Opening up in an exclusive essay for this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the First Wives Club TV series star remembers “crying while nursing my welts after being whipped” as a child “and hearing, ‘Stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about.’ ”
The method of physical punishment was, according to Bathe, common when she was growing up in St. Louis — but when it comes to her own children, she doesn’t share her family’s ideas on discipline.
“Everything changed,” recalls Bathe, 42, of becoming a mom. “I was exposed to articles about discipline and the science around corporal punishment. It rocked me to my core. … Research shows that corporal punishment is highly questionable at best, and by no means is it the best way to discipline a child at all, according to science.”
“The good news is that my husband and I are in agreement about corporal punishment,” she shares. “So we continue forward. Praying for guidance. Hoping that love will be enough.”
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PEOPLE spoke with Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a psychologist and professor at Duke University Medical Center, about the effectiveness of corporal punishment — and she immediately pointed out how “research over the past several decades confirms the negative effects of spanking, any corporal punishment and verbal shaming.”
“The temporary change in behavior does not outweigh the negative outcomes: more aggression, damage to the developing brain and problems in development and relationships,” she says. “This does not vary by race, ethnicity or income level. These punishments are not good for children.”
Dr. Gurwitch’s comments are similar to the most recent recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, who issue a new policy statement in November noting that “there appears to be a strong association between spanking children and subsequent adverse outcomes.”
Dr. Elizabeth Murray, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester, tells PEOPLE that “the dynamic of ‘I love you and I hurt you’ is completely the wrong message.”
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In her essay, Bathe does address the challenges she and her This Is Us actor husband, 43, face as a result of their joint decision.
“When you’ve been raised a certain way, divorcing yourself from everything you know makes learning something new extremely difficult,” the actress writes, admitting their older son “is not afraid of us. At all. And I don’t know what to do about it.”
“My husband and I are doing our best to take it one day at a time, but with kids, it’s scary not to have a plan,” she adds.
To read Ryan Michelle Bathe’s full essay, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.