Last week I reviewed research that indicated that corporal punishment is ill advised. This week I’d like to review some ways to avoid it.
There are two kinds of distance that could be created in situations where you might want to give your kid a crack. First, you might consider removing your child from the situation that is causing him or her to behave disruptively (e.g., a toy store, a conflict with a sibling). Creating this space can promote your child calming down so that you become less tempted to hit him or her. Second, if you feel like you’re loosing control, and might manifest undisciplined discipline, see if it’s possible to create some distance between yourself and your kid. Perhaps another adult can take over or you could move to the next room or a few feet away. When you have this distance try belly breathing, relaxing your muscles and clearing your mind (e.g., focus your attention on a narrow stimulus such as your breath).
Use Time Out
Time out is usually preferable to hitting. Time out is punitive, creates a place for your kid to calm down and it isn’t affiliated with the same negative side effects as hitting. Time out is best done in an uncomfortable chair like a dining room chair. Your child should sit in this chair for a minimum sentence of one minute for each year s/he has lived outside of the womb; it should be away from anything s/he can kick or grab, be within your eye line and away from any entertainment. You would keep cycling through periods of minimum sentences until your child is sitting quietly and either agrees to comply with your directive and/or expresses remorse for offenses committed. (There are other details pertaining to time out that can come up. For a fuller review of these issues please see this blog post and Chapter Five of my parenting book.)
There are many ways you can reduce the odds that you’ll have to deal with disruptive behavior in your child. I will review three of my favorites here:
1. Spend one hour a week each week doing special time. Readers of this blog know that this is my favorite preventative strategy for a host of issues that come up in child rearing. For a free download on how to do special time click here; click here for a resource for doing special time with teens.
2. Ensure that your child has weekly opportunities to manifest his or her strengths. When a kid doesn’t feel like s/he is doing well s/he is more likely to act out. Click here for a blog entry that elaborates on this theme.
3. Set up a reward program to change any patterned negative behavior that you’d like to change in your child. That is, instead of using “this bad thing will happen to you when you do that bad thing” make it “this good thing will happen when you do this good thing.” A kid might earn her TV time by cleaning up her toys or he might earn access to his cell phone by completing his homework. Try to flip the negative behavior into it’s positive inverse, and then set up a reward for it. Please note that a reward can be a pleasure that your child is currently getting access to for free. Set these up in advance, make both the expectation and the reward specific and remain an empathic bystander as your child makes choices (e.g., I know how much you enjoy TV so I hope you’ll give yourself that gift by cleaning up your toys) instead of a hawkish warden (DO YOUR HOMEWORK!). Of course, I appreciate that there are times when we all need to insist that something gets done, and now.
In closing let me be Dr. obvious and note that a brief blog entry can’t address all of the questions that are probably percolating through your mind right now. (For example, shouldn’t kids learn to internalize their rewards? How long should I keep a reward program in place? Should I set up a reward program for his or her sibling also? What can I do to get my ex on the same page?) But, hopefully you can find answers to many of your questions by either continuing to search on this blog site or by reading the aforementioned parenting book. And, remember, you probably have a very good child psychologist not far from you whose available to help; for a referral click here. Good luck my fellow parent-lunatic!