Parenting can get overwhelming. When kids don’t do what they are supposed, you may be tempted to blow your top and spank them out of desperation. But, it’s never okay to hit children. An increasing number of scientific evidence confirms there is a link between a child being hit, pushed and shoved, and development of psychological and behavior problems later in life.
Specifically, studies show that harsh physical punishment is associated with depression, anxiety, aggression, substance abuse, personality disorders and even mental illness in children. These studies on correct methods of disciplining children are important because they challenge the belief among advocates of spanking that there is a distinction between harsh physical punishment and child abuse.
Children are not mere possessions to be “chastised” and assaulted as parents deem fit. They also have a right to be treated with the dignity and respect afforded to adults in a civilized society. So, what can you do to get your child to behave without resorting to hitting small, vulnerable and impressionable kids whose voices have historically been silenced?
1. Say “No” firmly, but kindly.
This may sound obvious to some of us, but you’ll be surprised how many parents find it hard and actually don’t say “no” to their kids. If a child hasn’t listened to your repeated requests to behave, instead of spanking him to make him behave, enforce good behavior by simply getting down to the child’s level, making eye contact, possibly touching him gently and saying “NO” or “Stop that” in a clear, stern and firm voice. Follow it up with a short, kind but equally firm statement telling him what it is you want him to do. For example, “I want you to put that back.” This can work wonders.
2. Withdraw from the conflict calmly.
Children who answer back at parents in a rude and insolent manner can provoke a parent to hit them. In such a situation, withdraw from the conflict calmly and take some time for yourself. Don’t leave in a huff, anger or defeat. Just walk out of the room quietly and calmly. Say to the child: “I’ll be in the next room when you are ready to talk more respectfully.” This calm and collected reaction can be remarkably effective, especially when introduced and used on kids from an early age.
3. Enforce time-out.
The idea here is to call time-out on kids immediately after an offense to help them see their mistake. Instead of smacking the child’s hand or bottom, kindly but firmly pick her up and take her to a boring, but safe room away from the action and your attention. Don’t wait even a few minutes to enforce time-out otherwise the child may forget what they did wrong. Make the child stay in the room for roughly one minute for every year of age. For instance, if your child is 3-years-old she stays for three minutes. Say to the child, “You’ll stay here and think about what you’ve done until I come back.”
4. Give an alternative choice.
If you request your child to stop doing something and the child won’t listen, give her an alternative option to do. For example, if she is playing with her food at the table and you want her to stop, ask her: “Would you stop playing with your food or would you like to leave the table?” If she continues to play with her food, use kind but firm action and help her down from the table. Tell her she can return to the table when she is ready to eat not play with her food.
5. Control your child’s currency.
Find out what thing(s) your child values (their currency), such as a favorite toy or video game. Let the child know beforehand you will take away that thing they value if they don’t behave. Telling the child what you will do beforehand warns and gives the child an opportunity to make better choices and encourages them to behave. This works well for preschool and older children. If you control your child’s currency, you control the behavior that currency depends on.
6. Oversee consequences of bad actions.
Consequences that are logically related to behavior help teach children responsibility without damaging their self esteem. For example, if your child breaks a flower vase, instead of hitting him use a kind and firm voice and say: “I see you’ve broken the vase; what will you do to fix it?” The child may decide to save up his pocket money for several weeks to repay or buy a new vase. In doing so, the child learns mistakes are inevitable in life and that it is important to take responsibility and correct your mistakes.
7. Strip away a privilege.
The idea here is similar to controlling your child’s currency. Warn kids ahead of time that you will strip away a privilege that really matters to them if they misbehave, such as watching TV or staying up to a particular hour in the evening. Strip away that privilege for a specific period if the child disobeys. This can be tough to bear even for parents, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures.
8. Demand a make-up.
This is a good alternative for spanking when children break agreements. Direct your child to do a make-up for breaking his word on something you had agreed on. For example, if you agreed with him he would clear the table after dinner but you find out he didn’t, tell him how disappointed you are with his behavior and discuss the importance of keeping your word and not betraying trust. Ask him to do a make-up to put himself back in your good books. He may do another chore that you need done, such as cleaning the dishes. This helps him nurture integrity and trains him to keep his word in future.
9. Ground the child.
Grounding works with older kids and teens for whom social interaction is very important. Match the degree and length of grounding to the offence. For example, confiscate your child’s cell phone and laptop if the goal is to totally separate her from friends for a while as punishment for a serious offence. Allowing her to text, Facebook or Skype her friends can defeat the purpose of grounding. Sometimes it is better to not ground your child in the heat of the moment, especially in public. Instead, turn to your son or daughter and say, “There will be consequences for this unacceptable behavior.” This will give you time to cool down and calmly decide on the best form of punishment for the offense.
10. Reward good behavior.
No matter what age your child is, praise and reward him when he behaves well. Tell him how proud you are of him for doing a good deed and reward him for it whenever possible. For example, smile, kiss and or hug your child for helping his little sister tie her shoe laces. These little gestures of appreciation go a long way in helping children act in the right way. As a rule of thumb, always focus your attention more on good behavior than bad behavior to encourage and reinforce your child’s good behavior.