If you don’t want to resort to spanking, here are some ideas that work.

Quick notes:

  • Consider changes to the household environment that will prevent bad behavior habits

  • When parents are calm and in control, non-spanking strategies work better

  • Let your child experience natural consequences to their actions

Parenting experts including pediatricians and child psychologists generally agree that spanking isn’t the best idea. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has gone so far as to say that the practice of spanking harms children.

Understandably, many parents get frustrated by discipline alternatives to spanking that don’t always yield results. So what are other methods of discipline that work? What are the strategies that can help? We’ve got some ideas.

Before you consider spanking alternatives, take time for self-reflection

Parenting has many stressful moments and some of these stressors can be triggers for spanking. Before you’re in a position where you feel compelled to raise your voice or that your only option is spanking, take time to consider what the signals are that you’re triggered to feel this way. Then calmly think about ways that you can stay in control when you’re in the moment.

Non-spanking discipline is far more likely to fail when a parent is emotional, frustrated, or otherwise out of control.

Your level of control and calm when you’re about to administer discipline that’s not spanking is a huge indicator of how likely it is to work. If your child sees that you’re upset, they’re going to become emotional themselves in response. Their listening ability further shuts down along with any capacity to learn the behavior lesson you’re trying to teach.

Make a change to the environment

Sometimes, a child’s environment enables them to perform a problem behavior. To make matters worse, once they notice the behavior gets a reaction, they may be likely to repeat it. Over time, even over a short period of time, that repetition becomes a habit and is harder to change.

At this point, it becomes your job to change the habit by making it impossible for your child to complete the desired action. This requires a change in the environment. For example, if your child has decided that it is a good idea to take crayons from an easy to reach spot and draw on the walls, move the crayons so they can’t get to them. If your child is playing near a railing that they can fall off of, block the railing! These actions break the habit and eliminate the bad behavior so there’s no further need for discipline

Let your child experience natural consequences

While sometimes you need to provide discipline so that your child can experience consequences for their undesired actions, other times nature does the work for you. If you’ve tried to clearly and succinctly tell your child that an action is bad but they persist, let them see what happens when they don’t listen.


How can this work? If your child refuses to stay by your side at the grocery store, instead of repeating to them that they need to stick around, let them take off. Watch them from a distance where they can’t see you. Eventually, they’ll realize their mistake and will probably regret their decision. At that point, go to them and talk to them about how, going forward, they have to stay with you at all times.

Calmly create consequences if you need to

If there’s no natural consequence available, create one and talk with your child about it in short, direct sentences that are easy for them to understand and difficult to argue with. For example, take away a toy, reduce time with friends, or add an extra chore to their workload. Calmly explain the reason for the consequence.

A deeper dive — More from the 101:

5 Proven strategies to set screen time limits | Parenting 101
Having trouble breaking your child away from their screen? Here’s some ideas for what you can do.

Meal hacks to encourage healthy eating habits | Parenting 101
Here are proven ways to get your kids to eat better at meals.