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Don’t Spank Kids, Teach Them

Child crying

​​​​​​Spanking as a form of discipline remains a hot topic of debate, both among parents and in the public forum. From a parenting standpoint, Boys Town believes that spanking is not, under any circumstances, an effective form of discipline. Here's why:

Emotions Running Hot

When physical punishment occurs, both the child and the parent are typically in heated emotional states. This is the least effective time to teach children, and it's certainly the least effective time to expect children to learn and retain what the parent is trying to teach them. Although spanking might cause children to associate a specific behavior with negative feelings — such as physical pain and/or humiliation — spanking is not constructive teaching, and children won't learn any alternative positive behaviors. This can become a problem down the road.

Child See, Child Do

Remember: Children are great modelers of behavior. So, another drawback to using corporal punishment as a form of discipline is that parents teach them it's okay to hit when they are frustrated with a situation or not getting the outcome they want. What happens the next time the child doesn't get a toy he wants or someone sits in his seat? He repeats the behavior he's been taught. It's easy to see how spanking can result in a serious cycle of aggression.

The bottom line is that a gentle pat on the bottom to get a child's attention is the most extreme physical discipline a parent should ever use. Spanking to punish is not an effective way to address or correct problem behavior, and it certainly doesn't teach children positive alternative behaviors.

What's the Alternative?

At Boys Town, we ask parents to discipline their children through teaching. This involves calmly discussing with children what they did wrong and what they could have done differently, as well as giving a negative consequence, such as an extra chore or taking away a privilege.

Then, we have parents watch their children's behavior, try to "catch them being good," and give praise and positive consequences to reinforce positive behaviors and good decisions. The Boys Town Model® maintains that if you calmly teach children how to make the right decisions and then praise them for those decisions, they will continue to make the right decisions. Spanking a child accomplishes none of this.

While we believe the Boys Town parenting approach is the ideal solution, we also understand that in the heat of the moment with an unruly child, it's sometimes hard to stay with that approach. So the next time that happens with your child, try this: Tell your child, "I need a minute," and walk away. (Children will know you are serious when you say you "need a minute.") Step into the other room and take several deep breaths, think about what you are going to say when you go back to your child and focus on the right way to approach the situation.

Then return and calmly discuss with your child why you are upset and what they did wrong. Give your child time to answer and express their feelings, then discuss what they could have been done differently. If necessary, give your child a negative consequence, such as an additional chore or taking away something they like for a specific amount of time.

Catch Them Being Good

Over the next few days and weeks, watch your child to see if they are making better decisions based on your discussion. Every time you see your child make a good decision, point it out and praise them. In fact, make it a habit to praise your child for four good decisions or behaviors for every one time you give them a negative consequence for inappropriate behavior.

In the end, children respond better and learn more from this positive styl​e of parenting. And, trust me, you'll ​be happier with yourself if you approach discipline with a level head instead of an open palm.