Managing a Child’s Behavior with Guidance, Not Spanking

Discipline isn't about punishment. It's about teaching and guidance, which can -- and should -- start in infancy's earliest stages.

Is It Ever Okay to Spank?
Some parents think it's okay to hit a kid on the hand or the bottom. First off, as your child grows, that little swat won't stop him, and your aggression will only have to escalate. Also, children learn by imitating us, so if you hit, they'll come to learn that hitting is an acceptable way to deal with frustration. Finally, hitting doesn't truly teach anything. Sure, your child may listen, but that's out of shock and fear. Instead, you want him to develop an inner sense of right and wrong, and hitting simply doesn't teach that.

Understand the behavior and then act accordingly.
Your newborn cries, you pick him up. He's hungry, you feed him. His diaper is wet, you change him. Of course you cater to his every need. You can't spoil a child in the early months. Infants need to feel safe and secure, and meeting their every need actually helps them become independent later on.

At about 4 months you can start differentiating between needs and wants. Babies this age start to grab at everything. It's their way of exploring and learning what their hands can do. An angry reaction –e.g. "No" or an "Ouch" (if he's got your earring) -- will only make it more fun for him. Instead, give him a sad face. Baby can't control his impulses now, but you're setting the stage for later on. Teething can also have an effect on behavior. Slightly push the baby’s nose close to your body, and he will let go. It may take a while for the biting to stop, but in time he learns that if he wanted to nurse, no biting allowed.

Soon enough, you have to set limits. We all know that a baby who's "misbehaving" isn't doing so intentionally. She messes with her food to see how it feels. She drops or throws something to see how it splats. Just how many times do you scoop the tossed pacifier from the floor or grin and bear the overturned food bowl?

Do not show any reaction – just pick it up and give it back to the baby. Wipe off the mess and go about your business. The baby might try this a few times to test and experiment with the food, but if he gets no reaction from you, or a simple explanation- “well, food is dirty now and we can’t eat it”... he will eventually stop. He has learned that dropped food does not jump back up and that messy food requires cleaning and loss of privilege to eat it.

Separation anxiety often crops up at this time as well, which makes for a clingy baby. Encourage her to occupy herself by providing toys that she can explore on her own. If she starts to scream when you disappear to another are of the room or another room next door, don't immediately run back, which signals to her that there really is something to be upset about. Instead, reassure her with your voice. Say to her, "Mama's is still here; it's okay.

Setting limits is a critical part of your responsibility as a parent. You're helping your child to understand right and wrong, to follow rules, and to cope with frustration and disappointment. When child has separation anxiety or is scared of strangers, do not force her to go to strangers, and rather respect her fears. This is a normal behavior and nature’s way of protecting children from being abused by strangers. Give her time to get to know the new friend or guest and when she feels comfortable she will interact with them.

When a child screams and cries out aloud in public places, remember one of the reason is he’s only testing his vocal cords. Do not scream back at him or yell at him. This will make him want to scream more. Instead, tell him in simple terms what you expect: "We talk in a quiet voice when we're in a place of worship." Bring quiet toys and books to occupy his attention. If he can't stop shrieking, just leave the place..  Children this age don't have the self-control to inhibit a behavior like this. Just keep explaining the rules, and by age 2 1/2 to 3, he'll begin to understand them them and be better able to act on them."

At this age they still can't really express their feelings, they often get frustrated If she's throwing a tantrum because she can't reach her favorite toy, put words to her feelings: "You must feel frustrated because you can't reach your toy Let's see if we can get it for you.” Hitting and biting can also be a problem, as a result of frustration. If your child bites someone, remove her from the situation immediately, saying, "No biting; that hurts." To prevent future incidents, look for patterns: does your child bite at a particular time of day? Does she hit when she's frustrated?

Most infants, toddlers and preschoolers act out and misbehave to test your reaction, or because they are frustrated and cannot communicate their feelings. Your job is to be patient, see what the root cause of the behavior is. Remove them from dangerous situations. Explain to them the behavior is not acceptable- but whatever you do, do not lose your temper!

Teach by modeling-if you can control your anger by using soft words instead, your child will also learn to do that as she grows.

Managing Toddler Behaviors

A todder is totally centered about himself. He has no idea how his behavior causes stress and or disruptions to others.

  1. They don't know or understand all the rules and often don't understand that your concern about their behavior is more worry about their safety than anger.
  2. Toddlers are also trying to do things for themselves and establish their independence and will often say 'no!' to everything. Some examples of how your toddler may get confused are playing chasing games one minute and then expecting them to 'come here' the next minute; or encouraging games with food and later telling them not to play with their dinner.
  3. Toddlers find it difficult to do as they are told. They have to pay attention to the words, work out what they mean, get that message to their hands or feet and remember the original instruction. All this at the same time they are learning to control their bodies!
  4. Be consistent about discipline. When you ignore a particular behavior one day but get angry about it another time you confuse your child.

You can set limits for your toddler:

  1. Understand their feelings but help them do as you have told them. "You don't want your shoes on but they need to be on. This is because I don't want you to get dirty feet or tread on something that might hurt you."
  2. Parents need to decide what limits are appropriate and make sure the child clearly understands these limits. Then parents must be consistent in what they expect the child to do.
  3. Tell them you are angry. "I'm angry. I want you to do as I have told you now."
  4. Avoid questions which can be answered by "No!"
  5. Distract the toddler while you help with what needs to be done - sing a song, find something to play with.
  6. Talk about what it is you're going to do next. When toddlers expect what is coming next they are more likely to obey you. This helps with clearing their confusion about the events.
  7. Redirect the toddler to a better activity, telling the rule and the reason for it.

No Physical Punishment for Toddlers

  1. As they grow up, children will copy their parents' behavior and attitudes. Children who are smacked, or hit frequently by their parents, often bully other children. If their parents yell, scream and hit a lot, their children will probably yell, scream and hit a lot too.
  2. There are lots of ways children avoid physical punishment - by lying, hiding their feelings, blaming others or cheating. Is this what you want for your child to do?
  3. Some children, instead of reacting against their parents, go the other way, learning that it's easier to do nothing. Physical punishment tells you what not to do but doesn't tell you what you should do instead.
  4. While smacking may stop a behavior at the time, in the long term it loses its effect and will have no effect on the child. Children who are smacked may become withdrawn, frightened of making mistakes or of trying something new. By making mistakes children learn. If children are afraid of making mistakes they may grow up unable to try new experiences and learn new things. Hitting children will only lower his self esteem makes him become lose confidence in himself.

Positive Approaches to Managing Behaviors

  1. Always 'catch children doing good' – notice and encourage your child when he behaves well.
  2. Teach your child what you prefer them to do. (Hitting does not tell him what not to do)
  3. Ignore or distract the child from a possible unsafe situation.
  4. Be consistent about discipline. Avoid threats and nagging.
  5. If you do use punishment, like “Time Out” do it immediately after the unacceptable behavior has occurred and keep it short.
  6. Remember the child's age and be reasonable in what you expect.
  7. Praise and reward acceptable behaviors.
  8. Set an example by showing in your actions what behavior is acceptable?
  9. Give short, simple explanations about acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
  10. Don't threaten to withdraw affection. Avoid bribery and making promises you can't keep.

Keep at it. Kids are always changing and some day they will learn the rules and be able to control their own behavior.

Adapted from


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