Article at a Glance

  • Learning more effective and less risky forms of discipline ahead of time can help you avoid spanking.
  • Clearly establishing reasonable expectations and making it fun to be good can help prevent bad behavior.
  • Discipline works best when everybody is calm and thinking clearly: taking some time to calm down can help everybody clear their head.

When our children are misbehaving it can be hard to find the right way to handle things in the heat of the moment. On days when it feels like nothing is working, our frustration grows. In those moments it is tempting to think that spanking is our only remaining option. Or that if we don’t spank we are failing to do everything we should to discipline our children.

However, hundreds of studies have shown that spanking is not a cure-all or even an effective way to change behavior. In a recent study that audiotaped families, researchers found that in 75 percent of the incidences children would return to misbehaving as little as 10 minutes after being spanked.

Spanking also comes with a slew of disadvantages. It models bad behavior, fuels anger in both children and parents, damages relationships, creates bad memories, can create mental health issues, and fosters violent behavior. Spanking can also lead to more and more violent methods of corporal punishment. There are a lot of grey areas when it comes to spanking; at what point does spanking turn into child abuse?

Spanking is often our knee jerk reaction when we can’t find a better way to resolve parenting issues. Instead, arm yourself with some more effective non-corporal ways of disciplining. That way in the heat of the moment you already have a game plan in place or can give yourself a few minutes to calm down before deciding what to do next.


A lot of bad behavior can be prevented before it even starts by clearly establishing reasonable expectations. These should be enforced consistently and easy for your child to understand.

Work together with your spouse

Parenting is one of the hardest things you will do as a couple. If you are on different pages, it will make things nearly impossible. Take time to talk through different strategies and agree on an approach. The last thing you want to do is fight about which parenting technique to use in front of your child. Children are smart enough to recognize when there is a break in the ranks and they will exploit it.

Make it fun to be good

Establishing positive incentives to promote good behavior is much more effective than punishing bad behavior. Find incentive programs that work well for your kids, whether it is earning points towards something they want or a sticker chart. If a program stops working as well, tweaking it a bit or changing the incentive can make it fresh and exciting again.

Find ways to have fun together as a family and set expectations about how your children should act during the activity. Make it clear that in order to participate you expect them to behave well. If the fun stops when kids act up, they quickly learn that it pays to be good.

Evaluate what kind of messages we are sending

When we talk to our children, is it always to bark out orders or complain about what they are doing? If so, they will learn to tune us out. Instead we need to make sure we are also mixing in some praise and expressions of love. How would we feel if the only words we heard from our spouse’s mouth were demands?

Try to focus on the positive and catch your child doing the right thing. Evaluate how you talk about your child in front of others or your children. Children often live up to our expectations. If you are always telling others how bad your child is behaving, you may be sabotaging your efforts.

Another technique that works well is to make lists of what your child needs to do to get ready for the day or to get ready for bed at night. This way your child knows what to do next without you having to bark out a steady stream of orders.


Often misbehavior is a red flag for another concern. It can help to try to find out why your child is mad or misbehaving. It isn’t always easy to figure out, often our children don’t even know, but sometimes they may surprise us. It is important to remember that anger and spanking shut down communication, while listening helps foster it.

Teaching older children how to think through and resolve their own problems will help prevent outbursts in the future.


Spending some time alone gives everybody a chance to cool down. When we are angry all the blood rushes from our brains and into our bodies, making us less able to think clearly. It is very hard to reason with people when they are angry.

Instead give your child some time to calm down first. The rule of thumb is one minute for every year of life, starting at one year old. The time-out should be a quiet time to relax. If you have to keep putting your child back in time-out this does not count. The timer should start once your child is alone and quiet.

Parents need time-outs too. If you are upset, take a break until you can calm down.

Punishment fits the crime

Consequences are always more effective when they correspond with the bad behavior. For example, refusing to turn off the TV can result in losing TV privileges. As adults, our consequences correlate with our choices. If you don’t do well at work, you lose your job. It is a good idea to teach children this correlation as early as possible. That way when they are older they will be able to evaluate consequences and make good choices.

Avoid lectures

Don’t drag things out. Long lectures can cause kids to tune out and little ones don’t have the verbal skills or attention span to get much from them anyway. Instead act decisively and then be willing to move on. Don’t keep dragging up your child’s past sins—this is more discouraging than it is motivating.

When we ask our children to do something, be sure to speak firmly. Don’t ask them to do something, tell them to do it. For example tell your child, “It is time to put on your shoes,” instead of asking them, “Can you put on your shoes?”

Keep your perspective

When we are frustrated, it is hard not to get emotional or angry. But giving yourself over to these emotions will cripple your ability to teach effectively. Remember that your child’s behavior is not personal, even though it may feel like it. They are not out to get you. Children are still learning self-control and going through a variety of developmental stages. Losing control won’t help your children learn self-control.

Recognize that it takes lots of effort to change behavior; it does not happen over night. Sometimes it takes days, months or even years. You may have to try several different techniques.

Remember to allow for mistakes from yourself and your children. We will all make them. Be firm, but let your child know that we are all learning.

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Spanking doesn’t work; here’s what does

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