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6 Tried-and-True Ways to Discipline Kids Without Spanking Them

Photograph by Getty Images/Tetra images RF

It has never been my instinct to spank my kids. Sure, sometimes their behavior can be incredibly infuriating or downright dangerous, and it feels like I need to make a strong point that what they are doing is unacceptable. But it has never occurred to me to spank them, even in those moments.

To be honest, even a gentle slap on the behind feels wrong to me. I tell my kids not to hit others: Why would it be acceptable for me to hit them? Spanking seems like a counterintuitive, often cruel and ineffective form of discipline.

RELATED: We Still Spank, We Just Don't Admit It

Research confirms this. You may have heard about the study that came out a few months ago. The study looked at 50 years of research about spanking, and found that spanking simply does not work. In fact, it causes more problems than it solves, including increased aggression, mental health problems and anti-social behavior. Countless other studies confirm this, and many countries around the world actually outlaw the spanking of children by their parents.

Often, people assume that just because I don’t spank them, I am raising a couple of hellions.

Now, I understand that the majority of American families disagree with me; they see spanking as acceptable and necessary, and don’t want anyone telling them otherwise. Spanking advocates say that regardless of the studies, it works, and some argue that it doesn’t always have to be violent or cruel to be effective.

But the biggest question I get from spanking advocates when they hear that I don’t spank is: “Well, then how do you discipline your kids?” Often, people assume that just because I don’t spank them, I am raising a couple of hellions. I understand that if corporal punishment is your go-to disciplining method—especially for those times when nothing else seems to be working—you might think there are no effective alternatives.

But that is just not true. There are many ways to create concrete boundaries with your children without laying a finger on them. Here are some methods that work for me:

1. Remove your child from the situation.

We don’t formally call them “Time Outs” (I just never jived with that phrase), but if my children are acting out of hand, whether at home or in public, they are removed from the situation. They can choose to sit somewhere quiet by themselves or with a parent, but they need to calm down and be willing to change their behavior before they can rejoin the activity.

2. Use warning system and consequences.

Sometimes if my kids need to do something and they aren’t willing to, I use a “countdown system.” I will explain that I am counting 'til 10, and that if they don’t do what I am asking of them, I will give them a consequence (around here, screen-time privileges are usually the first mentioned). I name the consequence beforehand, and always follow-through with it.

3. Remove toys if there is problem with them.

If there is a toy (or anything else) that is being fought over, or being used to hurt anyone in any way, the toy gets a “time out” for an hour or a day. I take that time to discuss what happened and make sure my kids will handle things differently once they get the item back.

4. Don’t move on to the next activity until X happens.

I try to use “logical consequences” whenever possible. So I tell my kids, “We can’t go out until you put away your toys because we can’t leave the house a mess like this.” Or, “We will not be able to play the game you asked to play until you clean your room, because I asked you to do that first.” It helps prioritize the task that I need my kids to complete, gives them a timetable and sets a clear boundary.

5. Remove yourself from the situation.

Sometimes we parents lose it, too. It’s not that easy to discipline our kids—and if they are freaking out, we are apt to do so as well. I try my best to practice mindfulness and self-awareness. I’ll often say, “Mommy is feeling really angry about your behavior right now,” which can help take the edge off my feelings for a moment. But sometimes nothing works, and I need to go somewhere else to blow off steam. I think it’s important for us parents to manage our own feelings so that we don’t exacerbate an already charged situation. Sometimes giving ourselves a brief “time out” is the best way to do so.

6. “Talk it out” with your kid.

No, I don’t mean when your kid is lying on the floor having an epic meltdown. I understand fully that “just talking” will get you nowhere when your child is losing it. But after the fact, it’s really good to talk about what happened, to take some time to reflect on it. Effective discipline is all about listening and validating feelings, and finding by trail and error what works for your individual kid. “Talking it out” with your kid can also illuminate what’s underneath some of the behaviors that cause your kid to act out.

RELATED: The Spanking Gap: Why Are Most Parents in Favor Despite the Research?

I am happy to say that even though my kids aren’t perfect (who is?), I am raising well-behaved, considerate children. But even more than that, I am raising children who are kind, open-minded and who aren’t afraid to express their feelings.

Let’s face it: Whether we spank, or use different methods for disciplining our kids, raising kids is HARD. It’s messy. It will involve tears (yours and theirs), and you will feel as though you have no idea what you’re doing half the time.

Give yourself grace as often as you can. Try new things. Trust your kids. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts.

And if your instincts tell you that spanking is just not what’s best for your child, know that there are other enforceable, positive, effective ways to discipline your kids.

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