happy child
1 / 15

Stay Positive

Spanking can bring more issues, like:

  • Antisocial behavior
  • Aggression
  • Injury
  • Mental health problems

Plus, critics say it just doesn’t work.

Use positive reinforcement when your kid does something good. Praise works. Kids will look for further approval.

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locking cabinet
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Change the Environment

Before your kid messes with the liquor cabinet, lock the door. If the kids are tussling over a toy, take the toy. Many times, changing the surroundings will change behavior. It’ll also squelch the need for more serious punishment.

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child on plane
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Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Bring toys if you’re going somewhere your small child may act out. Take a snack if you think hunger may make them cranky. If sleepiness might bring trouble, think about a nap before you head out. It’s always better to nip the bad behavior before it happens than to try to deal with it in the moment.

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mother and daughter talking
4 / 15

Lay Down the Law

You have to have rules. The more everyone understands them -- and what happens if they aren’t followed -- the better off the family will be. Flexibility is OK, especially with older kids. But reasonable rules -- and punishments -- are needed. Think about posting rules and their consequences somewhere in the house. It’ll help with consistency.

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child washing hands
5 / 15

Be Consistent

If house rules say that your kids must wash their hands before dinner, make sure it’s done every time. Rules don’t work if they’re selectively enforced. Kids need to know that they aren’t changing -- and the consequences of not following them aren’t either.

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child washing car
6 / 15

Truth in Consequences

Everyone needs to know bad behavior comes with consequences. Whether it’s no TV, no cellphone, or more yard work, kids need to know that breaking the rules has a cost. You don’t need to hammer on it. Let the punishments show them. Be firm -- and consistent.

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temper tantrum
7 / 15

Turn a Deaf Ear

Yes, ignoring bad behavior is an option to spanking. It can work very well, especially with younger kids. With kids craving attention, sometimes no action is the best action. If a hissy fit does no harm -- if it’s just annoying -- some selective deafness can say, “Hey. That’s not gonna work.”

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time out
8 / 15

Give Them a Time-out

It’s a useful, effective tool. A good rule is a minute for each year of your child’s age. They should keep quiet in a corner or chair. Don’t interact with the kid while they're in the pokey. That’s a big part of the punishment. When it’s over, other than maybe an apology from the child, that’s it. Don’t bring it up again.

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woman taking bath
9 / 15

Take Your Own Time-out

If you’re about to blow your top, don’t. Hand off to another adult. Call a friend. Count to 10. Take a bath. Take enough time to get calm so you know what to do next time. Humor can break the tension, too.

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fighting over toy
10 / 15

Look Over There!

A good way to set a misbehaving kid straight is to turn their attention elsewhere and distract them. They want a toy someone else has? Look at this cool toy! If they’re grabbing or hitting, it might take a trip outside or to another room.

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boy coloring on wall
11 / 15

Be the Bigger Person

When the kids act out, it’s up to you to be the adult. That means control the urge to hit. Be calm. Be cool. Avoid the lifelong problems spanking can bring your child by staying under control.

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woman talking to sun
12 / 15

Be Compassionate

A Stanford study showed that middle school teachers who took an “empathetic mind-set” toward wayward students gave half as many suspensions as those who didn’t. That can work at home, too. Talk to your misbehaving kid calmly, clearly, and with understanding.

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woman hugging sun
13 / 15

Give ‘Em a Hug

Kids misbehave. They’re kids. And good parents discipline them for it. But the give-and-take doesn’t have to be negative. Use it as a teaching moment to promote good behavior. After all is said and done, a little hug shows kids they’re still loved.

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father talking to daughter
14 / 15

Make Sure You’re Understood

When you’re disciplining, be clear. Look your child in the eye. Be calm and measured. Tell the kid what to do (“Eat your spinach”) not what NOT to do (“Don’t play with your spinach”). If they still misbehave, explain the consequences. Follow through swiftly and consistently, too.

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woman talking with daughter
15 / 15

It’s OK to Negotiate

Especially with older children, being flexible enough to negotiate discipline and punishments can help everyone. Involving kids in making decisions adds to their moral judgment. It won’t work with an angry toddler, though.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/20/2020 Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on December 20, 2020


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American Psychological Association: “The case against spanking.”

Gershoff, E. Child Development Perspectives, July 2013.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health. Pediatrics, April 1998.

Emory University School of Medicine: “Alternatives to Physical Punishment.”

ChildrensMD.org: “Beyond time-outs: No-yell, no-spank discipline.”

Virginia Cooperative Extension (Virginia Tech, Virginia State University): “Discipline for Young Children - To Prevent Misbehavior.”

Crary, E. Without Spanking or Spoiling: A Practical Approach to Toddler and Preschool Guidance, Parenting Press Inc., 1993.

National Association of School Psychologists: “Spanking: Alternative Discipline Strategies.”

North Carolina Division of Social Services, North Carolina Family and Children’s Resource Program (fosteringperspectives.org): “Parenting Without Spanking.”

Prevent Child Abuse America: “Spanking: When we know more, we can do better.”

University of Minnesota Extension: “Controlling Your Own Anger.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “Anger Management: Strategies for Parents and Grandparents.”

Mental Health America of Wisconsin: “Effective Discipline Techniques for Parents: Alternatives to Spanking.”

Stanford University: “Teacher empathy reduces student suspensions, Stanford research shows.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “How to Discipline Your Child With Love.”

Reid, JB. Development and Psychopathology, January 1993.

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on December 20, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.