Spanking is a contentious issue. Some parents defend it as a form of effective discipline, while others argue that it teaches children to feel disrespected and that it is acceptable to disrespect others.
This article is for those who believe that the short-term effectiveness of spanking is not worth the long-term unintended consequences. That is, the fact that the child will not disobey for the time being is not worth jeopardizing the child's self-esteem and respect for others, undermining the child's trust, raising anxiety levels, teaching the child that it is okay to hit when angry, and so on.
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Here are seven alternatives to spanking that teach the child the necessary lesson while avoiding the unintended consequences of spanking:
1. Natural ramifications
If Tommy continues to flee the supermarket, keep an eye on him from a safe distance until he panics and realizes he is lost. If Tommy stole the flowers from the neighbor's new garden, have him knock on the neighbor's door and offer to do work to make amends. If Tommy continues to throw his truck, it's time to simply take the truck away. If Tommy is resisting going to bed, tell him that he can choose his bedtime, but that whether he is tired or not, he must get up at 7 a.m. with the rest of the family. Make it Tommy's responsibility to clean up if he made a big mess.
2. Demonstrate and teach respect and understanding
If the problem is disrespect or talking back, for example, then something is wrong that spanking will exacerbate. If Tommy responds, take advantage of the opportunity to sternly tell him that this is not acceptable and then drop the subject. When Tommy is calm, open a dialogue about what he is truly upset about, and teach and explain how he can express himself more respectfully.
If Tommy is acting out or having a meltdown, becoming angry will exacerbate the situation. Simply give him some space and time to calm down without succumbing to his demands. Explain to him that it is not acceptable to act in that manner, but that you are perfectly willing to listen to him express himself calmly. This method neither escalates nor reinforces the child's disrespectful behavior by providing positive or negative attention. Instead, it exemplifies understanding and respectful communication.
3. Change the environment calmly
If Tommy continues to try to jump down the stairs, install a gate. If Tommy continues to sneak cookies, put them somewhere he won't be able to get to them. If Tommy continues to sneak out of bed, consider installing a lock on the outside of the bedroom door.
4. Control your own rage or frustration
Most of the time, parents spank their children to release their own rage and cope with their own powerlessness, not to teach them anything. I believe that all parents have fallen into the trap of punishing a child for their own benefit rather than the child's benefit. In these cases, it's a good idea to practice delaying the consequence by walking away from the situation and telling the child that you need a moment to think of a suitable punishment.
5. Go to them where they are
Because of developmental factors, well-meaning children may continue to make mistakes. In these cases, it is best to accept that the child is not developmentally capable of “behaving” at this time before providing opportunities to practice underdeveloped skills. Toddlers have limited language abilities, limited impulse control, limited reasoning abilities, and limited emotional response control. It is developmentally normal for older children to defy rules, lie, and struggle with frontal-lobe tasks like planning, judgment, insight, and delaying gratification. Certain children are more developmentally prone to sensation seeking, risk-taking, hyperactivity, unintentional selective listening, organizational difficulties, or behavioral issues.
A kid who keeps tackling other kids may be sensation-seeking; a kid who never seems to listen may be legitimately unable to focus; a kid who is irritable and testy may be tired or hungry; and a kid who is acting out or tuning out may be overstimulated and unable to cope with the noise or visuals around them. In these cases, it makes sense to acknowledge the child's capabilities before holding them accountable for making gradual, realistic improvements.
6. Take something good away or add something bad
If it is impossible to create a “natural consequence” (for example, Tommy keeps running into the street and you can't exactly let him get hit by a car), then an arbitrary consequence is sometimes required. My favorite examples of this type of consequence are taking away a toy, taking away a privilege, or assigning chores to a child.
7. Speak with the child
Remember that the goal of parenting is not simply to teach the child to obey authority, but to teach the child to make good decisions on his or her own so that he or she will be happy and successful. If a child engages in a dangerous or inappropriate behavior, ask them why they believe it is or is not a good idea. In the future, ask them for suggestions for alternative behaviors that they could engage in instead. Encourage the child to start thinking for themselves, but if the child is very young or has difficulty coming up with ideas, provide simple answers. This consultation process can take place whether or not there will be additional or natural consequences.
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