Even though kids may drive us crazy when they misbehave, most parents still try to reason with them or put them in timeout instead of spanking them. And those of us in the Midwest are even less likely to spank than parents in the South or West.
Nine out of 10 parents choose to discuss and reason with their misbehaving children, while 1 out of 5 use spanking to discipline, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. And this bodes well for the future of our kids, says lead author Matt Davis.
“Given recent research that indicates spanking can be harmful for kids’ emotional development, I see it as a positive step that parents are more likely to use verbal discipline than physical discipline,” says Davis, associate professor of pediatrics in the CHEAR unit at the University of Michigan Medical School. “However, I think we still have a lot of work to do to help parents understand how best to discipline their children with these verbal strategies.”
Parents can help each other by sharing do’s and don’ts with each other, Davis recommends. “Make discipline an acceptable topic between parents, rather than a taboo,” he says. “It can help if parents feel comfortable sharing with each other the strategies that they’ve found to work.”
It’s also helpful to communicate with your child’s teachers and day-care providers about what’s good and bad behavior and how discipline is used, so that it’s consistent at home and school. Parents should communicate with each other about discipline strategies, whether they’re in the same household or not. “One of the situations I see in my office … is that the child will misbehave and the parents will react in opposite directions. I talk to parents about being consistent.”
If you’re a parent of a teen, try having discussions about consequences of behavior ahead of time so you can get a sense of what will be the most effective discipline if your child has stepped out of line. “In other words, what privilege do they treasure most highly,” Davis says. “It can help teens grow up to understand that we have to be aware of what will happen if we walk down certain roads that we already understand from our parents are unacceptable.”