Ms. Meyers is a long-time preschool and kindergarten teacher who writes about issues in early childhood education.
- Did you know that Sweden has banned spankings and any sort of humiliating treatment of children?
- Did you know experts contend that time-outs leave little ones feeling abandoned and, therefore, often trigger an emotional outburst?
- Did you know digital groundings (taking away a youngster'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.
Is Your Discipline Effective or Simply Easy?
As a former teacher, I get irritated by parents who co-opt discipline methods used in the classroom such as time-outs and implement them 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. Instead, they're 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 have time to offer a teachable moment, make the punishment fit the crime, or discuss the matter like moms and dads can.
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 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. They do it anyway, believing it doesn't do any (or much) harm. Their thinking seems to be: I was spanked as a kid and turned out okay.
However, their personal stories can't compete with the overwhelming number of studies that indicate spanking poses a grave risk to youngsters. Research consistently shows 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 label that citizens of other nations often bestow on us in the United States. Our global reputation is one of being loudmouthed, ill-mannered, and ignorant of other countries and cultures. This perception certainly doesn't get diminished by our propensity to spank our kids.
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.
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, Swedish children learn powerful communication tools at an early age. They develop self-discipline and, therefore, are better behaved at school.
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 youngster to calm down and regain their composure. She may even have a special time-out corner in the room where the child sits and does soothing activities such as coloring, playing with play-dough, or 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 intense emotional reaction, stemming from a youngster's 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.”
In this video, Dr. Payne Bryson explains that time-outs escalate the drama rather than mitigate it.
If Not Time-Outs, Then What?
Many parents see time-outs as the politically correct alternative to spanking. They give 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.
However, the authors of No Drama Discipline argue that time-outs are exactly what youngsters don't need when they're acting out, feeling emotionally vulnerable, and seeking comfort. Instead of being cast aside and made to feel alone and rejected, they need connection, love, and understanding.
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 learns 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 point 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.
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?
Moms and Dads Don't Follow Through
Digital grounding often makes the situation 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. Therefore, 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.
In this video, Dr. Allen discusses how parents can use logical consequences for both positive and negative behaviors.
How Do You Discipline Your Children?
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.
© 2018 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on February 09, 2020:
Darren, thanks so much for sharing and being so honest and vulnerable. It's true that when parents spank it has more to do with them--their childhoods, their self-esteem, their stresses at work--than the child's behavior. I'm so happy you stopped and went to counseling...for your daughter and for you. Best to you both!
Darren on February 08, 2020:
I am ashamed of the way I disciplined my daughter. I told myself when she was 3 that one or two smacks with my hand on her clothed bottom would not hurt, just get her attention. Well, spankings tend to escalate and within a year the usual punishment was a naked whipping with the belt. I had turned into my parents. Just when I started thinking I needed to find a way to make these whippings hurt even more, something inside me said "no more". It was that day I forever stopped hitting my daughter. I apologized for abusing her (that's what it was) and I sought counseling. The day I told her I would never spank her again was the day she started to love me again. She is now the sweetest girl, and I can't believe the way I used to hurt her. Never again.
McKenna Meyers (author) on March 06, 2018:
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!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 06, 2018:
My parents were old school, but they never spanked me. I never spanked my son. The tradition continues, hopefully. :)