To spank or not to spank? That is the question.

International pediatric groups provide clear recommendations about avoiding physical punishment in child discipline. However, for some parents spanking and swatting remains a common discipline practice.

The good news is that most parents believe that good parenting can be learned and nearly all of those parents want to learn to be a better parent. Additionally, many parents base their current parenting practices on their own experiences when they were a child – both positively and negatively.

Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why parents revert back to behaviors they have experienced as a child when choosing how to discipline their own children. If there are high levels of stress or big challenges to overcome, parents may feel overwhelmed with emotion and act instinctually rather than looking at the situation objectively. It is in these moments when physical discipline, such as spanking and swatting, are most likely to occur.

A big reason that parents become overwhelmed, or unsure of how to react to their child’s behavior, is that many parents do not understand how their child develops. Parents may underestimate the long-term effects that physical punishment may have on their child or may overestimate a child’s ability of self-control. In either case, the trauma from the discipline may have affects much later, and longer, than parents perceive. If you would like to know more about what you can expect from your child and how to effectively discipline them in a loving and caring way, please see my other blog post titled “What Can I Expect of My Child? Limit Setting and Discipline by Age Group“.

Many parents see discipline as a way to stop bad behaviors, nurture their children, teach good behaviors, and protect their children. However, parents struggle to find the right balance of discipline behaviors that are suited to each situation. Therefore it is understandable that many parents report that finding the best ways to discipline their child is a big parenting challenge.

Lots of parents try non-physical discipline methods such as time-outs, distraction, and setting limits. Yet, more than 25% of parents still employ physical discipline methods (e.g. spanking, swatting, hitting with an object) even when they are not sure that these methods work to change a child’s behavior and report feeling bad about striking their child.

What is the main reason that parents give when asked why they use physical discipline? The answer most often given is that they too were given physical discipline as a child. Most parents then report that they would like to learn more about effective ways to discipline without physical methods. Other non-physical discipline strategies, that are effective, include:

  • Explaining expectation and consequences
  • Time-outs
  • Distraction
  • Acting as a good role model
  • Verbal warnings
  • Setting limits
  • Negative reinforcement (e.g. taking something away as a consequence)

From this information, families can begin to evaluate their discipline styles and reflect on the reason those methods were chosen. Additionally, seeking information about other non-physical discipline options can be employed to identify new discipline strategies that more closely align with parent’s desires and better fit the needs of the child.

Positive parenting strategies support healthy child development. Effective discipline techniques are an important parenting decision that should be reviewed and evaluated at each developmental change of the child. By doing so, parents will be responsive, sensitive, and effective in conveying discipline to their child while avoiding any potential negative affects.

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