How to spare the rod without spoiling the child
With South-Africa’s new anti-spanking legislation, even parents who are responsible and loving spankers simply cannot afford to stick to their guns (or wooden spoons) and continue their normal disciplining tactics. By giving a child even a slight slap on the wrist, you might receive much more than just that from the authorities in return – you could face a charge of assault. If convicted, the lightest penalty you may hope for would be a life-long criminal record for child abuse.
Parents who were not previously opposed to reasonable corporal punishment should thus seriously consider alternative means of nurturing obedience. Here are a few suggestions:
Nasty noises mean, “No!”
Many parents (without even thinking about it) use a benign slap or finger flick to deter babies and small toddlers with little reasoning capabilities away from dangerous or other unwanted situations. While this practice is effective, under the new law it could potentially land you in much greater trouble than the mischief your little one was up to. Nevertheless, you can still use the same principle of pairing a certain behaviour (e.g. fidgeting around an electric socket) with a physical negative consequence. This consequence could take the form of an unpleasant noise (like a loud clap with the hands, bang on the table or verbal warning in a very strict, low tone of voice. The biggest trick with such little ones is that your reaction should immediately follow the behaviour as they need to form a negative connotation with the unwanted action.
Try out a time-out
Giving time-outs (placing a child in seclusion for a little while) is another disciplining method that could work well with smaller children – again, if administered immediately after a misdeed. Place the child with his back against the
wall, and turn your back for a few seconds, or in a “time-out chair” and expect them to stay there until the punishment is over. Avoid using rooms with lots of potentially interesting activities to engage in, as this will defeat the purpose of the consequence. Rule of thumb: Make the time-out last a minute for each year of age (e.g. two minutes for a two-year-old, etc.).
The concept of a time-out could be applied to older children as well – they will simply need longer time in isolation and absolutely no technology, books or other stimulation at their disposal. You could even consider giving them a task to do while they are grounded, like reading educational material (and be quizzed afterwards) or writing an essay on any appropriate topic (e.g. “Why rules are important to society” – teaching them that rules without consequences are merely suggestions).
Race towards rewards with incentive charts
Incentive charts are a great way to correct behaviour, as they place the focus on reward rather than punishment. Move the child’s token forward on the chart when they do something good and backward in the case of disobedience. Remember that smaller children need to arrive at the reward soon lest they lose interest, and this becomes an ineffective way to regulate behaviour.
Refrain from using food as a reward – it contributes to emotional eating patterns and the treat in question would most probably contain ingredients that are bad for children’s health and thus contra-productive to discipline. Rather reward them with special, alone time with mommy or daddy to create positive memories – like having a water balloon fight, baking together, playing card games, etc.
Crimes create consequences… so let them cope with the costs!
Children who are cognitively mature enough to learn despite a delay between a misdeed and its consequence could be deprived of privileges as an effective punishment. The “consequence currency” that you trade in could be anything – pocket money, screen time, going-out freedoms, privacy, etc. Just remember that it has to “hurt” – an introverted little house hen might not even miss social time with friends for one weekend and a keen reader may not be too bothered about losing screen time. You could even take away “noble” things in the case of continued disobedience, like withdrawing them from the sports team they love or having them step down from leadership positions at school. Just make sure they know what is at stake.
Although spanking is now a dated practice in South Africa, discipline itself should never follow the same route. There are still many tools in your parenting kit to correct your kids’ conduct, so please do not slack in your endeavours. Always remember when you are facing negative behaviour that you are not merely dealing with a child’s temporary disagreeableness that should be addressed as effortlessly as possible. Your end game is to shape pleasant and successful adults. The road to that objective is paved with fair, consistent and loving discipline.