Positive Discipline: 10 Tactics That Work (Spanking Not Included)

Parenting expert Alyson Schafer offers alternative discipline methods to the nagging, yelling and spanking cycle.

Many parents resort to spanking as a method of discipline for their children. They love their kids, but are simply bankrupt for ideas of what else to do.

Perhaps they have already tried to reason with their child. When that approach fails, they nag. The nagging gets infuriating so it escalates to yelling. And finally, they feel they have to “do” something to get their child in line. Down comes the hand of discipline and tears begin to flow.

If you have been frustrated by ineffective discipline techniques and want to find an alternative to the nagging, yelling and spanking cycle, then check out my list of non-punitive discipline methods that are effective, but simply unknown by the masses. Then, forward this list on to your friends so they’ll have more ideas too!

If your child is jumping on the couch and they don’t listen when you say “stop it,” there is no point in saying it again. TAKE ACTION. Walk across the room and take them off the couch. If they are bubbling their milk and don’t listen when you say “stop,” reach over and remove their glass from the table.

This sounds contrary to the advice above, but different situations require different methods. Sometimes allowing a child to experience the natural consequences of their behaviour teaches them better than anything you can say or do. Toddlers learn to keep their fingers away from the cupboard doors after getting their fingers pinched a few times. Wet socks from walking in puddles on the way to school feel nasty by the end of the day. It’s not life threatening, just unpleasant. Maybe now they’ll decide to walk around that puddle.

This tool helps kids learn about the social laws of living amongst other people. Consequences connect a child’s privileges and freedoms to their responsibilities:

“If you would like to stay in the bath, you need to show me you can keep the water in the tub and not on the floor. If you can’t manage water play, then bath time is over and I will pull the plug.”

"Sometimes allowing a child to experience the natural consequences of their behaviour teaches them better than anything you can say or do."

“If you would like the privilege of riding your bike, you must show me you will be responsible for wearing your helmet and keeping your bike locked. If you can’t manage those things, the bike will have to go away in the garage for the week.”

“If you can’t get off the computer without having a meltdown when computer time is over, we’ll pass on computer time tomorrow evening.”

Notice the logical connection between the freedom and responsibility. “If you don’t clean the hamster cage, you lose computer privileges” is actually a punishment, NOT a consequence. If you don’t care for the well-being of your hamster, the consequence should be that you are not ready for pet ownership, and its time to find a new loving home for him. (Tip: You might want to start with fish as pets and work your way up!)

Try seeing situations that aren’t working at home as family problems that need a better solution, rather than immediately thinking that a child needs to be disciplined. In the example of getting off the computer without a meltdown, yes, you could apply the logical consequence as suggested above. However, if you decide to treat the situation as a problem that needs solving and you ask your child for their input on how to make the process go better, you will be VERY surprised at what you learn.

"Ideas generated by the kids work better than solutions imposed on kids by their parents."

My children told me they were angry getting off the computer when the timer went off because they were in the middle of talking to ten friends online, or they were about to complete a level in a game and didn’t want to lose their hard work. They suggested setting the timer five minutes before the end of their allowed computer time so they could say their goodbyes and wrap up their level. THIS solved the problem. Ideas generated by the kids work better than solutions imposed on kids by their parents.

“When” and “then” is a great tool to help kids stay accountable for their responsibilities and choices. I can’t make a child wash their hands, but I can say, “Clean hands are required for eating supper. When your hands are washed, then I’ll know you are ready to eat.” You can’t make a child brush their teeth, but you can say, “When the old sugar is brushed off your teeth, then I will know you are ready for new sugar.” The same goes with cleaning up toys: “When you’ve put your toys away, then I will know you are ready for snack time.”

Would you like to hop or skip to the car? Would you like to turn off the TV or shall I? Can you give mommy the crayon or do I need to take it from your hand? Would you like apple juice or orange juice?

Tip: If the child doesn’t answer or spends hours pondering the choices and dawdling, then simply offer this new choice: can you decide or shall I? If they don’t choose now, make the choice for them. “Okay, I see you want me to decide! It’s apple juice today.” When they complain about your choice, simply state in a matter of fact that the time for choosing has come and gone, but they can try again next time.

If a child is getting aggressive, throwing items or hitting, you can apply a form of a logical consequence which is called a “time out.” This should be implemented in a way that helps the child calm themselves. It is not meant as a punishment via social exclusion or confinement, so watch your tone and language when using this tool.

“I see you’re upset, and that is okay, but we need to feel safe in our house. Can you calm yourself? Or do you need to go take a time out?” If they can’t calm themselves, gently and lovingly escort them to a cozy calm place for them to collect themselves. Offer a favorite stuffed animal or hand them a favorite book. Reassure them they can come join you again any time they can be calm. No set time limit.

If your child is resistant to being put in a time out, you need to retire that tool. Your child is now too old or strong willed for time outs to be effective. However, the idea of needing to feel safe when someone is being aggressive is still important.

"Yup, a simple hug and cuddle is often the best tool for helping a whining and demanding child."

Now when they are explosive, you can say, “We need to feel safe in our house. Can you calm yourself? Or do I need to go?” If they don’t settle down, remove yourself (not them). If they follow you, find a place like a bathroom or your bedroom where you can go and close the door. Explain you’ll happily return when the house is safe and calm for them. You are acting in self-respecting ways by keeping yourself out of harms way. They may bang on the door for a bit. Reassure them that you’ll enjoy their company when they are calm again. When you do rejoin, find a calm time to discuss what made them so angry and try to solve that problem when everyone is not so emotional.

Kids who are emotionally triggered and upset may need help learning calming skills. You can help them with this by mirroring their emotions and reflecting back to the child what they are experiencing so they feel understood and supported. Just imagine the difference you would feel from these two parental responses:

“Hey don’t rip your picture up. That was a perfectly good drawing. Stop crying like a baby. It’s just a picture. You are being dramatic.”

Now compare that with active listening: “Oh you ripped up the picture you were working so hard on. You must be feeling very disappointed with it. Are you frustrated that the picture you had in your mind didn’t come out on the paper the way you imagined? It’s tough to put so much time in and not like the result isn’t it? You really wanted to make a beautiful card for grandma.”

Yup, a simple hug and cuddle is often the best tool for helping a whining and demanding child. Instead of correcting their behaviour over and over, see if you can simply get them back on track by saying: “Would you like a hug or cuddle?” Three minutes of soulful connection can land you an evening of good behaviour! It’s well worth taking a moment.


Creative Discipline Tactics That Actually Work!