show him how it feels.” Even though I know it can be tempting. You don’t want to hit and yell because you’ll be modeling for your son that this is an acceptable response to situations that make you angry.

You need stay calm and in control, and stop his behavior by removing him from the situation. If you have to, restrain his hands to protect yourself.

Some children hit their parent to get their attention and then we reward the behavior by teaching them that hitting is a good way to get it. But to get them stop this negative behavior you have to be consistent in your body language and tone. At a young age they don’t really understand a lot of talking so you have to firmly use simple words like “NO!” “We don’t hit!” “Hands are not for hitting.” Try doing this while holding their hands and counting backward slowly from 10. After doing this enough times your child will not like being confined and the message will catch on.

I noticed that you didn’t say when your son acts violently with you—are there things that make him angry, or is he doing these things randomly?

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and let him know that it is okay to feel mad but hitting hurts and it is not okay. Show your child what to do instead of hitting. Show him how to touch people gently and to use appropriate words to express his frustration. (Use the helpful feelings chart below) Give him positive reinforcement when he is gentle and kind.

A helpful feelings chart,

I want you to notice when your son acts like this. Write it down—take some notes with details to see if there might be a pattern. Also take him to the pediatrician and ask your doctor if there is anything going on medically or with your son’s health that could be causing this violence.

Next, think about what your son likes to do—toys or games he likes to play with, TV shows he likes to watch, things he likes to eat, etc. Explain to your son—calmly and gently—that hitting, spitting, punching, pulling hair—those are not acceptable ways to let you know if he’s feeling angry, tired, hungry, frustrated or scared. Teach him the words for those feelings, and encourage him to use them. At his age, you might also want to try a feelings chart that the two of you can use to see how he’s feeling, and then you can talk to him about better ways to handle those feelings.

Right now, your son doesn’t have healthy or safe ways to let you know what’s he’s feeling. Talk with the doctor, and if you feel helpless, ask for help. Ask if there are books you can read, videos you can watch, even classes you can take (parenting classes can really help in tough situations). The good news is that you’re not the first mother to experience this and it doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job. You just need to take control of the situation before it gets even worse.

Your son might need more gentle, affectionate, soothing touch. Find out what calms him. Hold him, rock him, and make sure he’s getting plenty of love. And he might be a child who uses his hands to express himself. Look for fun, safe ways to help him express his feelings without hurting others (or himself).

Good luck! Be sure to check back and let me know how it’s going, okay? You might learn some things that can help other parents, and that’s what this is really all about.

With love,

Mother Wit

“You Won’t Have No More Trouble Out of Her!”

A white teacher shares a powerful memory of a Black mom who whupped her daughter in front of his class 40 years ago.

For the past week, I’ve been receiving scores of emails and tweets from readers about my latest piece for The New York TimesStop Beating Black Children. Some of those messages have been positive and some of them not worth reading to the end. But one letter from a retired schoolteacher left me in stunned silence because it took me back to my own childhood. The teacher, who is now in his seventies, gave me permission to reprint his letter but asked that I not reveal his name.

Here’s what he wrote on March 16:

“Professor Patton,

My name is XXXX XXXXXX.  I am White.  I grew up in a lower middle-class Jewish home where a hand was never laid upon me as a form of discipline. I employed that same form of discipline with my own three children. 

I also possess a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, a Master’s Degree in the Psychology of Reading, am a Board Certified Reading Specialist in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania where I taught beginning in the late 1960’s for forty-years for the School District of Philadelphia, working with Black children and other minority students of color during that entire tenure in the most impoverished neighborhoods of that city where my students’ families lived in abject poverty while coming to class with more psychological, emotional and physical baggage than any child attending elementary school should be asked to carry.  Because of where I grew up and went to school, I had no meaningful contact with children of color and their families until I began my first year of teaching, which was almost my last.

During that first year I asked for the parents of one of my students who I was having difficulty teaching to come after school for a parental conference to discuss the situation.  While I was teaching my class the day of the conference, the girl’s mother walked into my classroom without announcing herself, grabbed a hold of her daughter, threw her to the floor, took an extension cord out of her pocketbook and began to beat that child until she was crying hysterically, stopped, turned to me and said, “Mr. XXXXXX, you won’t have no more trouble from her,” turned and walked out the door. 

To say I was in a state of shock would be the understatement of the year.  Viewing just what took place, never having had experienced anything like that in my life, not ever thinking that anything like that could happen, I was briefly in a state of paralysis.  When what took place finally hit me, I asked two of the other girls in the class to take the beaten girl to the nurse’s office, called the principal to explain what had just happened and then went next door to ask a teacher’s aide to watch my class when I went to the men’s room to compose myself. 

At the end of the day of wasn’t sure if teaching was the right choice as a profession for me and wondered if I would even return the next day to get my personal possessions.  What changed my mind was speaking to an older more experienced Black teacher before I left school that day who had dealt with these kinds of situations over the years and somehow convinced me that I had the makings of a great teacher, that these children needed me as much as I needed them and that I should return the next day and pick up where I had left off.  I did, and eventually went on to have a successful forty year career doing something I loved, turning down promotions to better neighborhoods in the city that were not impoverished and whose students, whose families were not living in abject poverty.

The advice that of the more experienced Black teacher was the truth: I needed to be with my first students as much as they needed me to be their teacher.  I don’t know what potential that other teacher saw in me, but she was more prescient than I could have every imagined. One thing I didn’t recover from so quickly was asking for any parents to come in to talk about their children, as at least tens years or so went by before I did again. 

I have first-hand knowledge of everything you addressed in your article and couldn’t agree with you more.  After centuries of existence, there are still so many cultural, racial, religious, ethnic and socio-economics problems that our country faces that one can’t fathom even where to begin.  As I approach the age of seventy I am sadden by what I read in the newspaper and see on the news, because it seems the stories never change, only the names and with the election of that imbecile in the White House, I can only see things growing worse than they already are. 

I can only hope that members of one of our country’s demographics grow old and go the way of the Dodo and younger generations, who are more tolerant and compassionate will rise up in a world where we don’t see everyone that doesn’t look like us as the “Other,” a phrase Malcom Gladwell coined and that the words of Martin Luther King become reality when he said, “I have a dream that our children will be judged by the strength of their character, and not the color of their skin.”  I know I will not be around to see that come to be, but everyday I’m still alive, I hope that my three grandchildren, who are biracial and multiracial, will.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Yours truly,


This letter touched me because it brought up memories from my own childhood. It forced me to remember all those times when my adoptive mother slapped me in front of my teachers when they reported that I was a disruptive chatterbox in class or that my performance was slacking. I remembered all those times when I couldn’t sit comfortably in my desk the next day after being whupped for negative comments on my report cards.

A teen who was forced to wear a shaming sign because of his poor grades.

This white male teacher’s letter made me remember a scene from fourth grade when a classmate’s mother came up to the school and beat him in front of the class with a handful of switches. Situations like this built a wall of distrust between our teachers and us. They dimmed the light in our eyes. Shut down our curiosity. Silenced us. Made us resistant to learning. Kept us from asking questions and made us fearful of making mistakes, which is required for the learning process. In our mind, teachers were the enemy who had the power to have us whupped.

I hated my white teachers for sitting back and allowing these beatings to go down. I felt that they were complicit in our abuse. How could they be okay with standing there and watching our parents slap and beat up? Why didn’t they intervene? If they knew that our bodies were going to be hurt, then why did they keep telling our parents when we messed up? Not to mention, our parents never allowed us the chance to give our side of the story. They always took our teacher’s words over ours, and sometimes our teachers really were mean or racists who shouldn’t have been teaching black children.

All these years, until I received this teacher’s poignant letter, I felt that educators were willfully complicit in the pain meted out on Black children by parents, who did not have the tools to address their children’s behaviors at school. Sometimes these parents were still holding on to their own traumas they experienced at school. Maybe their parents handled similar situations the same way. My adoptive mother was whupped at school and never got past junior high. And so she hit me out of frustration and embarrassment. She was not intellectually equipped to help me meet the challenges of school life but she felt that she could beat good behavior and good grades into me.

Parents who engage in this kind of behavior want to show their child that they are “boss.” They actually believe that they are assisting the teacher by demonstrating that they “don’t take not stuff,” and are a good, responsible Black parent. Just as enslaved parents did on plantations centuries ago.

Situations like this can escalate into serious abuse, or even fatalities. In February 2015, a Florida woman was arrested for beating her daughter over bad grades and making her wear a shaming T-shirt. A year later, 14-year-old Jalen Daniel’s parents beat him to death over bad grades. A simple Google search turns up scores of similar stories.

For a long time, I assumed that teachers never thought about the power and impact of their reports to parents. But this letter shows that at least some teachers were deeply affected. Even more telling, that scene in his classroom kept him from communicating with parents about their child’s progress for fear that his students might be beaten.

In a follow-up note, he said that he never regretted his decision to stay and teach. “Working with the kind of children I described in my letter, who were still young enough to wear an aura of innocence and trust about them and were still able to see only the good in people, was not only a joy, but a refuge from the problems I endured in my own life which paled in comparison to what that had to suffer.  I always felt and still do that helping a child is the noblest thing an adult could do . . . I can’t think of anything worth fighting for more than the lives and futures of our children.”


Dear Mother Wit: My Child Is Playing With His Poop!

Dear Mother Wit,

I’m a young mom trying to raise two young boys.  I don’t know what to do about my son’s behavior. He only does this at school.  Today he threw his poop in another stall and I soooo bad wanted to kill him but your posts keep reminding me that I could be his first bully.  Please help.

Dear frustrated Mama,

Thanks for writing.  I realize this behavior is frustrating and just straight up nasty, but don’t hurt him.  The fact is, and this may sound strange, “diaper digging” is perfectly normal behavior in young children.  Every behavior meets a need: before you punish your son, investigate.

Before we can explore some tips to help guide your son through this phase, we gotta figure out the WHY behind your son’s poo play.

When a child plays with their own poop that means he or she is struggling with attempting to master his or her own body, to control their own functions, and is quite curious about what his body is producing.  And this is actually a sign that your son is interested in exploring potty training.  Your son might be taking his poop out of the diaper because he doesn’t like the feeling of being dirty, or because his nose is stimulated by the smell, or because he is simply curious.

How old is your son, by the way?  If he is playing with his poo past age 4 or 5 then you should be concerned and talk to his pediatrician.  I did a little bit of medical reading for you and found that there might be some medical causes.  Here’s a list for you.  Write these down on a sheet of paper, take it to your pediatrician and ask him/her to check to see if your son has any of these issues:

PROTOZOAL INFECTIONS can cause rectal digging behavior.

PICA the ingestion of non-foods, may be caused by nutritional deficiencies.

ENCOPORESIS (the medical term for chronic constipation, impacted stool and soiling) causes abdominal discomfort that is relieved by rectal digging.

HEMORRHOIDS are caused by straining to evacuate the bowels, and are the source of itching and pain around the anus, which leads to anal exploration and rectal digging.

RECTAL PROLAPSE occurs when the rectum slips out of position, and can be caused by prolonged encoporesis or low muscle tone in the pelvic floor.  Symptoms include fecal incontinence and a sensation of incomplete bowel evacuation, which lead to fecal smearing behaviors.

There may also be some underlying psychological issues at play.  I’m not suggesting that this is the case in your son, but we must explore this, Mama.  Fecal smearing past age 4 or 5 may be a sign of developmental delays or post-traumatic stress.  If so, your son may be engaging in this behavior as a form of communication.

So why do some children communicate with poo?  A number of shrinks and pediatricians have explain that it does the following:

— It gives a child the sense of control over his body and environment when other areas of life are out of control.

— It gives a child a sense of ownership over his actions.

— It helps a child express feelings of anger, frustration, helplessness and powerlessness.

— Allows a child to avoid unwanted social interaction.  And since you’ve indicated that he’s only doing this at school you may want to investigate what kinds of social interactions may be going down between him and other children or with his teacher.  He may be trying to communicate that something negative is going down in that environment.

— Allows the child to comfort himself, or it may be part of an obsession that is getting out of control.

So what can you do?

1. You have to use his poop play as a teaching moment and try to calmly say, “No playing with poop. Poop stays in the diaper or in the potty. We play with toys.”  Don’t get pissed off.  If you do that then your son knows that you will get pissed off every time this happens.  So he’ll keep doing it to get a lot of attention from you.

2. Limit your son’s access to his feces. Dress him in onesies, zip-up pajamas, or overalls.  This will at least buy you a few extra minutes to respond.

3. Closely monitor his bathroom routine, changing him or her soon after pooping or peeing.  And be sure to praise him once he has successfully used the bathroom.  Often parents only give a child negative attention when things go wrong.

4. Give him something messy to play with: clay, finger paints, shaving cream, and bread dough. Give him LOTS of praise for playing with this messy stuff verses the poo.  LOL.  A child that is deprived of sensory input who is then given frequent periods of supervised play with soft or sticky substances with strong smells to satisfying the craving for odors, can be alleviated from the need to play with poo.

If your son is not getting enough appropriate touching and stimulation of his senses, then frequent periods of supervised play with soft or sticky substances such as clay, shaving cream or bread dough can alleviate his need for handling feces.  Substances with a strong smell may also satisfy any craving for odors.

Remember, every behavior meets a need.  You need to move beyond your very understandable feelings of disgust and frustration and focus on what is behind your son’s behavior.  Your son’s behavior is a message that you need to focus on decoding.

Don’t hit the kids, hit the keyboard.  For alternatives to hitting ask Mother Wit!





A Conversation with Rev. Jesse L. Peterson

Yesterday I was invited to appear on “Manhood Hour” with black conservative minister Rev. Jesse L. Peterson.  We had an interesting, to say the least, conversation about corporal punishment, forgiveness and a range of other related topics.  Listen in  . . . 

Why I Believe Creflo Dollar’s Daughter

This week I was interview by Loop21 for my thoughts about Creflo Dollar’s alleged assault against his daughter.  Check out what I had to say in Tara Pringle Jefferson’s wonderful piece.  Courtesy of


By Tara Pringle Jefferson

When Creflo Dollar took to the pulpit on Sunday, the congregation at World Changers International was waiting to hear if he would address the allegations that he was involved in a violent altercation with his daughter only a few days prior.

He would.

Standing in the pulpit, Dollar assured his congregation, “I would never put any fault on my children. As Jesus would never put any fault on me. I love her with all of my heart. Amen. There are two things that are certain in the life of a Christian parent. Number one is that we win. And number two is that tests will come to try and shake your faith.” He added, “As a church family, I want you to hear personally from me that all is well in the Dollar household.”

But is it?

The police report says that Dollar’s 15-year-old daughter called 911 after her father assaulted her, an argument had escalated after he told her she couldn’t go to a party.

“The truth is she was not choked, she was not punched. There were not any scratches on her neck,” Dollar said to his members. “But the only thing on her neck was a prior skin abrasion from eczema. Anything else is exaggeration and sensationalism.”

So what did happen then?

“She was not choked.”

“She was not punched.”

Where is the responsibility or the denial of responsibility? What about, “I did not choke her”? “I did not punch her.” It’s almost as if he was distancing himself from the charges with his words, but of course he has a reputation to protect. As the founding pastor of a booming megachurch, he wouldn’t want any allegations to cause harm to his brand, er, calling.

News reports say his congregation wholeheartedly supported their pastor, which I suppose is their right. But what does it say about our society that we are more concerned with protecting Dollar than protecting his teenage daughter? Dollar’s supporters are quick to say, “We don’t know the whole story.” Or the ever-popular “Teenagers can really take you there,” insinuating that whatever happened was a result of what the daughter did or didn’t do, versus a grown man having full control over his emotions.

If you think I’m trying to paint Creflo Dollar in a negative light, believe me I’m not. What I am trying to do is examine why people are so quick to rush to his defense. There is a difference between the two. He may very well be innocent, but his daughter -— and her 19-year-old sister -— claimed something wicked went down in his house, so I’m going to believe them until I have a reason not to. I know teens can be difficult. My children are still young but as a 20-something mother, I was an unruly teen not too long ago. I remember how I would push boundaries and stay out later than I was allowed, and my parents were there to check me and my foolish decisions.

But never did they ever raise a hand to me.

We say physical discipline is about keeping our children on the straight and narrow, about giving them a chance to learn those hard lessons at home so they don’t leave our homes and fall into a life of crime. We say we want our children to fear us and to know that what we say is law, that there is no negotiating with children who do not pay the bills or buy the groceries. We cling to that oft-misused phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child” to justify leaving our children with bruises and welts. We say, “I was spanked/beaten/whooped and I turned out fine.”

Kudos for you. But the research suggests — no, proves — that spanking doesn’t work. A 2010 Pediatrics study showed that the children who had been spanked were “more likely than the non-spanked to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, become frustrated easily, have temper tantrums and lash out physically against other people or animals.” Yeah, that sounds healthy and exactly what parents are going for when they reach for the belt or the switch.

Stacey Patton, child abuse survivor and creator of the Web, an online extension of her positive parenting workshops, has dedicated her life to empowering parents with other, non-physical parenting tools so they can leave forms of corporal punishment in the past.

“Black people need to understand that the problems our kids have aren’t because they aren’t being beaten enough,” Patton says. “We’re only becoming co-conspirators against them. It’s not helping them get along in society.”

Patton works with many social service agencies, spending a good chunk of time with children in the foster care system, where instances of abuse are high.

“You just see the kind of trauma they’ve gone through,” Patton says. “Our cultural conversation needs to change. We live in a society where it’s legal to assault children. We need to start talking about hitting children in the same way as we talk about hitting women.”

Patton knows that part of the problem is that people tend to parent in the same way they were parented — and they aren’t interested in new techniques.

“People who beat their kids do love them — I’m convinced of that,” Patton says. “They just don’t have the tools. I hear people say, ‘I’m not reasoning with a child’ — that actually means having good communication skills.”

Patton says the Creflo Dollar case is an example of Christian theology run amok. “It’s really irresponsible for a black pastor to stand up in front of his congregation and sanction being violent toward children,” she says. “‘Spare the rod, spoil the child’ — that’s not even what that scripture means. Nowhere in the Bible does a shepherd pick up a stick and beat the sheep.”

I’m not here to get Creflo Dollar’s head on a platter. What am I here for is for violence against youth to stop. If the allegations are true, if the daughter’s version of events are what really went down that night, will all those “let’s wait and see”-ers feel shame?

There comes a point where we have to believe our children. We have to do better by them and it starts with giving them jurisdiction over their own bodies. I have a firm rule in my household that I will not discipline my child in any way that I would not like my husband to do to me. So kicking, punching, spanking, slapping — all of those are out.

I read an amazing run-down of the Creflo Dollar case over at the Crunk Feminist Collective (worth reading in its entirety) that sums up my feelings on where we need to go from here: “It is because I believe in Jesus and feminism, that I don’t tolerate violence against women in any form from the men in my life, and I for damn sure, am not gonna sit up and hear violent ish coming at me from the pulpit. Black women have to become as serious about demanding that our churches are spaces where we can tell our testimonies about the violence done to us and be believed.”

Why Foster Kids & Adoptees Become Rescuers

By Dr. Stacey Patton

Last week I gave a keynote speech at the Supervised Visitation Network’s Regional Conference in Seattle.  My talk focused on the stages of grief that foster children move through when they are separated from their families of origin and how visitation professionals can appropriately recognize and respond to children’s behaviors and the emotions behind the behaviors.  Offstage I had a long conversation with a fellow adoptee who leaned into my ear and asked three important related questions:

“Why do you think so many of us grow up and become enablers?”

“Why do we have this need to rescue people in our lives?”

“Why is it so hard for foster kids and kids who’ve been adopted to succeed in intimate relationships as adults?”

I reacted to her questions first with a smile.  And then, I dropped my eyes to my lap and sat silently for a few moments, sinking into an abyss of uncalm waters inside me. 

Her questions made me feel as if she were penetrating through my tough-as-nails, I-will-never-again-be-anybody’s-victim-or-dependent-on-anybody-for-anything exterior that I project when walking through the world.  Though she was genuinely seeking some understanding for herself and the children she serves, I felt as if she had been reading all of my secret vulnerabilities.

Though her questions were painful, my fellow adoptee perhaps unknowingly provided me with an excellent opportunity to confront some truths and a chance to further free myself from the binds of my past. 

So here are the answers I came up with . . .

Like everybody else, foster kids and adoptees long for acceptance, love and a sense of connection with others.  But many of us are terrified of intimacy later on in life because we have experienced some form of abandonment in early childhood and because we’ve racked up so many losses on our journey through the child welfare system.  Life in foster care is unstable and unpredictable.  So many people come and go that it’s difficult to connect or trust others.  We’re always anxiously waiting to be shuttled from one place to another, and bracing for relationships to end.

Unfortunately, many of us have learned that vulnerability and dependency on others is not a safe position for us.  We grew up believing that we were unwanted, unlovable, abnormal, defective and unworthy.  We wondered: if our biological parents don’t want us, if they can’t love us for whatever reason, then who will? 

These negative feelings of self-worth got set during a foundational developmental period in our lives and make it difficult for us as adults to reveal ourselves to others or believe that anyone else can ever truly love us.  And we are always prepped, sometimes even expecting others to leave us eventually.  When it happens, sometimes we get depressed but we generally bounce back quickly because we remember that no other rejection can ever trump the severing of that first primal loss or rejection from our mothers.

Good friends have said that before they got to know me I came off as cold, detached, so together, always in control, and impenetrable.  In many respects they were right, but little did they know that this behavior was a defense mechanism.  Keeping distance from others was imperative for me to hide my sense of unworthiness and unaccepted truths about my abandonment and victimization.  My unhealthy beliefs about myself, instilled in childhood, ruled my emotions, outlook on the world, and relationships with others.  In my work with my foster brothers and sisters, fellow adoptees, and those who lost their parents during childhood, I have found that they too share similar challenges.

One of the most striking traits that many of us share in adulthood is our seemingly unconscious addiction to being enablers and rescuers.  Why is that?

Now, I’m no shrink and I won’t attempt to give you some armchair psychobabble.  I’m just speaking here from personal experience and my observations from my peers who navigate the world with these issues.

We may know it, or not, but most foster kids and adoptees often react to life as victims and we have a habit of putting people on pedestals, setting ourselves up in relationships where we unconsciously re-enact painful themes from our childhood and are ultimately left abandoned, betrayed or taken advantage of.  We were not adequately nurtured during childhood.  Some of us were abused or abandoned.  And so we find ourselves rescuing other people because we wanted somebody to come rescue the little boy or the little girl that we were.  And though we are physically grown, many of us have not exorcised the troubled inner child.  We let the little boy’s or little girl’s insecurities, memories, trauma, and fears rule the adult.

Being a caretaker or helper makes us feel like we matter, that we are important and worthy to others.  Our behaviors and actions towards others allow us to not accept that we were once child victims because we now have the power to fix things.  By rescuing others we think it will make ourselves feel good and protect others from feeling bad.  Ultimately we derive a false sense of being in control, which provides us sense of empowerment.  But that feeling doesn’t last long because we find ourselves involved in relationships with friends, family members and lovers who are lifetime victims or dependents who have no idea how to be there for us.

I’ve often found myself sacrificing my needs and feelings, saying that they are irrelevant and that I don’t deserve to tell others what I want or need.  As a rescuer, the only way that I think I can legitimately connect with others, feel valued, and meet their needs is through the back door of caretaking, serving and “fixing it.”  

For too long I’ve believed that if I take care of others well enough and long enough, then I will be fulfilled.  I will prove that I am worthy and lovable.  If I take care of them long enough, then they will eventually take care of me too.  It’s hard to admit that rescuing others is an unconscious addiction that sprang from my need to feel valued and to prevent others from walking out of my life.  It’s even more difficult to accept that after all the time and energy spent trying to fix things for others that we can’t expect anything back from them and that they will most likely wind up leaving us because they are needy and don’t have the ability to care for themselves. 

Rescuers are attracted to victims and dependents.  The end result is that we wind up becoming serial victims who are always trying to make ourselves indispensable because we are afraid of being abandoned or alone. 

Adoptees and foster kids sometimes falsely believe that our total value comes from how well we are able to please or do for others.  We spent our childhoods trying to convince others that we were keepable.  As adults, it may be difficult for us to see our worth beyond our services and what we can do for others.  And so in our relationships we may unconsciously encourage dependency.  We think: “They won’t leave us because they need us.”

Foster kids especially come from families where their needs go unacknowledged.  And adoptees sometimes dwell on their unmet needs that the biological parents who relinquished them failed to provide.  So it’s no surprise that they grow up to become adults who treat themselves with the same degree of negligence that they experienced as children and don’t give themselves permission to take care of themselves.  We unconsciously foster dependency in others that becomes harmful to our rescuees’ development.  The more we rescue others in our lives, the less self-responsibility our rescuees take for their own lives.  For us, having a victim in our lives is essential for maintaining the illusion that we are needless, that we were never victims.

The woman who asked me the questions that sparked this reflection told me that she and other rescuers she knew always have at least one person in their lives that was troubled, sick, fragile, inept and dependent on them.  Once those people eventually took responsibility for themselves, then the rescuers were abandoned and had to seek out new people and relationships to fulfill their emotional voids.  And the cycle continued.

So what can people like us rescuers do to keep from becoming victims of our own good deeds?  Here’s some things I’ve learned through some of my self-help readings:

  1. Continue to be loving, generous and kind.  We can continue being helpful and supportive to others without being a rescuer.  We must recognize that there is a difference being between helpful and rescuing.
  2. Act without expectations for reciprocation.  Empower rather than disable.  Encourage self-responsibility, rather than promote dependency.
  3. Remind yourself that others – friends, family members, lovers – can handle their own business.
  4. Remember that everyone has the right to make mistakes and learn through consequences.
  5. Trust that others have what it takes to see themselves through times of difficulty without you needing to “save” them.
  6. Do NOT help others in order to get validation or feel important.  It only fosters dependency and ultimately leads to setting yourself up for victimization.
  7. Learn to set appropriate boundaries, nurture and set priorities for yourself.  Stop obsessing, intervening and interfering in the lives of others in unhealthy ways.  Stop taking responsibility for others instead of yourself.

Certainly, there are valuable lessons and useful tips here not just for adoptees, foster children and people who’ve experienced some form of abandonment.  As we all journey through life we must become conscious of our emotions and behaviors as well as their origins so we can make changes, heal from pain, and re-claim our emotional and spiritual health.

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