Opponents of spanking got a boost last week when a new Canadian study on corporal punishment was released. The study, which reviewed two decades of research on spanking, found that physical punishment has no positive long-term effects and many negative effects.
According to the report, children who are spanked are more likely to exhibit depression, aggression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, drug and alcohol use and general psychological maladjustment. Adults who have been spanked as children are more likely to become aggressive since they have seen adults solving problems aggressively.
Imaging studies also show differences in the brains of children who are punished physically. Children who are spanked have less gray matter in regions of the brain connected with IQ. This may explain why children who are spanked tend to have lower IQs than their peers who are not.
The doctors suggest these negative effects are observed because spanking changes the child’s relationship with the parent by disrupting the development of the emotional connection between the parent and the child. Interestingly, studies have found when parents are given assistance to stop spanking as a form of punishment, their children’s behavior improves.
For parents who don’t want to use physical punishment, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the best way to discourage bad behaviors in children is to encourage good ones. Additional resources for parents interested in this topic can be found at The Center for Effective Discipline (www.stophitting.com).
METHODS OF EFFECTIVE DISCIPLINE
In order to make quick, sound decisions, you’ll need to develop a “tool kit” of effective child discipline strategies to choose from. The following strategies, used within the context of a loving parent-child relationship, will help you have a positive influence on your children’s behavior:
1. Establish a Set of House Rules Testing your limits is a healthy part of your children’s growth and development. In order to be an effective disciplinarian, you need to have a game plan in place before they misbehave. What are your expectations? Create a set of 3-5 child discipline rules that apply in all situations. These are the “house rules” that apply at all times (even when you’re not home). In addition, taking the time to occasionally review these ground rules together will reinforce your expectations and help raise your children’s awareness of their behavior.
2. Use Praise to Your Advantage Genuine praise has a powerful effect on your children’s behavior, as well as their overall self-esteem. Regardless of how cavalier your children may appear, they actually crave your approval and the acknowledgment of their achievements. This includes their efforts to work hard at following your directions, as well, so make a point of telling them that you noticed. Seek out opportunities to praise them each day.
3. Develop a Firm and Serious Tone of Voice It’s important for us, as parents, to realize that raising our voices, or yelling, only teaches our children to tune us out. Instead, develop a serious tone you can turn on when you want your kids to know you mean business. This voice is likely a notch or two lower than your regular speaking voice. It is especially effective to turn on this “firm” voice when you’re issuing a warning.
4. Set Boundaries At times, our children misbehave because they want us to tell them where “the line” is. Communicating a boundary tells your child that you believe they are capable of managing their own behavior within a certain context. For example, you might say, “You’re welcome to play outside, but you must stay in the backyard.” Setting boundaries reinforces our expectations and sends a message to our kids that we believe they are capable of doing what we ask.
5. Redirect/Separate Sometimes the most appropriate child discipline response is simply redirecting your child’s attention. This is especially helpful when you’re dealing with sibling rivalry or young children who are expressing their own curiosity, as opposed to directly disobeying your directions. For example, if you don’t want your toddler to push the buttons on your keyboard, redirect his or her attention to a different, age-appropriate toy to play with. “Disciplining” your child in this way provides a new opportunity to successfully behave.
6. Ignore It Sometimes you can simply ignore misbehavior and your child will learn to modify it on his or her own. For example, if your child is whining in the grocery store, try saying “I can’t hear you when you’re whining,” and then truly ignore them until the whining stops. Before long, they’ll realize that the best way to maintain your attention–which is what they want!–is to curb that unpleasant whine.
7. Time Out Time Out can be an effective child discipline strategy. It means simply removing your child from the situation for a period of time. Select a location, such as a special chair, to be your Time Out spot. The general rule of thumb is one minute of Time Out per year of age. For example, a three-year-old would be in Time Out for three minutes. The main key to using this strategy effectively is to avoid engaging your child in conversation during the Time Out. You may also find it helpful to use a kitchen timer to count the minutes for you.
8. Loss of Privileges Removing privileges is another powerful child discipline tool. When your children begin to outgrow the effectiveness of the traditional Time Out strategy, you can begin putting toys in Time Out. As children grow, this might change to removing video game privileges or even restricting the privilege to wear favorite items of clothing. You’d be surprised by how effective this strategy can be! In addition, it is helpful to reinforce the distinction between “privileges” and “rights” as you employ this strategy.
9. Natural Consequences Sometimes it’s best just to let the natural consequences of your child’s actions speak for themselves. If your pre-teen gets detention at school for talking back to the teacher, don’t intervene and try to arrange for a more convenient punishment. Instead, allow your child to experience the unsettling result of the natural consequences. Sometimes that’s the best lesson in itself.
10. Behavior Modification Behavior modification is when you help your child become aware of a certain behavior by noting their progress on a chart or calendar. For example, if you want your children to take more responsibility for brushing their teeth, you might post a behavior modification chart in the bathroom where they can add a check mark each time they remember. You might agree that after ten check marks, they’ll receive a special treat or reward, such as going to the park or playing a game together. As a child discipline tool, behavior modification can be a powerful option to store in your “tool kit” of effective discipline strategies.
Remember, there are plenty of resources that a parent can seek out to assist in effective and appropriate discipline. Working with a therapist experienced and trained in working with families with children will be invaluable in learning effective parenting methods.
Dr. Bahareh Talei received her Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.) from Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology. Dr. Talei is a licensed psychologist and is co-founder of Diagnostic & Counseling Center (DCC). Her experience has primarily been in working with children and adolescents with various disabilities such as autism and difficulties with learning and attention. Throughout her career, Dr. Talei has been actively engaged in the assessment of a diverse population (e.g., pervasive developmental disorder, learning disorders, central nervous system damage) and training of other professionals. Her experience and interests also includes conducting individual and group psychotherapy with family members of children with developmental disabilities and other populations (e.g., depression, anxiety disorders, and infertility).