Common discipline tricks include time-out, spanking, removal of privileges, and grounding. Many parents are even getting quite creative with their tricks, using humiliation, public shaming, and hot sauce. Unfortunately, while these tricks may work in the short term, they erode the trust and connection that are so vital to our true parental authority.
Which leaves many asking “well what do we do?” Giving specific discipline advice is my least favorite thing to do as a parenting author and educator because all situations, children, and family dynamics are unique. I believe we parent at our best when we evaluate each circumstance, reading our children as best we can in that moment, and meeting them where they are to teach them what they need to know depending upon what the problem reveals to us. I believe we need to let go of fanciful ideas of one-size-fits-all discipline, promising programs, and quick fixes and look to our own intuition and knowledge of our children and circumstances.
However, with that said, I understand that parents like to have alternatives when getting away from traditional discipline practices while they get their “positive parenting legs” underneath them. Below are several sensible alternatives that keep trust and connection intact while providing children the guidance they need through childhood.
Alternatives to Time-Out:
Spanking and time-outs are the most popular forms of toddler discipline in traditional parenting.
Try these instead:
Time-in is a great alternative to time-out because rather than isolating a little one, which can feel scary and threatening causing further agitation and misbehavior, time-in brings the child closer, often onto our laps or sitting next to us. I know this may seem counter-intuitive at first because we’ve been so conditioned to believe that we must push children away in order to make them behave, but many parents have shared testimonies of success with time-in.
What does it look like: If you away from home, let’s say at a park, and your child pushes another child down in frustration, you’d go to her, say “Uh-oh, you pushed her down and that hurt her. Come sit with me and I’ll keep everyone safe.” You bring her to your lap, arms gently wrapped around her, and judge what state she is in.
If she is angry, she may need your help to calm her brain. Perhaps rocking back and forth, humming a familiar song, or telling her a story will soothe her. She needs to sit with you until she has calmed down and is able to tell you that pushing others down is not okay.
Depending upon development and maturity, you might ask her how she made the other child feel and what she can do to fix it. Keep your sentences short and simple. “I’ll keep everyone safe.” “Are you feeling better?” “If you push again, we will go home.” Then, of course, follow through by going home if she continues such behavior.
If she is frantic and will not sit on your lap or next to you, it’s probably time to go home and give her some food and/or a nap. If leaving isn’t an option, consider keeping a calm down travel bag in your purse. I’ve used them in stores while grocery shopping.
Calm-Down Area – This is basically a time-in while you are in the comfort of your own home and can transition to a place your child can go independently to calm down with time and practice. I’ve given detailed instructions on setting up a great calm-down area in this post.
Cool-Off – For older children, taking a period of time to cool-off may be just what they need. This works well with arguing siblings, too. Ask them to go to their separate rooms or separate areas of the home until they can be peaceful together. There is a difference in using a harsh attitude to force a child into his room for 30 minutes and suggesting that a child take some time to read a book or get some space from his frustration. Delivery is important.
Alternatives to Removing Privileges and Grounding:
Taking Something Away…Logically – Taking away a child’s iPad for a week because he rolled his eyes at you is retribution. Taking away his iPad because he’s gone past his screen-time limit and is becoming a zombie is a logical action to take. I’ve taken away toys because they were thrown and Kindles because they were used in a way that violated the electronic rules.
It’s my opinion that anytime something is taken away from a child, it should because that particular item is being misused in a way that is unhealthy or violating family rules, not just to make them miserable or suffer.
Hold Them Accountable – Rather than dishing out a punishment or grounding them, holding children accountable by putting it in their hands to fix actually helps them learn true accountability. Being grounded only makes them resentful. So, if a child breaks something, he may need to work it off. If she is rude to someone, she needs to repair the relationship. These things are done with parental support and encouragement but it should be made clear that it is up the child to make amends and right her wrongs.
Stopping Sibling Disputes:
Pull Over – If a spat breaks out in the car, pull to the side of the road and tell them it is difficult to drive safely when they are arguing. Then sit and silence. When they stop arguing, resume your trip. This isn’t always a feasible option, but when it is, it really gets the point across quite quickly.
The Peace Table – A way to teach children to solve their disputes peacefully is by taking them to a peace table. Each child gets a chance to state their case and the parent walks them through to a peaceful resolution and then sees that it is carried through. After a few practices, mine were able to work through their own disagreements without my assistance.
Repair – When children fight with one another, they should learn the value of repairing relationships. Teach them the value of an apology and ask what they can do to reconnect with their sibling. My children usually choose to write a note or card or just give a hug. It doesn’t have to be a verbal apology but just a reaching out to make amends.
This post was originally written for and published at Creative Child Magazine.