Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In light of all the latest research which has proven over and over and over again that spanking is ineffective at long-term discipline at best and harmful enough to cause brain damage and lower IQs at worst, it is time we move forward socially, adjusting our attitudes and behaviors surrounding corporal punishment.
I am not going to take lots of time citing all the studies and listing reasons why you shouldn't spank. The purpose of this post is to give you alternatives, but here is a concisely written article by Dr. Laura Markham titled Should You Spank Your Child?
So, if you don't spank, what can you do? Here are some disciplining tools that will teach your child while maintaining your relationship.
1. A calm down area. Some key information that you must understand is that, neurobiologically speaking, children are much better able to internalize what you are teaching when their brains are calm and regulated than when they are in a state of stress, which kicks the alarm in their brain and sends them into lower brain functions of flight or fight. It is for this reason that we want our children to calm down before we teach them the lesson we want them to learn. I have created a space in my home which includes a calm down box filled with several tools for my child to assist him in getting out of fight or flight mode and back into reason and understanding.
Inside the calm down box is our calm down jar made with water, glitter glue, food coloring, and glitter. The idea is to shake the jar, and as you watch the glitter twirl around, it brings your attention onto the motion in the jar and instantly the brain begins to calm.
Also inside the calm down box are a few books, a drawing pad and markers/pencils, and a container of rice.
The final result is a soothing place to go, engage the mind, and get regulated.
This is not a punishment. You may go with your child to the calm down area or your child may go alone, whichever she prefers. The point is to get her calm. The lesson comes afterwards.
I know this may seem like a very soft or possibly even almost permissive way to deal with misbehavior when you are used to spanking, but the goal of discipline is to teach our child to do better, and there are many routes to that end. Just because this is a kinder and gentler route doesn't mean it is permissive. Permissive parents fail to set and enforce limits and don't discipline (teach) their children at all.
Here, we are allowing our child the space to calm the mind, and once he is calm, he will better internalize the lesson that is to follow, whereby you teach your child what is acceptable and appropriate and give him alternatives to his behavior. For example, if he hit his sister, then once he is calm, you will restate your limit that hitting is not acceptable and you will give him alternatives to hitting. He has anger and frustration, normal human emotions, he just needs to know what to do with them. Allow him to squeeze a stress ball. Let him rip up paper, clap his hands, or pop a balloon. These sensory activities are often a release for kids.
You haven't let him by with his misbehavior. Rather, you've waited until he can comprehend your lesson, then instead of punishing him for doing wrong, which doesn't show him how to do right, you've stuck to your limit and given him tools he can use so he can avoid hitting the next time, and his dignity is intact, as is yours. Win-win.
“Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” ― Jane Nelson2. Problem-solving. It is tempting to hit kids with arbitrary consequences. "You've just lost your Xbox for 3 days!" "You're grounded!" "Go to your room!" Herein again lies the problem that these methods do not teach your child any how to's for better behavior. Do you know that irritated, empty feeling you get when you've read an article or book that tells you everything you're doing wrong but doesn't leave you with any alternatives? That's exactly how your child feels when you spank him, send him to time out, or give an arbitrary consequence. He now knows what he shouldn't do, but he doesn't know what he can do instead. And if he doesn't know what he can do instead, he is likely, just like you are, to fall back to doing just what it is that got him in trouble in the first place because it's the only thing he knows to do.
Having your child involved in the problem-solving process will not only teach him valuable lessons and instill self-discipline, but it will leave his dignity intact, and he'll feel good about himself and his relationship with you.
Let me give you an example of problem-solving instead of imposing consequences.
Note: Because problem-solving is a cortex (pre-frontal) function, the child probably won't be ready to be involved in the problem-solving process until at least age 4. However, you can certainly let your younger-than-4 children hear you problem-solve. Talk it through with them. "You wanted Emma's doll, so you took it from her, but now Emma is crying. You both want the doll. Hmm. How can we solve this problem? How about you and Emma take turns with the doll?"
Your 5 year old son gets upset at Grandma's house and yells "I don't like you!" to her. Grandma tells you about when you pick him up. Instead of telling him he was rude and taking away his TV for 2 days, involve him in making it better.
Ask him what happened at Grandma's. Hear him out. You might say "I understand you got upset. Everyone gets upset sometimes, but we have to be careful with words because they can hurt. Do you think those words hurt Grandma's feelings?" Ask him "How can we make Grandma feel better? Can you think of something?" He may decide to pick her some flowers or make her a card or write her an apology note. If he doesn't come up with anything on his own, offer him a few suggestions like I just listed and let him choose. When he chooses, help him carry out his solution by taking him outside to pick the flowers or giving him supplies to make a card and tell him how much better he will make Grandma feel. Let him surprise her with it! He'll probably be smiling ear-to-ear.
In the above scenario, you have still taught your son the lesson that it isn't acceptable to say rude things to people when you're upset, but rather than him feeling like a loser and leaving it at that, you've empowered him to regain his positive self-concept that he is good and capable, taught him an excellent life lesson in righting wrongs and the value of relationships, and, again, you've not compromised your relationship, which you will come to learn, if you don't already know, is where your influence on your child truly lies.
Obviously every scenario can go a hundred different ways, but the idea is to involve your child in the process. Let your child come up with as much of the solution with as little prompting from you as possible, but do offer coaching if he's young or having a difficult time problem-solving himself. There should be no shaming, blaming, or anger in the problem-solving process. If you're child is upset, or if you are upset, wait until everyone is calm to begin the process.
3. Time-in. For toddlers and preschoolers, time-in is an excellent alternative to time-out. To understand why we don't recommend time outs, read this. A time-in is much the same as the calm down area, just without the sensory tools. During a time-in, you remove your child from the situation, sit her on your lap or in a chair beside you, and stay with her. Empathize with her upset and help her to know she is safe. Wait with her until she is calm and regulated, and then move forward with your teaching.
Dr. Gordon Neufeld says this: "All growth emanates from a place of rest. Children must never work for our love, they must rest in it. We have gone to a practice of parenting that makes them work for the contact and closeness. 'Off to your room! I withdraw the invitation to exist in my presence until you come into line' and we make them work at keeping us close. We might get more compliance, but we get a deeply restless child."
Gordon Neufeld on why kids need rest and how to provide it.
4. Natural and occasionally logical consequences. Life itself is a pretty good teacher. It is fine to allow your child to experience the natural consequences of his actions, but take care here not to "cause" the natural consequence to occur. If your child refuses to do his homework, facing his teacher without it or getting a lower grade is a natural consequence. If your child breaks his toy by being too rough with it, he has a broken toy that gets thrown away. That is the natural consequence. If you child gets home from a friend's house past the time you set and doesn't get any dinner, that is not a natural consequence, that is a punishment. Having to warm up his dinner or make himself a sandwich is the natural consequence. You should also exercise discretion, obviously, in which natural consequences you allow to occur. If your child refuses a coat in the winter, let him go without it, but bring it along for when he realizes that wasn't such a good idea. Making him suffer through the cold might teach him not to leave his coat again, but it isn't very compassionate.
Sometimes, for children who are too young to problem-solve, a logical consequence can be a good teacher. The key to effective consequences to deliver them with empathy and come from a place of teaching, not from making the child pay. For example, if your 2 year old throws a toy at your head, it is perfectly reasonable to take that toy and put it away. However, this isn't done by shaming the child and saying "That's it! I said no throwing toys! I'm taking that away!!" but rather with an "Uh-oh. Throwing is dangerous. That almost hit me. Let's put the toy away until you're ready to play with it without throwing. Would you like to color?" Your tone and body language is not threatening. You want to convey to your child that you are on her side and that you will do what is necessary to keep everyone safe, not that she is naughty for throwing the toy. She's 2, throwing is fun. She can't control her impulses quite yet. That doesn't mean we allow it though. For children over the age of 5 or 6, problem-solving will take the place of any logical consequence you impose.
Alfie Kohn on punishment.
The argument is often made that parents need to spank or smack hands in order to deter their child from a more painful outcome, such as getting hit by a car or getting burned on the stove. But after spanking them for going near the road or smacking his hand so he doesn't touch the stove, would you then leave them alone near the road or the stove, having complete confidence that the swat or slap taught the lesson? Of course you wouldn't. So what is the value in the smack? Believe me, if I thought that smacking my kid was the ONLY way to keep him safe, I'd be doing it. But I've found that a serious tone and repetitive teaching (which you have to do whether you smack or not) is effective.
How tempting it is to slap those daring little hands! Many parents do it without thinking, but consider the consequences. Maria Montessori, one of the earliest opponents of slapping children's hands, believed that children's hands are tools for exploring, an extension of the child's natural curiosity. Slapping them sends a powerful negative message. Sensitive parents we have interviewed all agree that the hands should be off-limits for physical punishment. Research supports this idea. Psychologists studied a group of sixteen fourteen-month-olds playing with their mothers. When one group of toddlers tried to grab a forbidden object, they received a slap on the hand; the other group of toddlers did not receive physical punishment. In follow-up studies of these children seven months later, the punished babies were found to be less skilled at exploring their environment. Better to separate the child from the object or supervise his exploration and leave little hands unhurt. - Dr. William Sears (source)
10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child
The Debate on Spanking is Dead
I Was Spanked and I'm Fine
Plain Talk About Spanking
Some videos to watch:
Long-Term Harmful Effects of Spanking Part 1
Long-Term Harmful Effects of Spanking Part 2
"I was spanked, and I'm okay."