Alternatives to spanking - Four effective ways to discipline without smacking your child

Smacking or spanking has fallen out of favour as a discipline technique. Parenting expert Liat Hughes Joshi looks at other discipline methods that work without resorting to hitting your child.

When most of us were little, smacking (also known as spanking) children was still common practice. However, subsequent research has shown it’s really not an effective way to manage a child’s behaviour.

Why? Well, it does nothing to teach them what they should have done differently. It gives the impression that when we don’t approve of someone’s actions we can use physical punishment. It can cause resentment and fear of you the parent.

How to avoid smacking and what are the alternatives?

1. Come up with a behaviour management plan so you won’t smack in the heat of the moment
Some parents smack because they don’t know what else to do when their blood pressure’s rocketing at their little one’s misdemeanors. One of the most important pieces of advice I give to parents is to have a strategy in mind when it comes to managing behaviour, to prevent these knee-jerk reactions and limit the chances of resorting to spanking.

By knowing confidently that if your child does x, you will say or do y, you’re less likely to fall back on shouting, smacking or something that simply won’t work or you won’t follow through on (the classic is that they won’t get any Christmas presents…how many of us are really going to do that?) What’s more, having consistent responses will help your child know what to expect and create a feeling of security – kids thrive with firm boundaries after all.

2. Star charts and reward charts
A Supernanny favourite, Reward Charts are brilliant to spontaneously reward your child when they do the right thing or are especially kind or helpful, and to deal with a specific issues such as potty training. You can buy or make a chart – if you're making your own, why not involve your child in decorating it?

When your son or daughter shows the desired behaviour, give them a star for their reward chart immediately so that they make the association between what they did well and the star. Once they’ve achieved their target number of stars, bingo! They get a reward. This could be anything from an outing at the end of the week to an extra story at bedtime.

3. Naughty step/ time out
Rewarding is effective but we still need to discipline when children behave badly or else they realise they can get away with it. This classic Supernanny technique is a great way of calming things down if they’re shouty or being aggressive. It gives your child chance to reflect on what they’ve done wrong. 

To make Time Out work, give your child a warning when they’re misbehaving – this needs to be clear and you should use an authoritative, calm voice. Explain what they’re doing wrong briefly and in appropriate language for their age and warn them that if they don’t stop, they’ll go to the naughty step (or whatever your equivalent is).

If they do continue the undesirable behaviour, put them on the step immediately, and ensure they stay there for one minute for each year of their age – so three minutes for a three-year-old for example. Remind them of why they are there. If they move away from the step, keep calmly but firmly returning them to it, so they know you mean business. This can be hard work initially but before long they should get the message.

At the end of the allotted time, explain again what they did wrong, ask for an apology and give them a hug. Watch out though because some children use the naughty step as a way of getting extra attention – if you sense this is happening, try one of the other methods.

4. Removal of privileges
If you can understand what motivates your child, it works well to then use this to encourage optimal behaviour. For many children nowadays, this will be screen time. So employ this to your advantage and reduce their TV/ Internet allowance if they don’t follow house rules.

Other variations on this are cutting older kids’ pocket money or setting up special privileges that are specifically designed for discipline. You could start a weekly film evening and let your child pick the film but only if they have behaved well that week, or cancel the film session altogether if they’ve been really below par.

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Liat Hughes Joshi is the author of the book New Old-fashioned Parenting, published by Summersdale.

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