We’ve known for a long time that spanking children doesn’t work. Instead of helping to calm children down, studies show that spanking increases aggression. Even when corporal punishment was widely accepted and still fit into most “house rules,” many parents always felt it was controversial.
After all, it doesn’t take a scientist to see that hitting your child – regardless of your positive intent – can be seen as an act of abuse. To be sure, research plainly tells us that spanking has the same results as physical abuse.
For that reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics strongly cautions parents against spanking their children.
Notably, a 2009 study published in NeuroImage shows that corporal punishment is strongly linked to reduced gray matter in the developing child’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) of their brain. Stunted PFC growth is associated with numerous social development disorders including ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). The bottom line is, there are no long-term advantages to old-fashioned discipline methods, and all of the research demonstrates that spanking causes real harm.
So what can you do instead? Authors like Elaine Mazlish, Adele Faber, and Dr. Laura Markham knew that it wasn’t enough to simply prove spanking is harmful. Studies have shown that adults who were spanked in childhood often don’t know how to discipline a child without hitting them. If you are one of those parents, you probably agree! If spanking was modeled for you growing up, that’s completely understandable .
Such parents need sensible alternative solutions that help them discipline – in other words, “disciple” or “teach” – children in more positive and growth-oriented ways. Let’s cover some of the most effective, nurturing and healthy ways to discipline that all parents should know.
Create a Calm-Down Space
One of the popular alternative punishments to spanking is the time-out. The problem? Time out doesn’t work either! When a child is forced to sit still and be quiet as a punishment, they don’t know how to respond to their anger and frustration. Children need outlets for their emotions, and they need some way to know that their feelings are valid and meaningful.
Instead of sitting your kid down in the corner and walking away, create a sectioned-off space for them that’s calming but encourages them to focus their emotions. You might give them finger paints or a drawing tablet they can use to express their feelings. You could give your kid blocks to stack up and knock down instead of hitting or breaking things in your house.
Once the child is calm, they can focus enough to listen as you talk through what happened and what they should do instead. Maybe even practice doing the “right thing” together to start forming the neural pathways in your child’s brain, so it’s easier for them next time.
Permit Natural Consequences
Instead of creating artificial consequences as a form of discipline, allow yourself to step back and let your children experience the real-world consequences of their actions.
Try to draw parallels to your own real world as an adult. If you miss a deadline at work, nobody is going to send you to bed without supper, lock you in your bedroom for two weeks, or strike you on your behind. So why create false, unrelated consequences for your kids?
If they forget their lunch repeatedly, they won’t eat. If they don’t practice for tryouts, they won’t make the team. Allow your child to see ramifications of their actions as they are. Manufacturing consequences skews a child’s perception of how serious their misbehavior is. Sometimes allowing your kid to feel the sting of reality without your intervention is all that’s needed.
Offer a Sense of Control
Oftentimes, children act out from a place of helplessness. A young toddler is fully subject to the will of her parents, and she also hasn’t developed the critical thinking skills to understand the how or why behind being told “no.” It’s no wonder that children, particularly toddlers, have frequent outbursts of anger and agitation.
Weak parents react to this behavior with their own uncontrolled outbursts of spanking, timeouts, and taking away possessions. This kind of discipline only further upsets the child during a time when they’re already having trouble coping with their feelings. As an alternative to punishment for being upset, have the self-discipline to recognize when your child needs your help.
One way is to give your child reasonable choices to help them establish a sense of control. These choices can be entirely meaningless to you as the parents, but can make a world of difference to your child. Having something to give them a sense of empowerment may be all it takes to diffuse tension and avoid conflict.
For example, being told “no” to having cookies before dinner might bring on a temper tantrum. So, instead of saying “no,” you can enforce a more acceptable behavior while giving your child the illusion of choice. Tell them they may either have cookies after dinnertime, or they can have a more appropriate snack right now. This choice is simple enough for a child to understand, and it makes them feel as if they have power over what happens to them.
Communicate and Understand Feelings
It’s important for your child to be heard and understood. Oftentimes, a major source of frustration for children comes from simply being unable to express to parents what they need. When your child is acting out, don’t respond with harsh discipline and tough language. Instead, let them try to tell you why they’re upset.
You may need to allow them time to cool off first. Here are some tried-and true ways to help your child calm down when they’re having an outburst:
- You can tone down the energy of the tantrum by using a soft whisper and slow, soothing speech.
- Use clear and reassuring cues like eye contact and physical touch to engage your child and rein in their out-of-control behavior.
- If needed, start with one of the previously discussed alternatives to spanking, like using a calm-down space.
- Ask your child why they’re upset. Why don’t they want to go to bed? Why is taking a bath so scary? Listen to their answers and empathize with them. Tell them how scared you were to take a bath when you were little too. Then, help them reason through, step-by-step, why they are safe.
Show, Don’t Tell
It’s often insufficient to simply demand a certain behavior of children and expect to get what you want from them. You must be clear and direct to make sure they understand your expectations, and you must embody the values that you teach your children.
Let’s say your son has a bad habit of leaving his clothes strewn about his bedroom. He knows how to “clean his room,” but does he really know how to take care of his clothing? Don’t hand him a stack of laundered clothes and say “put these away.” Instead, call him into the laundry room and walk him through folding his shirts. March up to his bedroom alongside him, place them in the dresser, and show him how to use a hanger properly. Show him that your own closet looks the way that you made his closet look. This way, he sees the mature behavior you want him to learn.
And if he doesn’t do it on his own the next week? Then you’ll demonstrate alongside him again. Building habits takes time, just like raising a child takes time. Instead of punishing your kid for not meeting standards they’ve never had to meet before, take the time to show them the work that goes into being successful. This is the ultimate form of positive reinforcement. Physical punishment never fosters growth like being a positive role model does.
Get More Tips in FREE Positive Parenting Online Course
Looking for more alternatives to harsh discipline and spankings? You’re in luck. Amy McCready, a nationally recognized parenting expert and founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, is hosting a FREE online class … and you’re invited!
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In her free class, Amy shares how to get kids of all ages to listen WITHOUT spanking, nagging or yelling. She’ll help you start parenting positively, and learn to stop the power struggle before it starts! You can register for the free course by clicking the button below.
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