Today’s society is quick to tell parents that all their children need is more strict punishment. Generations before us used strong-hold forms of discipline such as spanking, isolation, and embarrassment. Even today you see images circulate on social media with parents shaming their children in public and online. It’s popular to be hard-core, and there seems to be no concern with finding alternatives to punishment.
But research has shown that disciplining your child in this manner can cause irreparable damage to their emotional development. Physical punishment such as spanking, withholding food and drink, or active punishment (i.e., running laps) can cause children to later use the same type of physical repercussions as they grow and attempt to resolve their own problems. Shaming and harsh punishment can cause mistrust, resentfulness, and a damaged emotional psyche that can continue to affect the child’s emotional state even years down the road.
Many parents recognize the importance of discipline but do not know how to approach it in a gentle way. We grew up in a generation where punishment was often used, and gentle, loving discipline was frowned upon. Without the skills taught to us on how to properly discipline our children, we find ourselves grasping for a more gentle approach to punishment.
12 Alternatives To Punishments That Are Gentle Forms Of Discipline
Have you read about the benefits of skipping time-out in favor of other ways to guide children, but are not sure where to start? Here are 12 alternatives to punishment that give parents and children a chance to address choices and situations with the intention of maintaining a positive, respectful and peaceful connection.
These alternatives are mostly geared towards children aged 1 to 6 years but also work well beyond that, too.
1. Take a break together
The key is to do this together and before things get out of hand. So if your child is having a difficult time or making unsafe choices like hitting a playmate, find a quiet space to take a break together. Just five minutes of connection, listening to what your child is feeling and talking about more appropriate choices really helps. This is similar to a time-in.
2. Second chances
Ever made a mistake and felt so relieved to have a chance at a do-over? Often letting children try again lets them address the problem or change their behavior. “I can’t let you put glue all over the table. Do you want to try this again on paper?”
3. Problem solve together
If there is a problem and your child is acting out of frustration, giving him a chance to talk about the problem and listening to a solution he has can turn things around for the better.
4. Ask questions
Sometimes children do things but we don’t quite get it. We might assume incorrectly they are doing something “bad” or “naughty” when, in fact, they are trying to understand how something works. Ask what they are up to with the intent to listen and understand first, then correct them by providing the appropriate outlet or information that is missing. So try, “What are you trying to do?” instead of, “Why in the world…ugh!!! Time out!”
5. Read a story
Another great way to help children understand how to make better choices is by reading stories with characters that are making mistakes, having big feelings or needing help to make better choices. Also, reading together can be a really positive way to reconnect and direct our attention to our child.
6. Puppets & play
Young children love to see puppets or dolls come to life to teach positive lessons. “I’m Honey Bear, and oh, it looks like you scribbled crayons on the ground. I’m flying to the kitchen to get a sponge for us to clean it up together. Come along!” After cleaning up together, “Oh, now let’s fetch some paper, and will you color me a picnic on the paper? Paper is for coloring with crayons!”
7. Give two choices
Let’s say your child is doing something completely unacceptable. Provide her with two alternatives that are safe, respectful and acceptable, and let her choose what she will do from there. By receiving two choices, the child can keep some control over her decisions while still learning about boundaries.
8. Listen to a song
Sometimes taking a fun break to release some tension and connect is all that children need to return to making better choices and all that parents need to loosen up a bit and let go of some stress. Listen to a song or take a dance break!
9. Go outside
Changing locations often gives us parents a chance to redirect behavior to something more appropriate. “I cannot let you scale the bookshelf. You CAN climb on the monkey bars. Let’s go outside and practice that instead!” Or, “Cutting the carpet with the scissors is not acceptable. Let’s go outside and cut some grass.”
A big, deep breath for both parents and children can really help us calm down and look at what is going on with a new perspective. Take a big “lion” breath to get out frustrations or short and quick “bunny” breaths to feel calm and re-energized.
11. Draw a picture
A wonderful way for children to talk about mistakes is to make a picture of what they did or could have done differently. It’s a low-key way to open a window for talking to each other about making better choices.
12. Chill-out space
For a time-out to work, it needs to be something that helps everyone calm down, not something that makes children frightened or scared. A chill-out space is an area where children can go sit and think, tinker with some quiet toys, and have some space alone until they feel ready to talk or return to being with others. Using the chill-out space should be offered as a choice and not a command.
Every child and every situation is unique, so these tools are not one-size-fits-all but rather a list of ideas to lean on to expand your parenting toolbox. I find that striving to use proactive tools like these to respond to and to guide children towards better choices works far more positively than having to react when things have gotten out of hand
What You Should Do After Discipline is Done
It is important that after your child has had a chance to calm down by either coloring a picture, taking deep breaths, or taking some time to themselves, to talk about the incident at hand. Here are 6 steps you can take to help you and your child work through the discussion and the incident:
- Talk to your child about the situation and what precipitated their actions.
- Remind them of the expectations and the rules that you have for them.
- Explain to them why you asked them to spend some time alone or to calm down.
- Tell them that everyone makes mistakes and that it is important to reflect on their actions so they can make better choices next time.
- Discuss how the situation and how they could have handled it differently.
- Tell them you love them, you respect them, and that you are there to help them make the best choices possible.
A Time-Out for Parents
Sometimes parents need to take a time-out, too. Our children may do something or say something that makes us increasingly angry. Those are often the times that we resort to strong-arm forms of punishment like physical punishment or isolation. Here are 5 ways that parents can take a time-out so they can more appropriately enact more gentle forms of discipline like the ones listed above:
- Leave the room- If you are feeling angry, make sure your child is safe and then step away for a little bit until you can calm yourself down.
- Take deep breaths- Five long and deep breaths can help you to slow your adrenaline
- Give them a hug- It might be the last thing you want to do, but giving your child a hug when you are feeling angry can help you calm yourself down, too.
- Exercise- Sometimes even walking out of the room or working out a solution with your child still leaves you feeling frustrated. Go for a run, do some yoga, or simply do a quick HIIT workout. The endorphins will leave you feeling significantly better.
- Gratitude journal- A gratitude journal is a great way to give yourself a daily reminder about the positive things you experienced with your child that day. Simply writing 3 to 5 good memories down at the end of the day every day will allow you to maintain a positive attitude and give you something to look back upon as a reminder when you are having a hard day.
With thanks for alternative punishments provided by Ariadne Brill.
Image: Donnie Ray Jones