What to do instead of spanking

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Spanking has been in the news again. When your child misbehaves, sometimes you might think a swat on the behind is deserved. But, there are many better alternatives to spanking. Child development expert Pete Stavinoha, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist at Children’s Medical Center, suggests these other ways to interact with your child:

  • Clear communication. Parents need to be clear about their child’s behavioral expectations, telling children consistently what will and will not be tolerated.
  • Praise. Parents should tell their children when they are being good and ramp up this positive attention rather than emphasizing limit setting. This technique is what provides parents with the leverage they need when the child misbehaves, Stavinoha says.
  • Teaching alternatives. This is basically instructing children on what they could do differently. Children don’t know all the “rules”; you have to tell them specifically what is appropriate.
  • Time out. Stavinoha likens this to the opposite of the “time in” that should characterize the rest of your interactions with your child. A time out is not a punishment but rather is the turning off of all the positive attention usually given to a child, whether that means they sit in a corner or go to their room for a while. Time outs must be used consistently to be effective, and they will work best with kids who otherwise get plenty of positive attention every day.
  • Reminders. This works especially well for younger children. Redirect them with a word or two when you see warning signs of misbehavior. This technique requires that the parent pay close attention to the child to look for signs of impending high-risk activity or to their becoming emotionally tense or frustrated. Rather than fuss at the child after misbehaving, reminders and redirection let you be more positive and may prevent some episodes of misbehavior.
  • Negotiating. “When…then” is the optimal set of directions to give in this situation, especially if you want children to do something specific, Stavinoha says. For example: “When you’re done brushing your teeth, then we’ll play a game.” Make the task to be completed part of a positive set of directions.
  • Withdrawal of privileges. Take away something the child really enjoys, like watching TV or playing computer games, but only for a short time. This technique is akin to grounding a child but the consequences must only be short term to be effective, Stavinoha advises.

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