Our Get Psyched Friday post comes from blog contributor Eleanor Mackey.
There has been a lot of media coverage recently about spanking children as a form of discipline, which makes it a good time to discuss this controversial topic.
It is difficult to raise young children, who seem to make it their job to test parents’ limits. I know I often experience frustration when my 3 year old does something deliberately when I ask her not to, or does something dangerous that I need her to stop immediately. An important part of parenting is setting consistent guidelines and limits for children by using loving but firm techniques to guide their behavior.
Often parents are unsure about how to manage their children’s behavior and resort to techniques such as spanking.
So, is it okay to spank your child?
- The answer is NO.
- There is good evidence that spanking is not effective for changing a child’s behavior over the long term.
- Recent evidence shows that spanking can be harmful as it is associated with later aggression and potentially even future mental health problems.
Spanking can be a counterintuitive punishment. Recently, I saw a mom in the park respond to her older son hitting his younger brother by slapping the older child while saying “you don’t hit!” This simply teaches the boy that hitting can be used to stop other people’s behaviors and is very confusing when he is getting disciplined for this very action.
Is it okay to spank in a dangerous situation?
There is nothing scarier than when your child runs out into the street. A quick reaction sometimes includes a quick slap. Although it is an understandable reaction, this is not the best approach. Sometimes it is essential to physically grab your child to keep them safe, but be sure to be very careful not to hurt them intentionally.
When you hit out of anger or fear, as in this situation, it is likely that you will be more forceful than you should or mean to be, so best not to hit at all. Instead, remove the child from the dangerous situation and speak to him/her very firmly about the fact that behavior was dangerous and how much he/she scared you. Immediately put them in time out.
What can you do instead of spanking?
Time out, when used correctly, can be a very effective behavior management technique. Important points of time-out:
- Use it consistently – let your child know what behaviors will always result in time out.
- When a negative behavior occurs, stay calm and try to keep anger/emotion out of your voice (this can sometimes actually be reinforcing to the child).
- Calmly tell the child that X behavior is unacceptable and that they are going to time out.
- Put the child in a safe and boring space (avoid their room or another area with toys).
- Set a timer with one minute of time out for every year of age (2 year old gets 2 minutes, 3 year old gets 3 minutes, etc.).
- Don’t engage your child while he/she is in time out. If he/she comes out of the designated space, calmly place him/her back and reset the timer.
- When the timer goes off, calmly ask the child why they were in time out and then give them a hug.
- For some kids, especially older kids, it can be equally effective to put something they want (a toy, for example) in time out using the same process.
There are many books available, but these are my top recommendations:
If you are struggling with managing your child, you don’t have to wait until you are desperate to seek help. Child psychologists have a lot of experience helping parents manage normal child behavior as well as behavior that is especially difficult. It can be very useful for parents to meet for a few sessions with a psychologist to get tips specific to their family and their child to improve behavior and decrease stress. If you find you are resorting to hitting your child because you aren’t sure what else to do, talk to your pediatrician or another professional.
What does your child does to push your buttons? What techniques have you found helpful for your family?