Spanking Alternatives: Experts' 8 Top Tips For Disciplining Toddlers

Experts Recommend 8 Alternatives To Spanking

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics found connections between spanking and “mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance abuse/dependence, and personality disorder.” This, along with other studies about spanking -- including research suggesting that more than 90 percent of parents spank their toddlers (discussed by HuffPost blogger Dr. Claire McCarthy here) -- has been raising hackles all over the web.

While many authorities agree that, as Parent Coach Susan Stiffelman says, “The most effective approach is prevention” -- i.e., trying to head off bad behavior by setting clear and reasonable expectations -- parents know it isn’t always possible to stop kids (preschoolers in particular) from going off the rails. The HuffPost Parents community on Facebook asked how to stop the bad-behavior train once it's left the station.

We turned to several trusted experts -- including Dr. Harvey Karp (creator of the book and DVD series "The Happiest Toddler on the Block"); HuffPost Parents Parent Coach Susan Stiffelman; child-development specialist Betsy Brown Braun, author of "Just Tell Me What To Say"; Harvard Medical School assistant professor of pediatrics Dr. Claire McCarthy, and Child Mind Institute psychologist Dr. Steven Kurtz -- to offer productive and concrete alternatives to spanking that parents can implement after little kids have misbehaved. Here are their top eight suggestions:

Give your kid a time-out
Dr. Karp says he starts time-outs with children as young as 1 year old. Dr. McCarthy recommends that “the child should stay there for roughly one minute for every year of age,” adding that it’s critical to make sure your child remains isolated for the duration of the time-out. The point is to “disengage,” as Braun puts it. “If … you spend the whole time putting them back in [time-out], it ends up defeating the purpose,” Dr. McCarthy explains.

Give yourself a time-out
You may be feeling angry, but don’t rush into anything rash. “If you feel yourself getting to your boiling point (we all get there),” Dr. McCarthy says, “take a break. Put your child somewhere safe, and take a moment for yourself.” (Giving a child a time-out can kill two birds with one stone.) Then, as Braun writes: “When you have both come back to planet Earth, even as long as an hour later depending upon the age of the child (the younger the child, the shorter the time), do your revisit.”

Implement logical consequences
Logical consequences are exactly what they sound like -- punishments “directly related to the misbehavior,” in Braun's words. As Dr. Karp puts it: “If you're teasing your sister with the G.I. Joe toy, the G.I. Joe toy's going to disappear.” This punishment works best for younger kids; both Braun and Dr. McCarthy say it can be appropriate to give older children broader punishments, such as loss of privileges “or other favorite things, like Xboxes or cell phones.”

Say “no” -- and mean it
As Dr. Karp says, screaming, yelling and hitting is “fundamentally a counterproductive and a disrespectful way of getting your point across.”

Instead, Dr. McCarthy writes, just say “no”: “I know that sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t be) by how often parents don't do this when they should." Use “eye contact and a clear, stern tone of voice,” and “react immediately.” Braun reminds parents that less is more: “Say as little as possible. ‘There is no throwing balls in the living room!’ using your low, slow, icy voice. Mean business.” Later, “have a short, direct conversation (and it may be one-sided) about what happened and what will happen as a result."

Use the “clap-growl”
“Toddlers are not so much little children as they are little cavemen,” Dr. Karp says. “They are primitives; they're uncivilized, and in fact your job as a parent is to civilize them. Speaking in a calm, logical, reasonable way to a primitive actually makes them feel worse more often than feeling better.” Instead, he says to use the “clap-growl” technique. “When you see your young child doing something that you don't like -- like she's just bitten her brother -- rather than spanking them, you give a good sharp clap, which gets their attention, and then with a serious look on your face, you admonish them. ‘No bite!’ with that index finger extended. And then, do what's called a double take; you look away from them for a second, and then you look back at them just a few seconds later with that stern look again and say, ‘No bite,'" he says. "It’s almost like dog training, in a certain sense, because you're dealing with a being who doesn't have great verbal skills.”

Show, don’t tell
Stiffelman says it’s important to understand that “a toddler's ability to manage impulses is minimal” -- and therefore, attempting an involved explanation of misbehavior is probably a waste of breath. (As Dr. Karp says, when you lecture, “There's too much of a gap between how [toddlers] feel -- their passions -- and the nonverbal content of your voice.”) “As tempting as it is to lecture your child ... a toddler is not developmentally equipped to take all that information in and apply it the next time,” Stiffelman says. “Focus on showing your child what you want him to do.”

Focus on the positive
Parents worry about how to discipline effectively, but they should also “make sure they praise and verbally reinforce good behavior -- specifically the opposite of the undesired behavior,” Dr. Kurtz says, adding, “They should be incredible detectives to catch when kids are doing the right or desired behavior.” Dr. McCarthy stresses this, too (“Make it worth [your kids’] while to behave well -- it often works better than you expect”), as does Braun, who writes: “The very first chance you get, catch him doing the right thing. Praise works better than punishment.”

Outlast the child
Finally, try to keep things in perspective, and realize that you'll always have another shot. In fact, it might be best to just “give up that fight in the moment, and recognize that you will have 1,000 more opportunities to do better or differently the next time,” Dr. Kurtz says. “If your child's putting on socks, there will be another opportunity in 12 hours. Cut your losses. Try again next time.”

Go To Homepage