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How To Be a Spank-Free Parent Without Being a Doormat

Lori Freson


To spank or not to spank. That is the question. From one generation to the next, we can’t help but wonder if our methods of discipline are effective or damaging. Some say that those who are raised with spankings grow up to be better behaved and more respectful adults. Others would say that spanking is abusive and causes emotional damage that has a negative effect on one’s mental health and well-being even into adulthood. So who is right? And how can you discipline your kids effectively without spanking them?

Let’s start by defining the word discipline. Because, while many believe that discipline and punishment are synonymous, they truly are not. Discipline is “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior” (Oxford Dictionary).

Unfortunately, is has become common to believe that this can only be accomplished through punishment, particularly physical punishment, such as spanking. But the root of the word discipline is the word disciple. As we all know, a disciple is a student, one who needs to learn. So, it would stand to reason that a disciplinarian, which all parents must be, are the teachers. Therefore, as a parent, it is your job to teach your children right from wrong, good behavior from bad behavior. The real question is: how do you choose to do that?

One way to get people to do the right thing is to create fear. Fear of punishment, such as spanking, physical abuse, a citation or incarceration are some of the common ones. But you must ask yourself, do want your child to behave only because of fear of what might happen to them if they don’t? Or would you prefer that they behave and follow rules because they believe in doing right versus wrong, that they actually value doing the right thing and being a good person?

I believe that fear based behavior lacks the values, character and understanding that creates healthy and kind human beings. If one does not inherently believe in doing right, if they only behave due to fear of consequences, then one could argue that when the consequence does not scare them, they will not behave. That is a problem.

So, if your job as a parent is to teach your child right from wrong, and instill values and character in them rather than punishment and fear, how can you do this? And can it be done without being a doormat that your children walk all over? The answer is, unequivocally, yes!

While punishment and discipline are not exactly the same thing, you do not need to allow your child to get away with bad behavior. Instead of spanking or punishing with fear, you can find an appropriate consequence and a teaching moment. You can use rewards and privileges as incentives. You encourage good behavior and limit attention to bad behavior.

Here are some tools for parenting without spanking:

  1. Take a breath before you react. Do not spank, do not call your child names, and try your best not to yell.
  2. Calmly and firmly tell them what they are doing that is not okay. For example: “Jason, it is not okay to throw sand at Joey.”
  3. Remove your child from the situation. Example: Pick Jason up and remove him from the sand at the park.
  4. Explain why the action is wrong. Example: “Throwing sand could hurt Joey’s eyes.”
  5. Find a natural consequence that fits. In this example, you could take Jason home from the park if he does not stop throwing sand. That is more appropriate than a spanking.
  6. Remind your child next time what will happen if he makes the same bad decision. Example: “Jason, I want to remind that it is not okay to throw sand. I’m letting you know that if you throw sand, we will have to leave the park immediately.” And then follow through without yelling or spanking.
  7. There is no need to lecture or negotiate. Make clear, firm, brief statements and then follow through.
  8. Initiate a system of rewards and incentives. For example, use a sticker chart for chores or for good behavior. When your child has enough stickers, they earn a reward, such as a trip to the zoo or a new book. As they get older, this can include screen time.
  9. Notice and acknowledge good behavior whenever you can. Minimize the attention to negative behavior. Keep it brief and direct.
  10. As your child gets older, ask them to explain to you why their own behavior is wrong. They need to start developing this knowledge and insight from within themselves.

Your children need your guidance, and they need to set firm, clear rules and boundaries. Do not belittle them or hurt them, but do stand strong in your role and do not back down. Children who grow up with mental or physical abuse often display anxiety and other issues as adults. But children who grow up with guidance and rules, limits and boundaries feel safe and secure and tend to be less anxious. At the end of the day, all that most parents really want is for their children to grow into good, happy, healthy adults. Parenting is the hardest and most important job you will ever do.


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Lori Freson

Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.