Mention spanking or corporal punishment in a room of parents and you will likely discover a wide range of highly intense feelings and thoughts on the subject. The overwhelming majority of child training experts within homeschooling communities focus on authoritarian or punitive parenting. They focus on when and how to spank, how to establish authority, and how to break children’s wills. As a result, there is a significant lack of resources for parents in homeschooling communities who want alternatives to this mindset.
Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out’s goal is to encourage homeschooling parents to consider alternatives to authoritarian or punitive parenting. To this end, here are seven positive parenting alternatives to corporal punishment:
1. Transform moments of disobedience into teaching opportunities.
When your child disobeys or misbehaves, do not be afraid to step in and intervene. Instead of using the moment to inflict pain on or shame your child, use the moment to teach your child about what happened. Help your child think through why they misbehaved, what the motivations were, and how they could behave better in the future. Allowing children the ability to think through things themselves can help them learn the skills of troubleshooting.
2. Plan ahead to reduce the number of opportunities children have to misbehave.
Think ahead and plan for various scenarios that might provoke your child to misbehave. For example, if your child gets antsy or uncomfortable during long car rides, bring coloring books or toys or activities that your child can engage in to relieve their restlessness. When you take your child shopping, allow them to participate in the selection of different items. Moments like these can help teach children how to occupy themselves in situations where they might otherwise feels a need to act out.
3. When giving children a rule, give the reason(s) behind the rule.
Children are not stupid. Even young children can understand when a rule does or does not sense. So when you establish a rule, give your child a solid reason for why the rule exists. That way your child understands that the rules you make as their parent are rational and not arbitrary. There are truly good reasons for their existence. This not only increases the likelihood of your child obeying the rule, it also increases their ability to trust you with future rules.
4. Include children in family routines.
Like any other human beings, children want to feel included. They want to feel they are a part of their community—that they are loved, needed, and special. By including children in your family’s routines, children feel a sense of belonging and responsibility that can increase positive interactions.
5. Use problem-solving when children are hard-headed.
When a child repeatedly refuses to obey a command, it can be very tempting as a parent to just throw in the towel and reach for an instrument to spank the child. Pain is the quick and easy way to shut down a child. But the quick and easy way of parenting is not necessarily the healthy and long-lasting way. When a child repeatedly refuses to obey a command, instead of taking the easy route, take a moment and ask the child: “Why are you feeling this way?” Showing your child that you understand their feelings and helping them work through their feelings promotes self-regulation. You can perhaps suggest a compromise so your child does not feel like they have no agency. Or you can help the child think through how to avoid the problem in the first place in the future. Showing your child that you are firm and consistent—but also respectful of them as their own human being with their own feelings and needs—increases chances of cooperation.
Some people think of the word “compromise” as a bad word in the context of parenting. But for toddlers and other young children, learning how to assert themselves is a necessary stage in child development. Your goal should not be to crush your children’s will so that your children never assert themselves; your goal should be to help your children learn how to assert themselves in appropriate and healthy ways.
6. Empower children to behave better.
Your child can behave correctly. Your child can understand what is right versus what is wrong. Your child can be a kind, generous person. So encourage those traits! Show them you have confidence that they can do it. Instead of focusing on everything they do wrong, praise your children when they do what is right. Encourage them to keep doing so. Encouragement is a key tool of empowerment.
7. Respect children’s needs.
Children are growing and learning everyday. Learning how to self-regulate, how to manage their emotions and words, takes a lot of work. When children (and even adults!) become tired, hungry, or sick, this can have a big impact on them. It makes it much more difficult for them to express themselves—for example, they might throw a tantrum as a result. When moments like these happen, tend to the root of the problem first: that your child is hungry or tired or in need of a nap. Meet their needs.
The above parenting strategies are inspired by Laura E. Berk’s “Positive Parenting” section in her 2013 book Child Development, p. 495.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.