Parenting Advice

Positive Discipline: 10 Alternatives To Spanking

Share This

By Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D.

Several decades ago, spanking was widely considered an acceptable parental response to poor behavior. But years of research show that laying a hand on a child is not only ineffective, it could also cause long-term damage. In fact, last December, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a statement explaining why spanking is not an effective form of discipline and can actually harm children.

“Discipline” actually means to teach or train. Hitting or spanking children does not teach them responsibility or self-control. Research shows that it just makes them feel scared, hurt and angry. More important, injecting fear and violence into the parent–child relationship can have catastrophic consequences for both parties.

Positive Discipline Explained

Fortunately, there are many effective ways to encourage children to behave appropriately. Each of these 10 strategies encourages parents to meet bad behavior with compassion and empathy:

1. Know your child.
Study your children and learn their triggers. That way you can avoid challenging situations and develop a plan for when they’re tired, hungry or overstimulated. Maybe you bring snacks or promise a reward at the end of a shopping trip, or perhaps you offer older children extra screen time. You’re not bribing your children, you’re recognizing what motivates good behavior.

2. Catch your child doing something good.
Children are hard-wired to crave parental attention. So, as parents, it’s best to praise the behaviors you want to see them exhibit and pay less attention to the behaviors you want to stop.

3. Listen.
Instead of delivering an order and shutting down communication, take a moment to calm yourself and listen. You can even repeat what your child said so she knows you heard her. “I understand that you didn’t want to stop playing the game, but it’s time for dinner.”

4. Restrict the use of “no.”
Whenever possible, try to avoid the word “no,” and qualify your answer instead. So, if your child says, “Can I watch TV?” Instead of saying “No,” try, “When you pick up your toys, then you can watch TV.” 

5. Be clear.
Set boundaries and be firm so your children are clear about your expectations. Short, concise directives are best — and if you have to deliver a consequence, make sure it’s related to the offense. So, for example, if your child doesn’t pick up her toys, remove them for the rest of the afternoon.

6. Be consistent.
Once boundaries are set, stick to them. Otherwise, your children will come up with reasons to bend the rules (or worse, make their own).

7. Offer choices.
Sometimes kids are trying to gain or maintain control of their world. Whenever possible, give them a choice. “It’s cold today. Would you like to wear the Spiderman sweatshirt or the Buzz Lightyear one?”

8. Redirect.
Poor behavior sometimes occurs when kids are bored. Provide them with puzzles, games, art supplies or building blocks. Then, when they lose interest, offer up a new activity. You’re not only teaching them good behavior, you’re teaching them to manage boredom.

9. Be a good role model.
Loving relationships begin with the parents. That applies not only to the parent–child relationship but also to other family members. In every case, your goal is to model appropriate, nonviolent behavior with everyone around you.

10. Teach your child coping skills.
A little deep breathing can diffuse all kinds of intense situations. With young children, visuals help. Teach them to imagine a lit candle in front of them and inhale for a count of five then blow it out. Then repeat until everyone is calm.

Related Topic: A Prescription to Play

Why doctors are actually prescribing “playtime” to their patients

Show Respect

Spanking isn’t the only problematic form of discipline. Shouting and shaming kids has the same negative effects. Delivering angry, hurtful words can lead to lower self-esteem, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.

Your best bet for effective discipline: Show respect. Bring calm to your child’s chaos. Meet them at eye level and speak calmly and quietly. That’s not always easy, so you can even give yourself a time-out to count to 10 before you interact with your child.

If your child is disruptive, violent or is harming himself or others, get help. The earlier you intervene, the greater your chances of improved behavior.

To find a doctor or pediatrician at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).


Written By:

Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D.

Stacy Leatherwood Cannon, M.D., is a pediatrician and the physician champion for childhood wellness for Henry Ford LiveWell. Dr. Leatherwood Cannon credits her love of helping people as the reason she became a doctor. She chose pediatrics because she is fascinated with children, their development and what she calls their incredible "bounce back ability.” She is currently writing a book and hopes to publish it in 2015. She considers her parents her heroes, noting that their hard work, sacrifice and belief in her have been the keys to her success.

36 articles