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How to Discipline a Toddler Without Spanking (5 Alternative Methods)

“Tough love!” that’s how most people will classify spanking; a child misbehaves or disobeys an instruction, then in order to teach the child a lesson or ensure the child doesn’t repeat the act, the parent hits the child either with their hand or a cane. 

While this might seem effective at the moment, decades of research show that spanking is unsafe and can lead to antisocial behaviour, physical injury and mental health problems for children. To prevent the long-term repercussions and negative effects of lashing out physically, we urge you to explore other methods of discipline besides spanking. 

In this article, we’ll share 5 alternative methods on how to discipline a toddler without spanking him or her. 

Father disciplining his daughter

Why spanking a toddler is bad

As a parent, you might believe that since you were spanked while growing up and you turned out to be successful, then that means spanking your kids will yield the same result. According to researchers from the Department of Family Science at the University of Missouri, children who were spanked as young as 15 months were less likely to show positive behaviours at 5th grade and even till their teenage years. 

So, regardless of how difficult and exhausting dealing with toddler tantrums or bad behaviours can be, spanking is only a short-term solution with long-term effects. Here are a few reasons why spanking is bad, especially for toddlers. 

  • Spanking is abusive 

Spanking a child can lead to minor or major injuries and is often perceived as an aggressive way to correct a child. This method of discipline also tends to teach kids that lashing out is an appropriate way to deal with frustration or anger and lead them to think that it’s okay to hit other people. This may result in kids getting physical with schoolmates who do things that piss them off. 

  • Spanking demeans your child 

Spanking your child might make him or her feel unloved or targeted. It could also affect the child’s self-esteem and may likely decrease the child’s overall morale. As time goes, the child may lose confidence to open up to you about certain things. 

  • Spanking doesn’t always encourage behavioural change

A study by a family research psychologist at the University of New Hampshire showed that spanking may get children to stop misbehaving in the short run, but it makes them more likely to act out in the long run. When you spank a child for doing something bad, the child might not necessarily quit from that behaviour; instead, he or she could learn to avoid showing that behaviour in front of you, but still do it when no one is watching. 

How to Discipline a Toddler Without Spanking: Alternative Methods

The truth is that toddlers will test your limits. They’ll throw tantrums or misbehave and you may be tempted to lash out, even if you’re usually cool-headed. Knowing that spanking a toddler isn’t a safe option, how do you correct or discipline yours when he or she misbehaves? 

Consider these five alternative methods for disciplining toddlers that are effective and healthy.

1. Establish a positive relationship with your child 

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, one of the essential components required for effective discipline is a positive, supportive, loving relationship between the parent(s) and the children. One of the easiest ways to build a closer connection with your child is to be present; show that you are there, whether he or she is right or wrong. Let your child know that he or she can rely on you without feeling guilty or ashamed. 

Listen actively, create time for uninterrupted conversation and avoid isolating your child for poor behaviour. This kind of relationship will build trust and help your child develop a good self-esteem.

2. Use positive reinforcement

The Yale Parent Management Training program teaches parents to use positive reinforcement and effusive praise to reward children for good behaviour. The goal of positive reinforcement strategies is to help increase desired behaviours in children. If your child does something like completing homework or task, you can inspire the child to keep repeating that behaviour by pinning up his or her name on an “achievement” board. 

This will increase your child’s self-esteem and motivate him or her to keep behaving well. 

3. Discuss consequences and follow-through

Learning how to discipline a toddler requires teaching him or her how to behave appropriately and laying down pre-set rules and consequences for misbehaving. It’s more effective to discipline your child by explaining rules using clear and age-appropriate terms than by yelling or spanking him or her. Also, ensure that you follow through on the consequences laid out. 

4. Ignore bad behaviour 

One effective way of discouraging bad behaviour is to ignore or avoid reacting to it. For example, if your toddler is having a tantrum, rather than yelling or hitting him or her, you can choose not to engage. 

As long as he or she is safe, you can wait till he or she calms down, then give a hug. Sternly but calmly remind him or her to use words like “I want,” “I’m tired,” or “I’m hungry,” etc., if he or she wants to get your attention. Another reason why ignoring bad behaviour can be effective is that when your child continuously misbehaves by tossing his or her toys around, when they break, he or she won’t have anything to play with. That will teach him or her a lesson without you saying anything.

5. Set boundaries

If your toddler enjoys knocking down things in the kitchen or dining table, you can set boundaries by keeping those things out of reach. Another example is if your toddler has a habit of pulling at your hair or the tail of a pet dog, you can show him or her that instead of pulling, he or she could pet or play with it. 

If you make it clear that an action he or she does can hurt someone else, and offer alternatives, your toddler starts to learn how to abstain from bad behaviours. Setting boundaries will teach your toddler self-control. 

As many experts have stated previously, physical punishment like spanking tends to suppress bad behaviour without the child learning to act better. It also grooms the child to be more aggressive in the long run. If you always keep in mind that tantrums and misbehaving are normal aspects of growing up, then you can use these alternative methods to eradicate bad behaviours while treating your child with compassion. If you can find the balance between sternness and sympathy, then you’ll have figured out how to discipline a toddler without spanking.