Spare the rod: Transition to consequence-based discipline

A majority of parents spank their children as a form of discipline. However, most parents are unaware of the problems and limitations of spanking. Learning to use consequences is a much more effective form of discipline.

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  • You are a great parent.

    How do I know this? Because you are here at FamilyShare.com. Great parents are always looking for ways to improve and to add new tools to their parenting toolbox.

    However, there might be one tool in your toolbox that should be retired.

    Spanking.

    I know, I know, it's an antique, an heirloom that has been in your family for generations. But there are newer models of discipline that are much more effective.

    In their articles "The case against spanking" and "Is corporal punishment an effective means of discipline," The American Psychological Association has shown there are many negative effects associated with spanking. Most parents who spank don't realize that:

  • Spanking is only effective short-term

    Because it does not teach your child an alternative, acceptable behavior, it does not change your child's behavior in the long run.

  • Spanking loses its short-term effectiveness over time

    In their article, "Spanking in early childhood," authors Angela Oswalt, MSW, Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D and Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. note that children can become immune to the discomfort of spanking, and so parents might feel they need to increase severity to get results. This can escalate to abuse.

  • Spanking may teach children to hit as a form of problem-solving

    “Do as I say, not as I do,” has never been effective. Children learn through their parents' example.

  • Spanking may hurt your relationship with your child

    It can create strong emotions such as fear, anger, anxiety, hostility and resentment. Children may avoid coming to their parents for help if they are afraid of being punished.

  • Spanking can lead to other unwanted behavior,

    such as aggression, anti-social behavior, and lying to keep from getting caught.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics's Guidance for Effective Discipline recommends consequence-based discipline. Here are some ways that you can transition from punishment to consequences.

  • 1. See the big picture

    Raising your child to become a happy, productive, and moral adult is a long-term project that will take you at least a couple of decades. Yes, you want to stop the negative behavior right now, but is your method of discipline getting you to your end goal?

  • 2. Catch him being good

    You want your child to know that there are consequences to his choices, good and bad. Think about the positive behavior you want to see, and then look for times he is exhibiting that behavior.

    Praise him specifically: “Thank you for being kind to your brother.”

    Link rewards to good behavior: “Yes, Matt can come over to play, because I see that you've cleaned your room.”

    Remember, you reinforce the behaviors that you give the most attention.

  • 3. Use your words

    You are getting frustrated, upset, or angry because your child is disobeying you. Tell him, “I'm so angry right now that I really want to spank you, but I'm not going to do that.”

    Verbalizing your feelings gives you the opportunity to vent them, while modeling the behavior you want to see in your child. You are teaching him that it is OK to be angry, and it is OK to express your emotions, but it is not OK to lash out physically.

  • 4. Make use of time out – for both of you

    Time out is a great way to help diffuse an emotionally charged moment. When you put your child in time out, give her a task to focus on, such as taking 10 deep breaths, or thinking of three nice things about her brother. This will help her calm down and become more teachable.

    If your emotions are running high, then there is nothing wrong with taking a break in your room or the bathroom with the door shut. If your child is throwing a tantrum, no one says you have to stay and watch. Try some deep breathing yourself. Consider your options and how you want to handle the situation. And keep a secret stash of chocolate on hand.

  • 5. Buy time

    Has this ever happened to you? My son had been misbehaving all day, ignoring my warnings and pushing my buttons. Finally, I'd had enough. “That's it! You are grounded from TV, all electronics, and no friends over for a week!” Oh my. Enforcing that consequence was much more painful for me than it was for my son.

    I've discovered a better way. When my children are misbehaving, I simply warn them, “There will be consequences.” I don't have to decide immediately what those consequences will be. I allow myself time to decide which consequences will be the most effective for him – and least painful for me.

  • 6. Be consistent

    All right, I'm going to cut you some slack on this one. I don't know of any parent who is 100 percent consistent. There are times when we are exhausted and our child is whining for a cookie before dinner and we say yes, just to make it stop. Apologize to your child, let her know that this was a one-time exception, and then forgive yourself. You can't model perfection for your child, but you can model picking yourself up from a mistake and trying to do better next time.

    So put down your figurative paddle, and pick up your child. Give him a big hug and tell him he's wonderful. You'll both be glad you did.

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Shelli Howells is a creative fiction writer, and a mother of six.

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