It’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 wrong.
Personally, we never spank, though I don’t think it’s always wrong. But I do think that in the vast majority of cases there are better ways to teach the lesson. 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? Here are some ideas:
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.
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 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?