How to Discipline Your Child Without Spanking
The key to effective discipline is to have the right heart behind any disciplinarian tactic. Discipline comes from the love someone has for their child. Every parent wants their child to grow up to be responsible, respectful, honest adults, yet parents choose to let things slide because punishing a child is often harder than not punishing. Then they seem bewildered that their children get "out of hand."
Many parents give mixed messages to their children by yelling empty threats. It is imperative to follow through with any threat given. If the punishment is too harsh or impossible, then don't threaten it. For instance, if a mom says, "If you do that one more time, we are going to march right out of this store." That mom better be prepared to leave the cart, because they may test that boundary to see if she means what she said. If leaving a cart full of groceries is unrealistic, then keep that in mind before giving that threat. Maybe, "If you do that one more time, we will not be getting (a sugary cereal/pop tarts/gummy snacks)" would be a better option, and easier to follow through.
Is Spanking an Effective Punishment?
So what kind of threats should you give them? Being creative with your discipline is probably the most effective way to punish a child. A child who always gets put in time-out will get used to it, and it will lose its discomfort. I try to find a punishment that fits the crime. For instance, all the kids I am in charge of know sliding down steps, hanging on the stair railing, tumbling downstairs (especially head first), etc. results in walking up and down the stairs X (x = their age) number of times. I have even heard the response, oh no, as they start to slide down and get caught. They stand up and start walking without me saying a word. The frequency of the sliding becomes less and less because they are more apt to think twice before doing it again.
There are so many ways you can get creative with your discipline. For instance:
Talking mean = Writing Nice Things About The Person They were Mean To
Screaming = Require X amount of minutes of silence
Bad behavior in a store = Must stay home for a week (only if possible and only if the child likes going to store, do not threaten if not a possibility)
Throwing a toy = Take away the toy until they can prove they respect their/your things for 24 hours (longer for older children)
Although, no matter how you choose to discipline, you should always follow up with a talk, preferably a calm one explaining to them:
- Why their behavior was unacceptable.
- What they should do instead.
- Future consequences if they continue to disobey rules.
More Creative Parenting Tips
There are so many ways to be creative, but sometimes traditional punishments are best. There is no equation for effective discipline because discipline is not a science; it is an art. You need to look at each child separately. You wouldn't use the same techniques with oil paints as watercolor. If you want your child to be more loving, bring more expressions of love in your discipline. If you desire to see more obedience, then make sure there is a consequence every time they directly disobey, not just fifty percent of the time. Unlike art, you don't have full control of the finished product, but the more love and patience you put into your child, the more beautiful the outcome.
Other Great, Effective Ways to Handle Discipline:
Writing As a Punishment: This is more for older children, at least seven or eight. There are a few ways you can handle this, either by making them write lines, an apology letter or my personal favorite, making them write what they did, what they should have done differently, and the feelings of those involved. Eight years old is a great age to implement this discipline.
Taking Away Valued Toy: The most critical part of taking away a toy is making the child earn the toy back. Don't just say, it will be taken away for an hour, two days, a week. Say, I will take it away for at least (given time), and if you do not do undesired behavior in that amount of time, you may have it back. Let's say they lied to you, take it away, and if they lie to you again, say, "Teddies time is starting over." If they are older, take away a second time, and they have to earn both toys back separately.
Taking Away Privilege: This is my favorite because it's so darn effective. The mere threat does wonders. It has to be a coveted privilege. I often will take away screen time, which means no video games, computers, TV, etc. Another privilege is music player, bike, and when I've gotten really mad, talking privileges. Yes, I have taken away the right to speak for five minutes or so, but make sure you are willing to follow through with it. For instance, don't say they won't get to go to the zoo if you don't have a sitter lined up, and there are three other kids you are taking to the zoo. Remember that taking away privileges is often punishing yourself as well. So ask yourself, can I live a week without allowing TV time for said child? That's something I don't think kids realize is how inconvenient punishments are. We don't like doing them. It's harder to discipline than to not. I also have started implementing electronic death. That is screen time plus music. Oh my goodness, the heartbreak when they receive the punishment. It's usually done for significant issues like lying, hitting, or mean talk.
No treat/dessert/ bedtime snack: Now, I don't believe in sending a child to bed hungry, but not allowing them a treat, dessert, or even a bedtime snack is entirely acceptable, which is an excellent punishment for not eating food. My daughter knows that if she does not eat her entire plate, she will not get candy/cookies/etc. She has downed asparagus, grudgingly, to get the coveted tootsie roll.
Time Outs: Many people are skeptical of time outs. There are a few times I think it is essential. Tantrums, whether they've lost their temper as teens or throwing themselves on the ground, they need a moment to cool themselves off. The second is if you are incredibly angry. They should sit in their rooms rather than hear you scream. Once you've calmed down, ask yourself, what do I need to talk to them about? Is further discipline necessary? One little girl I nannied for could elevate my blood pressure. She would argue with everything. She knew how to push my buttons. I often sent her to her room more to help myself than to discipline her. I knew she didn't need to see me lose it. That does no good. So I'd send her to her room when I calmed down, we'd talk, and sometimes I would apologize.
Early bedtime: This can be for a multitude of reasons. For instance, not getting ready promptly in the morning, for being disrespectful, for being grumpy. I have often said, "You are yelling a lot today. Are you feeling tired." The answer is always no. The next time I hear yelling, I'll say, you know I can tell you are tired, if you prove to me you are not tired with a good attitude, I'll let you stay up until your bedtime. Still, if you can't show to me that you are not tired by having a good attitude, then you'll go to bed fifteen-minute early, which may need to increase if the lousy behavior continues.
Teaching Children To Be More Responsible
I also firmly believe kids should understand what the consequences are for their actions. They need to know why the undesired behavior is undesired. One very effective way to do this is to have them take care of their own messes. Some may be hesitant to have a three-year-old help, either thinking they are incapable or it's inappropriate, but don't underestimate them. If a child throws their food on the ground - make them wipe it up. If they stick stickers on the wall -make them pull them down, color on the walls - have them scrub for X amount of minutes. Then grab soft scrub and wash the wall (it always does the trick without wrecking the paint job.)
The best example of this type of behavior is when the twin girls had just turned four; they stuck stickers all over their door. They knew this was wrong since I had already told them not to do it the day before, and had just got done cleaning the door. So this time, I took both girls and said to them that they were responsible for pulling the stickers off since they put them on. Some may feel they were too young to make do this, but they were not. I let them work on it for four minutes since they were four at the time, then I stepped in and took over. But I did make them stay with me, to see how long it took me to clean up. They were not allowed to play in a different room.
Having them have this type of consequence was effective because it showed them how hard it is to clean up the mess, so they realized why they shouldn't do it in the future. By making the children take responsibility for their own actions, it teaches them natural consequences and accountability, which, believe it or not, also helps build confidence in their own abilities. Granted, the younger they are, the more help they'll need in cleaning up their mess, but be careful not to underestimate them. Just let the record show, this was the last time they did it.
Reasons These Methods Won't Work
Lack of Respect
I've heard friends who say; my kids would never listen to me if I tried some of these techniques. If that's the case, then there is a severe lack of respect to address. There are a few reasons that a child may be disrespecting you. One reason may be because they don't know what to expect.
For instance, if you do not consistently punish them. Like you say, "I'm going to take that toy away if you throw it." They throw it, and you yell, "I told you not to throw it," yet do nothing. They have learned that they are not being held accountable for their actions and that the punishments don't apply. So if you say, "Don't call your sister names, or you'll sit in time out." Then they call her a name. So you say, "Go in timeout." They might think they can get out of it, by being resistant and refusing. Since they were able to get away without punishments before, why not this time. One way to break this pattern is by being consistent. They know that you are serious if you say they will have a punishment, and you will follow through.
Punishing is hard. Time outs can be until the child knows what to expect. If your child gets out, put her back in timeout. Continue the process until the child stays in time out for a given amount of time.
Anger or Grief
Another reason your child might not be respecting you is they are dealing with anger or grief. In these cases, address the anger and pain. Without addressing these, changes will not genuinely occur. Although they need to know you still hold them to the same rules, a softer approach is necessary. In severe cases, don't be afraid to seek out a counselor. There is no shame in it. The sooner the child can handle these emotions; the sooner other issues can be taken care of.
Reward Good Behavior
Above all else, it's not all about the discipline, make sure you are rewarding good work, hard work, and giving lots of praise. Rewards are a necessary part of training. Bottom line: discipline is hard work. It's inconvenient, it's frustrating, but just as all hard work does, it will pay off in the end.
Positive Parenting: Don't Be a Dictator
There are times when you have to let things slide. That said, never let it slide if you had given them a threat of discipline. Backing down shows there is no consequence for their actions. When I say let things slide, I mean pick your battles. If you harp on them about everything they are doing wrong, they'll feel like they don't do anything right. Choose your battles carefully. There are going to be days where you swear there must be a full-moon out because the kids are wound up and doing everything naughty they can think of. That's when you need to choose the most critical battles.
For instance, is it more important that you scold Little Bobby for using his outside voice indoors, or should you scold him for dangling his sister off the balcony? Okay, maybe that's a little severe, but you get my point. There are days when you need to ignore the small stuff, or you'll drive yourself and your kids insane.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
In regards to throwing a toy, would you discipline a 2-year-old without spanking? I haven’t read or found much about disciplining a two-year-old.
There is a large range of abilities and understanding at two-years-old. A young two-year-old and an old two-year-old are at two totally different developmental levels. My daughter who just turned two throws things. I do two things for her. One is I say, "Don't throw that, or the toy is mine." If she throws again, the toy/food/etc. is taken away. She usually cries for a while but stops throwing. An older two-year-old I may place in time out at first offense. Keep in mind a young and old two-year-old has more to do with their developmental age, not their actual age. Different children develop at different rates. Knowing how well your child understands consequence depends on what you would use. Before they fully understand consequence. Still, vocalize your desire, so they are learning.Helpful 1
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz