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How Can Parents Discipline Without Spanking?

My parents spanked me when I misbehaved as a kid. I'm not so sure that I want to follow in their footsteps. Are there other discipline measures that work?

It's good that you're thinking about your approach to discipline. Many parents settle on a discipline method just because it's how they were raised. But we now know a lot about the effects of different methods of disciplining kids.

Spanking can be humiliating for children. It can lead to increased aggression, behavioral and emotional problems, and resentment, as well as physical harm. Spanking often does not teach the lesson a parent intends, and research shows that in the long run it doesn’t work to improve behaviors.

Rather than teaching kids about positive alternative behaviors, spanking teaches them that aggression is an effective response to feeling angry. This can make them more likely to hit their siblings and peers. Also, some kids misbehave to gain attention. So spanking can actually reinforce negative behavior because it gets them attention. For these reasons, experts do not recommend spanking.

Other ways to discipline kids effectively include using time-outs, loss of privileges, modeling appropriate behavior (like self-control), and helping kids understand the connection between actions and consequences. Time-outs are helpful for kids and their parents. Taking time away from a child who is misbehaving can let parents take a few deep breaths and feel calmer when disciplining their child.

It's also important to give kids lots of positive reinforcement (for example, praise and small rewards) for good behavior. Remember, kids behave in ways that get them attention. Catching them being good and recognizing this is sometimes a more effective way to encourage positive behavior than discipline.

If you feel you need more guidance, talk to your doctor or contact a child psychologist or counselor. You can ask to have a couple of sessions to discuss and plan new discipline strategies. Parent–Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) and Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, for example, are programs that help parents learn ways to improve a child's behavior and the parent–child relationship. Chances are, you'll learn a lot, enjoy success with some new approaches, and feel better than ever about your parenting.

Reviewed by: Nicole A. Kahhan, PhD
Date Reviewed: Jun 1, 2022

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