For decades spanking has been defined as a discipline technique. Spanking has nothing to do with discipline; it is a punishment technique. Discipline teaches a child how to behave so they can change and punishment only stops behavior, but never changes it.
A decade ago the word on the street and among professionals was that it was not kosher to spank your children. Some experts say that hitting a child who misbehaves only teaches the child to hit back and resent the parent who hits them.
The reality is plain and simple spanking doesn’t work. When a child feels the pain of the swat their stress hormones release automatically. These hormones bathe the child’s brain so it’s like being under water at a pool, you can hear people talking on the pool deck, but you cannot understand what they are saying.
So if parents are trying to teach their child a lesson with the spank, it is literally impossible because the child cannot hear it.
For the past thirty years, my work has focused on helping families be successful. So, if you want permanent change in your family, do not spank.
You will find the results you want by remembering to connect with your kids with gentle touch when they behave the way you want. Not connecting physically when they misbehave. And most importantly, when the incident is over, be sure to connect with your kids again laying gentle hands on them.
If you want help with alternatives to spanking stay in touch, Dr. Ann
The age-old debate about nature vs. nurture is never ending. A recently released study of 20,000 adolescent boys in grades 7-12 discovered there is a common gene (MAOA) where antisocial, violent behavior exists.
The most interesting part of this University of North Carolina study was that environment or nurturing could change the course of this gene. The risk of violent behavior was gone in the adolescents with this gene, when they had regular meals with their family.
The assumption is that if parents are more involved with kids, then violence goes down.
I know how busy we all are with our families, so the tendency to eat on the ‘fly’ is very tempting. But, what this study should remind us all is that it is crucial to healthy child development to stay connected with your kids.
I love simple solutions and this is one. Just eat more with your kids and watch them not only thrive but help them learn how to regulate their behavior. Parents are the nurture factor that makes all the difference to kids.
Cannot wait to hear what’s for dinner at your house,
I am a Pediatrician going through divorce. I have a 4 and 7-year-old boy who hit, kick, push and call me names. They are great at school and with other parents, but when I am with them, I become their punching bag!
I put them up in their rooms, take things away; it does not seem to make a difference. My extended family is appalled by their behavior and their utter disrespect for me. I wake up to them fighting and creating havoc and I go to sleep, usually next to them, after a huge struggle with them at night about getting to sleep. And I am exhausted.
My 4 year old is showing a lot of anger and fear (wanting to know where I am all the time), some of which was apparent prior to the divorce proceedings starting, but now more intense.
I have read some books and tried. But nothing seems to work. My family thinks I should be spanking them. But how do you teach a child not to hit when you are hitting them? And it just doesn’t feel right to me.
Samantha Your children’s behavior is actually an attachment pattern that is not uncommon for children of divorce and the “fear” of abandonment which comes full force under these circumstances. Anger is the #1 defense mechanism for fear, so it is no wonder your kids are showing that emotion on a regular basis as you are the safest person to be angry at (it is called unconditional love). The good news is that your kids feel safe enough with you to show their fear by acting angry. Your instincts are totally correct, hitting never changes a behavior, and so spanking won’t get you anywhere, except feeling guilty afterwards. REMEMBER: Touch, make eye contact and talk to your kids when they are NOT acting out. Tell them their feeling is anger, because they think you will leave them like Dad did. Each day tell them you are NEVER going anyway, you will always be their mom. Teach them what ‘to do’ with anger…kick a bean-bag, put their hands in their pockets, running, going outside in the sunshine or listening to music. All this changes their moods so they can cope with this overwhelming fear.Dr. Ann
I am having a little parenting struggle I was hoping you could help me with:
My oldest son, Brad is now in the 2nd grade. He seems to have made some good friends at his new school. We took him out of Grace Christian (a school of 40) when we moved and put him in public in (a school of 500).
Needless to say, it was a big change! He did very well it seems and made some friends quickly. He is very quiet and doesn’t share much with me. I try not to press too hard, but I get very little details when I ask about his friends. I have even sat in the parking lot at recess to see if he is playing with others. He seems to be sometimes, and other times is alone. When I ask him about who he plays with at recess, he names some names, even though I saw him alone that day.
Tonight we were at a block party in the neighborhood and a 3rd grade boy was passing by Brad and took his head and pushed it down and told him if he touched a football that was nearby he would kill him.
My husband and I witnessed the whole thing and watched as Brad shrugged and walked away as I have taught him to do. My husband, Chris, was furious and the parents of the boy either did not see or ignored the situation.
We pulled Brad aside and he informed us that this boy does this to him all the time. Brad is always the smallest in his class and struggles with his self esteem. Chris then took it upon himself to tell the boy that his behavior was unacceptable and that Brad is a good and nice kid and he should treat him with respect.
He informed Nick that if he did it again, there would be consequences with his parents. Chris then organized a football game with Brad and the other boys at the party and some other Dads. This seems to have worked, but on the way home, Chris said Brad needs to learn to stick up for himself, or he will continue to be bullied.
I of course got the “You don’t understand what boys go through as kids” speech, because I am a girl and grew up with sisters. What is the right thing to teach the boys? I don’t want them to use physical violence, but I want them to defend themselves and not feel insecure and scared to be around other boys too. HELP!!!! You always have great sound advice and I was hoping you could help me here! Thanks Ann and I love your website!!!!
Great to hear from you, but sorry about Brad’s conflicts. The answer to your question in a nutshell is that a decade or so ago we could probably still tell kids to ‘fight back’ in situations like this.
But, with ‘zero tolerance’ policies in all schools and the public, if you teach your child to ‘stick up for himself…meaning fight back’, then when the inevitable conflict between the two happens they will BOTH be punished.
If it is at school, it does not matter who started it or what was done to another child, BOTH kids are expelled immediately. So, you cannot teach your kids to fight back in this day and age. That being said, I love what Chris said to the bully about threatening to tell his parents and making it perfectly clear that he was not going to tolerate anyone who did not respect his son! Keep that up!
Really what you need to tell Brad is to ‘walk away’, do not look at the kid again, don’t ask him to play, do not talk to him and stay as far away as possible. Tell Chris this is a form of torture for the bully kid.
When anyone feels totally alone and ignored, it forces them to figure out how to behave differently so they can get interaction back. And remember we all crave that attachment or connections to others!
On the note of self-esteem, remember self-worth comes from knowing how to handle social emotional situations. So continue to keep educating Brad about ‘what to do’ when stuff like this happens and that will empower his confidence.
Keep introducing him to groups so he can practice social skills.
Keep having kids over so he is not isolated. A bully will always look for someone to interact with who doesn’t know exactly what to do when they are cruel to them. Kids that are armed with ‘knowing’ what to do, discourage a bully from continuing.
Hope this helps. I did write an article about bullies on my site, so you may want to read that too. Take care, Ann
Dear Dr. Ann,
I keep picking Hunter up to put him in a time out, (this is when I’ve asked him to do something and he hasn’t responded in the time aloud, or immediately when he hits, kicks or hurts his brother or anyone else). When I do this he pinches at me, kicks me, etc. I have been trying some where other than his room, because he just ends up playing in there or when really mad pulling everything out of his drawers (then do I make him clean it up alone, or help). Also I think the kicking of the pillow is too hard for him, so I need to come up with something else. Is it ok for him to hit at a pillow or pinch the pillow, or is it still teaching him to hit and pinch? Also should I just go back to always putting him in his room, or the time out spot? I am trying to ignore him when he pinches, kicks or hits me, BUT it is really hard. It is hard to not say a word everytime he gets out of time out and then put him back in. I start the clock over every time. I am REALLY SICK OF IT today and have been battling this pretty bad for the last three days. Any words of encouragement.Help!
Do not ignore Hunter when he hits and pinches you, but make sure you remove him as far away from you as possible QUICKLY and of course somewhere where he cannot destroy stuff. Maybe you clear out a space somewhere in the house or even put him in the car seat in car in the garage, with the windows open and the door open to the house of course. This way he is isolated, but safe. Be sure to give him his “lovey” to hold when he is away from you!
Also, the emphasis must be how he uses his hands in appropriate ways, rather than just stopping the “bad” behavior. For example, when he picks up some finger food with his fingers, he is actually “pinching” the food to pick him up. Say to him, while making eye contact, ” great job pinching your food, yes, that is how we pinch in this family”.
He sees he gets your attention when he picks up food, but when he pinches your arm he does not. This also helps to differenciate between appropriate use of his hands and not.
You can teach him to do anything you want in his room when he is in time-out. It does not have to be with punching a pillow. Also, to answer your other question, pinching a pillow is totally appropriate to get energy out…it does not teach him to pinch all the time, just the appropriate time and place.
Hope that helps? Try to stay cool…cannot believe this “hot” weather, Ann
I care for a 3-year-old girl who acts out with other children when she wants what they are playing with. What can I do to help her?
– Audrey, Los Angeles, CA
Dr. Ann Corwin, The Parenting Doctor Advice for Debbie
Discipline is a way of teaching. When you use positive discipline, for example, you will stop a negative behavior and teach the child what you’d like him to do. Punishing the child will stop the negative behavior, but it will not teach him the right thing to do.
The child will continue misbehaving because he hasn’t been presented with another option. That’s why positive discipline is so affective.
That is why you need to make a point of praising acceptable behavior, especially if the children are playing nicely and quietly. Most providers prefer not to interrupt them at that stage, but it comes off as if you were ignoring them. If you ignore someone who’s doing what you want them to do, they’ll immediately change their behavior.
So when you praise the children, don’t be so dramatic, because it can be disruptive. Just move your body closer to theirs and make eye contact; you’ll see that nice quiet behavior will happen more often.Hope this helps… Dr. Ann
Please e-mail me the family rules
The #of speech pathologist
New phrase-or what to say
P.S. Idean is doing much better , thanks to you. Sandy
I admire the two of you for working so hard to help Idean. You are exceptional parents. Attached is discipline plan. For speech support and help here are some suggestions; Irvine Regional Center (714)796-5100 – Christine Dausch (949)838-5648.
Or call your school district and ask them to assess Idean and see if they will pay for some speech help
Phrase for you…Do not talk to him about hitting anymore, whether it is while he is hitting or telling you he is going to hit and talk more and more to him when he is not hitting, then when he does hit do not talk at all and never ask him ‘why’ he hit.
Rule you want to say to him is… “he cannot touch anybody, anytime, any place except to give them a kiss on the face”. Before he is in social situation tell him what you do want him to do…say hi, put his hands in his pocket, touch the toys and eat with his hands, but no touching or you are leaving. Then if he does, leave without saying a word or looking at him.Keep in touch, Dr. Ann
I was sorry to miss the last class today, however my son, Kieran, was sick. I did have one last question I was hoping you could answer for me…What is the best way to disciple hitting/pushing in a playgroup situation at his age (15 months)?
I know if he hits me I should simply put him down and walk away/break contact, however, what is the best approach for hitting other kids? Right now I just grab him, say no, and sit him on my lap for a few seconds. But is this really discipline if he’s on my lap?
Should I perhaps pull him out of the room for a few seconds? We aren’t doing time-outs yet…Thx for your help! I enjoyed your classes; Adelaine at Saddleback raved about you so you came highly recommended. I will try to catch another class when he’s a bit older.
We missed you today. So sorry that Kieran was sick and hope he’s feeling better soon. Your instincts are correct, if you talk to him (by saying “no” and looking at him) and put him on your lap (which is associated as a very cozy spot) when he hits/pushes then what he learns is if I communicate by hitting my mom will pay attention to me. He is old enough for ‘time-out’ now. Just remember that time-out has nothing to do with ‘time’. So when you remove him it does not matter for how long. The important thing is he learns that he does not get your time and attention when he ‘hits’. When you go to play groups, just pick him up from behind, swift and quickly, not saying anything and put him in a stroller in a corner of the room or wherever you know he will feel as though he does not get to play anymore or get attention from you, when he hits. Then remember when he’s using his hands appropriately you need to tell him just that…”love your hands when they eat your snack, touch gently, wave bye-bye”, etc. So your time and attention is concentrated on when his hands are being used in appropriate ways.Hope this helps! Ann
We are having a critical problem with Adam. He is having a problem in pre-school with hitting.
It seems to be more impulsive then mean spirited. His pre-school teacher seems at wits end. She told Debbie today that if it were up to her she wouldn’t let Adam go on to kindergarten. Adam does hit his sister, but the situation at school seem worse in proportion to home. Debbie and I plan to work harder with after the fact discipline at home.
What do you suggest we do. We want the behavior to stop. We don’t know what we would do if Adam was kicked out of school. I don’t want Adam to be on a constant time out at home either. HELP!!!!!!!!Sincerely,Exhausted PAPA….aka..Richard
P.S. Your sleep consult has been amazing…..3 straight years of no sleep …now…..with implementation, they are in bed on time….consistently.
First of all hitting is a form of communication, not a good one, but none the less it lets kids know that they have in fact “connected” with another person. So first and foremost you need to ‘show’ him that when he uses this form of communication, all communication stops and I do not have a relationship at that moment with the person I hit.
At home, when he hits immediately turn him around facing away from you, say NOTHING, and touch him as little as possible as you remove him from the situation. Then do not allow him to come back to ‘play’ with his sister after the incident. As his consequence is that he needs to ‘stay away’ for a while. this will teach your daughter that you, as parents, are going to protect her from hurt and teaches Adam that he gets nothing when he hits. No time or attention from anyone.
In order for me to help you in detail I think we need either a phone consultation or to talk in person. So give me a call and we can set that up! Hang in there, Ann
Hope you are great and getting ready for the holidays… needs some quick toddler advise… is Jack (14 and 1/2 months) to young to discipline? He is hitting a lot… he thinks it is funny but he just slaps us or hits us with his toys. I try and sit him down with his back to us but obviously he doesn’t stay. Should I set up contained space like pack n play? Thanks!
To answer your question simply, yes, Jack is definitely ready for discipline and yes, put him somewhere where he cannot get out, BUT REMEMBER to always give him his lovey while he is in your time-out. He doesn’t really think hitting is funny, he is just asking the question, “If I hit will you think it is funny or not?” So remember to turn him around, say nothing, don’t look at him when he hits and put him somewhere safe to help him learn this is not a form of communication that you use in your house.Hope this helps? Happy New Year! Take care, Ann
We’re on the countdown… 35 days to be exact! I’m worried a bit about Charlie’s reaction to the baby. He talks about it, points to my belly, tells others who’s in there, but I really don’t think he has a clue. He just turned 3 this week. When I hold our neighbor’s baby, Charlie cries and says, “Put it back”. Oh boy… any suggestions?
I know that we’ll put him in charge of counting toes, putting socks on, getting diapers, etc… I know we’ll have a little present in the baby’s hospital crib for Charlie. But if you have any other tips on preparing him or helping him cope. I don’t want him to think he can go away just as fast as the baby got here. He’s doing really well with development. We’re meeting with a naturopathic doctor in early May to see if there’s anything she can determine will help Charlie. He’s right on the cusp of really emerging. Thanks again for the email. I love that you’re there for me, even though our problems don’t pale in comparison to those in Virginia.Take care and have a great day! Ann Marie
Dr. Ann Corwin, The Parenting Doctor Advice
Thanks Ann Marie for your thoughtful response to my e-mail.
Sounds like you are doing all the right things to help Charlie, but here are a few more hints to hopefully help. Remember to play hide-and-go-seek everyday or peek-a-boo and when you are not in sight say something like this…”I cannot see you Charlie my only little boy named Charlie, who has beautiful curly hair, etc. but you will always be my only little boy with…etc. (describe his uniqueness).
Have a ‘plan’ when you pick up another baby of what he is supposed to do while you pay attention to someone else. For example practice with your own kids who he feels safe with…so it would go like this…when you play with Maggie and he doesn’t seem to mind, say something like, “It’s Maggie time, I touch, hug and kiss her AND Charlie gives himself a hug with arms around him tight…come on hold tighter…describe specifically…You can teach him anything to do, but he needs to know ‘what’ to do when Mom attends to someone else and he needs to be reminded all the time that when he doesn’t see you, he will still be around.
Be sure to practice every day now with counting toes, socks on his own baby doll right now, not just ‘when’ the baby comes, if you haven’t already done that. Hugs, Annie