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Alternatives to Spanking

Any parent might sometimes entertain the thought of a "quick fix" for exasperating behavior, but in the long run it's best for parents to avoid spanking their children.

First of all, spanking doesn't work. It can temporarily stop the unwanted behavior, but the most effective forms of discipline are those that teach children how to control their behavior through internal measures. Spanking may teach your child to be afraid of you when she's done something wrong, but it doesn't teach her the real consequences of her behavior, or even how to control it.

In addition, spanking teaches children that it's all right to hit, and that it's all right to be hit. No parent really wants to convey that message. Striking children doesn't give them the message that violence is undesirable. Instead, it communicates the idea that hitting is a suitable means of solving problems.

Many parents who have hit their child express regret afterward and wish they had tried some other method of discipline. In fact, every form of misbehavior can be an opportunity to teach a child how to live with others or how to get what she wants or needs without resorting to physical measures.

Here are some effective ways to discipline your child without spanking them:

1. Call time outs. In a time-out, a child is safely isolated from her family or peers for short periods of time -- generally a minute for each year of age. This gives her time to cool off.

Example: If your child gets angry with another child, put your child in her playpen or send her to her room. After the time-out, you and your child can discuss solutions to the problem that just occurred.

2. Illustrate the consequences of bad behavior. The best way to let a child know she's done something wrong is to make the point that undesirable acts can often have undesirable results.

Example: If you can't get your child to clean up her room, remove every toy she's left on the floor until there's precious little left to play with. Just be sure your child is old enough to understand the connection between her action and the punishment.

3. Treat chronic problems in a variety of ways. Changing the way you handle a recurring problem can work wonders.

Example: A child who's always losing things might need a reminder system that you can develop together. A child who's difficult to wake up in the morning might need a glass of orange juice before getting out of bed.

Techniques such as these are really the most effective, long-term methods for disciplining and raising healthy children. Talk to your pediatrician about specific solutions that will work best for your child's personality -- and your own. Each situation, and each family, is different.

Take heart in knowing that every parent blows up at some point. If you have trouble controlling your anger and are afraid you will hit your child, take a time-out for yourself first. Tell your child that you need a minute to cool off, and count to ten or leave the room to collect yourself. If you treat your children with love and respect on a regular basis, occasional fits of anger will not do them harm, but striking them might.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.