Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Discipline: ways to avoid physical punishment

Enlightened parents today are finding better ways to discipline than the traditional spanking. When a adult uses physical punishment on a child , the unspoken message is that it's okay for a big person to use violence on a smaller person to get what they want. It sounds a lot like bullying, doesn't it? This is definitely not a lesson we want to teach our children.

There are many other ways to discipline, depending on the age, level of maturity, and temperament of the child. Here are a few suggestions:


When the child starts to do something he shouldn't, the parent should utter a firm "NO!" For many children, that's enough. The child will turn away and go to something else.

If the child is strong-willed and persists, he should be picked up and placed somewhere safe for a brief time-out. Playpens are excellent for this purpose; a crib or a special "time-out mat" can also be used.


Most children are anxious to please. When a parent speaks in a cross voice, it may be enough to stop them them in their tracks. Explain why you're saying no.

The child may be seeking attention. If you can't stop to play with him right then, explain why and promise to do something together later, an extra bedtime story, perhaps.

If he's a chronic attention-seeker, try praising him lavishly when he's being good, and ignoring bad behavior, as long as it's not dangerous. Some children prefer negative attention to no attention at all.

The "time-out" strategy will still work well. When the child is older, he can be sent to his room until he's ready to behave. If his room has a T.V., tons of toys, and other amusements, it will be more effective to choose a room which he will find uninteresting.

If he misbehaves away from home, pick him up and leave the premises immediately and have the time-out as soon as he gets home.


Once the child reaches the age of reason, around seven, things should get easier. There should be basic house rules that he knows well, and he should have a general idea why they need to be in effect. For example:

-No bad language because we don't talk that way in our family.

-Bedtime is eight o'clock so he'll be well-rested for school tomorrow.

-He must come right home after school because his parents need to know where he is.

You can also begin to use the strategy called "natural consequences". When the child deliberately misbehaves, he must accept the natural consequences of his actions.

-If he takes something that doesn't belong to him, a parent accompanies him while he returns it to the rightful owner and apologizes.

-If he leaves his homework at school, he explains to the teacher the next day why it isn't done.

-If he hurts a friend or a sibling on purpose, he plays alone in his room for a whole day.

-Each one of these incidents is a "teachable moment". Seize the opportunity to discuss why the behaviour was wrong and how the child might handle a similar situation better in the future. Discuss the matter in a calm voice. Always seek to keep the lines of communication open.

For situations where allowing the natural consequences to occur isn't appropriate, withdrawing privileges is a viable alternative.

-If he's caught in a lie, he loses T.V. privileges for three days or longer, depending on the seriousness of the lie.


More and more, the adolescent should learn life's lessons by accepting responsibility for his actions. If he gets his allowance on Monday, and is broke by Thursday, he'll have to endure a quiet weekend.

During this period, the parent's role is gradually changing from that of a general manager to that of a consultant. He can offer the teen the benefit of his wisdom and experience, but it will not always be welcomed or followed.

The wise parent will choose his or her battles. It is foolish to make a major issue of a haircut, only to discover later that the young person is using drugs.

Don't hesitate to call in expert help when you need it. No parent can be expected to be knowledgeable all areas. The family doctor, your pastor, an addiction counselor, or a psychologist can all be invaluable sources of help when you feel you have an unsolvable dilemma involving your teenager. If these experts can't help, they will know of specialized services where you find the answers you need.

As a society, we like to think we've evolved beyond the point where we use physical punishment to correct bad behaviour. With a few regrettable exceptions, we no longer torture prisoners, and we no longer apply the lash or the whip. We've done away with scourging, burnings at the stake, and tarring and feathering criminals.

Surely children should receive at least as much consideration when parents select a method for administering necessary discipline.

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