5 Alternatives to Spanking

Sandra Nishihata

I am pretty sure you’ve all read about the recent studies about spanking and how it affects children’s development, but I am also pretty sure it wasn’t really new to you. We know a lot of things, or at least, we have heard about them, but they seem to be impossible to fit into our own parenting style or life in general. It doesn’t matter if the topic is sleep, food, education, or discipline. The phrase “but I turned out okay” is tossed around a lot, with plenty of eye-rolls to go around.

I’ve been there. I fed my kids the wrong food, too much sugar, let them watch way too much television and, yes, I spanked my kids. And while I can live with all my other parenting failures, that one hurts. It hurts both my kids and me. So I had to find solutions that work for my family. And trust me, I have read every parenting book on the planet. In two languages! Because after all, that is my job.

What I found out, as I worked towards new solutions, is that the fact that I started spanking my kids is not rooted in their misbehaving—yeah, I know, not shocking for some—but in my own anxiety and helplessness. So this list is for you, my fellow parents, and not for your kids!

1. Timeout

Have you ever tried to take yourself out of an overwhelming situation? We put our kids in timeouts to let them reflect on their own behavior and emotions, and to encourage them to make better choices. Well, yelling at my child and possibly whooping their butt doesn’t model good behavior or emotional control. And if I go on with it, it will only result in more tears and frustration, not teach them how to make better choices.

So take a break. Let your child know that you don’t like the way you are acting, and you need a break to think about a solution. Do what helps you calm down. I give the same grace to my kids when they are in timeout. They get to do something that is calming them, because I don’t think staring at a wall has ever calmed anyone down.

2. Headphones

One of my children has Asperger’s Syndrome [Editor’s note: the name “Asperger’s Syndrome” has been replaced in the DSM by “Autism Spectrum Disorder]. She’s easily overwhelmed with too much noise and things going on around her. On the other hand, my son tends to become non-verbal in such situations, and starts growling or screaming at me. The typical end of those situations is that they hurt someone by hitting or throwing something. But I discovered out that letting them hear calming music or noises helps them to shut down the rest and focus on themselves.

Why not do the same for yourself? The kids might still fight with each other, but after listening to music for a few minutes, you might be able to calm yourself down before handling the situation.

3. Chocolate

Yes, I bribe my kids. Hey, no judgement! It gets them to stop whatever thing that is driving me up the wall and rewires them. While I don’t reward my kids with candy for bad behavior, I might give them what I think of as a “rescue candy,” and it helps.

For me? Yeah... chocolate and coffee. Give yourself a (coffee) break. Feel good, so you can make them feel better. Try it.

4. Avoid the situation

I don’t mean that you should ignore your kids, but you have a little bit of say in the battles you pick. Don’t let other parents and advisors pressure you into situations you are not comfortable with. If potty training is a struggle, maybe it’s not the right time! YOU are the one changing the diapers, so don’t let anyone else tell you how awful it is.

Your kids don’t like most vegetables? Geez... they will be able to live a few years without them!

They fight when they have to play games with each other? Don’t force them.

5. Get help

Seriously. Get help for your own psychological and emotional well being. Because if you take care of yourself, you are way better at taking care of others!

This is what worked for me. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than spanking. I hope we can find a way together to take better care of our kids AND ourselves!