... featuring advice from our experts about how to punish kids without causing psychological harm.
A study published in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics discovered a link between adult-onset mental health disorders — including substance abuse and anxiety — and childhood physical punishment — including spanking — thereby begging the question: How should parents discipline their kids? Here are 11 more options:
1. Prevention. Too often, parents focus on finding the perfect consequence for unacceptable behavior after it happens, hoping to prevent it in the future. Or, they threaten their child with the consequence that will occur if the child does not comply.
Much of the time, children are defiant because they naturally resist parental demands. Phrasing a demand in this way can avoid many power struggles: "After you brush your teeth, we can read the story you got from the library today." "When your homework is done, the computer will be open." "As soon as you're dressed, pancakes will be served." —Nancy Bruski
2. Options. Offer a clear choice of two acceptable behaviors. For example: "You can put away the blocks or the books. You choose or I choose;" "You can do your homework before snack or after snack. You choose or I choose;" "You can talk in a respectful voice or you can go to another room. You choose or I choose."
Children who delay decision-making need the additional phrase, "You choose or I choose." Others can make a choice easily when presented with clear options. By offering two acceptable choices, the child feels more in control, yet the options are actually being set by the parent. —Nancy Bruski
3. Warnings. In situations in which a child continues to exhibit a particular unacceptable behavior, and it is clear to him/her that the behavior is unacceptable because the parent has talked about it many times previously, making that a "no warning behavior" is useful.
The parent tells the child he/she knows the child can avoid that behavior, and at the same time he/she explains to the child what will happen if the behavior occurs. The parent then intervenes without warning or reminders if it happens again. For example, name-calling with siblings: "I'm so sorry you chose to call your sister a name again. You need to be in your room now. I'm sure you'll remember to find better words next time." —Nancy Bruski
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