Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

No spanking, no shouting: Parenting tips for when you might be tempted

With pediatricians again stressing we should not hit or yell, here are some gentler discipline strategies to get the behavior you want from your kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics took its most powerful stance yet against spanking and shouting this month, declaring that they should never be used and do harm to children, affecting brain development.


The policy statement will be published in the journal Pediatrics in December and calls for stopping corporal punishment and verbal abuse of kids. “For many children, spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility and self-control,” said the statement.


While spanking is not something people widely use or see publicly in the Seattle area, it does still happen in times of stress and when parents who were spanked as kids themselves just don’t know what to do in a particularly challenging situation, despite the previous longstanding AAP recommendations that spanking be avoided.


Yelling is fairly common, and not considered a great response, either. “Research has shown that striking a child, yelling at or shaming them can elevate stress hormones and lead to changes in the brain’s architecture,” according to the AAP‘s recent statement.


Now is a good time to look into what parents can do when kids just aren’t complying with what we adults deem as good behavior.


Parenting expert Elizabeth Crary, the founder of Seattle’s STAR Parenting, has a positive approach to discipline and helps frustrated parents stay away from any negative methods like spanking or screaming.


Her strategy? Look for the good stuff: “What you look for and notice you get more of,” said Crary, the author of more than 30 books on child behavior. “When you’re looking for bad behavior, or annoying behavior, you see it more. If you’re looking for good behavior, you will see it more.”


“The very biggest solution, and this is hard for parents, is to find what you want the child to do instead of whatever it is they’re doing,” said Crary. “Look for that behavior and then acknowledge the behavior, using comments, praise or rewards.”


Here are questions to ask yourself when your kid is misbehaving — to help you put it all in perspective and stay positive, too:


Does the child need attention?

“Children will misbehave and take a spanking rather than be ignored,” noted Crary, whose first book was “Without Spanking or Spoiling: A Practical Approach to Toddler and Preschool Guidance.” As an example, she mentioned a family she worked with at STAR Parenting. The child clearly wanted some Mommy time, even if it was a punishment. The 3-year-old boy was squeezing his baby sister’s foot multiple times a day. Each time mom had to step in and issue a timeout, until one day, she counted a whopping 28 timeouts. The ultimate solution? A little time-in. After reviewing her options, the mom realized a chunk of 15 to 20 minutes of quality time each day with the boy was the answer. “Within two days, he was not squeezing his sister’s foot,” said Crary.


Does the child crave a little control?

“Another reason for misbehavior is power,” said Crary. “Children sometimes see parents as all powerful and they get to do everything they want to anytime they want … And children want some of that.” That can lead to misbehavior, she explained, which is one tool kids have to feel more powerful against their big people.

“The way to get around that is offer two ‘yeses’… and then offering them some power in some situations,” said Crary. “Giving them what they want in an acceptable way rather than having them take it, which is unacceptable.”


Does the kid know how to do the right thing?

“The third reason why kids often misbehave, from a parent’s perspective, is that they don’t know what to do instead,” explained Crary. They’re little and sometimes our instructions are a wee bit vague. “Sometimes to grownups it’s incomprehensible, particularly when I’ve told people, ‘Be kind to your sister? What does “kind” mean?’ How do you ‘be kind’?”


You can get on the right path if you tell and show your kid what you want him or her to do. Avoid open-ended adjectives, and use sentences to say what you really want to happen. Some examples would be to say “Pet the kitty like this” or “Please help me put away the toys” instead of using woolly commands like “gentle” and “be nice.”


“Specifically deciding what you would like your child to do instead,” explained Crary. “And teaching that in a deliberate, step-by-step way.”

About the Author

Jillian O'Connor

Jillian O’Connor is managing editor of the Seattle's Child print magazine. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons and a dog named after the Loch Ness Monster.