Top 10 Ways to Discipline without Spanking

Discipline without Spanking: 10 Other IdeasIt’s Tuesday, the day when I brainstorm 10 ideas about something. And today we’re going to deal with how to discipline without spanking.

Earlier this month I created a bit of a furor when I wrote about what abuse is (and what abuse isn’t), and the comments section went off on a bit of a tangent about whether or not spanking is abuse.

Personally, we never spank, though I don’t think spanking is always wrong.

But I do think that in the vast majority of cases there are ways to discipline without spanking that teach the lesson better.

That’s what one woman wants to know, who writes:

I am a mother of three and a proud grandmother of one beautiful little girl. Her mother has had a few problems over the years and when my granddaughter was two I took over care of her full time. She is a sweet little thing and a constant joy in this old lady’s life, but she does exhibit some of the regrettable traits of her mother. She is 6 now, and I am trying to instill discipline and common sense in the child early on so she can be spared some of the pain rambunctiousness can bring in adult life. To this end, I have been wrestling with how to punish the girl. When I was a child, my daddy whipped me with a switch and I could never bring myself to do the same to my own dear babies. I managed them with a firm hand to a bare fanny and that worked well for us. Now with my granddaughter I am just not sure what to do. Times have changed and there are multiple perspectives on child rearing. What should I do with my grandbaby?

Just one quick note before I launch into how to discipline. I know that in a situation like this it’s natural to think, “oh, there she is, acting like her mother.” But that’s a dangerous road to go down. Try, as much as possible, to see your granddaughter as her own unique person, and don’t read into her the fears or regrets you have about her mother. That tends to backfire, and isn’t really fair to the little girl.

As to how to discipline, my motto has always been that the punishment should fit the crime. It should be immediate, it should be in proportion to how serious the infraction was, and it should be consistent (if you punish for the behaviour once, you shouldn’t let it go the next two times).  And before you think of punishing your kids, make sure that you’ve got your own yelling and temper under control!

Okay, whew. With that long introduction, how would I punish a 6-year-old–or an 8-year-old, or a 10-year-old–without spanking? Here are some ideas:

Top Ten TuesdayTop 10 Ways to Discipline without Spanking

1. Use a Time Out

If the child isn’t playing well, is whining, or is acting up, you can remove the child from the situation and require them to sit still for about a minute per year of age. This often helps them calm down, since it gives them time to deal with their emotions. The first few times you use a time out you may have to keep plunking the child back in the time out seat, since they may not stay there. Reset the timer every time you do. They’ll learn soon enough!

To make this work well: Issue a warning first. Do NOT do a time out in their bedroom, which is often a fun place to be. 

Time outs are best used when the issue is one of attitude. Unfortunately, time outs have become the go-to method for discipline for almost all infractions, even though there are often better ways to deal with other problems. For instance:

2. Remove a Toy

Remember–the punishment should fit the crime. If your children have been fighting over a toy when you told them to stop, the best thing to do is to remove the toy, not put the child in a time-out. Put it in a box marked “jubilee box” and every Sunday it’s a Jubilee Day and they get the toys back. But they stay there until Sunday. If your child is using a toy inappropriately, like banging it or treating it in a way that it could break, they lose it. If your child has refused to clean up a toy, like lego, they lose it.

To make this work well: Do not take away a toy that is necessary for sleeping. If they have a bunny they sleep with, that’s their comfort toy. It isn’t fair to take that away.

3. Lose Some Technology Time

If your child doesn’t come for dinner when you call because they’re engrossed in TV or a video game (after you have given a warning or two), they can lose some technology time. If your child has been disrespectful and rude, you can take away TV privileges for a week or iPad privileges.

4. Leave

Is your child screaming in a store? Leave. Screaming in a restaurant? Leave. Sit in the car with the while the other people finish their food, and get takeout for you. The child won’t like being in the car. Don’t say very much to the child–a simple, “I’m sorry that we’re here, and I really wanted that lunch. But we can’t sit there if you can’t behave.” Then they can scream and yell, but you’re in the car and you’re not budging.

When you get home, you can then tell them that since they took some time from you and made you miss lunch, they have to “give” you some time by completing one of your chores.

5. Do Someone Else’s Chores

Any time a child causes someone else to lose time, the best punishment is to have to do something for them so that you “give them back” some time. If your child made you miss lunch, like above, they can do the dishes for you. If they made a sibling miss something, they can make the sibling’s bed for a week. If they made all of you miss something, they can do one thing for each person.

This is an absolutely crucial one. I firmly believe that children need to be taught that their actions have ramifications on others. This is also the problem with using the “time out” method, or even the spanking method, for every infraction. It doesn’t teach them that. A far better method of punishment is to say, “who was inconvenienced by what you did?” Think of all the people. Now you have to do one thing for each person. They’ll soon learn that what they do impacts others.

6. Miss an Event

If your child is habitually late for something, then they can miss it. If they wanted to go to a party, but they aren’t ready in time after repeated warnings, they cannot go (I wouldn’t recommend this for the first infraction, but if you have a child who will never get ready when you warn them, it may be worth driving this home).

How to make this work well: Don’t deprive them of church. Church isn’t a privilege; church is something we give to God in worship. Missing church should never be used as a punishment.

7. Miss a Sport

Here’s a tough one. What if your child has done something really bad, and you want to ground them and teach them a lesson? Missing sports is often seen as off-limits because other people are counting on them and they have made a commitment.

That’s true. But if your child is not keeping up with commitments at home, by perhaps not doing homework that needs to be completed before you go to a sports tournament, or never doing chores, then I believe that there are times that missing a team event should be on the table. The child has to learn that they need to meet their commitments, but the most important commitments are always the ones at home. If they don’t meet those ones, they don’t get the chance to meet other ones.

How to make this work well: Tell the coach why you’re doing it. Warn the child beforehand. This isn’t a one-warning thing; over a period of days or weeks let them know that if they can’t get their act together, they may have to miss sports.

8. Write a list of what you like/admire about someone

Do you have siblings who squabble? Whenever our kids fought or called each other names, we would make them each tell the other 3 things they admired or liked about the other. And they couldn’t be the same things!

I’m a big believer in having children do this rather than having them say “I’m sorry.” I absolutely believe in apologizing, and I do think that children should ask for forgiveness. But I also believe that this should be done out of a truly repentant heart. Honesty is so crucial. God looks at the heart, not at the actions. So if your child is still angry, telling them “you have to apologize to your sister before we can go get ice cream” isn’t necessarily the best thing to do. What if your child isn’t sorry? They have now lied in order to get ice cream.

On the other hand, there is something to admire or like about everyone. You can be totally angry at someone and still come up with things that you admire and like. So have your kids say these things to each other. It changes the tone of the relationship.

And yes, work towards having them apologize. Model it. Pray with them about it. But I wouldn’t force it. That’s really between them and God.

9. Work it Out with a Sibling

If sibling squabbles are a permanent fixture in your house, and most of your emotional energy is spent refereeing, decide to throw in the towel. Tell your kids they have to go into the room and they’re not allowed out until they have reached an acceptable solution–that you believe is acceptable (in other words, the older one can’t just force or pressure the younger one to agree to something). Having to work it out takes you out of the equation so you’re not as aggravated, and makes your children learn problem solving skills.

10. Pay Restitution

Finally, if your child has damaged something that belongs to someone else, they should have to make up for it. If they have some money, they should pay an appropriate amount. They may not be able to afford to pay everything, but they can throw in some money. They can do chores for someone. They can fix it. But if they have actually damaged someone else’s property, just saying “I’m sorry” isn’t enough. They need to learn, again, that their actions impact others.

So there you go! As you see, I would use different strategies to discipline without spanking depending on what is happening. Each parent should have multiple strategies that they use, because using just one–like a time out–really doesn’t teach them. Remember, disciplining a child is about teaching them important lessons, it’s not just about punishing them. So make sure that you use some methods that teach them, “what I do impacts others”, “I can’t act up in public”, “I need to respect other people’s belongings”, “I have to live up to my commitments.” These are all such important things, and if we’re consistent with discipline, we’ll find that our children internalize these lessons.

Let me know: what techniques did you use to teach your children? How did that work for you? If you used discipline techniques other than spanking, what did you try?


  1. Stephanie P says:

    Thank you for this Sheila! My husband and I have been convicted lately about our inconsistencies in discipline. We are praying about it. We were both raised in homes where we were spanked. My parents did it the right way…his did not….So now we feel stuck and we don’t feel that we are consistent with spanking and therefore need to find means of discipline that we will be consistent in. I am going to show these ideas to him….

    One question though, how do you get a child to take responsibility for his behavior? Let me clarify… son is an extremely strong-willed child. And when we get on to him or point out something he’s done wrong…he immediately said he’s done nothing wrong and we are getting on to him for no reason….he can always find a way to place blame on someone else….We are really struggling with this with him….and our daughter doesn’t do this….He is very intelligent and so we try to sit down with him and logically explain…but he refuses to believe he’s done anything wrong… Please give me some advice on this….We are really at our wits end with this and can’t seem to come to a solution….
    Thank you.

    • We have the same problem with our oldest. Our other 4 don’t struggle with it-just him. In our case, it’s a symptom of oppositional defiant disorder, which means it has a name but no real cure. Drs want to drug him, and therapy doesn’t work. Like you said, he’s a very intelligent child, just seemingly incapable of connecting some dots, like cause/effect, or understanding other’s emotions, or thinking ahead. We just keep on repeating and explaining. Sometimes a child doesn’t get it till the 500th time, or they grow out of it…hoping ours just catches up one day :)

      • We are having the same problem with our oldest. You will tell her not to do something and 5 min later she is doing the same thing.

    • Dr. James Dobson wrote a book about raising strong willed children. I read it years ago and I thought it very sensible.
      My sister used to do this exact thing. And I believe my mother used that book to deal with it.

  2. Just a few thoughts…
    Regarding time-outs, my husband and I never felt that timed time-outs were effective — they really didn’t accomplish much. Our children were required to sit in time-out “until they felt ready to behave nicely”. Some days that took a long time, other days it was quick. WE didn’t decide when they were “ready”, they did. It put the burden on them to genuinely calm down or adjust their attitude, etc. — or they went right back in. My two oldest are now 19 and 17 and they give themselves time-outs! They have become very self-aware of when they need to take a break and collect themselves before they get to a point of not “behaving nicely.”

    When are children got a little older, another thing we used was copying definitions out of the dictionary and/or verses out of the Bible. If there was a particular character trait they were repeatedly struggling with we would have them do a “study” on that character trait. They actually appreciated the studies and tended to feel encouraged through doing them.

    As far as spanking, I would always warn my children long before they would ever be spanked. It was never a surprise to them, never reactionary, never done out of frustration or anger on my part. For instance, if there was something I did not want them to do, the first time I would explain — “This is not okay, you may not do this again, do you understand? If you do it again, you are going to get a spank. Do you understand?” And then I would ask them to repeat exactly what Mom just said. My children always knew exactly what the consequence was going to be if they chose to do that thing again. Honestly, over all the years I only had to spank each of my children a handful of times.

    It’s important to remember when disciplining children that there’s childishness and then there’s foolishness. We never punished our children for childishness, because they were children after all! Childishness is when they really don’t know any better. Foolishness is when they know better, but choose to do it anyway.

    • I like your description of how to use time outs–we do that in our house too. An additional tool that we’ve found is helpful with this is a “sparkle bottle” that the child shakes up, then watches the glitter in it slowly settle to the bottom. They are made with water, tacky glue (to thicken up the water), and fine glitter. It’s very calming to look at–I even have one for me!
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  3. The problem of abuse never lies with discipline, but uncontrolled anger. As
    someone who was both frequently spanked as a child and caned in high school ( if you need an explanation), I
    will attest to the fact that although neither were pleasant at the
    time, both were *exactly* what I needed. An older student who faced
    even more strict discipline that I did (during the 1950s and 60s)
    once told me:

    “The discipline was certainly what I needed. At home it was just
    raised voices and being sent to my room, which enabled me to switch
    off. At school, I had to face consequences and get into line. I would
    have done anything to put off being caned…but could see the sense
    of it even as an 11-year-old. Immediacy, completion, a fresh
    start—all those things made it a useful method of enforcing

    Proverbs 10:13, Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 22:15 are just a few verses that leave zero room for debate on this. Take one look around you at the kids who mouth off to their parents, or scream their lungs out in public to get what they want and tell me that discipline doesn’t matter.

    • Hi Greg,

      Thanks for your comment!

      I’m not entirely sure, though, that I agree that the problem is with spanking when one is uncontrolled. There are Christian books on parenting, for instance, that recommend a very cool, calm and calculated spanking when a child has not even done very much wrong–the parents are instructed to try to “entrap” the child in sin to provide an opportunity to “train” the child. And all through the parent isn’t angry; the parent is to be joyful and calm that they have the opportunity to correct and train the child.

      That, to me, is downright creepy. A child can understand a parent hitting them in anger (not that I advocate that), but a beating when there is no anger involved, but just the parent saying, “you deserve this” is really scary and hard to process. The latter seems cruel, and that is what I have seen many Christian parents do, and it worries me.

      I would have absolutely agreed with you about five years ago until my eyes were opened to what many Christian organizations are teaching about spanking and how to train children, and now what scares me the most is the LACK of emotion when spanking. To deliver a heavy beating with a plumbing line, for instance, or a switch, when one is not angry, is really scary to me.

      • Like so many things, it’s an issue of balance. Obviously I can’t speak as a parent, but as a son, I’ve definitely seen the value in being physically spanked; with a paddle, belt, etc. That’s what Scripture talks about. Do we really believe what God says?

        IMO, it’s dangerous to try and avoid spanking completely, especially when children are younger, because they know what they can get away with, and they’ll push it to the limit to get what they want–and that attitude doesn’t stop as children. Frankly, I’ve seen some kids who are a whole lot smarter than their parents.

        We live in a culture that demonizes spanking, and the results of those undisciplined children who become irresponsible adults are all around us.

        • Hi Greg,
          I totally agree with you that the culture has “demonized ” it and now we are all afraid to be thought of as child abusers! We have four little ones 5 and under. The 2, 4, and 5 year olds DO get smacks on the bottom when they deserve it. Yes, it has to be a serious infraction- so knowing all their very intelligent capabilities, my husband and I put willful disobedience at the top.
          We are trying more and more to be creative for all the other things, like toy confiscation, being taken out of the room, etc….
          My husband has always counseled me that it is GOOD for the children to see the reaction to the wrong they have done. Yes, we do need to show anger at the time they do it. I think the “control your anger” issue has also gone all over the place. We have to make sure we’re spanking/disciplining to TEACH, not to get frustration out for what they’ve done. We need to make sure we’re not out of control. But they do indeed need to see that we’re angry about it. There is a time and place for everything, even just anger.

          My father spanked me too long. My last spanking I’ll never forget. It was with a leather belt on a bare bottom when I was almost 12!!!! And I was a girl not a boy!!!! Innappropriate totally. My mother yelled and hit out of anger. I say “hit” not spanked. My husband was well-disciplined and trained and we have had many talks about this topic. By the time my children, at least my girls, are 8 or so I aim to be done with bottom smacks.

          As for time-out – that’s a sour one with me!! That’s because I’ve watched my brother and sister-in-law do the “no spank” policy and the difference in their kids and ours is mind-boggling! I love my nieces and nephews but I’ve watched firsthand and yes – I waaaay prefer the company of MY kids!! Not to sound too bieased!!:) His children are whiny, screech all the time, and lack a certain backbone that my children seem to have. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, I fail in many ways. But our children are same ages and when they’re playing and a problem occurs that totally needs a smack, we give a firm one to the deserving bottom, while my brother sends his little guy to sit in the corner. I don’t see him learning his lessonaand I find the children rather spoiled. But they won’t
          ‘touch their kids” and we’re too rough!!! Haha.
          Anyway, just some thoughts!!

          • Gunningmomof3 says:

            So if spanking is biblical… why is there so much debate..

            It seems that believers as a whole are straying more and more away from what God is saying in His word … too far on either side.
            I believe that to not spank is wrong but if its done in anger or in abusive ways than that is not how God intended it.

            But not all parents entrap their children into sin just to punish them…

            I believe that all parents must pray and seek what God wants for their family.

            Of course there are times when a spanking is not needed.
            But other times it is necessary….

            I think we need to get back to what His word says ..

  4. While I do think there are punishments that can teach a lesson (especially with older children), I cannot disregard the bible’s command and instruction to use the rod. Disobedience should ALWAYS be punished with a spanking, and swiftly. Counting to three or giving warnings is just giving them another chance to sin. Whether or not there should also be another ‘lesson’ to go along with it is negotiable. God’s word is pretty clear on how we are to discipline. I think it is very important to instill early on in a child’s life that there is an authority that must be obeyed (ultimately God, but secondly parents). A two year old cannot often make the connection of a more complicated punishment, but they will always understand what a spanking means. Consistency is the key with young children as we all know, and I do think there is an age that a spanking is not longer appropriate/effective, but to avoid spanking altogether I fear is disobedience of God’s plan for parenting.

    • Are you aware that in Biblical times the “rod” was not used on the buttocks, but on the back, and that it was commonly used on adults as well? In fact, if you are using verses in Proverbs as the “command” to spank children, you can not ignore other verses in Proverbs that clearly refer to using the rod on adults. This link is to an article that documents the “history” of spanking and Biblical justification.
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    • Heather, thank you for your comment. I do understand that some people feel that the Bible says spanking is necessary.

      However, I find some of this a little strange. For instance, why with no warning? God warns us repeatedly. Most of the prophets in the Old Testament were issuing warnings.

      Also, the rod was not used to beat sheep; it was used to guide and correct when they went off course. Hence Psalm 23: “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.”

      Again, I am not saying spanking is wrong. I just have an issue with saying that we MUST spank, or that spanking is the only option. What we must do is discipline and teach, and I do believe that there are many options for that, and that individual children respond differently to different things, and that this should always be taken into account. God treats us as individuals; I think as parents we are to use our wisdom and discernment and raise our children to love God and to obey as well.

  5. Hi Sheila

    Thanks for taking the time write this post. Some very good information here. I will have to mark this page and use it as my children get older. I have use some of them before, like time out, but I call it “quite time”. I never thought about having a box for the toys, I just use to take it about for a couple hours.

    Peace to you.
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  6. My moms group was just talking about this last night – there were the advocates of spanking and those of us who, for various reasons, choose not to. It didn’t get heated or anything, but it was very interesting to hear other peoples’ perspectives on what is and what isn’t appropriate for disciplining. There were people who had been spanked as children and still thought it was fine to do with their own children, and those who had been spanked and would NEVER choose it as a form of discipline for their kids and those who had been semi-abused and still thought there was a way to do it appropriately.
    It’s definitely a hot button topic.
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  7. Bonnie Klassen says:

    I’ve never left a comment anywhere so I hope I do this right.
    My husband and I were blessed with a baby in our 40’s, she is a healthy, happy, wonderful blessing from God.
    She is also VERY human and so we talk about discipline and how to do that in this day and age. So I
    thoroughly enjoyed this article and the many good ideas.
    I have only 1 issue with your article and it may seem small but it’s a big deal to me.
    While I believe in looking for something positive in everyone, Hitler was a shocking choice to find good in.
    Evil is evil and please don’t minimize that by trying to find something good in him.

    • Stephanie P says:

      I understand your concern of the Hitler comment…but when you have more than 1 child and they argue…siblings don’t always ‘like’ each other and may have a hard time coming up with something nice to say. So I think that comment was meant to give an example of if I can find something remotely nice to say about Hitler who was as evil as they come, then you can most definitely come up with something nice to say about your brother/sister who is a ‘good person’. I don’t think she was minimizing his evil. Just simply doing a comparison to put things into perspective.

      • Yes, Stephanie, exactly. Hitler is Evil Incarnate, and I certainly do not mean to minimize it, and I certainly did not mean to offend. I’m just saying that in the heat of anger, when we do think the other person is “bad”, it still should be possible to come up with lots of nice things to say about them–especially since your siblings are NOT Evil Incarnate.

    • Bonnie, you are right. Having lost family in the holocaust that comment was in such poor taste and the point could have been made with another example.

      • I am sorry and I didn’t mean to offend. I’ve taken the reference out now. I thought that the way I had written it I was implying that he was the worst person that you could imagine, but I understand that it didn’t come across that way. I truly was trying to use him as an example of someone absolutely awful, not as someone who was good, but I’ve taken it out since it obviously offended so many, and I truly didn’t mean to.

  8. I appreciate your tips and advice. I don’t necessarily disagree with spanking as we have used it in our home but I have always struggled doing so. It breaks my heart so I like the ideas listed. I’m wondering what you’re thoughts (or anyone else’s for that matter) are on discipline for lying and sneaky behavior and attitudes? Lying is usually the only thing we spank for at this point but I want my children to know how destructive lying is and sometimes just having a talk about it isn’t enough. Unless I missed it, that type of behavior didn’t seem to be mentioned above.

    • We had an issue with lying in our house when my son was around 7. Interestingly he had a friend who lied a lot and he didn’t like it. No one trusted what he said. Then my son started lying about dumb things like saying he brushed his teeth when he didn’t (the worst thing I would do would tell him to brush his teeth, OK maybe for him that was BAD!). What I did was let him know that every time he lied, he would lose his screen time for the day (something that was really important to him). He suffered the consequences many times before he stopped lying. But probably the most effective tool was the fact that I didn’t believe him when he was telling the truth (natural consequence). There is nothing worse that people thinking you are lying when you are finally telling the truth! I worried about what to do with the lying too, but with consistent consequences they eventually learn that it is not in their best interest. Of course if it is hard to catch them in a lie, it might be a longer process. My son is a very poor liar and he had something worth taking away. Not all kids are wired the same way.

  9. As a nanny, I watched a child who had been warned what would happen if he “did it again” weigh up the consequences in his head, decide it was worth the cost, hit his sister with a block, and head for his room!
    As a parent, I have learned that every child responds differently. As much as possible, the punishment should fit the crime especially for older children but even for kids as young as 3-4.
    Two of my children are crushed by “the look”, and barely need a verbal correction. One needs to be told, “Obey now, or else [x y z] will be the consequences.” (time out is not always a good consequence for not obeying, if it means they get 3 more minutes before their jammies go on! Losing a story is a better option then.)

    Actually, out of your whole list, 7 and 8 are the only two we haven’t used. 7, because my kids don’t do organized sports so it’s not something we can take away, and 8 because it never occurred to me. It is a fabulous idea, and will be used the next time my 11 and 13 year olds are at each other!

  10. Hi Shelia, I just have one comment or concern to add. I think we need to be really careful as parents, regardless of our mode of discipline, that we aren’t just trying to modify the behavior of a child. Any good parent can modify the behavior of a child through spankings, rewards, time out, taking things away, but we’ve totally missed the heart.

    For example, being mean/fighting among siblings. As a parent we need to help our children see the root of why they are angry. What is causing the behavior toward the sibling? That is what needs to be addressed, not necessarily the outward symptom.

    One of the best books I have read is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Paul Tripp. Of course I read it too late but as I did read it I recognized the value of getting to the heart of a child’s behavior and not just modifying behavior.

    Just a thought…
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  11. Hello Sheila,
    Thanks for the strategies. By and large, consequences of various kinds, no TV, no computer, toys taken away, no desert and once having to pay for the gas to drive them to school because they dawdled and miss the school bus worked well with our older 3 children.
    However, our youngest child has autism and has been extremely challenging! Often, he doesn’t even understand why you’re upset with him. It’s really hard not to react to his stim behaviours (the repetitive noises drive me insane!) or when he accidentally hurts you quite painfully. Thankfully, he’s easy to put to bed and has made huge progress over the years.
    He’s almost 9 and doing very well in his special class.
    However, how do you discipline a child that often doesn’t even understand what you’re talking about and with whom you cannot even have a normal conversation? At school, they’ve used time-outs but how they discipline him is still something of a mystery. None of the books we’ve read have been helpful. I’ve also had to overcome an abusive upbringing with my mother giving me severe beatings, often for no reason that I can remember. Fortunately, my wife had a good upbringing and by and large I’ve avoided repeating what was done to me. Needless to say, we don’t ask my parents for advice!

  12. Hi Shiela,

    Thank you for this post! I am a counselor by trade, and I have found that discipline of children is a HUGE issue in a marriage and family life. It seems that parents are constantly searching for guidance to deal with discipline. I have often wished that more churches would provide training and support in this area for struggling parents.

    When speaking with parents, I always recommend that in addition to searching the Scriptures about training and discipline, they purchase and read 2 excellent books:

    Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp (focuses on the emotional/spiritual aspect of teaching and disciplining children).

    Don’t Make Me Count To Three! by Ginger Plowman (focuses on simple, practical techniques for parents to use)

    Both books are full of Scriptural references and sound advice for loving, teaching, and disciplining children.

    Discipline of children is a spiritual journey for both the child and parents. When done correctly, it will provide many, many opportunities for spiritual growth. I learned some ugly things about myself on my journey as a parent (impatience, anger, needless worry, etc.), and God used discipline situations to convict me and help me grow right alongside my child.

    Don’t Make Me Count to Three! is great to use as a book study with just your spouse or with other parents, too. I led an online study of this book, which can be read on

    • I actually know Ginger Plowman quite well, and I love Shepherding a Child’s Heart! Great insights.

      That’s why I’m adamant that discipline should not make a child LIE. I don’t believe in forcing kids to apologize, for instance, because we’re trying to focus on heart issues, not just outward behaviour. It’s such an important distinction to make, and I think the mistake many parents make is trying to control behaviour rather than trying to touch hearts.

  13. I feel that parents need to be careful with the “work it out with a sibling” method, especially if there is a tendency for one sibling to bully another (verbally, physically, or emotionally), or in cases where one child may be much more stubborn and unwilling to relent. Making both children stay in a room until they get along/make up can be much harder on one child than the other. One may be willing to talk/engage and the other refuse (for hours in the case of a very strong willed child). Also, if not supervised, it can lead to worse than the original infraction. In a make-it-work for that, I’d suggest a time limit, and maybe keeping the kids where they have indirect parental supervision. Especially if children’t haven’t seen healthy problem solving skills modeled, they may reinforce unhealthy patterns instead of problem solving.

  14. Perhaps I can ask for some guidance here too. We use a combination of time out and spanking – with spanking being the last resort and when time outs aren’t working. I also use a other methods as and when needed, e.g. taking toys away, going to bed without a story, etc, etc, etc. But, I always give Baby Girl a love and a cuddle afterwards, explain why what she did was wrong, and then I tell her, its over now. (Kids do so love to harp on things, don’t they…) Anyway, here is my concern – and let me give you an example. Yesterday, we received a note from her school saying that she pinched a boy in class – the teacher had spoken to her, and had asked that we raise the issue with her as well. Which we did – in a conversational manner, I told her that we don’t behave like that, and if that boy is given her problems, she must go straight to her teacher (she is four, btw). I didn’t think any punishment was necessary, as it happened at school and the teacher did deal with it. However, little Baby Girl just ran off to her room, crying. Totally heart broken – but – she does this all the time. Whenever her Dad and I raise an issue with, no matter how gentle we are, she runs off crying. I do think she is a very sensitive little girl, but I also think its a tad manipulative of her as well. How do I deal with this. She can’t go off crying like that every time her Dad and I talk to her, and we can’t not talk to her for fear of breaking her heart (she was heart broken yesterday). And like I said, this does happen often. But, we can’t just leave it either – or do we? Do we just leave her crying in the room, do I go cuddle her, what do I do???? I don’t want her to be manipulative, so I want to be quite harsh on that, but if this is a sensitivity issue, then being harsh won’t be the right thing… Please help…
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    • purplecandy says:

      @ the baby mama : I have a 5 yo girl and when she cries because we talked to her to discipline her, she also tends to go to her room crying. We’ve always let her. She also has to learn to deal with her emotions, be they sad ones. It usually doesn’t last that long, and I try to help her put words on what she felt afterwards. But if she asks for a hug or something while still crying I am there for her.

      @Sheila : thank you for talking about this topic, I feel very close to your way of thinking when it comes to parenting, and I am glad I have found books to read in the comments.

  15. Wendy Lewis says:

    An issue with my almost-3-year-old is lying, particularly about whether he has a dirty diaper. We (my husband and I) can tell he does know when he has one, but if we ask he usually wants to say no. We have mostly only used spanking for this problem, because we feel he needs IMMEDIATE consequence for lying. I feel like this is probably okay, but can you offer any other immediate forms of discipline? Time outs and other ideas I have heard can’t be done while running errands, for example. (And yes, we have discussed with him why lying is not okay but I think he is still young to fully grasp the reasoning, but we want to stop it now if we can!)

    • Wendy Lewis says:

      Oh, and other things, like taking away a toy he may be using at the moment, I have a hard time seeing how that relates to the lying issue.

    • This is really old, but maybe you get email notifications or something. 3-yr olds can’t lie. Your baby is telling you what he wishes was true, he’s not trying to trick you. If you want to avoid being told something that’s not true, don’t ask a question if you already know the answer. If you can easily find out the answer without asking, don’t ask. Basically, you’re asking your son if he has done an embarrassing thing and then when he doesn’t want to embarrass himself, you are hitting him for it. Lying is a very tricky issue. If you know 100% that your child is lying, why did you give him the opportunity? If you’re not sure if he’s lying, how can you smack him for it? Maybe he doesn’t know, maybe he misunderstands, maybe he’s trying to tell you what you want to hear to avoid being hit (maybe your son doesn’t tell you he’s soiled his diaper because he thinks you’re hitting him for soiling it).

  16. Dear Shelia,
    I have recently been being convicted of my temper and my sporadic and inconsistent methods of punishment. I actually just prayed for other alternatives to discipline my children because I feel like I’m spanking too much and it’s not really working any way and I also feel like I have become the mean parent in my childrens eyes because my husband is always calm and collected and never spanks. So I very much thank you for this article! I do have one question though. My daughter has ADHD and it greatly affects her when she’s does not have her medication in her system. I know that with this condition it is very hard for her to stay focused and not get distracted and that it’s not always her fault, but I also know that my inconsistency has also led to our behavior/listening problems. How do I know when she’s just having medical issues or just not listening/behaving? We constantly fight in the morning because she won’t stay on task and get ready for school even giving her an hour to get ready we almost always leave later then we should (but she’s always to school on time) then in the evenings it’s a fight to do homework, or clean her room, or take a bath. The only way I can get her to stay on task is to physically stagy right next to her and constantly keep redirecting her. This also poses a problem because she has a very active mischievous 3 year old little brother that any time my back is turned he’s getting into things he shouldn’t, like my flour, spices, brown sugar, baby powder, soap. He also refuses to listen when I ask him to clean up unless I’m right on top of him. My husband works out of town a lot and so I feel trapped and overwhelmed. I can’t get anything done cuz I’m always having to be right next to them to keep them in line or things go awry. I don’t know how to handle it but I know that I need to have a better solution then spanking all the time and I know I need to be consistent but I also don’t what to punish when she just honestly can’t focus and stay in task.

  17. Great list!
    Could you please publish a similar list for young teens (12-14) and older teens? That would help is so much!!

  18. Dear Sheila,
    Very helpful tips! Thank you!
    I create a 15 minute program for young moms for our local ethnic (Low German) radio station in Southern Ontario. Would you mind if I translated a few of the ideas in this article to share with other moms? Many of the Mennonite listeners don’t have access to the internet and would greatly benefit from hearing some of these fresh ideas. I would credit you of course. Thanks so much!

    • Hi Lyli! I think my assistant emailed you about this this morning (or else she’s about to!) Sounds like a great opportunity. Blessings on your work!

  19. Loved this article and I am saving it for the next couple years! Right now I have a 3y, 22 mo, and a niece I watch who is 18 mo. Do you have any ideas for those younger ages? Some of these work and I agree swift consistent punishment to fit the issue but I am looking for ways to solve sharing, whining, hitting and the wonderful 3y drama that unfolds when they cant control emotions well. Any advice would be wonderful!

  20. I am a professional nanny (and now a mother), and my husband and I don’t believe in spanking. And obviously when I nannied, I couldn’t spank the kids, but still had to discipline. One thing that I think is confusing for children when you spank is that the punishment doesn’t connect with the behavior. For instance, how does hitting a child relate to them throwing a tantrum? I took care of a toddler once, and as we all know, toddlers think the funniest thing in the world is to throw food on the floor. Her “punishment” for throwing the food on the floor was to take a sponge and help me clean it up. She wasn’t even three years old, but I gave her a sponge and we went at it, and you know what. . .she quickly got bored and realized it was time-consuming to throw food on the floor because the cleaning up stinks. I hope with my daughter, I will relate the discipline to what she actually does as much as possible. The punishment for bad grades should not be taking away driving privileges, it should be stay home more so that her homework can be finished without distractions. And so on. Thank you for this post. . .these are some good tips!!
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  21. Hi Shelia,
    Thanks for this great list of ideas. I especially appreciate the one about encouraging siblings to write or say positive things about each other. I will definitley try some of these out and which ones work for my children. :)

  22. These are some great ideas, Sheila. My kids are now 13, 10 and 8. I can’t remember the last time we spanked any one of them. Spanking was always reserved for outright defiance and we spent time talking about the problem and praying with our children afterwards, with hugs and love. But those instances of discipline were few and far between.
    For our version of ‘time-out’, we talk to the child about their wrong-doing and then often, we tell them they need to go and pray about their problem and ask God for wisdom and for help. Over time, I have found this to be very effective for my children. They go to God with repentant hearts and learn to turn to Him in times of trouble. They also experience His grace and mercy with forgiveness. They then report back to me after they have spent time with God in prayer and share with me what God has taught them. Sometimes they want to keep those lessons to themselves, but the change is evident. My kids do go to their rooms to do this. I have not had a problem with them playing with their toys during this time, but they have been trained to go to God in prayer and to remain in prayer until God has released them. When they were very little, I’d have them sit in the living room on dad’s chair.
    When the kids are not getting along with each other, I have them pray with each other and for each other. I am so amazed with what this does for their relationship.
    We use Instruction in Righteousness by Doorposts – this is a quick reference to scripture verses for bringing a child’s heart back to truth and back to God. It is an excellent resource.
    We use scripture often to bless and encourage our kids. I don’t believe scripture should ever be used to discipline/reprimand/rebuke a child IF it is not first being used to bless and encourage. If a child is not confident in God’s love for them, then God’s word should not be used for punishing or disciplining. My kids know their Saviour loves them. And so, they gratefully accept discipline from God’s word.

  23. This was a Great article but I would like to bring it to your attention that most of these are not options for poor parents. Time outs are viable as well as having siblings work things out together… but technology time, toys and restitution seem impossible when children have little to none and a far as money… as a very low middle claw parent I have no money on hand ever and my children don’t either, there is no allowance in our house. We also do not have cable, smartphones or ipads. Just something to think about.

    • Leslie, it certainly was not my intention to be exclusionary, but I can’t see any of the points that wouldn’t apply to families in all economic circumstances and in all cultures except perhaps the technology one, which is only one. Most children have a toy they play with. Even when we were in Kenya at an orphanage, the children had makeshift soccer balls and dolls. If your child literally has no toys, I’d really suggest seeking out a Salvation Army or something, because they will very likely donate some to you. Often food banks have toys, and most cities also have toy drives that you can join at Christmas to get your children some toys.

      I really think that all parents, regardless of income, can discipline effectively, and I think these suggestions, on the whole, have very little to do with money. So I hope people will see it like that!

  24. I love this article. The big takeaway is the telling the other person the 3 things instead of just ‘Im sorry”. I have a 6 year old daughter that I had when I was a single mother, and then I married and we have a 2.5 year old together. The kids love each other but they do not always play together nicely and my daughter being that I was single before, then added a husband AND a new baby all in one year has struggled with having to ‘share me’ and the attention. She is gifted too, very intelligent, and seems to have learned or started to learn the art of manipulation (example: having her brother come and ask for a snack because he rarely eats at eatting times and she knows I will give him one, thus she will come after and ask for one)
    I am going to forward this to my husband :) thank you

  25. I’m a single mom of 3, and I was wondering about #4, that one would be a little difficult to accomplish if one acted up and the other children also have to miss out. I have done it before, we went out to eat and when my oldest two weren’t sitting still I walked out of the line and went through the drive thru instead. It worked great, but both of them were acting up. What do you recommend for a single mom in response to #4?

  26. Sheila,

    Thanks for this. So clear, sensible and loving.

    I wonder if any of your readers, especially the moms, have ever told you that they just did not feel right intuitively about spanking?

    I have heard that from literally dozens of mothers in my work against corporal punishment through my free ebook.

    I’d be keen to know if you’ve heard the same thing?

    Thanks again

    Samuel Martin

  27. Thank you for writing and sharing this! My husband and I are not opposed to spanking, but I greatly appreciate these disciplinary ideas so that spanking (and time out) are used only when appropriate and beneficial to our children. I have two- and five-year-olds, and I felt like this list progressed from options that I could use with them to options for older children. I really appreciate that variety!

  28. I love these suggestions and have seen similar lists on many blogs but my husband and I are currently struggling with disciplining two toddlers! How do you discipline a child who isn’t old enough to know you ‘be taken toys or privileges away and our poor son could be in time out all day for all he cares. They’re both under three and we are running out of ideas before he runs out of bad behavior 😉

  29. Hi,
    I find all of this really interesting and as a relatively new parent I want to find ways to teach my children to self-regulate. I was spanked as a child but it was never severe and I cannot recall spankings in particular. As a teacher though, I have used natural consequences as a technique for discipline and it works well. But my child is not yet two and I want to know how to teach him not to do things that are dangerous. As of now I just take everything that can hurt him away and tell him no that can hurt him or give him an ouchie but it doesn’t work for everything. He pulls my hair relentlessly. It is very painful. I move his hand, I tell him no. I put him down and move away from him and he just returns to do it again. There are things in my house he should not touch, my phone, my tablet, etc. and so I take them away from him and again tell him no, this is mommy’s or this is daddy’s it does not belong to you, it is not a toy, etc. But taking things away when they aren’t going to hurt him and actually belong where they are sitting doesn’t seem to be the right thing to do. I want him to learn that those things are off limits without having to move all my belongs all over the house. Any advice?

  30. Wow there’s some nutters out there! Wendy your child is 3 and you’re spanking because he soiled his diaper and you think he’s lying? You have bigger problems coming than that hun. You’re building a liar that’s what you’re doing, do you think your son will tell you the truth when’s he 13 if he thinks he’ll get a spanking for not doing as you say? Also time outs in public are possible your mind is just not being creative enough, read the part above about leaving. Wow….

  31. M. Childers says:

    I did the count to three thing, but I told my kids, “I’m going to count to 3, and three is a spanking.” Funny, I rarely had to count past two! My kids never had tantrums at home or in public. They knew the rules and the consequences if they disobeyed. They were well behaved then and now and never rebelled. They are now 26, 24, 20 and 16, boys and girls. We were consistent and they knew spanking was a definite possibility!

  32. This list is a fantastic idea! Varied punishments are a good way to keep kids from getting used to them, leading to it being ineffective. Heck, with the breaking thing you could even have the kid give up something of equal value or continue taking money until paid for. Parents shouldn’t forget to use this practice when out too. They broke something at the store? It’s wrong to let them get away with it, teaching stealing.

    The only thing I would say is try to keep chores out of punishment. Don’t associate the two much. It’s miles better to enforce that chores are enjoyable. Having kids help alongside you when doing bigger chores helps too.

  33. Lydia Purple says:

    I would like to add a few thoughts here… I am a mother of 3 (5yo, 3yo and 10 months)

    Now, we live in Israel and i studied biblical Hebrew and i must say that spanking is not all clearly indicated in the Bible, the rod could also refer to authority or simply means tribe, which could make sense if you think of disciplining children as instilling the values and calling of the family or tribe. the only verse using the verb ‘to strike’ is clearly directed at a teenager ( hebrew na’ar) in the context of foolish behaviour literally sexual immorality and drinking in which case the hitting is suggested to deliber his soul from death, because according to the torah, the parents would have to deliver their son to a public stoning if he would choose such a life style. no where does the bible say we must hit little kids in order to discipline them. (Prov. 23/13 and following and Deut. 21:18-21)

    I have a few more things to say, but i got to go. I’ll be back!

    • Thanks for adding that, Lydia. I’ve done some reading into that as well, and the word for “child” that is used in conjunction with the rod is definitely not a toddler, but instead an older child. And the rod doesn’t necessarily mean a physical striking. And yet we seem to use this verse to mean that we should be hitting 3-year-olds. It is very problematic, and I think more should be written about this.

      • lydia purple says:

        Hi Sheila, thanks for the quick reply. As I said, I am back with some more things to share. the reason I really commented here is that I think that we should not punish our kids at all. It sounds crazy, but let me exlpain. (i am not a permissive parent, and my kids are not out of control…)

        about two years ago I was in a real parenting crisis and somewhat clueless. I had a three year old who was not listening and a one year old baby, with whom I just went through some health issues. we both had some serious herpes infection (me on the nipples which resulted in a sudden stop in breastfeeding). anyways, i was also spiritually dried up, couldn’t find much time for the Lord. but in the middle of this, where i felt i must be such a bad believer failing in all the areas, God had only one thing to say ‘you are MINE, nothing and no one can rob you out of my hand. ‘ no punishment, but grace. and you know what, this he gave me a few more scriptures that became life and daily bread for me during that time, and then only afterwards, i started to clean up the mess. i repented, i went off social media to make time for the things that matter. i did my part in restoring our relationship. in this season, God gave me a vision to parent my kids. ‘hear oh israel, the LORD our God the LORD is one. you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your sould and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach then diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the wayand when you lie down and when you rise…’ It really struck me, that first of all we must love God in everything with all our being and this love must become visible in our daily tasks and this is what we need to teach our children in word and deed. while we walk we talk about it, while we sit we talk about it. we do and talk. Little kids imitate us. If we would actually live this out and talk about it at the same time, how powerful that would be. Back then I started to wonder about it, now I know how powerful it is. At the time I was struggeling with setting right priorities (facebook over quiet time) and had some anger issues. I didn,t manage to be and do what I wanted my daughter to be and do. sure enough she rebelled. But God turned it around. He showed me his unconditional love and that is what I pass on to my kids. when I started digging into books and the bible to find out how to raise them in His way, one thing always ringed in my head. the punishment was laid on jesus. i don’t have to carry my own guilt. while i was still a sinner, He died for me. the same is true for my children. he said we need not judge one another. a judge decides about the punishment for the guilty. i don’t have to inflict punishment on my kids. I have to teach them the word of God, yes. And I have to love them unconditionally. To discipline could be equaled with to disciple. It’s about learning life skills and behaviours, but it is much more then that. But in the end it’s all about relating the child to God. I felt like that most Christian parents are more concerned that their kids behave well and obey, then they are concerned that child will hear, see and know God’s love and salvation. I am not accusing anyone of doing this on purpose, but the focus is so much on behaviour, not on the message of the cross. It sounds a bit crazy and scary, I know. to take away behaviour control methods, like punishment and rewards leaves us in some uncertain ground. how will i control my child? the thing is, if we teach kids to behave good, without teaching them about sin and the cross, they will grow up as hypocrites. how dare we think, we can fix our kids heart issues by inflicting punishments or giving rewards. maybe the behaviour will improve, but they still are sinners, well behaved sinners, who have no clue about the redemption for their sins. the gospel is the power of God to save sinners, how can we keep it from our kids?

        So how do I raise my kids?
        1. I love them unconditionally. I sacrifice my life for them, daily. I lay down my selfishness, so they can see the unconditional love and grace of God in deed. I spent time with them. I delight in them. I give and give and give some more. I can’t do it in my own power, but God has given us His Spirit, and his love is poured out into our hearts. I try to let this love flow as.much as I can to my children. We as parents are the visible representative of God the father.
        2. I try to live in the fruit of the spirit. Fruit is seed. Every fruit my kids enjoy is a seed in their hearts sown of the way God wants us to lead our lives. The fruit of the Spirit is the behaviour and attitude and character I want to see in my kids. So I sow seeds. And I pray it over them daily.
        3. I repent when I fail. before God and before my kids.
        4. I create an environment in which they can be free to explore, grow and play. I try to create a routine and home in which they are free. God gave us absolute freedom in Christ. We must learn to use the freedom to choose good, to do the things that are in line with our love relationship to God. If they can’t handle the freedom in an area that would endanger their life, I take it away (like walking on the streets or touching electricity) with the explanation that i can’t allow them to kill themselves. I also pay careful attention to behaviour triggers that set them up to fail. orderly home promotes orderly behaviour. no screens – no tantrums. no junk food/sweets – no tantrums. If we feed them food full of additives, sugar and stuff that has impact on behaviour then we can not punish them for behaviour that results from it. same goes for too much screen time. So our house iz set up very kid friendly, most things they can access freely, but if they use their freedom in a way that is destructive, there are consequences. which leads to number
        5. I teach them responsibility by natural consequences. You make a mess, it must be cleaned up, you hurt your brother, you have to make up, You sin, you have to repent. don’t get me wrong, i am not forcing my kids to repent. but i teach them some of the law when it becomes relevant for them, (1. to love God, 2. to obey and honor parents, 3. say the truth ( once lying occurs) ) and i teach them about the cross. that they deserved punishment for their sin, but that jesus died on the cross for their sin. my two oldest both repented around age 3 after some season teaching and offering to pray with them. and as a result they started to obey us more and i see various fruit in their life. I am NOT constantly telling them that they are sinners, but I do name sin sin. if I see a certain struggle, i will focus on teaching them about that specific issue (like self control or lying) from the bible. i am not a fan of teaching kids to be ‘good or bad’. there are only two kinds of people, sinners who repented and sinners who didn’t. often i learn as much as they do through it. in romans it says that the law leads to knowledge of sin. if we actually teach our kids what sin is and what the consequence of sin is – separation from God, they will most likely be convicted and choose to accept the free gift of grace. most kids i know that grow up in church will say that they want Jesus in their hearts, but nobody ever tells them that there is a problem called sin. not when they are that little. often it’s us adults who doubt that the kids really understands or that the conviction is real. both are valid issues, but that’s why we as parents need to teach them about the sin that they are struggeling with and that’s why we need to teach them the solution (the cross) instead of trying to make them stop sinning in their own power by inflicting punishment on them. Jesus got angry at the disciples when they hindered the children to come to him. I strongly believe that Jesus wants us to bring our little kids directly to him.
        6. i treat them with respect, but also expect respect. I expect them to obey and generally they do. if they have a hard day, i offer to pray with them to ask jesus for help to help them obey. if we have to go out somewhere unusual where i need them to obey in a not so kid friendly situation, i tell them ahead of time, explain to them that i know that this will be not easy for them but that i need them to obey for whatever reason that is, and i ensure them that i trust that they will do it. usually there is no issue at all.

        basically i try to put to real life practice what i believe. it has revolutionized my own faith. i think just the part of living in the fruit of the spirit alone is worth a thousand miles in the parenting journey.

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  1. […] to stay on the chair, or in the corner, then it’s still something that takes an hour or so. I never spanked my kids, but I watch this show and often think, “that’s letting a power struggle with kids get out […]

  2. […] for a week. You don’t have to yell; you just take the iPod away. (Here’s a bunch of effective discipline techniques for children that won’t induce […]

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