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Alternatives to spanking

Is spanking the only way out to correct your errant child's behaviour? Not necessarily.

Gulf News

Is spanking the only way out to correct your errant child's behaviour? Not necessarily. A child expert lays down four alternative strategies for this punitive habit...

Parents generally find it very hard to discipline their children. They would like to appear in perfect control of their child's behaviour (especially in front of other family members and friends!) but feel they just don't have the right way to go about it.

Spanking makes most parents feel uncomfortable and guilty yet they persist because they don't know what else to do. Child expert Margery Rosen highlights four arguments frequently used by parents to justify spanking and suggests alternative strategies that they can use instead.

'Nothing else works'

Raising toddlers can be incredibly stressful but it is, nonetheless, shocking how many parents hit children under the age of three. Toddlers under age three are not capable of the wilful rebelliousness that their parents seem to think they are.

If your two-year-old is about to pull the phone off the hook for the hundredth time, a spanking will certainly stop him immediately but ask yourself the question: Am I teaching him to think for himself? Has he learned to follow a code of behaviour when I am not around?

What you should do instead: Rules, how they are conveyed and how they are enforced, depend on the age of your child. You can't reason with your toddler but you can childproof your home to reduce his getting into trouble. Two and three-year-olds can be distracted easily by tickling or games; older children could be given time-out (1-2 minutes per year of age).

For an older child who screams back at you, "You can't make me", or refuses to do as you ask, begin by defusing the situation. Never react to an angry threat with more anger as this just escalates anger on both sides. Ask him in a quiet voice what is bothering him, and assure him you will listen to him. After he has calmed down, discuss the consequences for his misbehaviour.

'My parents spanked me, and I turned out okay'

Remember, your child's personality may be different from yours, and that hitting kids makes them resentful, angry and fearful. If there is a better way to deal with children, why not be open to that?

What you should do instead: "A parent who knows what to expect at each stage of a child's development doesn't need to spank to show a child who's boss," points out Margery Rosen. If you realise a two-year-old cannot understand what you mean when you say 'Pick up those crayons', then you'll be better able to make a game doing it together with her.

An older child who does understand will suffer the natural consequences of his actions. If he loses his basketball, don't keep buying him a new one. If he throws a tantrum everytime you ask him to shut off the TV, tell him he will not be allowed to watch television unless he calms down and listens.

'I spank only when it's a question of safety'

Many parents think that it's okay to spank when a child puts herself in physical danger and call this 'tough love'. For example, if a three-year-old pulls away from your grasp and runs across the road; or, keeps playing with the electrical cords despite many reminders from you not to do so.

What you should do instead: Prevention is better than hitting. Childproof your house to reduce the risk of accidents. Regular lectures on the right way to cross the road and on the dangers of crossing the road will impress on your child the importance of following safety rules. If your toddler keeps reaching out for the bottle of tablets, say, "Don't touch" and put them out of her reach.

'I'm only human and sometimes it's impossible not to lose my temper'

At the end of a long day, it's hard to think of the right words to say. Faced with temper tantrums and defiance, a smack across the bottoms works so much faster because it stops the behaviour immediately, but remember that it's difficult to know where to draw the line. At a time when our society is so concerned with violence, why use a form of discipline that depends on hitting?

What you should do instead: Find ways to walk away from the situation till you have calmed down to deal with it. If you are run down by the end of the day, don't take the children with you to the supermarket. When you are not caught up in power struggles, you may find that a glare or a few chosen words work just as fast as a spanking.