Ms. Meyers is a long-time preschool and kindergarten teacher who writes about issues in early childhood education and advocates for play.
Did you know...
- that Sweden has banned spankings and any sort of humiliating treatment of children?
- that experts contend that time-outs can make youngsters feel abandoned, causing them to react by crying, screaming, and throwing a fit?
- that digital groundings (taking away a youngster's cell phone or iPad) actually undermine parental authority because moms and dads don't follow through with them?
If these common forms of discipline—spankings, time-outs, and digital groundings—are ineffective and can harm kids, what are moms and dads to do? Parenting experts, developmental psychologists, and educators recommend that they be replaced with what works: conflict resolution, connect and redirect, and logical consequences. These approaches help kids become emotionally stronger, better communicators, and more self-disciplined.
Ineffective and Effective Forms of Discipline
connect and redirect
Looking for a Better Way to Discipline
Whether it's spankings, time-outs, or digital groundings, parents typically pick the discipline methods that are most familiar to them. They implement what their parents practiced in the home when they were growing up, what their teachers utilized in the classrooms at school, and what TV characters employed on the family sitcoms that they watched. These popular techniques, though, often leave them questioning their effectiveness and longing for something different. Many moms and dads want to interact with their kids in ways that are more loving, compassionate, and instructive than what they had experienced during their own childhoods. After disciplining their youngsters, they want to feel good about it and not mad, frustrated, ashamed, regretful, or guilty.
The Case Against Spankings
While some people assume that spankings have gone the way of the Walkman, drive-in movies, beehive hairdos, the Edsel, and the Watusi, they're still a prevalent method of discipline in the US. According to a study in Pediatrics, 65 percent of parents with 3-year-old children admitted to swatting them within the month. Moreover, a Harris poll revealed that 81 percent of Americans said it's sometimes proper for moms and dads to discipline their kids in this manner.
Because parents are aware that pediatricians, psychologists, and early childhood educators oppose their use, spankings have largely gone underground. Moms and dads use them in the privacy of their homes, believing they don't do any (or much) harm. Their thinking is: I was spanked as a kid and turned out okay so the same will be true for my child. Their personal experience, though, is contradicted by an overwhelming number of studies that indicate corporal punishment poses a grave risk to youngsters. Research consistently shows it can lead to increased aggression, antisocial behavior, and even long-range mental health issues.
If that's not enough to discourage parents from using corporal punishment, there's also the simple reality that it's ineffective. While spankings or the mere threat of them may work in the moment, scaring kids into compliance, they don't deter negative behavior in the long-term. Dr. Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Center, sums it up by stating: “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.”
Conflict Resolution: the Spankings Antidote
“The ugly American” is an unflattering label that the rest of the world has bestowed on US citizens for being loudmouthed, ill-mannered, ignorant of other countries and cultures, and disdainful of science, data, and research. This characterization is further bolstered in the realm of child rearing with American parents insisting on spanking their kids even though studies show that it’s harmful and ineffective. Parental discipline in the US contrasts sharply from that in 30 other nations where corporal punishment has been banned in all settings, including the home. Furthermore, it defies the statement issued by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that called spankings “legalized violence against children.”
If parents around the world aren't spanking their kids, what methods of discipline are they using instead? In Sweden the answer is verbal conflict resolution. The Swedes have not only banned corporal punishment but any sort of humiliating treatment toward youngsters. Because of this, moms and dads there strive to build mutual respect between themselves and their kids. When a problem arises, parents and children express their feelings, listen to one another, and resolve the issue. As a result, Swedish children learn empowering communication tools at an early age. They also develop self-discipline and, therefore, are better behaved in the classroom when they start school.
The Case Against Time-Outs
A common mistake that parents make is commandeering discipline methods used in classrooms and implementing them in their homes. The most grievous example of this is the misappropriation of time-outs. Teachers, working in an environment with 20 or more students, use this technique out of necessity and not because it’s the best. In a classroom setting, they need to act swiftly so their lessons aren't torpedoed by one youngster's misbehavior that causes the entire class to lose focus. Unlike moms and dads, educators don't always have time to offer a teachable moment, make the punishment fit the crime, or discuss the matter with the youngster.
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 co-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 Dr. Siegel and Dr. Payne Bryson, putting kids in time-outs is usually ineffective. Doing so triggers an intense emotional reaction from youngsters that stems from their fear of parental abandonment. They 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.” Because of this, Siegel and Bryson argue that time-outs are precisely what children 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 from their parents.
In this video, Dr. Payne Bryson explains that time-outs escalate the drama rather than mitigate it.
Connect and Redirect: the Time-Out Antidote
Moms and dads should always keep in mind that discipline isn't synonymous with punishment. It, after all, comes from the Latin word disciplina that means "instruction and training." With this definition in mind, parents should treat their youngster like a student who needs guidance and not like a criminal who needs to be locked away in solitary confinement. To help them achieve that goal, Dr. Siegel and Dr. Payne Bryson recommend that moms and dads use the connect and redirect method in lieu of time-outs.
Using this approach, a parent connects with the child by recognizing and acknowledging their feelings. A mom might say to her daughter, "I see that you're upset about losing Monopoly. It's frustrating, isn't it?" Once the daughter realizes that Mom understands her, she's less angry and starts to relax. The emotional bond that was created makes all the difference in the world.
Now that she's calmer, Mom can tap into the logical part of her daughter's brain by having her think about better ways to react when losing. She might say, "When you get mad, 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 the connect and redirect method, parents resist the temptation to lecture. Instead, they quickly point the child in the direction of a new activity. No good comes from belaboring a youngster's negative behavior by talking it to death, making them feel guilty and ashamed. It's best that they move on to something else like reading a book or going outside to play.
The Case Against Digital Groundings
It used to be common for parents to discipline their children by grounding them. They would confine the youngsters to their bedrooms and have them miss out on fun times with their siblings and friends. Today, though, this practice has become largely obsolete, replaced by a new form of discipline for the modern age: digital groundings.
With digital groundings, parents take away or restrict the use of smartphones, iPads, and laptops as a way to reprimand their youngsters. Whether it’s their grades dropping, their rooms being messy, their language getting crude, or their chores going undone, they lose access to their technology because of their poor behavior. Today, doling out digital groundings has become so popular that moms and dads often do it mindlessly without considering whether or not it has value. In fact, eight out of ten parents of kids 14 and under say limiting their child's use of technology is their preferred form of discipline.
Experts, though, argue that digital groundings are ineffective and can even make matters worse. They often result in parents losing authority and kids gaining the upper hand. Because moms and dads rarely follow through with them, they’re left being seen as feckless in the eyes of their children. Youngsters know that they just need to whine, complain, pout, or say that they’re bored in order to get their devices returned.
Logical Consequences: the Groundings Antidote
While digital groundings are largely ineffective, they’ve gained popularity among parents because they’re quick, easy, and require little thought and effort. They’re a one-size-fit-all approach to any kind of transgression but, sadly, teach children nothing. Logical consequences, on the other hand, are unique to each situation and are designed to provide a lesson that helps the child learn, grow, and become a more compassionate person. Moreover, they’re designed to get the youngster involved in the process, using their critical thinking skills to figure out an appropriate consequence for their bad behavior.
If a child gets angry and breaks a sibling’s toy, they won’t gain anything from having their mom or dad limit their screen time. A parent using logical consequences, though, will ask the youngster to consider what would be an effective way for them to make amends. Their answers might include using their allowance money to buy a new toy for the sibling, making a card and writing an apology to their sibling, or letting their sibling choose one of their possessions to keep. The parent doesn’t impose the consequence but guides the child to find a fitting one.
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. :)