wikiHow to Discipline a Child Effectively Without Spanking

Parenting is both a challenging and rewarding experience. As with any job, it requires a large set of "tools" to be effective. Choosing not to spank your child can be a little more difficult because it requires a little more forethought, planning, time and creativity. Follow these steps to discover various techniques that you can use alone or combine in order to become a more effective parent. And remember to always be calm in the situations you think you might hit your child.


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    Choose not to spank. This may seem obvious, but there is a world of difference between choosing to spank under certain circumstances and declaring to yourself and others that you will never spank your children.
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    Tell your family and friends. The best way to promote non-spanking discipline is to let others see your child's good behavior. Provide your family with alternative methods of discipline if you feel somebody else may spank them.
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    Learn about childhood development (see links below). If you know what your child can feasibly understand at any given age, and how they process information, you will be better prepared to know when discipline is necessary and when it's best to just ignore certain behaviors.
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    Try varying techniques. Some may work better for you and your child than others.
    • Natural Consequences. The basic concept behind this method is to let nature run its course when appropriate. Some examples: If your child leaves his toy outside it may get lost or ruined. If your child leaves his umbrella at school, he will get wet the next time it rains. If your child forgets her lunch, she goes hungry until she gets home.
    • Logical Consequences. Provide a logical consequence when there is no natural consequence (as in the case of sibling A breaking sibling B's toy when sibling B is far younger) or when the natural consequence can be too dangerous (such as the case of a child trying to run out in the middle of the road). Tell your child what the consequences are for continued bad behavior. Missing out on things, such as a bedtime story for very young children, or a planned activity for an older child, can often be worse than a smack.
    • Distraction. With toddlers and young pre-schoolers, distraction can be an effective tool in redirecting attention from something that they want to do (that is inappropriate) to something that is appropriate. For example, if a child wants to jump on the lounge, suggest going outside and jumping on the trampoline (to allow them to jump appropriately)or going for a walk to the park (fulfilling the desire to be physically active), or even something completely unrelated like making playdough (this can be less effective if the child wants to physically unwind). You can use alternatives for anything inappropriate/undesirable that the child wants to do or have and the closer your alternative is to what they are wanting, the more likely you are to succeed in changing their focus. The key is to make the distraction sound as enticing and exciting as possible (and don't draw attention to the undesired activity/object - you are trying to make them forget about that!).
    • Positive Discipline. A technique that sees misbehavior as an opportunity for teaching new behaviors. (After your child has learned her toy is ruined, you could show her how to organize her things.) Also includes setting positive examples in the way you, the parent, act, and eliminating negative language. So instead of (or in addition to) saying, "don't do that", provide some direction by saying, "Why don't you do this instead."
    • The Reward System. Intended as a supplement for other methods of discipline, the reward system relies on you going out of your way to praise positive behavior (for example, thank your child for helping with something, comment on how nice and quiet your child has been for the last half hour, etc.). It's very easy to overlook when your child is being good, but it is generally all the times he or she is not being bad.
    • The Point System. Give points for good behavior and take away points for bad behavior. In some households, accumulated "points" are traded in for rewards. In others, privileges are based on behavior, and dropping below a certain point level may cause a loss of privileges. Be careful that the child doesn't start to do things only for the points rather than because it's a nice thing to do.
    • Combine the techniques or create new ones that work for you.
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    Find support websites to help you out. Project NoSpank ( and the Center for Effective Discipline ( have some very helpful information for people who would like alternatives to spanking. Be sure to read How to Discipline a Child for other ideas.
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    Keep at it. If you are used to spanking, no-spank techniques can take time to get used to.
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    Review the results Review your child's latest behaviors, consider what is working and what is not working, and adjust your techniques.


  • Speak directly, do not look away from your child's eyes. You have to stay firm, direct, and inform your child that whatever they did is unacceptable. There is no need to yell, just speak firmly and very directly.
  • Children learn by parents' examples. Parents who are aggressive often have children who are aggressive. Parents who deal positively with conflict will generally have kids who deal positively with conflict.
  • When you feel the need to spank your child, let the anger pass and separate everyone from the situation.
  • If you are a parent who has previously spanked, you may notice a worsening of behavior before it gets better. This is normal as your children are simply testing whether or not you will spank them. Provided you discipline them in some other appropriate way, their behavior will improve in about a week or so.
  • Always stay calm.
  • Try your best not to yell, that tends to scare children more than you think.
  • Come up with a variety of possible punishments, and escalated punishments for repeat offenses. What if your child is rude, doesn't listen to you, does something dangerous, won't share, etc. Don't try to make a different rule for every possible situation, many things can be lumped under Not Listening.
  • Think before you act.
  • Talk it out! Pick the best time in your child's day and talk to him or her about how you're feeling, but don't push it (don't talk about your situation or ask questions frequently), you don't want to upset your child.
  • Give the child a chance to talk to explain their behavior. Then, it should be explained to the child why this behavior is not appropriate.


  • Don't mistakenly assume that the only alternative to spanking is to do nothing. That is false.
  • Non-spanking does not mean non-discipline. You need to be an active participant in your child's discipline. This means not letting your child get away with bad behavior, planning possible punishments ahead of time, and following through when they misbehave.
  • Your spouse needs to support your decision for it to be effective. If you are unsure, you can test it out for a month to see how it works.
  • Some of your immediate family members (i.e. parents, in-laws, siblings) may be unwilling to respect your decision not to spank. Reassure them that you are not becoming a permissive parent, and offer examples of situations where you were successful.
  • Let people know that you do not approve of spanking, and request that others follow suit. Be prepared to offer a few methods if necessary.

Sources and Citations

  • Child Development
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Article Info

Categories: Behavioral Issues