In all of the U.S., including Georgia, it’s legal to physically spank a child, as long as it isn’t excessive, doesn’t cause injury, and doesn’t escalate into abuse. Spanking, generally defined as smacking a child on his bottom with an open hand, may have been the norm in decades past. But research continues to show that it has negative effects. According to several recent studies, spanking children makes them more likely to become anti-social and aggressive. We checked with Dr. Vivian Lennon, Primary Care Director at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, to get expert-approved alternatives for disciplining your child.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Focus on positive behaviors. If your child is fighting often with a sibling, praise her when you see them getting along. Reward her when you see this good behavior continuing. She’ll associate good behavior with good things happening and that will teach more than punishment.

Restrict Privileges

While children of different ages will have different priorities, they will all miss something. For a toddler, take away a favorite toy or doll for a short amount of time, like 15 minutes. A child who is five or older could have a toy or privilege taken away for a few days. A pre-teen or teen may lose electronics privileges for slightly longer. What matters is making an impact by temporarily taking away something very important to the child.

Use Time Outs

Time outs work! Especially when a child is in an out-of-control tantrum, it can help teach them how to calm down and regain control. The time out location is important. It needs to be a quiet, boring place with no distractions and nothing kids can use to play with or harm themselves. For a two-year-old, a two-minute time out is sufficient. For a five-year-old, go to five minutes. At the end of the time out, discuss what led to it, and how to avoid it next time. Some families have also had success with “time ins.” When a child is upset, give him a gentle hug and sit with your child for a few moments; this allows your child to work through the crying and grumpiness with you close by. It also gives you an opportunity to calmly talk with your child.

Do Not Negotiate

What happens if a child is having a hissy fit in the middle of the grocery store/car on the way to the movies/a friend’s birthday party? Go home. If you give in to the behavior because you’re in public or you really wanted to see that movie, it only reinforces that tantrums, back talk, or bullying a brother is ok. Show your child that this won’t work and remove them from the situation, even though it may feel like you’re being punished, too. Stay the course! But Dr. Lennon warns that many times tantrums escalate before they go away.

Teach Consequences

If you tell your child to wear a coat, but he won’t listen, let him go outside and be cold (as long as it isn’t dangerously frigid out) to learn that lesson. If you asked your pre-teen one thousand times to pick up and put away her laundry but she hasn’t, stop doing her laundry. Eventually she will realize to get what she wants (clean clothes) she’ll have to follow some rules. If you told your child that not finishing a homework assignment means he can’t go to a sports event, stick to it.

Time Out for Parents

It’s important to note that sometimes swats, spankings, or smacks can happen when a parent’s anger has escalated. If you find yourself losing control, put an infant or toddler in a safe, secure place (like a crib or or playpen) and walk to another room to collect yourself for a few minutes. Then you can come back with a clear head.

The most important theme with discipline is consistency. Follow through on your time outs, consequences plan, and privilege restrictions.  And, according to Dr. Lennon, if your child doesn’t say “I hate you” at some point, you’re probably not doing your job.

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