Use Discipline As A Teaching Moment
This article appeared in the December 23, 2018 edition of the Register-Guard.
This November, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released an update to its policy regarding corporal punishment, or, more commonly known in parenting circles, as spanking.
Spanking is still legal in many states as a form of corporal punishment. But new research shows that spanking is both ineffective and harmful to children, and can also lead to aggressive behaviors later down the road.
The AAP’s new official stance is a ban on spanking, with an emphasis on teaching parents more effective and safer methods for addressing challenging behavior.
Parenting Educators at Parenting Now are no strangers to the topic of spanking. In fact, the topic of handling challenging behavior is brought up frequently during parenting groups, such as Make Parenting A Pleasure (MPAP), a 12-week long parenting group for families coping with high levels of stress.
Parenting Now agrees with the AAP that there are more positive ways to approach discipline.
Research shows that spanking can cause children to become fearful. In one study, according to the AAP, young children who were spanked more than twice a month at age 3 were more aggressive at age 5. Those same children at age 9 still exhibited undesirable behaviors and displayed lower receptive vocabulary scores.
In addition, there are other reasons for choosing alternatives to spanking, including:
- Spanking can teach that aggressive behaviors are a solution to conflict.
- The use of spanking—or threat of it—can lead to mistrust and negatively affect the parent-child relationship.
- Spanking may stop a behavior in the moment, but doesn’t teach the child the behavior you want to see.
- The effectiveness of spanking decreases with repeated use.
In Parenting Now’s programs, including The First Three Years and Make Parenting A Pleasure, Parenting Educators offer up other strategies for handling challenging behaviors with children.
It’s helpful to envision your child holding a suitcase. You are filling that suitcase with feelings, memories, values, and skills that your child will carry with them throughout their lives. What would you like your child’s suitcase to be filled with? Love? Trust? Respect? Laughter?
If so, then it is still possible to provide these positive experiences while also setting limits with your child, as well as providing clear consequences for challenging behavior.
The magic is in using discipline as a teaching moment rather than a punishment. The goal of discipline is not just to stop the unwanted behavior, but to teach what we do want our children to do. In the example of a toddler taking a toy from a peer, spanking is not likely going to teach him to say, “I’d like to take a turn with that toy.”
In Parenting Now programs, we teach parents a “Warm, Shallow Water Approach.” Through this approach, parents are able to choose from a list of strategies for teaching positive behavior, as well as reducing unwanted behaviors in the future. This can include:
- Make sure your child’s basic needs are met. A tired, hungry, uncomfortable child is more likely to struggle with their emotions.
- Notice and show appreciation for positive behaviors you would like to see more often “Thank you for putting your blocks away.”
- Model words and behaviors you want your child to learn and use.
- Communicate Clear expectations: “When we go into the store, I need you to keep your hands by your side and use your inside voice.”
- When you need to gain your child’s cooperation, offer them a choice between two acceptable alternatives: “It’s time to go to the car. Do you want to walk or be carried?”
When possible, involve children in finding solutions. This will help children learn the skills needed to solve problems independently. And if needed, take a break. Both you and your child can benefit from taking a few moments to calm down and regain control of the situation. While traditional time-outs are less effective at teaching behaviors you want to see, offering to take a break together—whether it’s getting a snack or taking a few deep breaths—can show your child that you are there to help them during their toughest moments.
Parenting Now offers a variety of parenting groups for ages newborns up to 8-years old. The First Three Years Program, as well as Make Parenting A Pleasure, are great resources for parents wanting to learn more about best practices and the latest research in child development. For more information, visit parentingnow.org.