Recently, spanking has been in the news again. George Holden, a researcher at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, TX attempting to study yelling in parenting recruited parents from area day care centers and asked them to wear microphones in their house in the evening for 5 days. In these recordings there were multiple incidences of spanking, ranging widely in use. Though there have been hundreds of studies on spanking, or corporal punishment, this is the first to include observational, or real-time, data. Most other studies have relied on asking parents (or rarely, children) how much they spank.
In the early look at the recordings, the researchers have found several things they found striking. First, there were several incidences where a child was hit or spanked for seemingly small offences. In one instance, the mother was reading a book to the child and the child was trying to turn the page too soon. The mother hit the child’s hand, reprimanded the child, and kept reading. In other examples, corporate punishment was used to discipline a child for hitting.
Most of the previous studies that have been done on spanking have found that while it may stop the behavior in the immediate term, it does not work on long-term change. It teaches the child to fear the discipliner, but neglects real change for when the parent is not around. Furthermore, the majority of cases of child abuse begin with an incidence of corporal punishment discipline that goes too far. Finally, spanking has been shown to lead to increased aggression toward other children and adults.
Holden states: “It’s not the once or twice a year that a child may be swatted, but it’s the kids who are exposed to frequent corporal punishment — that is the concern,” Holden said. “Kids need discipline, but centered on mutual respect and love, without potentially harming the child with corporal punishment.”
So what is the best way to discipline a child? Most child development experts recommend what they call Positive Discipline. Positive discipline brings together what we know about children’s healthy development, findings of research on effective parenting, and child rights principles. The first step in this is beginning to think about discipline as an opportunity to teach your child, rather than punish them. Also, children often respond to praise much better than punishment. Make sure you acknowledge their good behaviors, not just the bad.
Some steps to help you on your way to positive discipline:
- Think about your goals as a parent. Often parents have short term goals for their child’s behavior, such as getting to school on time, or keeping the house clean. Additionally, parents often also have long term goals for their child such as being a caring, compassionate person, or being a responsible independent adult. Take time to think about both the short term and long term goals for your child. What is most important in your parenting?
- Provide warmth and structure. Parents should display warmth to their children through acts of caring, and listening to them. Parents should also provide structure for children, so they know how they should act. This can be such things as clearly communicating rules and expectations for behavior.
- Understand how children feel. Try to read and learn about basic child development. Often parents may think a child is doing something just to annoy them or make them mad, when in fact, the child may be just developing. An example of this is a toddler getting into cabinets and pulling everything out. The child is not trying to annoy the parent, they are just exploring and learning more about their world.
- Problem Solve. This is the final step, and it brings all the other steps together. As a parent, when you are faced with behavior that you don’t like, first assess how serious it is. Is this related to a short or long term goal for your child? Have you clearly communicated what you want from the child, or how you expect them to act? Armed with your knowledge about child development, think about why your child would be acting the way they are, and how best to teach them a different behavior. Through problem solving you can often try to think of resolutions. Rather than spanking, try to think of a solution that matches what you want the child to learn from the behavior.
Parenting is really hard work. Disciplining and guiding your child’s behavior is something parents will often have to work on throughout the child’s life. What works on one child may not be effective on another. Though it may require more effort, parenting without physical punishment is worth it for the good of the child.
To learn more about positive discipline here are a few resources: