Last Updated on August 22, 2021.
Are you at the end of your rope trying to get your kids to behave and listen? Are you struggling to find parenting tools that work? If you need an alternative to spanking, here’s a complete guide to what to do instead of spanking. It’s a judgement free guide to help overwhelmed parents get on the right track.
Spanking. It may be a more hotly departed topic than politics in mom circles. You’re in a judgement-free zone. Every parenting journey is different. Every parent needs to use a different combination of tools while navigating their path. I’m here to give you alternatives. More tools. Better tools, backed by science, that you can call on when you need a different way to handle things.
Negative Side Effects of Spanking
I swore I’d never spank my kids. But one day, I was raging mad, and I tapped my daughter on the bottom firmly. She was upset. I was upset. And a day later, she hit me when she got mad. This child had never hit anyone in anger. Have you experienced any of these negative side effects of spanking your kids?
Children tend to emulate adult behavior. It’s why they love to play with babydolls and play pretend school. When adults spank a child, the message they get is that it’s appropriate to hit or hurt people who upset you. Your experience might be similar to mine: as soon as you spank (even just once), your child starts hitting anyone who makes them mad. Then, we often confuse them by punishing them for hitting.
Children who are spanked may exhibit antisocial behavior. They may prefer to play alone, spend plenty of time in their room, and avoid confrontation.
Mental health issues & low self-esteem
There’s some science that links spanking with depression and anxiety. They experience a decreased sense of self-worth. They struggle with a negative inner-voice that can last a lifetime.
Negative parent/child relationship
Physical discipline can strain the parent/child relationship. The idea that parents are allowed to hit children, but that children cannot hit adults, can create confusion and resentment.
Impaired cognitive ability
Science has linked spanking with slow cognitive development. They may struggle to grasp complex concepts and have difficulty with problem solving activities.
Lack of coping skills
Children who are spanked tend to start behaving in the short term out of fear. But they do not develop appropriate coping skills to deal with frustrating or tough situations. They bottle up their feelings and avoid confrontation. This can lead to life-long coping issues.
Ways to Discipline a Child without Hitting
Get On Their Level
Consider how kids feel when you tower over them, pointing down and scolding them. It must be intimidating. Maybe even scary. It puts kids in “fight or flight” mode. Kid’s arent hearing you while they’re in this state of heightened awareness. Just kneeling down and getting face to face with them will help you be heard.
Pick Your Battles
Kids naturally test boundaries and push buttons. Before reacting, consider if it’s worth the battle. Is the topic something meaningful for your family? Is it a battle related to your core beliefs and values? If not, it’s probably not worth the fight.
You may feel like giving in means that they “win”. You make think that you’re giving up some of your authority. But I argue on the contrary. Conceding some battles will give your kids a sense of belonging and significance. They will feel like their views matter.
Natural consequences are the BEST teacher. When we let natural consequences take over, life is teaching a lesson, not mom or dad. To take advantage of natural consequences, you literally do nothing. You don’t intervene in any way. You may want to offer a warning, like “Remember to wash out your lunchbox, or tomorrow you won’t have a lunch box to use. Then you’ll have to eat hot lunch at school.”
I like to offer my kids help thinking of tools to keep them on track. A simple “What can we do to help you remember to wash it before bed? What if I put it next to the sink here? Or should you put a sticky note on your bedroom door?”
When natural consequences aren’t an option, logical consequences are a close second. Creating effective consequences comes down to following 4 simple rules: consequences must be related to the misbehavior, reasonable in duration, respectful in nature, and revealed in advance. If you want to learn how to create amazingly effective consequences, check out this complete guide and printable workbook!
Try a Time Out or a Time In
A short break can help everyone cool off and gain perspective. Some people prefer time-outs, but we prefer time-ins. The difference is about connection. Time-outs generally isolate children, while a time-in offers opportunities for parents to connect and strengthen their relationships. You can read more about time-ins here!
When misbehavior starts, offer a distraction. Ask kids to do something completely different. This is especially helpful for young kids. It’s as easy as “Hey! It seems like you’re struggling to follow our inside voice rule. Let’s change activities and color quietly.”
Change the Environment
Very similar to offering a distraction, changing the environment can help young kids behave. My mother-in-law often says “If kids are struggling, put them in water or take them outside.” And it works like a charm! If your kids aren’t listening, send them to the yard, or put them in the bath. You could also let them play with toys in the sink. Even moving to a different room of the house can be effective!
Oftentimes misbehavior is attention-seeking behavior. Kids want to connect with mom (or dad). How often do your kids say “Mom, will you play with me?” or “Dad, will you go to the park with me?” They need you to fill their bucket. And if they aren’t able to get positive attention from parents, they know you will pay attention if they act poorly. So they act out! When your kids are acting out, try connecting. Ask them if they want to play a game of checkers or take a walk around the block.
Find a way to meet in the middle. Giving your kids a little bit of input can diffuse almost any situation. Kids will feel empowered and significant.
Use Non-Verbal Cues
Give your kids “the look.” A facial expression, a hand signal, or any other non-verbal communication can work well to snap kids out of their funk.
Use the “Do-Over”
This is one of my favorite positive parenting tools. This is not a free pass to behave poorly. It’s an opportunity for kids to realize their initial reactions weren’t great, and a chance to fix it (without judgment or fear of consequences). It might sound like this: “Jane, I’d love to help you, but I can’t when you talk to me in that manner. Would you like a do-over?”
Pro-Tip: You can call in a do-over too! As soon as you realize you are responding poorly to your kids, take a moment and say “Sorry Jake, that’s not how I wanted to respond. Can I have a do-over and try again?”
What to do When Your Child Won’t Listen
Sometimes parents resort to spanking when kids simply aren’t listening. So what do you do instead of spanking when your kids aren’t hearing a word you’re saying. If your kids just aren’t hearing you, here are a few tips to make sure you’re heard:
- Avoid raising your voice
- Get down on your kid’s level
- Speak in a soft voice, maybe even a whisper (people tend to emulate tone and volume of the people they are speaking with)
- Walk away for a short period
- Say “I’d love to share my thoughts/comments/ideas with you, but it doesn’t seem like you’re ready to listen. Please let me know when we can chat!”
Proactive Ways to Prevent Misbehaviors
In addition to discovering what to do instead of spanking, you can also implement proactive ways to prevent misbehavior in the first place! Here are some positive strategies to limit poor behavior.
Control the Environment
The absolute best way to prevent misbehaviors is to control the environment. This includes things like locking cabinets you don’t want your kids in, putting away fragile items your children could break, and keeping dangerous items far out of reach. When my oldest daughter was about 3, she kept drawing on furniture. No amount of conversation or consequences would stop her. The only thing that worked was removing markers from our life for almost two years. By controlling the environment, I saved us both two years of anger and frustration.
You know your kids better than anyone. Learn to recognize your child’s triggers. If you’re not sure, start documenting the circumstances around the misbehavior. This is how I discovered both of my kids misbehave more when they’ve had excess screen time. When you know your child’s triggers, you can plan and prepare for them. Maybe your child acts out when they are hangry (hungry and angry). You can start carrying healthy snacks with you!
Create Family Rules & Related Consequences
Family rules with firm, consistent consequences are a great way to prevent bad behavior. For the best possible results, your consequences need to be related to the misbehavior. In our house, we have just a few family rules. One is “if you are unkind to your toys, then the toys will be put away for the rest of the day.” And my kids know that if they throw a toy of any kind, I’ll pick it up and put it away without a word. If you need help with consequences, I have a complete guide and printable workbook here!
The most effective way to stop misbehavior is to be consistent. When your children know exactly what to expect, they can resist the temptation to misbehave. If they get away with their bad behavior sometimes, they will probably test the boundaries. So never blurt out a consequence you’re unwilling to actually execute!
Ignore Minor Transgressions
Kids can be moody. They are human, afterall. And they are learning what it means to be human. So show them grace and let the small things go. You can point out these minor issues later when your child is in a better mood. For example, my oldest Bee likes to growl at me when she’s angry. I hate it. It’s rude. But when it happens I just ignore it. Later, usually at bed time, I’ll point out that it happened and ask her to try not to do that.
Fill Their Bucket Daily
There’s a great kids book about filling buckets. If we pour love, affection, and kindness into our kids they are much more likely to feel good about themselves and behave better. If you know you’re going to have a tough day, you can smother them with attention (I call this attention overload) in preparation for the tough day.
Too often we expect our kids to perform a task or behave in a certain way when we’ve provided zero training. I’m so guilty of this. We must provide thorough training and practice for any and all expectations we have for our kids.
Need a concrete example? You can’t expect your pre-teen to sort laundry without appropriate training. You and I may think it’s easy, but what happens when you find a piece of clothing that’s red and white? How do you know which items should be washed on the delicate cycle? We shouldn’t punish kids who destroy laundry if they have not had ample training and practice alongside mom and dad.
What about bad behavior? One of the most embarrassing parenting situations is when a child points and comments on someone with physical differences.
Acknowledge and Reward Positive Behavior
Generally, kids are eager to please. From the moment they can start expressing themselves, they look to their parents for positive acknowledgement at every milestone. They beam with pride when their parents clap or cheer when they do something new or exciting.
One of the most effective ways to encourage kids is positive acknowledgment and encouragement. And, when appropriate, rewards can also be effective.
Practice Positive Affirmations
Practicing positive affirmations is a powerful way to build confidence and esteem. Kids who feel good about themselves tend to behave better. A simple positive affirmation routine takes just 5 minutes a day and can make a big difference in your child’s behavior. Try our free positive affirmation printables!
Practice Grounding Techniques
Even more powerful than practicing positive affirmations is practicing grounding or calming strategies. The most successful people in the world practice mindfulness on a daily basis, so it’s a great habit to build into your routine early on. Just a few minutes of practicing these calming strategies can help your kids process big feelings with fewer misbehaviors.
Model Appropriate Behavior
Kids emulate your behavior. Behave exactly how you want your kids to behave, and you’ll have a solid foundation. You’ll find you need to use fewer tools, including spanking, to get your kids to behave.
Other Discipline Tips
Want to get the most out of these positive discipline tools? Here are a few tips to maximize the effectiveness of your efforts!
- When you say no, mean it. Use “Asked and Answered”.
- If you outline a consequence, you must follow through, or you lose credibility.
- You’ll make mistakes and that’s ok! Admit it, and express your apologies and your desire to do better with your child!
Learn about motivation. When you understand the types of motivation, how they work, and when to use them, you’ll have a huge advantage.