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Alternatives To Corporal Punishment

by Judy Arnall

Sept 1996

You have made an informed decision not to use corporal punishment as a discipline method. Congratulations! Now what? Just how do you accomplish this goal?  

Sometimes it can be difficult to resist spanking children.  Sometimes it seems that they are deliberately misbehaving just to annoy us. Sometimes they act up the most when we are rushed, or doing something critical, or at an occasion when we most want them to behave nicely.

It is normal for us parents to occasionally become frustrated and angry at our childrens' behaviour. However, it can be difficult to effectively discipline our children when we are furious, and the impulse to give our kids a big whack can seem very tempting.  The key is to learn anger management techniques which enable us to overcome our anger, which then allows us to use effective discipline without corporal punishment. The beauty of this is that not only are we disciplining our children, but we are also teaching them anger management skills.

How can we manage our anger and frustration? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Counting:  Count to 10 while taking slow, deep, deliberate breaths.  Count to 10 while drinking a big glass of water.
  2. Time Out: Time out for parents? yes! If the child is in a safe place, a time out for parents is a wonderful way to cool off. Go to the bathroom, turn on the shower and yell "I'm so angry!". If the children are older than 10, go for a walk. Go to a bedroom, lie on the bed, close your eyes and breathe deeply for a few minutes.
  3. Punching Pillows: Great for your time out. This may frighten children, so it is best done in private.
  4. Breaking pencils: Works for me! That snap feels great.
  5. Breaking ice-cubes: Throw ice onto the patio! It can be satisfying to hear the smash!
  6. Journal: Write down your angry feelings, and then destroy your notes when you feel calmer. No need for careful word choice - just write it as it feels.
  7. Music: Play some music, and dance and sing. Releases that anger energy.
  8. Sharing feelings: Talking to another parent or one of your friends allows you to express feelings, and perhaps gain some perspective and insight into handling the situation next time.
  9. Contract:    Ask the children to signal when they think you are going to lose it. You'll become more aware of your visible patience level. Then stop and watch yourself. Decide what alternative action you are going to take.
  10. Plan:   Plan ahead for next time. Decide on a course of action before you need to use it. Find what works for you. A planned discipline response helps parents stay in control.  This is also great for the children to see. They will learn a controlled reaction when handling their own anger by watching your example.  

Now you are calm and in control. Now you are in a position to carefully consider the behaviour that irritated you so much, and decide upon an appropriate disciplinary response.

Effective Disciplinary Methods

  1. Relationship:  Establish a solid, loving relationship with plenty of time together, with open communication and with much focused attention.  Non-punitive discipline is most effective when there is respect for each other's feelings and well-being. To preserve your child's self-esteem, focus on the behaviour, not on the person. Children who receive plenty of positive attention are less likely to seek negative attention by misbehaving. Take notice and praise good behaviour. Ignore some of the attention-seeking misbehaviour, such as sibling teasing and fighting.
  2. Time-out: A time-out in the same room works really well to interrupt undesired behaviour, such as hitting or fighting over toy. A time-out allows the child time to gain composure and to think about his actions. If you encourage the child to choose when to cooperatively rejoin the group, you give him ownership of the situation. On the other hand, if you banish the child to his room, you may need to force him to stay there, which could erupt into a power struggle.
  3. Fuss Box: Get a big cardboard box with no lid. Show the child how to use it when he is angry. He can get into the box, and can kick the sides and grumble and cry and fuss as much as he wants.  Afterwards, the child can be taught how to express feelings with words, and to begin problem solving.
  4. Change The Environment: Effective for toddlers and babies.  Move your treasures out of reach. Children will learn what "no touching" means when they are more verbal and have outgrown their first exploration stage.
  5. Know Your Child's Limits: Learn about your child's limits and developmental stages, so that you gain the insight to set appropriate expectations. You need to learn when your child's fuse is shortest, and when he is most likely to tolerate grocery shopping, or a long car rides. Make sure that your child is fed and rested before going somewhere demanding. Don't bring your child to a formal two-hour restaurant dinner when his limit is one hour! Be aware that babies and toddlers are naturally curious and exploratory. Children upend your jewelry box to learn about their world, not to bother you! Children can also be slow, clumsy and messy. That is quite normal!
  6. Distract and Redirect: Distraction works very well for toddlers and preschoolers, because they have a short memory span. When kids are bored, they tend to fight. Interest them in another activity or toy to alleviate sibling fighting.
  7. Be Specific: Tell your children exactly what behaviour you expect. For example: We are going into the bank. You may look out the window at the trains. You may not run, scream or swing the dividers. Tell them exactly what will happen if they break the behaviour rules, and follow through even if it is inconvenient. If you threaten to leave a favourite restaurant because the children are running wildly, then immediately follow through and leave. If you don't follow through with your warning, you lose disciplinary credibility.
  8. Phrase Your Directions Positively: Instead of "Don't run in the house", say: "Please walk in the house". Instead of saying "Don't jump on the bed", say: "You may jump on the foamy in the playroom". Be polite; say "please" and "thank you".
  9. Consequences: Decide in advance the consequences for certain behaviour, and then discuss this with the children, who will quickly learn to recite rules and consequences. Make sure that the consequences are related to the behaviour, and that the consequences are consistently enforced. Some examples: if the kids are fighting over a toy, remove the toy. If the kids keep running from the table to livingroom during dinner, excuse them from the table, hungry or not. If they spill milk, help them clean it up. (My 2 year old does this herself, without asking!)

If you are like most parents and occasionally have a really bad day with the kids, try asking yourself "What do we all need right now"?  A snack, nap, drive, or a new activity helps change moods. Every parent has bad days, even those who use corporal punishment. By using non-punitive methods of discipline, you are teaching your child appropriate behaviour, and you can feel good about your own behaviour too.

Copyright Judy Arnall, BA
Calgary, September 1996

Judy is mom of 3 preschoolers and co-founder of The Whole Family Attachment Parenting Association, a free, information/support/advocacy group for Moms, Dads and Children.

Go back to The Whole Family Attachment Parenting Group