There is no one-size-fits-all solution to disciplining children. Every child is different, and parents have to find what works best for them. Although my husband and I were both spanked as children, we have decided not to spank our children. This was not a decision we planned much in advance, but one we came to as we realized that spanking would really not work well with our daughter. She is generally a compliant child, and she also gets her feelings hurt rather easily.
Even trying to implement time-out as a discipline technique was very traumatic for my daughter, and I cannot imagine how she would have reacted to being spanked. The first time we did a time-out, our daughter was 2 years old, and she was upset for hours afterwards despite the fact that I had even stayed with her during the time-out! She was insecure the rest of the day, and very clingy. Our daughter is very emotionally sensitive, and she has even cried when we have read story books that told of children being spanked (even though she herself has never been spanked).
Over time, we did get into the groove of using time-out as a discipline technique fairly frequently, but it still never worked very well for us. Once my son was old enough to be mobile, time-outs really became a headache for me since I would have to drop whatever I was doing to keep him occupied so he wouldn't try to play with his sister while she was in time-out. Once I realized that I was dreading time-outs, I figured I had better come up with some alternatives.
Alternatives to Time-out and Spanking
The following is a list of some alternative discipline methods that have worked well for us. I'm sure that as my daughter gets older, and as we start needing to discipline her 2-year-old brother more, we will need to come up with even more alternatives.
- Consequences that fit the behavior
- Whenever possible, I try to use consequences that are an obvious direct result of the problem behavior. For instance, if a toy is thrown or otherwise mistreated, that toy goes away for a period of time. If my daughter takes a very long time to eat her dinner (to where all the other dinner dishes have already been washed), then she has to wash her own dishes. If my daughter takes an extra long time getting her pajamas on before bed, then she loses some of her nightly story time.
- As much as possible, these consequences are administered with a cool head and a calm voice, so that the consequences are what the child remembers. These are consequences that show kids that there is a corresponding reaction to their actions, and these have worked great in teaching my children to behave responsibly.
- Taking away a beloved toy for a short time
- This approach works very well with my daughter. She typically is attached to a specific stuffed animal throughout each day. When she is behaving badly, or most often when she is not doing what I have asked her to do, then she will lose her beloved stuffed animal for a short period of time. This works even if she is not holding the stuffed animal at the moment the problem arises.
- The amount of time should be fairly short for young kids (such as a few minutes), and the time can be increased as the kids get older (15 minutes is the length of time we use with my 5-year-old). I emphasize to my daughter that the timer doesn't start counting until she is not crying, and that the time will be increased if she continues to misbehave.
- Writing lines
- When there is a specific misbehavior that occurs repeatedly, it works well to have my daughter write lines. For instance, if she whines or cries rather than asking me nicely for something, then she will have to go write "I will not cry" or "I will not whine". This is a remarkably effective technique for us, because it stops the problem behavior almost immediately and usually changes my daughter's mood.
- It also works well because I am usually able to administer this technique with a calm, level voice. I also make sure to talk about the problem behavior with my daughter and let her know that she'll be writing lines to help her remember the appropriate way to behave.
- We started using this technique when my daughter was just over 4 years old. At that young age, she would just have to trace the words (you can write them with a light-colored marker on handwriting practice paper, and then the child just needs to trace them, or you could print them in the dashed font that works well for writing practice). Now that my daughter is a little older, I just write a sample of the sentence in small print at the top of the page, and then she writes it out herself. Since she is older, the sentences become a bit more complex, such as "I will not snatch toys away from my brother".
- I typically only require her to write one line per misbehavior, but will increase the amount if the behavior keeps going on. For instance, I'll tell her that the longer she keeps crying, the more lines she will have to write (I know this may sound like cruel-and-unusual punishment to some of you, but you'd have to know my daughter to know that she will sometimes cry at the drop of a hat, so this is something we really have to work on with her).
- If your kids do not like writing, this is probably not a good discipline technique to use. My daughter, though, loves to do schoolwork, so this discipline technique does not give her any negative association with writing.
- Positive reinforcement of good behavior
- Sometimes, we get into a rut and I find that I seem to be interacting negatively with my daughter more often than not. When this happens, I make sure to implement some positive reinforcement for good behaviors. This can be as simple as making sure to say "thank you" when she does what she is asked, or as complicated as implementing a reward chart to keep track of good things she does.
- Reward charts can be remarkably effective in changing the pace of the day from focusing on negatives to focusing on positives instead. I don't use reward charts for extended periods of time, as I find that they can get my daughter into the mindset that she should have a reward every time she behaves properly. But, I do find that reward charts are great to use when you get stuck in a negative rut. For instance, after my son was born, I found that I seemed to be correcting my daughter often and seldom giving her positive attention. So, for a couple months, we used a reward chart to keep track of good behaviors (such as brushing her teeth without a battle, cleaning up her toys, putting dirty laundry in the clothes basket, etc.) Each time she did one of the "good" behaviors, she would get to put a sticker on her chart. For every ten stickers, she got to choose a reward, such as having a balloon, watching a short video, doing fingerpainting, etc. (This also worked remarkably well in teaching her how to count with one-to-one correspondence.)
- One other particularly effective method of positive reinforcement is to turn any problem activity into a game. For instance, if I want my daughter to clean up her toys quickly, I can turn it into a game just by saying "Who is the fastest cleaner?" and then starting to run around and pick things up. Getting ready to go can become a game just by saying "Who can get ready the fastest?" and then running to get ready. With a little creativity, almost any activity can be turned into a game, and then instead of struggling, my kids are excited to participate.
- Setting clear expectations
- One way to really stop bad behaviors before they start is to make sure to set clear expectations. For instance, when my daughter was younger, she would sometimes throw a fit when it was time to leave the park. This was greatly remedied once I started to briefly talk to her each time we went to the park about how I expected her to behave when it was time to leave. Over time, this became a very short reminder of "No whining and no crying when it's time to go home". Reminding my daughter that she is expected to share well before her friends come over was also very helpful when she was having troubles sharing.
- Setting clear expectations also includes making sure that the kids know what to expect by following certain routines. For instance, my daughter knows that I will give her a warning when we have only a few minutes left before going home, so I make sure to always follow that routine.
What discipline techniques work best for you?