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Q & A: How to Discipline Without Spanking

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Children act out and are disobedient for a number of different reasons. Often times I have found that when little ones are acting difficult it’s simply a cry for attention. However, sometimes kids just want to test the boundaries and see how far mom and dad will let them go. That’s why today I’m sharing 5 tips for how to discipline without spanking.

How to Discipline Without Spanking @ AVirtuousWoman.org ----- Learn how to discipline your toddler without spanking - plus how to gently mother your children without frustration!

Recently, I received the following question from a reader and thought it was worth a blog post! I want to preface this by saying that I don’t know anyone’s specific situations. These ideas are based on how I raised my own children and what worked well for me. Nothing in this post is meant to make another mom feel bad. I just want to share my own experience and tips for how to discipline without spanking.

How to Discipline Without Spanking

Q: Hello, I am fairly new to your blog, but I have been greatly encouraged just from the little that I’ve read. I was wondering what alternative disciplines you used to spanking. We have an awesome 3yo girl, and she is just about the strongest willed little thing you’ve ever met. We have tried to take great care in breaking her will while nurturing her spirit and a love of virtue.

Our primary method of discipline is spanking, but we also have done time outs, natural consequences, redirection, sticker charts and many other things. Our hearts desire is to see her loving and following Jesus, and we know that means building a strong, loving relationship that emphasizes more than just behavior, but our families (both Christian) give us very different advice for her training. My husbands parents believe that spanking is pretty much the only biblical way to train a child (we disagree, although we agree spanking can be a valid method and was used in biblical times) and my parents think we can reason with her about her behavior (also ineffective in training for obedience…and for a kid with a strong will).

We definitely need to add more structure to our lives in general, not just for the kids. So basically, we are grasping for any advice and wisdom here besides just ‘you’re not spanking her hard enough.’ So, how did you train your youngest two children?

A: Strong willed children are a challenge! With my youngest children I primarily used time outs for discipline when they were young and as they got older, writing sentences was also effective.

Children act out and are disobedient for a number of different reasons. Often times I have found that when little ones are acting difficult it’s simply a cry for attention. However, sometimes kids just want to test the boundaries and see how far mom and dad will let them go.

related: How to Structure the Day for a Toddler

But kids – even toddlers – are quite smart. And they know how far they can go before mom totally loses her cool. Have you ever noticed that your kids don’t obey the first time you ask – or the second time – but when you finally blow up and start yelling, they immediately obey?

That’s because they know they can continue to get away with the behavior in question until you start yelling – because in their minds you don’t really mean business until that point.

Here are some of my best tips for how to discipline without spanking:

Discipline Without Spanking (Video)

5 Tips for Disciplining Without Spanking

1. Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say.

That’s right. If you say, “Johnny, don’t touch the DVD player.” Don’t let him continue touching the DVD player for 2 more minutes while you fuss from across the room. The moment it’s apparent he is not going to stop, immediately:

  • Get up.
  • Walk across the room.
  • Take him by the hand.
  • In a calm voice, say something like, “I said, don’t touch the DVD player. It can break and then we can’t watch your favorite Wiggles movie.”
  • Remove him from the area.
  • Set him in a chair and tell him to stay until you say he can get up. {Usually about 1 minute per year of your child’s age.}

You may need to sit next to your child. Set a kitchen timer or maybe the timer on your smart phone. If your child won’t sit still, gets up from the chair, tries to move the chair, or even tries to sit upside down in the chair, be consistent and restart the timer. Explain why the timer is being restarted.

Don’t allow your child to show disrespect. If she shows disrespect, remove her to her room or another place where she can sit in time out alone without getting hurt.

It’s important to be consistent. Above all things – be consistent. Don’t let your toddler get away with something one time and then enforce your rule the next time. That’s unfair.

Follow up time out with a hug and a short discussion about why she was in time out.

How to Discipline Without Spanking @ AVirtuousWoman.org ----- Learn how to discipline your toddler without spanking - plus how to gently mother your children without frustration!

2. Don’t Yell. Use a calm, quiet tone of voice – even when you’re frustrated or upset.

Kids don’t really hear you when all you do is yell. They know you really don’t mean what you say until you’re yelling. I almost never yell or raise my voice at my kids. They usually do what I ask when or soon after I ask them to do it. And when I tell them NOT to do something they always stop.

Sometimes you have a child who doesn’t care what you think, ask, or say. They are determined to do the opposite. Do they best you can, talk to them, discipline with love, take away their favorite thing if you need to. Keep your strong willed, difficult child by your side and spend more time loving and praising that child. It’s important to respect your child, set boundaries, and give him choices when you can.

It’s hard. My oldest child – my son – was definitely my difficult child. I cried many tears over him. But God is faithful and hears a mother’s prayers. Your child may give you 18 years of grief and frustration and some joy, but be faithful in your prayers!

related: Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka

3. Balance discipline with lots of affection.

Make it a point – especially with your difficult child – to get on the floor {or at the table} as often as possible and hopefully everyday – and spend time having fun. Play games, play with play-dough, color together, read books aloud, ask him his opinion, talk to him – even if he’s just 2 or 3 years old. Kids want and need their moms – and dads – to spend quality time with them and lots of it!

related: Child Training

If your child seems to be deliberately trying to upset you, doing things you’ve repeatedly asked him not to do, he may just really need you to spend some undivided time with him. It may not seem to make sense, but a child who wants attention will seek out negative attention if positive attention is lacking.

4. Say yes more than you say no.

When my kids were young and, say, they picked up something I didn’t want them to have, I never said, “Don’t touch that!”

Instead, in a sing-song voice I’d say, “What a good helper you are! Thank you for helping me clean up!” And I’d take the item and put it away. In doing this, my toddlers rarely cried when I took something away.

The exception to this would be if they were doing something really dangerous and needed to learn a lesson: i.e. touching an electrical outlet.

Other examples would be:

  • “Let’s walk instead of running. Here, hold my hand.”
  • “Let’s talk softly when we’re in the house.”
  • “Oh, yes, let’s put the dog’s dish up so it’s not in the way.”
  • “Good idea. Let’s put that away.”
  • “Oh look, we need to shut the door on the cabinet. Can you do that for me?”

Pick your battles wisely. If you can prevent a battle of wills, do so! Other things – like hitting a friend or not sharing need to be dealt with quickly and probably repeatedly. So, let things go that are not so important.

One day my son, 5 years old, decided to give his 2 year old sister a hair cut. He cut her hair on one side, straight across the top of her ear. Oh, I cried! But I didn’t learn my lesson. A few months later I walked into the room and Sarah was giving herself a haircut. From that day forward, all scissors in the house we locked up in a filing cabinet. None of my other children ever gave themselves – or a sibling- a haircut.

Crayons stayed put away without supervision. Play dough, too. Certain things tempt a toddler to experiment. But if they are only allowed to use them with supervision, they are less likely to do something you would disapprove of.

It’s also important to make sure that your child/ toddler is stimulated enough during the day that they are not bored and looking for things to get in to. By structuring the day appropriately, you can fill your toddler’s day with engaging activities and routine that will give him a sense of security and give them something to look forward to each day.

5. Find every reason to praise your child when they are well behaved. 

Kids need to feel like they matter. They want to know that they add value to the life of the family. They need to hear words of affirmation. It builds their self-esteem as well as their self-confidence and they learn that Mom and Dad value their help.

  • “You’ve been such a good helper today. Thank you.”
  • “Daddy, you should have seen how Susie helped me fold the laundry today.”
  • “Look what a beautiful picture you colored!”
  • “Thank you for putting your Legos away.”
  • “I like how you shared your Teddy bear today. What a sweet boy you are!”

Parenting is not easy, but these five things worked for me. Today I have five kids ranging in ages from 25 to 12 and I have a great relationship with all of them. They are kind, respectful, productive people who I am proud to call my kids.

I’d love for you to share your own ideas for how to discipline without spanking in the comments below.

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14 Comments

  1. Thank you for the recommendations. I am having the hardest time with my six-year-old right now. He's in school much of the day, so I only see him for about an hour in the morning and about four hours in the afternoon. I make a point to eat breakfast and dinner with him, his two younger brothers (4 & 2) and my husband. We also work on homework together after school but then he wants iPad time and I have to cook dinner and then clean up/ there just doesn't seem to be a lot of one-on-one time to be had with him. And when I try to in the evenings, his younger brothers won't leave us alone! He's been calling his brothers all sorts of nasty names, hitting for no reason, teasing his brothers and refusing to listen to me when I tell him to do (or not do) something. I'm kind of at my wits end! I'm sure he needs more undivided time but the days are so busy and quite frankly he's just being mean lately and I really don't want to play with him when he's disrespecting me. Any suggestions?
  2. A big mistake I see a lot of parents make is not having their child's attention when they ask them to do something. Often in our busy-ness and multi-tasking we give out (bark out?) an instruction to a child while we are doing something else. This will never work out well. It is very important that you and your child lock eyes, and continue to have eye contact until done instructing when asking them to do something or giving them directives. If you are not in the habit of having the child's full attention, try it as an experiment. Give a directive while doing something else and not having eye contact - then give the same direction while having total attentiveness with your child. In every instance where I have done this (had eye contact and full attention for both me and the child) I have never had to repeat myself. Blessings,
    1. Patti, you are so right! It worked fine with one of my children to just holler out an instruction, but man did I learn quickly that is the exception not the rule. I am no in the habit of establishing eye contact before giving a direction, and in the case of one of the two year olds who distracts REALLY EASILY, stopping each time she looks away and reminding her to look at my face while I speak with her. It sounds tedious but it saves a lot of frustration for all of us.
  3. Ok, I have a daughter who is AD/HD. I have found myself confused about discipline. I see myself now not always doing what I say. But, I have tried to understand that she forgets as well. It has been a difficult situation for me with her. Now she is ten and I am tired. I tried it all take away things, talk to her , spank her ect. What can I do now this late in the game?
    1. This helped my daughter: Why Your Child Is Hyperactive (How ADHD is caused by artificial food flavors and colors) by M.D. Ben F. Feingold (Author) We used this method till she was 13 and learned how to handle it her self. Patience lots of patience!
  4. Thank you for this post. We have been blessed with four littles, one of them with a very strong will. You have given me some wonderful ideas.
  5. I was watching a video "The Five Love Languages of Your Children" just a couple days ago. I recomend everyone to watch it – I hope, you will find many answers about bad and good children behavior. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gEgLorbA_o With best regards, Agnė
  6. I would love to hear what you would advise about dealing with sibling rivalry. I have a 10 year old (super sensitive kid) and a 12 year old (not so sensitive, extremely playful boy). These two play so nicely together till something triggers the upset button, then it's on at that point. The younger always comes relating what the older did ..... Suggestions on how to have peace and stop this madness!!! Thanks!
    1. We do a lot of role playing at our house. Something like "what happened?" And get both points of view to get the whole story then ask "how can we do this differently in the future" and let them come up with their own suggestions. Then have them run through the role play on how it could have been. I have younger kids so you may have to adjust what you say for your kids. Hope this helps:)
  7. I had 4 girls that are grown women now. The only time they got a spanking was for direct disobedience. And they got 'very few' of them. I would not tolerant disobedience they knew it. How can we obey God if we are disobedient or have never learned to obey? The rod has it's place as the word said in, Proverbs 29:15. And the parent has to have Godly self control. Just saying...

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