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How to Discipline Your Child Without Spanking

Angela was a foster parent for eight years and has four daughters, one in which is adopted.

Discipline is nobody's favorite part of parenting, but it needs to be done in a way that shows your children it's done with good intentions.

Discipline is nobody's favorite part of parenting, but it needs to be done in a way that shows your children it's done with good intentions.

Parenting Tips

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 with.

Creative Discipline

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 meanly = 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 the 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 into 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 a toy away 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 thrown themselves on the ground as toddlers, mean 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, being disrespectful, and 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 me that you are not tired by having a good attitude, then you'll go to bed fifteen-minutes 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 my 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 gotten 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.

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

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

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 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

Question: 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.

Answer: 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.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz


Abby Slutsky from America on July 16, 2020:

Nice article. I went for the creative approach with my children. You gave some nice alternatives.

Nat on November 25, 2014:

This is so Great! I am so excited to read the rest of your articles! Great writing, great parenting! Keep up the good work!

mslenai on October 17, 2014:

This is a great hub! I am actually struggling with this now. Trying to figure out how to discipline my child in other ways than spanking. I have a toddler and it can get rough sometimes but I just don't like to spank him. I will definitely try the above methods and see what happens. Thanks!

Avinesh Prahladi from Chandigarh on October 10, 2013:

I am really impressed by this hub. Being a father I can relate to this hub.

Really appreciate, angela_michelle :-)

LydiaBlogg from New England on August 08, 2013:

This is a great hub and exactly how I parented, excluding when my child was approximately 18 months to 14 to 30 months. At that age, I felt it was important to spank or slap a hand under certain circumstances to ensure the safety of my child.

Aleishao on December 24, 2012:

This is a very useful article. I completely support discipline without spanking. I was never hit as a child and I don't smack my son either, as angry as he might make me. Unfortunately my partner isn't quite on my wavelength yet. Will definitely get him to read your work. I also read

Any tips on how to educate others?

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on July 11, 2012:

Wow, I didn't know it was against the law in Finland. Wow! I am sure you are doing a great job. Just keep up the love and the consistency and you will be awesome!

Madeleine Salin from Finland on July 11, 2012:

This is a useful hub. You did a great job writing it. I'm sure it can help many parents. I have a 4 and a 6 year old and I do my best to discipline them. Only time will tell if I did a good job. Spanking children is against the law here in Finland and has been that for nearly 30 years.

kathryn l Hill on July 09, 2012:

So many tricks... not enough faith. The child wants to please you. Have faith in that.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 10, 2012:

I will be honest, I'm not entirely against spanking. I think you handled it well, and my guess from what they were doing an age appropriate time as well. I do hope that this hub does bring help to other people.

Lyn.Stewart from Auckland, New Zealand on May 10, 2012:

I spanked my son about 5 or 6 times total (A single pat on his well padded pull uped behind).

All of these times were when he did something like pull out of holding my hand and run onto the road or do something else that could kill him.

My words also changed from NO to NO NO NO NEVER EVER EVER DO THAT!

Otherwise I basically did all the things you stated in your hub. I know your hub will have and will in the future help many people. voted up and useful

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 25, 2012:

Thank you, I hope it helps your sister!

Dianna Mendez on April 25, 2012:

I had to read you hub as my sister is dealing with this situation at home. Great advice and suggestions. Children do learn from positive guidance better than vocal abuse and anger. Great hub article and well written! I will pass this advice on to my sister. Voted up!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 13, 2012:

I think spanking can be handled well, and can be handled poorly. Most people do not have the calmness and patience to effectively spank a child in a way that a child will positively respond. I have seen parents who do handle spanking excellently, and the children respond great! but I prefer other means of discipline.

johannanoelle on April 13, 2012:

Wow, I find this to be a refreshing alternative indeed! My hubby and I stopped spanking our son a few months ago, and I must say, he has indeed behaved much better! In fact, I wrote about our experience in to share with everyone else! :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 10, 2012:

I think we have the same thought process on raising children. My daughter taking away swimming or not allowing friends to come over or her there are the big ones in our house.

Michelle423 from Minnesota on April 10, 2012:

Great hub! While I am not against spanking, I do not believe it should be the go-to solution for every problem. I cannot possibly agree more that FOLLOWING THROUGH on any threat is the most effective method of discipline! Our kids are obsessed with electronics and will sneak them ALL THE TIME. When they get caught, the electronic device spends the night with me and the whole next day. You'd think I cut their arms off or something --- this seems to be the mosts effective method of punishment in our house. The same goes for movies, tv, and video games. If I threaten --- you WILL lose it. They've all tested me several times and lost.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on March 07, 2012:

That is exactly what I want to do, although my parents did not do a lot of spanking though.

Amanda Hare from England on March 05, 2012:

Thanks for this great hub, Angela Michelle. I'm trying to start my own family, I've been thinking a lot about how to discipline my children (that is different than how my parents disciplined me - lots of yelling and spanking). I appreciate you sharing your experience.

corporate gifts on February 25, 2012:

More than anything else in the world I think it's important to discipline your children from a young age. By that I mean that you set boundaries and be consistent. Expect respect. With my children I am trying TRYING to draw my children in close to me and use soft words--everyone listens to correction better when they are being respected and spoken nicely to. We spend a lot of time talking things out especially when they are just learning our family rules. Later on when they know the rules and deliberately break them, we talk plus they have an age-appropriate punishment. My almost two-year old has to sit on a time-out rug mainly because he hates it. He would rather be up running around and he views having to sit there as punishment. My ten-year old daughter also like to be outside running around with her friends so if she disobeys that's one of the first things to go. I try to reinforce that greater priveledges come with obedience. But usually if you have laid the groundwork when they are very young you don't have to punish them very often when they get older.


Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 19, 2012:

Pointers are great, but really calmness and patience is the key, plus get creative!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on February 19, 2012:

I actually am a foster mom as well. My husband has taught me so much more, since I have written this article. When I have time to update this, I might have some more awesome ideas and tips to add. My husband is an amazing parent!

christa on February 07, 2012:

hellow everyone who is hearing me i am 18 and still in school but i am really wanting to be a nanny I am good with kids I have been waching my 2 lil sisters for about 8 years I just need pointers

kristi on January 26, 2012:

this article really helped me. i looking into becoming a foster mom and needed options on how to deal with the kids i hope to be receiving. it really got my brain thinking.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on September 29, 2011:


mjfarns from Bloomington, Illinois USA on August 17, 2011:

Great article, angela michelle. Should be required reading for expected parents. Especially if they are complete tools :)

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on July 10, 2011:

I think you are right, many parents spank purely out of anger, and it's because they don't know what else to do. It's because at that moment, they feel helpless.

TheMonk from Brazil on July 01, 2011:

"They stand up and start walking without me saying a word."

I laughed a lot imagining that. Spanking was a normal thing in my childhood but, despite that, I think it is an awful thing to do to an innocent child. The point is never to educate. It is to alleviate the parents stress. Thank you for bringing this subject up. It needs to be discussed a lot more before people eradicate that habit.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 01, 2011:

I think to avoid getting angry at your children to the point you do that, you need to be consistent with them. They disobey, a consequence. They scream high volting scream, a reminder, if repeat, a consequence. Parents too often will let things slide, then they get to the point where they are irate at the child because the child is doing it a twentieth time, yet the first nineteen times went unpunished.

BeachMomofTwo on April 27, 2011:

That's a good way to put it. Parents get frustrated with a behavior, "I told you to stop doing that!" and by the 20th time the child does it they just whack them. Human nature, we get mad, we want to hit. But we can't (I believe) hit children.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 27, 2011:

Believe it or not, I'm not against spanking, even though I have never done it myself, but I think too many people spank out of anger, and if you are spanking out of anger it's abuse even if it doesn't leave a mark.

BeachMomofTwo on April 25, 2011:

I believe spanking is so "old school" and with the developments we've made in child development, there are so many other, more effective, methods in disciplining your child(ren). Here's another good article on the subject:

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on June 02, 2010:

I am so glad you found the information helpful. That makes me excited when I hear any of my hubs have helped anyone. :)

Carmen on June 02, 2010:

Hi Angela, thanks for posting this hub with lots of do n don't for lost parent like me.. I love ur step by steps advice in disciplining a child n at the same time, doing wHat is correct and what is undesirable.. Thanks for sharing. I do find all the informations very helpful!!!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 22, 2010:

Thanks Silver Poet. I have to admit, I'm not against it, but think that there walks a fine line between abuse and spanking, and it needs to be done wisely. Personally, I don't spank though.

Silver Poet from the computer of a midwestern American writer on May 22, 2010:

Thank you for writing this. I am strongly against the crude and unnecessary practice of spanking, and I am glad someone published some good alternatives.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on May 05, 2010:

Good luck with the subbing, I've thought about doing that! You'll have to let me know how you like it. :)

WeakvsFire on May 05, 2010:

good advice

i can definitely use it since i'm

currently subbing at elementary schools

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 30, 2010:

GBD they all are actually effective, but as I said the best way to be most effective is to make sure that you are always consistent with your discipline, so they know what to expect.

gbd on April 30, 2010:

Thanks for writing this hub! I'll try to use some of these tips and tricks with my daughter.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on April 29, 2010:

That's a good one. I have not had too much trouble with that yet.

I have to admit, I'm not all that against spanking, as long as it's done with patience not anger. Like my parent in laws would spank their kids, but they sent them to the bathroom. If they were mad, they'd calm down and the child had to sit in their until they came in and spanked them.

By the means I am raising my children, I will be unable to, but I do think that there are other very effective forms of discipline that are often overlooked. And I think by being creative like your mother was, you do teach them that sense of responsibility.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 29, 2010:

Angela, I think this is a great hub. When I was growing up and would run in the house slamming the screen door my mother would make me practice going in and out without slamming the door many times and it worked. I tried to so that with my children. The punishment fitting the crime is much better than spanking. They learn to be responsible for their actions which is one of the most important things we can teach out children. Great hub.