5 Positive Discipline Tips to Help Your Kids Thrive

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Lolita McDavid, MD

In the short term, spanking causes aggression, physical trauma, and even trouble with thinking and learning. Later in life, it can result in mental health problems and antisocial behavior.

That’s according to a new research review that combined 75 previous studies of this controversial type of discipline.

Not only does spanking fail to improve children’s behavior, it also increases the risk for 13 different negative outcomes, from low self-esteem to troubled relationships. Fortunately, child health experts have identified ways to discipline that do work, says pediatrician Lolita McDavid, MD.

“Overall, set clear rules, warn your child of what happens when they’re broken and follow through," she says.

Try these specific tips from Dr. McDavid to teach your child to listen and behave.

The behavior: An infant or toddler touches something unsafe

The approach: Distraction

Children this age have short attention spans and can’t focus on many things at one time. You should be able to gently replace the item with something else or move the child to a new location. You may also want to make a simple statement like, “No touching that.”

Remember, teaching is better than yelling and nagging. Also, offer praise when your child is being well-behaved.

The behavior: A preschooler hits, bites or won’t share

The approach: Time out

This tactic works best with kids ages 3 and older. It allows children time to cool down. Guiding them to sit in a chair in a quiet corner also keeps things from escalating further.

Time-outs work best when the time period isn’t too long. A good guide is one minute per year of the child’s age, but no longer than 10 minutes. Give one warning before calmly giving the time out. When it’s over, offer praise for calming down and talk about the unwanted behavior.

The behavior: A school-aged kid breaks rules about devices

The approach: Logical outcomes

Say you catch your child watching videos you don’t approve of. It makes sense to take away electronic devices for a period of time as a result. Your child should know in advance what behavior is expected and what the outcome will be if the rules are broken.

Setting up a list of house rules and logical outcomes for breaking them with your child’s involvement is likely to be most effective. Logical outcomes and house rules don’t work if the outcomes are acceptable to the child, or if a parent saves the child from suffering the unpleasant outcome.

The behavior: Throwing a tantrum

The approach: Ignore it -- within reason

Toddlers throw tantrums to seek attention or get what they want. Don’t reward them. Instead, wait calmly for the moment to pass. “The exception, of course, is in the face of danger,” Dr. McDavid says. “If your child runs into the street during a tantrum or is otherwise at risk, grab him or her and hold tightly.”

The behavior: Repeated aggression or disrespect

The approach: Positive reinforcement

Question calmly to find underlying causes of anger and frustration. Compliment your child for following rules and being respectful. This moves the focus from the problem to the solution. If you can’t help your child control his or her behavior, Dr. McDavid suggests talking with your child’s doctor or a mental health professional.

When parents lose their cool

Sometimes, spanking happens, even if parents understand the dangers. If you’re afraid you’ll spank, put your child in a safe place while you regain control. Call a friend, relative, partner or doctor for support and advice.

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