Raising well-behaved kids can be a challenging thing for every parent out there. What you should do, and should not do plays a huge part in ensuring whether you end up with well-behaved kids or not.
Let’s start with what not to do.
Spanking children has been going out of fashion. Yet is it true that spanking is such a bad idea? Many parents do believe that physical punishment makes their children more compliant and better behaved. At the same time, a newly published book from the American Psychological Association details the serious costs of this discipline method. The book, which is by Gershoff and Lee, is called Ending the Physical Punishment of Children.
The new APA book details several decades of research on parents’ use of physical punishment. Clearly, physical punishment, including spanking, is ineffective. It wins the battle but loses the war. Spanking predicts worse and worse behavior over time (Altschul, Lee, & Gershoff, 2016; Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2016; Gershoff, Lansford, Sexton, Davis-Kean, & Sameroff, 2012).
Instead of teaching children to behave better, the more that children are physically punished, the more aggressive they become and the more behavior problems they are likely to develop. It’s a case of “Do as I do rather than do as I say.”
At further age, physically disciplined children suffer more mental health problems like anxiety, depression, excessive anger, and character disorders. Physically disciplined children also do worse on tests of cognitive ability (Gershoff & Grogan-Kaylor, 2016).
Here’s yet another negative side effect—physical disciplinary measures teach children to develop what psychologists refer to as external locus of control. That is, as long as authority figures are nearby, physically punished children conform to what they know will not lead to being hit. Once out of sight of potential punishment-givers, however, they may feel free to behave badly—bullying other kids, for example.
By contrast, children whose parents do not spank or physically punish them develop an internal locus of control. That is, they develop an internal sense of right and wrong for deciding what they will and will not do. The presence of adults who might punish them is not necessary for them to behave well.
Methods That Are as Bad—or Worse
Alas, far too many parents slap negative labels on their children. Negative labels, especially combined with an angry tone of voice, are verbal abuse.
Angry voices plus poisonous words like lazy, stupid, and selfish can create self-fulfilling prophesies, as children tend to try to prove their parents right: “Call me dumb and I’ll act that way.” In addition, for the rest of their lives, these children are likely to use the same negative words themselves when they make mistakes. Psychologist Haim Ginott’s classic parenting book Between Parent and Child gets credit for clarifying this far-too-common parenting error.
Discipline Measures That Work Without Doing Harm
As I describe in detail in this and in a second earlier PT post, prevention and distraction are consistently winning strategies for getting kids to behave well.
Prevention with younger children means feeding them often, making sure they get enough sleep, and ensuring that they have constructive activities to ward off boredom. Hunger, tiredness, and boredom are the three most common precursors of misbehavior in young children.