After a controversial post on my personal Facebook wall, there was a big discussion on spanking, something I don’t believe in using as a discipline method. Same goes for yelling. Now this isn’t an anti-spanking post. Instead it’s a “how do you discipline if you don’t spank?” post. The thing is, saying not to spank is pointless if you don’t give a parent tools that actually work instead. For me it’s not so much about spanking being harmful but about it being an ineffective parenting tool that often makes a situation worse rather than better. As you’ve seen in my post about parenting advice that annoys me because it doesn’t work, I’m about what works, what is effective, not just in the short term but the long term. Now I don’t pretend to have it all figured out. Parenting is a constant challenge and learning processes as our children are always changing and growing and there are always new challenges. But these are some of the advice and methods I’ve gleaned from different sources that I’ve found to not only be effective, but practical for a busy mother with other children to care for.
- Deal with issues immediately, don’t ignore them.
It’s so easy to be caught up and busy with something that we ignore our children jumping on the couch and we yell at them a few times while continuing to do what ever it is we are doing and they ignore us until finally we get really angry and scream at them or march over there and spank them or generally it all goes down bad. And, in the end, what we’ve taught them is we don’t mean it until we’re screaming or spanking and they can ignore us until then. Instead, what we need to do is stop what we’re doing and go over there and remove the child, get on their level and look them in the eye and tell them to stop. Then we need to be ready for them to try to disobey and deal with them again immediately. There can be a consequence like time out. For young kids consequences should be immediate, not future things like “you can’t go to Tommy’s party tomorrow”. When we respond right away (which is really hard to do because we’re often busy) we teach our children that we mean what we say and we no longer need to yell or get to the point where we’re about to lose it. It also shows them they’re important to us. When we make the effort it is easier in the long run as our child learn to obey the first time and discipline only takes a few minutes rather than 10 mins of yelling and 5 of losing it and 5 of screaming and spanking and then 10 of a crying child in meltdown.
- Playful Parenting.
This is a great tool for young children and doesn’t need to be used all the time. It works well when you need to get children to do something they don’t want to do. Make things into a game or fun and suddenly you have your child interested. Why fight over wiping their face while you try to hold still a sticky toddler who suddenly has 10 arms and the strength of a gorilla. The cloth is a little bunny that wants to give kisses. Here’s kisses all over your face. Muh, muh, muh. Recently my kids weren’t coming upstairs for their bath and I was too tired to go get them a haul them upstairs. I started singing “Five Little Speckled Frogs” really loudly and talking about how their toy frogs were jumping into the tub. They came running and wanted to play with the frogs. Yes, this takes a little imagination and creativity but that’s really less energy and work than trying to convince a stubborn toddler to do something or physically wrestling them into it.
- Keep a child close.
A child that is being defiant often and seems to be acting out for no reason often needs to reconnect with you. This is true at any age. Relationship is so important in parenting. Something could be bothering them, maybe a bully at school, or a fight with a friend or they’re scared about an upcoming test. Giving them time to connect with you and talk and feel loved will do wonders. One on one time with your children is so important. My children are so happy after I take just one of them with me somewhere. Even just taking a child who is having a bad day on your lap and reading them stories may be enough to turn around the day. They feel so special and loved. Now of course as a mother with more than one child as soon as you take one kid on your lap the other one wants to join in. If you can convince your children one at a time do so, if not move to somewhere where you can call cuddle and read a book together. Family time should be very important. Plan family trips together. Have family game nights. Have family dinners. Make connecting as a family top priority. The book “Hold on to Your Kids” talks about the importance of spending time with your kids.
- Give a child independence.
Children crave to be independent. As a parent you know that your child has a mind and opinions of their own. That’s good. You are raising someone not to live with you forever, but to one day be independent. There is nothing more confidence building in a child than independence. There are many ways to do this. Simple things like a stool in the bathroom so that they can wash their hands themselves. Letting them pick out their own clothes to wear. Who cares if it doesn’t match. Let them climb the slide at the park. Teach them to put their dishes in the dish washer or to help empty it. Teach them to put their clothes away or to put their shoes on. Give them responsibility. They can have a spray bottle and wash windows or feed the dog. Let them help make dinner. Young children are quite capable of doing many things if they’re taught and given the opportunity. A child that has more independence is less likely to turn every single thing into a power struggle because they feel that they have some control over their life. The Montessori approach has lots of information about teaching and allowing our children to be independent.
- Take time to step back and think.
Now this seems to be the opposite of dealing with issues immediately. But there are so many different parenting situations. This is for when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or you’re about to lose it or you’re not sure how to deal with a behaviour. It’s ok to not respond right away at these times. If you feel you’re about to lose it then walk away. Go somewhere alone (the bathroom works well) and just try to breath and think clearly. (of course make sure your child is safe before leaving them alone). Often when you stop to think you’ll realise a better way to handle the behaviour than your initial response would be. Maybe you’ll realise that your child is hungry and so giving them a snack would help. Maybe you’ll realise that they’re upset about something that happened earlier so you can talk about that. Maybe you’ll realise that they need time alone to calm down and you’ll put them in their room or time out. Maybe you’ll realise that they need a talk about hitting or they need to learn alternative ways to deal with their anger. There are so many situations, only a clear head will help you think of the best way to deal with that particular one. Now I will warn you, if you lock yourself in the bathroom your kids may stand outside the door and scream and bang on it. But just not having them in the room with you does help. And I tell my children often that parents get frustrated and angry and sometimes need space. That sometimes mommy needs to be alone to calm down and I’ll be right back after. That when mommy needs space you need to leave her alone for just a few minutes. I let my children know what I’m doing and that I’ll be right back so they don’t feel abandoned. It also is a great model for your children about how they should handle their anger. Also be aware of times you’re under stress or tired, these are times you’re more likely to have a “mommy meltdown”. Be kind to yourself on those days. Keep your daily plans simple. Try to get enough sleep or have a power nap, make sure you eat and drink. Remind yourself that your lack of patience is coming from these things not your children. Just like it’s hurtful when our spouse’s takes out their work or money or other stress on us, it’s hurtful if we take out our stresses on our children.
- Lower, Look, Touch
When you correct your child you need to get down to their level, look them in the eye, touch them by holding their arms or shoulders (gently but firmly) and speak in a low firm voice. Yelling across the room is not as effective at all. It seems like more work (especially when your kids are short and you are tall) but it’s really more work to yell and yell and yell again and then march over there and yell and spank or whatever you end up doing.
- Be consistent.
Don’t discipline your child one day for throwing their cup because they don’t like that colour and then not the next day. If a child gets away with a behaviour one day but not the next it’s confusing for them. If you scream at them one time and then ignore them another, they’re going to experiment and see what happens the next time. You also need to keep a pretty consistent routine. Bedtime should always be at the same time except for special occasions. If you let them stay up one day they’ll want it the next and the next. Routine helps a child feel secure. They don’t know what the plan is in your head. They can’t read the calendar and they have little concept of time, so having a consistent routine gives them security and predictability. And let them know what they can expect. “Today you have a doctor’s appointment. After we eat breakfast we’ll get in the car and go there and then we’ll come back and have a snack”. Give them warnings before a big transition is about to happen. “In 5 minutes it’s time to clean up your toys and then get ready for bed”.
- Always follow through.
Don’t make threats you’re not going to keep. Children are smart. If you threaten that if they don’t go to bed now that you won’t go camping tomorrow, they know that you don’t mean it. Especially if you’ve been saying it all day long or you make threats like that often and don’t keep them. Think before you proclaim a consequence. Do you really mean it? Are you really willing to follow it through if the child doesn’t obey? Once a child knows that you mean what you say, then when you make a threat it has a lot of power. It just takes one time of telling a child, “if you don’t put your shoes on you can’t come grocery shopping with mommy” and then you leaving without them because they didn’t put their shoes on, for them to jump into their shoes the next time.
- Natural consequence are best when possible.
Natural consequences aren’t always practical or desirable, but they do have an important place. A consequence tied to the negative behaviour is more effective. Like the above example of a child not being able to go with you because they didn’t put their shoes on. Or a child won’t put their coat on so they’re cold when they’re outside. Or they won’t clean up their toys so the toys are taken away (ours go in the basement for a few days to weeks).
- Time Outs
We use time out often. Tantrums end fast when there isn’t an audience. We have a gate at the top of the stairs and I always tell them: “You need some time to calm down. When you are calm you can call me and I’ll come get you.” I don’t usually time it. It’s based on their being ready to come down rather than a certain number of minutes. Sometimes a child just needs to cry and scream. I know even as an adult there are times I want to just scream. So allowing them to do that in a safe place that isn’t bothering everyone else can help them let out those emotions so then they can get control of themselves. I find my kids are much happier after and then want to cuddle. When I come back I look them in the eye (the Lower, Look, Touch) and tell them the behaviour that is not allowed and give them acceptable alternatives and then I hug them.
- Lots of active gross motor play.
Children are active. They need to run and climb and jump and roll and throw. Often they can’t control those urges just like they can’t often control the urge to go to the bathroom until older. Giving your child chances to meet that need makes them more settled and relaxed. Also learning to control their body by developing balance and coordination later translates into self control in other areas. Children need this type of play every day. If you have the space, create an area for active play in your home for days when you can’t get outside. You can also try indoor play places like at McDonalds or just pushing the furniture back and putting the couch cushions on the floor.
- Limit screen time.
Though TV initially can be a lifesaver and seem to calm a child down, in the long run it over stimulates them and makes them mentally tired and we all know tired children are difficult. If you do need to put the TV on look for calm shows that don’t have a lot of jumping around and scene changes and noise. Slow shows like Mr Rogers Neighbourhood or Mr Dress-Up are good. Little Bear, Franklin or even nature shows. My daughter loves watching Chris Hadfield’s videos on YouTube over and over again. It’s similar with noisy, flashy toys that entertain rather than engage a child. Focus on open ended, battery free toys like blocks, building toys (like lego), simple dolls, playmobile, puzzles, books. If you feel overwhelmed by a toy that is singing and flashing over and over, your child probably is too but they don’t have the brain understanding to realise that the toy is making them feel overstimulated.
- Create a peaceful home
A cluttered over-stimulating environment can contribute to cranky overstimulated kids. Your house doesn’t have to look like a magazine but our children often have too much stuff and it’s overwhelming for them. Purge their toys and rotate others and organize. Less is more when it comes to calming environments. The book Simplicity Parenting explains this well.
- Work with their brains not against them.
I highly, highly recommend the book “The Whole Brained Child“. A child isn’t fully developed. You wouldn’t punish a 6 month old for pooping in their diaper, so why punish a 2 or 3 year old for behaviour they can’t control? The book helps you understand their brain development and how to help them make more connections. Here are some of the tips from the book to help your child integrate the parts of their brain that often aren’t connecting when they’re misbehaving.
-Connect emotionally with the child by naming their emotions and voicing their feelings. Now you’ll probably find this often makes the child think that you’re going to give into them and then causes more crying, however it is important that you help a child understand what it is they’re feeling and why. People who grow up not understanding why they feel and do the things they do often struggle as adults. A person who can say, “oh, I’m feeling angry with my spouse because I’m sill disappointed that they forgot our anniversary last week”will be be better able to work through their emotions and heal their relationship.
-Get the child moving. Movement helps the brain reconnect the parts. After acknowledging their feelings get them moving by tickling, roughhousing, racing. Find some way to get them active.
-Help your kids exercise their memory. The books gives examples of how to do this but memory helps develop the brain and helps children to learn to use logic rather than emotions when responding to circumstances.
-Talk about the day with your child. Talk about the good parts and the bad parts. Discuss ways they could deal with a situation better next time. Discussing things when your child is relaxed and open is going to influence them more than yelling when they’re frustrated and angry. And let it be a discussion not a lecture. Let them think of ideas and explain their feelings. The more they exercise critical thinking the better they’ll be able to use those skills when emotional.
-Teach your kids that emotions change. Young children don’t realise that in 10 mins they won’t be mad any more. Tell them what they’re feeling right now isn’t who they are. They are not sad, they feel sad. Reminding them of how they felt yesterday when doing something fun shows them that feelings will pass and they’ll feel better.
-Teach children to direct their thoughts and relax their bodies. Your physical body has a huge impact on how you feel. Though the term “mindsight” sounds newagey it’s probably something you already do. Thinking of a place that you feel relaxed, like a hammock by the lake when you’re feeling stressed, or imagining that vacation last month. Slowing your breathing or trying to relax each part of your body when you’re trying to fall asleep are all examples of mindsight. Children can be taught these techniques on a simple level. Changing what we’re focused on can change how we feel. It works for us as parents too. When we’re feeling overwhelmed or furious with our kids, thinking about how cute they looked when sleeping or how they came a gave you a big hug this morning can instantly change your emotions.
- Social Stories
Just telling a child not to do something is only half of parenting. The other half is giving them alternatives to deal with their feelings and situations. If your boss yelled at you and told you that’s not how you use the photocopier but then stormed off and never told you how to actually use it, how would you feel? What would you do? Stories can be great ways to give our children the tools they need to change their behaviour. We have a a couple great books about feelings which lets the reader pick different endings for how the child deals with their emotion. They also give me ideas to suggest to my children when they’re dealing with those emotions.
Parenting is hard. There isn’t a one size fits all solution to every situation. But you can parent and discipline your child effectively without spanking or yelling. You won’t be a perfect parent, I’m definitely not, and you will make mistakes because you’re human and you have emotions and needs too but when you have some techniques that actually are effective, things are much easier. We have a huge responsibility as parents and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. There are a ton of parenting resources out there and just as in our jobs we do professional development, we should take time to do that as parents. Here are some resources I have found helpful and I got most of the above suggestions from: