Whether or not it’s okay for parents to “spank” their children is a highly charged issue. In general, techniques for disciplining their kids tend to be passed on from one generation to the next. If you grew up in a family in which dad got out the belt, you might follow suit. Surprisingly, in this time where parents are trying harder than ever to be politically correct, spanking as a form of punishment continues on. In fact, according to a 2010 University of Michigan national poll, nearly 1/3 of parents of preschool aged kids had no problem with spanking a child for bad behavior. The philosophy behind using corporal punishment on a child is usually that a parent endured it when they were little and feels that they turned out okay, so it’s obviously effective. Or, the parent finds that time outs and reasoning methods aren’t working and it’s the last resort.
However, on the other side of the coin, new studies are constantly finding that spanking is an outdated and cruel method of punishment and the risks associated with it, far outweigh the rewards. The idea is that giving a child a good spanking will scare them or hurt them enough to stop the negative behavior. Logically, if this were the case, then parents would not have to continue spanking. Unfortunately, this isn’t usually the outcome. Numerous studies show that this method of discipline only teaches that violence is acceptable and many kids who are spanked are in turn more aggressive and become the bullies on the playground. It is also harmful to children emotionally. Kids who are physically punished have increased anxiety and depression, problems in relationships, and lower self-esteem. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics clearly urges not to resort to hitting under any circumstances.
So what is the alternative to get your unruly child under control? Physicians recommend trying some of these non-violent discipline strategies instead:
1. Positive reinforcement. Praise your child when he or she does something right instead of waiting to punish them when they do something wrong. Say things like “I’m really happy with the way you shared your toys with your sister today.”
2. Time out. This strategy works well for both the parent and child. Often parents hit because they are angry, frustrated or tired and are responding irrationally. Set a specific “time-out” spot or room where your child has to go for a designated amount of time. This takes both of you away from the moment and allows time to calm down.
4. Ignore the behavior. In many cases kids are acting out by whining, complaining, or throwing a tantrum because they are looking for attention. Don’t give them your attention when they are acting in this manner. Show them that you will only pay attention when they are acting appropriately. Of course, this is not suggested if they are doing something dangerous or harmful to themselves or others.
5. Create a reward system. When you provide incentives for your children to behave, they will be more motivated to do so. When the kids are younger, a star chart works well.
6. Teach problem solving and judgment skills. When everyone has calmed down, explain to them what they did wrong and what you expect of them next time. For example, “When you go to Aunt Sally’s house, please don’t criticize her cooking or whine that you dislike the meal in front of her!” Or, “Instead of pushing your friend out of your way, ask her politely to please move.” Talk about ways to solve these issues.
7. Provide a consequence for misbehavior. Instead of hitting, try taking away a desired object or activity. “I would like to buy you a new Xbox game, but you are not allowed to play at all until you get your grades up.”
8. Walk away from the heated moment. Call a friend for support or go for a run. Don’t engage with your child until you’ve had time to regain your composure.
These techniques help promote better behavior from both parents and children. While they may not result in immediate obedience, over time these practices will build a healthier and happier family.