Effective Ways To Discipline Kids Other Than Spanking
Since state-mandated quarantines have left much of the nation confined to their homes, my neighbor’s two-year-old has been having his share of meltdowns. Most mornings, I can hear him through the walls crying or screaming from the parking lot. I feel for him, as well as his mom. COVID-19 has completely disrupted life as we know it. And while we, as adults, struggle under the weight of these drastic changes as well as fear and uncertainty regarding what lies ahead, it’s important to keep in mind that children are not having an easy time either.
My neighbor’s son, like thousands of other children across the nation, has had his entire routine disrupted. No daycare. No playtime with friends. His world is looking very different these days. Major transitions are not always easy for children and sometimes, they can result in undesired behavior.
“For young children, it matters, even more, to have a routine because they’ve only been alive for so long,” pediatric health psychologist Dr. Corrin Elmore told MadameNoire. “I’m hearing it every day with my families, the disruption is making the parents stressed and so it’s making the children stressed.”
While the effects of the disruption may not be as apparent in older children and teens, Dr. Elmore suspects that this will change in the coming weeks.
“A lot of kids are now getting into the routine of playing video games all day,” said Dr. Elmore. “They are enjoying that but I suspect that in a few weeks, they’re going to start to really feel it.”
In these times, it can be difficult for parents to keep their cool, especially with threats of possible infection and economic hardship looming in the background. It’s easy to lash out and use corporal punishment as a go-to tactic for dealing with unwanted behavior from children and toddlers because it yields the most immediate results. However, the effectiveness of spanking remains in question .
“Updated research shows that spanking can be detrimental, but most of the time, it’s ineffective,” said Dr. Elmore. “I believe that if it’s an option that you need to use, you have to be a person that can implement it like any other discipline strategy, which would be routine and predictable in a way that a child expects it. I don’t think most parents can, so I usually recommend not to.”
The struggle with spanking is that, ideally, consequences should be issued from a neutral place and parents are often angry or frustrated when giving spankings.
“That’s how most parents would do it, which leaves more room for large consequences,” Dr. Elmore explained. “If you do time-out out of frustration, there’s not a huge consequence. But if you spank out of frustration, there’s a consequence that you could actually hurt your child.”
Of course, this doesn’t apply to every parent. “Some parents can give spankings and it’s not personal but most people can’t,” said Dr. Elmore. “And when you’re stressed, it’s harder to do, so why put yourself in that position?”
If there’s one thing teaching a room full of 30-plus children has taught me, it’s that there is no magic bullet when it comes to behavior management. You need to have a handful of different techniques in your back pocket in order to be successful. When used in isolation, these strategies may not yield desired results, but when operating in orchestra, they are highly effective.
First and foremost, parents should make it clear what they want their child to be doing at any given moment. And instead of telling them what not to do, you should tell them what to do.
“It’s important for parents to know what they want their kids to do as opposed to what they don’t want them to do,” Elmore advised. “You want to tell them to stop screaming but what you really want them to do is be quiet. Focus on what you want them to do.”
In addition to offering clear directions, praising children for what they are doing right is a highly effective way of minimizing unwanted behaviors while encouraging positive behavior.
“Punishment is not as effective as positive reinforcement,” Dr. Elmore explained. “If they get really frustrated or are yelling and then they calm themselves down, you can praise them and tell them, ‘I love how you’ve calmed yourself down. You were really frustrated and you still stayed calm.'”
3 minutes and 5 seconds of quiet
“I use time-out for younger children, but the time-out needs to be used like any other discipline strategy — predictable and structured,” Dr. Elmore shared. “I like to do 3 minutes and 5 seconds of quiet. You’re moving them to do what they have to do, but you’re also giving them a second to calm themselves down. We’re assuming that they’re not calm or ready to listen until they’re quiet for 5 seconds. The three minutes can go on for 20 minutes and even after you get out of the chair, you still have to complete the original task. If you don’t do what I told you to do, it’s back in the chair.”
This can also work for older children but may look slightly different. “If you’re frustrated and you’re melting down, you need to be alone and learn how to soothe yourself until you can communicate,” said Dr. Elmore. “It won’t be sitting in a chair but it might look like, ‘I’m not going to interact with you until you’re calm, so please go in your room.'”
“Selective attention is giving attention to the things that you want them to do and ignoring the things you don’t at the same time,” Dr. Elmore shared. “So for example, if a kid is screaming, our natural instinct is to say, ‘Be quiet.’ Instead, if there’s another child in the room, say, ‘Thank you, Jenny for being quiet.’ You give the other child that information without giving them attention. If there’s only one child, pretend they’re literally not in the room. You can walk away or turn your head until they’re quiet. And then when they’re quiet, you can say, ‘Oh, you’re quiet. Did you have something you wanted to say?'”
While it is effective, selective attention is not a quick fix and will require commitment and consistency from parents.
“It’s going to get worse before it gets better. But if you do it consistently for about a week, they will get it,” Dr. Elmore explained. “That way, you can save the discipline for big-ticket items like hitting or biting, but most of the other stuff, you can use selective attention. The biggest thing that you have that kids want is attention. You have that and removing your attention, to us, feels like letting them get away with it, but for them, it’s frustrating.”
When your child does something you don’t like, it’s natural to want to take things away as punishment, but Dr. Elmore recommends flipping things a bit.
“I recommend doing the opposite. Instead of taking away TV for a bad day, it’s ‘You get to watch TV today because you had a good day’ or ‘You didn’t have a good day today. Try again for TV tomorrow.’ You’re always focusing on the behavior you want instead of the behavior you don’t want,” she explained.
Regardless of which approach is taken, what’s most important is that parents are consistent, Dr. Elmore said. “Kids don’t really learn if things are inconsistent. Today I yell and nothing happened. Tomorrow I yell and I get yelled back at. It needs to be predictable.”