Alternatives to Corporal Punishment

If you have decided not to use corporal punishment as a method of discipline, you may find yourself unprepared for situations where spanking is often used.  Many parents were not raised without being spanked and, therefore, have limited (if any) tools in their discipline toolbox.

I’ve been parenting for 13 years and have never spanked my three children.  I have added to my discipline tools each year, with a lot of helpful information along the way from those who have gone before me.  I’m excited to share with you my alternatives to spanking!

1.  Be Proactive.  
There are few things more important than being proactive as a parent.  Since discipline means “to teach” and doesn’t mean “to punish”, it is your job as a parent to continually teach your child.

If you are actively aware of what your child is doing and can predict future actions, you can head them off before they occur.

Example:  Your child is too close to the stove.  The proactive parent doesn’t allow her child to get too close to a dangerous object.  She explains the danger in small words, “Ouch!  Hot!” and redirects her child to another activity.

2.  Repeat Yourself

This one is strangely difficult for many parents.  They want to tell their child what to do or not to do one time and then be done with it.  Whether or not a parent spanks, repeating previous instructions is a necessity.  Spanking increases the likelihood that the child will hide his or her future mistakes, while gentle discipline allows the child to learn openly without punishment for mistakes.

How often have you repeated a mistake when performing a new task or skill?  Children are no different from adults in that they need time to learn a new skill and may need repeated teaching of what to do.

Example:  Your child pulls the dog’s tail and you tell him not to do that.  He repeats the action the next day.  Your job is to tell him (in words he can understand) “Ouch!  Gentle hands.” and then be proactive to save the dog from further bothering.

3.  Redirect

This is a very important tool for disciplining toddlers.  When a child is headed toward a misdeed or is already involved in a misdeed, a matter-of-fact redirect is in order.

Example:  Your toddler is banging a toy loudly on the table.  You say very little and simply distract them with something else.  You might tell them, “Ouch!  My ears!” or you might say nothing at all.  Either way the behavior, which they will eventually outgrow, is extinguished.

4.  Ignore 

Yes, it is okay to ignore certain behaviors.  While you should never ignore behaviors that are dangerous or that might cause pain to your child or to others, there are behaviors that simply don’t warrant any attention.

Example:  Whining or tantrums.  If your child is whining and you’ve already given your answer, tell your child that you will no longer respond to her during her whine or tantrum.  Then, stick to it.  You may have to leave the room until it is over.

5.  Catch Your Child Being Good

It is just as important to acknowledge your child’s good behavior as it is to correct your child’s misbehavior.  When you notice that your child is doing something right, comment on it.  This not only improves how your child feels about his ability to do the right thing, but it reinforces the action of doing the right thing.

Example:  When your child shares a toy, make a slightly bigger deal out of the fact that he shared a toy than you would when he refuses to share.

6.  Give Your Child Choices

The point of discipline is to help our children grow into civilized, competent, productive, healthy adults.  If you always make the choices for your child, she is growing up in a very limited world where she will be unprepared for life.

If your child isn’t allowed to make choices often and even sometimes (in situations that lack danger, of course) make the wrong choices, she won’t learn as well or as quickly.  Robbing your child of these learning experiences in the name of discipline is unhealthy.  Let her learn some lessons for herself if you know that the outcome will not be physically or emotionally damaging.

Example:  Your child wants to go outside in Winter without a coat.  Let her go.  Bring the coat along.  When she gets cold, she’ll ask for it.  (Especially if you haven’t made a big deal about her wearing it.)

7.  Give Your Child a Chance to Try Again

In my 13 years of parenting my most used (and, in my opinion, likely most effective) method of discipline is the Do-Over.  I still use it with my boys today at ages 13, 11, and 8.5 and will continue to use it as long as it is my responsibility to provide them with discipline.

Example:  You ask your child to clean his room and he says with an attitude,  “That’s stupid!  I hate cleaning my room!”  You ask him to try again. If this is a new tactic, he may well repeat exactly what he already said and in the same tone.

This is where you model what he should say, “Mom, I don’t want to clean my room.  It feels like too much work and I’d rather be playing.”  Keep it short, keep it simple, keep it calm.

When you first begin to use this method, he will likely balk at repeating the do-over back to you.  That’s okay.  Know that he is filing away the information for later use.  If you request a do-over consistently, he will eventually begin to take the chance to explain himself in a more respectful and civilized way or he will skip the negative tone and explain himself correctly from the beginning.

8.  Create a Calm Corner

When your child just can’t seem to behave appropriately, a Calm Corner can help.  A Calm Corner is not for time outs.  It’s for time ins.  When your child is having trouble getting it right, a calm corner (stocked with a blanket, books, stuffed animals and a snack) can help her to reset.  You may need to sit in the Calm Corner with her until she feels ready to interact with the world again.

When people feel well, they behave better.  A time-in snuggle with you in the Calm Corner may help to set your child’s behavior on a different course for the rest of the day.  In addition, if given time to sit quietly and listen to her body, your child may discover that she is not feeling well or is tired.  Both things are often a big part of the reason for misbehavior.

Example:  Your child has been whining all morning and now refuses to eat lunch.  Invite her to the Calm Corner for snuggles.  If it adheres to your house rules, she might even enjoy her lunch from the comfort of the Calm Corner.

9.  Don’t Add Insult to Injury

If your child has injured himself while behaving in a way that is unacceptable, there is no need to heap punishment on top of the natural consequence.

Example:  Your child jumps off of the couch, which is an unacceptable behavior in your home.  He lands on a toy and hurts himself.  Your job now is not to screech, “See, that’s why I told you not to jump off of the couch!”  Your job is to comfort him.

When the pain has subsided and both you and your child are calm, talk to him about the couch-jumping rule.   Explain to him that jumping from the couch isn’t safe and that you are responsible for helping him to avoid painful situations such as that one.

10.  Give Yourself a Time Out

If you cannot handle a situation without the urge to hit or yell at your child, give yourself a time out.  It’s perfectly okay — actually it’s very healthy — to simply walk away.  This models for your child what to do when you feel overwhelmed and avoids loss of control.

Example:  Your child has pushed one button too many today.  You feel that spanking, shaming or yelling is only option in response to her behavior at this point.  Before giving in to harsh punishments, give yourself some time to cool off.

Tell your child that you are feeling angry and that the day has been difficult.  Tell her that you need to work on finding your calm before dealing with her misbehavior.  Then walk away and do something for yourself.  (Eating a piece of chocolate has saved me from bad parenting a couple of times.)

11.  Use Logical Consequences

Logical consequences differ from natural consequences in that the parent must impose them.  Logical consequences don’t occur naturally.  Logical consequences are best reserved for older children who will, at least somewhat, grasp the logic.  Otherwise, the imposed consequence seems arbitrary and nothing is learned from it.

Example:  Your child writes on the wall in the living room.  This may be an unacceptable behavior in your household, however, there is no natural consequence attached to this behavior.  In this case, you must impose a logical consequence.

The logical consequence is that the child must clean the wall.  In addition, she may lose access to writing or coloring instruments until she is better able to use them appropriately.

The logical consequence is applied gently and matter-of-factly.  “Oh, you wrote on the wall.  That is against the rules in our home.  Let’s get the supplies so you can clean the wall.”  When she is done cleaning the wall, you may decide to talk with her about restricting her access to crayons or pens.

12.  Show What to do Instead

The most important factor in how your child behaves is how YOU behave.  They are always watching you.  You have a great opportunity to model proper behavior for them all the time.  In fact, the behavior you model for them has a greater impact than the behavior you try to teach them.  When your child struggles with a behavior, model for them how to do it correctly.

Example:  The “gentle hands” method of teaching children not to hit is a great example of showing them what to do instead.  When your child hits another person or a pet, immediately say, “Ouch!” and then model “gentle hands” for them, showing them the appropriate way to use their hands.

13.  Lower Your Expectations and Lose your Pride

Many of the socially inappropriate behaviors your child engages in are actually quite developmentally and age appropriate.  Children are finding their footing in this great big world and there is so much to learn.  It is our job to discipline (teach) them how to live in a way that does the most good for them and for the others whose lives they touch.

Sometimes, pride gets in the way of good parenting.  When you’re faced with situations, like parenting in public for example, you want to feel as if you are in control.  Good parenting isn’t about controlling your children.  Good parenting is about teaching your children to control themselves.

The external motivation of physical punishment does not teach children internal control.  It teaches them fear and how to get better at hiding their mistakes.  In the long run it is better to use intentional, but gentle discipline to teach your children how to behave appropriately than to use the (seemingly) quick fix of corporal punishment.

Alternatives to Physical Punishment

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