How to Discipline a Child: Why Spankings and Time-Outs Don't Work

Updated on January 28, 2019
letstalkabouteduc profile image

Ms. Meyers is a credentialed teacher with a master's degree in special education. She spent many years teaching preschool and kindergarten.

  • Did you know that Sweden has banned spankings as well as any sort of humiliating treatment of children?
  • Did you know some experts contend that time-outs escalate an already bad situation by making children feel abandoned and, thus, trigger an emotional outburst?
  • Did you know digital groundings (taking away a child's cell phone or iPad) actually undermine parental authority because moms and dads rarely follow through with the punishment?

If these common forms of discipline—spankings, time-outs, and digital groundings—are ineffective, what's a parent to do? Find out what experts suggest and how their strategies can actually make your child a stronger person and a better communicator!

Spankings are still a common form of discipline in the United States but are banned in Sweden.
Spankings are still a common form of discipline in the United States but are banned in Sweden. | Source

Is Your Discipline Effective or Just Quick and Easy?

As a former kindergarten teacher, I get irritated by parents who co-opt discipline methods used in the classroom, such as time-outs, and implement them with their kids at home. I find it annoying because these moms and dads aren't using common sense to deal with their children in an individualized and compassionate manner, but are doing what's quick, easy, and convenient. Teachers employ certain methods because they're dealing with 20 or more students. They need to act swiftly so their lessons aren't torpedoed by one youngster's misbehavior, causing the entire class to lose focus. They don't always time to offer a teachable moment, make the punishment fit the crime, or have a discussion like moms and dads can and should.

With this in mind, I started thinking about various discipline methods that parents use with their children, wondering whether they're effective or not. What do pediatricians, psychologists, and early childhood educators say on the matter and are moms and dads following their advice? Here's what I discovered to help parents make better decisions when disciplining their youngsters.

To Spank or Not to Spank?

I never spanked my boys when they were little nor did any of my friends do so with their kids. I was shocked, therefore, to read a study in Pediatrics in which 65 percent of parents with 3-year-old children admitted to spanking them within the month. Likewise, a Harris poll revealed that 81 percent of Americans said it's sometimes proper for parents to discipline their kids in this violent manner. I thought spanking had gone the way of the Walkman, drive-in movies, beehive hairdos, the Edsel, and the Watusi, but it's still alive and well and living in America...just carefully hidden.

Spanking: America's Dirty Little Secret

Spanking, it turns out, is one of those dirty little secrets in our country. Parents know that pediatricians, psychologists, and early childhood educators oppose it but do it anyway, thinking it doesn't do any (or much) harm. Their thinking seems to be, “I was spanked as a kid and I turned out okay.” But what's lacking in their thought process is the enormous amount of research that's come out of late that shows spanking and other forms of corporal punishment pose a grave risk to youngsters. Studies consistently show it can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, and even long-range mental health issues.

Spanking: Damaging and Ineffective

If that's not enough to discourage parents from using it, there's also the simple reality that it's ineffective. While spanking or the threat of spanking may work in the moment because it scares kids, it doesn't deter negative behavior in the long-term. Dr. Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Center says, “there is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.”

If Not Spanking, Then What?

“The ugly American” is a title that people around the world sometimes use to describe those of us in the United States, thinking we're loudmouthed, ill-mannered, and ignorant of other nations and cultures. Our reputation of being uncouth certainly isn't helped by our propensity to spank our children. Thirty countries around the world have banned corporal punishment in all settings, including the home. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child issued a statement in which they called it “legalized violence against children.” Yet, many moms and dads here stubbornly insist it's a parent's right to punish their youngsters any way they see fit.

Verbal Conflict Resolution Gets Long-Term Results

If so many people around the world aren't spanking their kids, what methods of discipline are they using instead? Sweden has not only banned corporal punishment but any sort of humiliating treatment of children. Parents there strive to build mutual respect between themselves and their kids. When a problem arises, they use verbal conflict resolution to express their feelings, listen to one another, and resolve the issue. Because of this, children in Sweden learn powerful communication tools at an early age, are more self-disciplined, and are better behaved at school.

Time-outs can quickly escalate a situation and make children react with cries, screams, and defiance.
Time-outs can quickly escalate a situation and make children react with cries, screams, and defiance. | Source

The Trouble With Time-Outs

A teacher may see time-outs as a necessary evil in a busy classroom. There are moments when she must remove a disruptive child from the group so instruction can continue and the other kids can learn. She doesn't use time-outs as a punishment but as an opportunity for the child to calm down and regain his composure before returning to the lesson. She may even have a special time-out corner in the room where the youngster sits and does soothing activities such as coloring, playing with play-dough, and squeezing a stress ball.

Time-Outs Should Not Be Used at Home

Unlike a teacher dealing with a large group, parents don't need to use time-outs at home and probably shouldn't. Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson are authors of a life-changing book for moms and dads called No Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind.They're scholars in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, studying how relationships and the brain interact to shape our mental lives. According to them, time-outs are usually ineffective because they trigger an emotional reaction from youngsters that stem from their fear of parental abandonment. The authors write, “time-outs frequently make children angrier and more dysregulated, leaving them even less able to control themselves or think about what they've done, and more focused on how mean their parents are to have punished them.”

Dr. Payne Bryson Says Time-Outs Often Escalate The Drama Rather Than Diffuse It

If Not Time-Outs, Then What?

Many parents see time-outs as the politically correct alternative to spanking, giving themselves a pat on the back for picking a non-violent form of discipline. Because they're commonly used and even recommended by some pediatricians, time-outs have become the method of choice for many moms and dads. But, in No Drama Discipline, the authors argue that time-outs are exactly what youngsters don't need when they're acting out, feeling emotionally vulnerable, and needing comfort. Instead of being put aside and made to feel alone and rejected, they need connection, love, and understanding.

Instead of Time-Outs, Parents Should "Connect and Redirect!"

It's important that moms and dads keep in mind that discipline is not synonymous with punishment. Discipline means to teach. The child is a student who needs guidance and wisdom, not a prisoner who needs to be put away in solitary confinement. Dr. Siegel and Dr. Payne Bryson recommend the “connect and redirect” approach, which I have used with tremendous success as both a mom and a teacher.

The parent connects with the child, recognizing and acknowledging what they're feeling. A mom might say to her daughter, "I see you're angry about losing Monopoly. It's frustrating, isn't it?" Once the daughter realizes Mom understands, she feels less upset and starts to relax. The emotional connection has made all the difference in the world!

When her daughter is calmer, Mom can tap into the logical part of her brain, getting her to think about better ways to react when losing. She might say, "When you get mad like that, what could you do other than yelling?" Her daughter might come up with suggestions like taking a walk around the block, listening to music, writing in her journal, or going on a bike ride. She's learning to recognize and accept her powerful emotions and deal with them constructively.

With "connect and redirect," parents resist the temptation to lecture and instead quickly redirect the child to a new activity. No good comes from belaboring the negative behavior and it's best to move on to something else like reading a book or going outside to play.

It's hard for parents to follow through with digital groundings, especially with older kids.
It's hard for parents to follow through with digital groundings, especially with older kids. | Source

Taking Away Technology

When I was growing up in the 1970's, parents disciplined their children and teens by grounding them. When you misbehaved, you couldn't hang out with your friends or go fun places with your family but had to stay at home except for school and church. Today, moms and dads are more apt to use digital grounding, taking away or restricting the use of their kids' iPads, smartphones, and laptops. Eight of ten parents of youngsters 14 and under say limiting their child's use of technology is their preferred form of discipline. But how effective is it?

Digital Grounding Undermines Parental Authority When Moms and Dads Relent

Digital grounding often makes the situation at home worse because parents fail to follow through, finding it too much of a hassle. Moms and dads buckle when their kids whine, complain, or need to be entertained because they're bored without their gadgets. When parents relent, they look weak and their youngsters gain the upper hand.

Parents may also find it impossible to monitor digital grounding when their youngsters are away from home. They may find it impractical to enforce because their children need technology to complete their homework and stay in contact with friends about after school activities. Plus, many moms and dads want the convenience and comfort that comes from staying in contact with their youngsters by smartphone. A digital grounding may cause more disruption in the family routine than it's worth!

If Not Digital Grounding, Then What?

If a boy hits his sister and gets disciplined with a week of no video games, he probably won't make a connection between his bad behavior and its resulting penalty. Since the punishment doesn't fit the crime, it's largely meaningless to him, and he'll likely repeat the offense. That's why many experts recommend that parents use logical consequences. The brother who hit his sister would apologize and help her clean her room or play a favorite board game with her. These consequences teach him a valuable life lesson about repentance and making things right.

Dr. Allen Discusses How Parents Can Use Logical Consequences for Both Good and Bad Behaviors

How Do You Discipline Your Children?

In your home, what have you found most effective?

See results

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

    © 2018 McKenna Meyers


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • letstalkabouteduc profile imageAUTHOR

        McKenna Meyers 

        18 months ago

        That's a good tradition to keep, Bill. I was surprised at the large percentage of parents who still spank their children. I thought we had moved way past that. Now, when I think back on former preschool and kindergarten students I had who were aggressive, I bet they were spanked. Of course, their parents would never admit to it!

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        18 months ago from Olympia, WA

        My parents were old school, but they never spanked me. I never spanked my son. The tradition continues, hopefully. :)


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)