Parenting Without Using Physical Punishment

This article is for parents and grandparents who are looking for an alternative to smacking.

As promised in my last article, I’d like to share some ways of parenting children without using physical punishment that I learned both as a parent and a grandparent. This article is not designed to change your beliefs about smacking children: if you believe physical punishment works, then my goal is not to change your opinion, because as I stated in my first article I too used to hit my children. However, I do believe there are many parents out there who are looking for an alternative way of raising their kids. This one is for you!

But first, I want to share this Jane Nelson quote with you. Jane asks why we ever decided that we had to make children feel worse to make them do better? She says to recall a time when you were treated unfairly and felt humiliated – did it make you want to cooperate or do better? Good question, and something we don’t think about when we hit our children!

First Example

As a grandparent, I was often asked to babysit my young grandson. At first, the visits started out terrible because he was cheeky and rude to both me and my husband. I struggled to control my anger because I have no patience with mouthy children, but then I happened upon a tactic that worked perfectly. I simply turned my back to him and refused to let him interact with me. While he did everything in his power to get my attention, I explained (still with my back to him) that I would not speak to him or play with him until he promised to be a good boy. I told him I wouldn’t put up with his cheekiness and rudeness and he had to assure me it was over. It worked beautifully!

Basically, our kids are just asking for our attention and by depriving my grandson of what he really wanted, he quickly learned that I wouldn’t put up with his nonsense. We only went through this a couple of times and then the behaviour stopped completely.

Second Example

My second example is a tactic that worked with my own child. When my youngest son was 4-years-old, my first husband and I were going through a nasty divorce. While I was preoccupied with the divorce and being a single mum to three children, my four-year-old turned into a monster! Well, that’s how it felt at the time! I was not aware that a four-year-old could be so devious and conniving! In desperation, I tearfully confided to a friend one day that I couldn’t handle my son anymore. This wonderful friend gave me a parenting book to read and took my son for the night while I went home to read her book.

The message was clear: It simply said to “Start loving your child again”. So, that’s what I did. It wasn’t easy because my feelings for him at the time were not entirely loving, but I didn’t have a choice. I started rewarding his good behaviour and ignored the bad. I sat him on my knee again, read him stories, took him for walks, told him how much I loved him, and we went through his baby photos and exclaimed what a beautiful baby he was. The change was miraculous, but more importantly, it was instantaneous. I had created his bad behaviour by ignoring him.

Older Children

With my two older children, I simply separated them when they were fighting. It didn’t take long before they would do everything in their power to get back together again because, basically, they were best friends. I didn’t punish them by taking away their toys, I simply split them up. This meant that both children were happy and occupied, I got some peace, and when they were tired of their own company they would ask if they could go and play together. Problem solved!

My Internet Research

While the above examples are my own personal experiences, I’ve also researched online to find other methods I believe can help if you’re trying to break the smacking habit. I can tell you now, though, that it’s all about consistency. Once you decide on a set of rules, you can’t be wishy-washy about when you apply them. It’s important to be consistent when it comes to discipline regardless of how old your child is. If parents don't stick to their own rules and consequences, their kids aren't likely to either.

Be in Control of Your Own Emotions

Your children are watching you all the time because you’re their role model, and your children are watching how you control your emotions. If you’re upset, don’t do anything! Take a few deep breaths and wait until you’re in control before you decide what action to take. That’s where the parent timeout comes in, because what works for kids also works for parents. Wait until you’re calm enough to respond without anger.

There’s a Reason Your Child is Playing Up

The reasoning may be misguided, but your child's misbehaviour is an expression of a legitimate need. Is your child tired? Does he feel unwell? Is he hungry? Does he need your attention? Ask the questions in a loving way and you’ll get the answers you need.

Spend Time with Your Child

At some point in every day you need to devote a period of time with each child. Turn off your phone and computer and ask the child what they would like to do for the next 10 or 15 minutes. Play silly games, read stories, wrestle, laugh together, just talk.

Reward Good Behaviour

Catch your children being good, and reward them. Don’t focus on their bad behaviour. A simple high-five makes a kid feel great. Praise them for trying new foods, helping each other, playing games, or sitting quietly together watching television.

Set Very Clear Boundaries

Children need boundaries, and they misbehave when the boundaries are not clear. This is where predictability comes in: stick to your principles and rules. Yes, your child may be unhappy for a while, and that’s okay, just don’t change the rules. Children must learn that they can’t have everything they want, and this is a concept they accept very quickly when there are boundaries.

Give Toddlers Limited Choices

It’s okay to let toddlers have some say in what they do, or wear, but you still set the rules. You might put out two or three outfits and let them choose; or you may let them decide what shoes they wish to wear. Perhaps they get to choose between the park or the shops, and so on.

Timeouts Can Work for Toddlers

If your child has been throwing food, biting, screaming, or hitting, you should explain why their behaviour is unacceptable then take them to your designated timeout area, which could be a bottom stair, a corner, or a specific chair. Give them a minute or two to calm down. Don’t hit a child of any age because babies and toddlers are unlikely to make the connection between their behaviour and the physical punishment. They will, however, feel the pain of the hit.

The Rules of Your Family Home Should Always Be Clear:

Family rules should always be clear to children who are old enough to understand. Again, consistency is vital. If you as a parent fail to follow through with the punishment, you’re setting a bad precedent. This comes back to boundaries, and kids work well within boundaries. If there are two parents in the home you must decide together what the rules are and ensure they are upheld.

Praise Your Children!

Don’t forget to reward your children’s good behaviour, and never underestimate just how important praise can be. Discipline works both ways: yes, bad behaviour must be acknowledged, but it’s very important to recognise good behaviour. If you’re proud of your child, tell him! Find something to praise every day and be very generous with your rewards. Hugs and compliments can work wonders! Over the long run you’ll find that praise will do more to encourage good behaviour than repeated reprimands.

Consistency Is Crucial

If you don’t follow through with discipline, you risk undermining your authority. You must mean what you say, and your children should know that about you. At the same time, never be too proud to change your mind and give second chances.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Remember to say: “I don’t like your behaviour” instead of saying “I don’t like you”. You may be very disappointed in their behaviour but your children need to know you will always love them.

If you search the Internet you’ll discover there’s plenty of advice on how to discipline children of all ages, without ever having to resort to physical violence. Good luck! It’s not easy to change, believe me I know, but the rewards are beyond amazing.

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Parenting Without Using Physical Punishment