One of the best ways of handling bad behavior is to prevent it altogether. Discipline isn’t limited to punishment. Our job as parents is to teach our children self-discipline. When you parent in a way that makes your children unlikely to misbehave, you will find yourself needing to intervene less often–and far less likely to spank your child. You are not only setting your child up to be better behaved but to respond better to disciplinary methods other than spanking. The keys of prevention are understanding child development, being prepared, and setting a good example. When you do these things, there will be less opportunity for your child to misbehave. This means you will be faced with less situations where you need to intervene and may resort to spanking.
Understanding where your child is developmentally will make your expectations more reasonable. Sometimes what one interprets as misbehavior is actually developmentally-normal behavior. Expecting too much of your child will lead to disapointment and also to more parental intervention, thus more opportunities to resort to spanking. Don’t expect a toddler to sit quietly through a two hour movie, for example. Different children will reach milestones at different ages. They will also go through phases of development, where they may push their boundaries, throw things just to see what happens, or start practicing a new skill such as climbing. Instead of trying to suppress age-appropriate behaviors, simply keep your child safe until she outgrows them. Do not expect her to understand the world as you do; she won’t until she’s grown. Understanding your child will make you far less likely to spank him.
Children must be told “No” many times before they will truly understand it. They don’t understand the word the same way we do. Children do not see the world the same way adults do, and their perceptions of reality may be different. Moreover, even when they understand, they will not always be able to control their impulses. Set physical boundaries that keep them from doing things that may be dangerous, so that they cannot do those things. Babyproof your home, so they do not have as many chances to ‘misbehave.’ Rather than continually redirect, scold, or swat your child for touching something, put it up where she can’t reach it. That sends a much clearer message about her limitations. It eliminates the behavior, so you will no longer need to intervene. Thus, there will no longer be an opportunity for you to feel like you need to resort to punishment and spanking.
Children are more likely to be irritable if they are hungry, tired, sick, bored, or want attention. Anticipate these feelings, so that you can remedy them before they influence behavior. Meeting your child’s needs is a great way of preventing them from misbehaving. Children are much more agreeable when they are well-rested, well-fed, and entertained. Don’t expect your child to stay in a chipper mood while you shop for groceries for an hour right at their usual nap-time. Try to meet their needs before they become a problem. Once the child becomes grumpy, rather than scold them for misbehaving, meet the need. Give them a snack, toy, or medication. Put them down for a nap, or give them a hug. This is not spoiling or appeasing; it’s meeting their needs. Rest assured: all of these are needs, especially for young children. Carry anything you might need with you from a change of clothes, to Tylenol, to quick snacks. Instead of punishing your child for misbehaving because of these factors, be compassionate.
Don’t underestimate the power of the example you set. If you eat your vegetables, wash your hands, and speak respectfully to others, your kids will be more likely to do it. If you refrain from smoking and drinking, your children will be less likely to do those things. Research and time have proven this to be true over and over again. Parents are huge influences in the lives of their children and have an impact on the decisions they make. Your behavior directly affects your child’s behavior and choices. Be the person you’d like your child to be. Moreover, treat your child like the person you want him to be. If you tell him he’s bad, that’s all he’ll know. Your behavior, including your treatment of your children, has a huge impact on their behavior. If your child is less likely to misbehave, you are less likely to spank. Your example is a powerful disciplinary tool. Practicing self-discipline is one of the best ways to teach your children self-discipline.
Even parents who follow these rules of prevention will still encounter “bad” behavior from their children. There are hundreds of methods of gentle discipline that can be used as alternatives to spanking. When you do start to feel overwhelmed, instead of spanking, try walking out of the room and taking a break. Take a deep breath, and count to ten. Sigh, and give your child a hug. After doing so, you may find that you’re not so annoyed with the behavior after all, and you probably won’t still want to spank your child after hugging him. There are a hundred ways to keep yourself from spanking your child. It is normal for a parent to feel overwhelmed and out of options at times. But it is much better for you to do nothing in such a situation than to raise a hand to your child. You will always, always have another chance to correct a behavior, but you can’t take spanking back. Discipline doesn’t have to mean punishment, and no spanking does not equate to no discipline whatsoever.