Effective Ways to Discipline Without Spanking

For some parents, spanking may seem like the easiest consequence for bad behavior, but research is showing that it may be causing more harm than good.

“Spanking your child actually sends them mixed messages,” says Patti Schwan, MSW, ProMedica Physicians Behavioral Health. “It teaches them that it’s OK to be aggressive when you’re mad. If they associate anger with getting loud and hitting, the first thing they’re going to do when they are angered is yell and hit.”

According to a recent survey published in the April 2016 issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, 80% of parents worldwide continue to spank their children. Yet a recent meta-analysis by Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin, and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor of the University of Michigan suggested that spanking may lead to negative outcomes in behavioral health, parent-child relationships and cognitive ability. The analysis looked at data from nearly 161,000 children.

“[Spanking is] a very common form of punishment,” says Schwan. “Parents think, ‘Well if I don’t leave a mark then it’s OK’, but the parent doesn’t think about whether that swat on the behind is serving the purpose that they really want.”

Using spanking as a form of punishment on a child can actually cause them to fear the parent, which can be detrimental to the parent-child relationship, as well as create more behavioral issues.

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“Parents tell me that spanking is the only form of punishment that works,” says Schwan. “I obviously can’t stop a parent from spanking their child, but I ask them: Do you want your child to stop the behavior out of fear, or do you want them to stop the behavior out of respect?”

Schwan believes while spanking may have worked on the parent when they were a child, there are much more effective forms of discipline:

Allow for natural consequences.

I find that natural consequences work better than forced ones,” says Schwan. “For example, if your child is mean toward someone else, yes we can take the television away, but what does that teach them?”

Schwan suggests rather than take something away, have a consequence that makes sense. In this example, require the child to perform acts of kindness to the person that they were just mean to.

Ignore the bad behavior.

“Kids want their parent’s attention more than anything,” says Schwan. “That is much more valuable to them than any toy or trinket.”

This doesn’t mean that parents should allow the child to get away with certain behavior. “It is important to correct the child and teach them the correct way to do something and provide a safe consequence when the behavior is inappropriate and most importantly, unsafe,” explains Schwan. “If too much negative attention (yelling, arguing, lecturing, spanking) is given to negative behavior, parents may run the risk of children continuing to repeat it in order to obtain attention from Mom and Dad in negative ways.”

Sometimes, it comes down to picking your battles. Schwan says that sometimes if a child realizes that their behavior is not warranting the parent’s attention, they won’t continue it and will move on to something else.

Reward the good behavior.

Schwan believes often times children are not praised enough for good behavior. “If a child is sitting quietly, we usually don’t want to interrupt them because we don’t want to ruin it,” says Schwan. She believes children thrive on positive reinforcement, and will benefit from being told they have done something good.

When disciplining your children, what techniques have worked best for you? Share in a comment below.

Editor’s Note: This story was revised on 7/21/16.