Instead of Spanking

I started out hitting my kids. I would lose my temper when their behavior got out of my control, and I would hit. I never felt good about it, but I didn’t know what else to do. I thought it was effective because afterward I had regained control of the situation. I believed that I had to hit my children in order to control them and control seemed so important then. But it just didn’t feel right.

Giving up spanking required me to be willing to acknowledge, in conflicts with my children, that my own attitudes or beliefs may be contributing to the conflict. And, I had to learn to talk to my children in a new, more cooperative way–this took time.


Learning to talk to my children in a new way meant that I had to get comfortable with strong emotions and be willing to talk about anything. I also had to learn how to rebound from anger and to reconcile with my children afterwards. Not easy tasks.

When we can appreciate that our children also have good reasons for their behavior, as misguided as it may appear, it allows us to approach them with compassion. That way we are more likely to frame our arguments as suggested by Haim Ginott decades ago:

  • Express nuances of anger without nuances of insult.
  • Talk to the situation, not the character of the person.
  • Disagree without being disagreeable.
  • Change a mood, not a mind.


Despite the irrefutable evidence that links spanking to mental illness, as well as the examples of 46 countries that have outlawed corporal punishment of children, over 90% of us in the US still continue to spank. We mostly spank children under five and we do so infrequently, once or twice a month.

Most of us who spank do so because it was done to us, because we expect ourselves to be able to control our children’s behavior, and because we don’t know what else to do.

Perhaps you want to stop spanking, but think you must wait until you have figured out something better to do. However, it is stopping spanking in itself that allows you to find other solutions. Here are some alternatives to punishment.


  • Point out a way to be helpful.
  • Express strong disapproval without attacking character.
  • State your expectations.
  • Show your child how to make amends.
  • Take action.
  • Allow your child to experience the consequences of his or her own behavior.
  • Sympathize with the child. Be compassionate but stick to your decision.
  • Give an early warning.
  • Give specific instructions. Tell what to clean up, not just to “clean up.”
  • Ask your child if you can help.
  • Ignore some annoying behavior. Don’t reinforce negative behavior by giving it too much attention.
  • Do nothing.
  • Tackle one problem at a time. Correct one behavior at a time.
  • Use your sense of humor.
  • Give yourself time to grow and change.
  • Be affectionate.
  • Make sure the children are getting enough sleep.
  • Use the Golden Rule for children. Do unto them as you would like to have done unto you.
  • Convey respect.
  • Overlook differences that don’t really matter.
  • Don’t do for your children what they can do for themselves.
  • Schedule family time.
  • Use “I” statements.
  • Don’t reward inappropriate behavior.
  • Use encouragement and honest praise rather than blanket praise.
  • Stop and think before you act.
  • Don’t make a big fuss over spills and accidents.
  • Acknowledge positive behavior.
  • Sometimes just listen and be sympathetic. You can be sympathetic to both sides.
  • Be willing to change your mind.
  • Say “yes” as much as possible.
  • Get support and inspiration as a parent so that you remember you have choices.
  • Continue to think of your child as an emotional equal and figure it out.
  • Just say “no” to spanking.


At the end of the day, we want to preserve healthy, intimate relationships with our children into adulthood, while also giving them correct guidance during childhood. I believe that a good way to do this is by engaging cooperation rather than by hitting or punishing. Some would argue that this dilutes authority, but that hasn’t been my experience. It has been my ability to take responsibility as a parent, not harsh discipline, that has given me authority with my children. Harsh discipline produces compliance based on fear, which is not as enduring as voluntary cooperation based on affection.

About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes I was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine for over 30 years and founded in 1995. My books include  Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Homeand A Quiet Place. Ihave conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please check out my email newsletter with free tips on parenting, activism, and healthy living.


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Peggy O'Mara

About Peggy O'Mara

Editor and Publisher of Longtime natural living advocate, award winning writer, and independent thinker.

8 thoughts on “Instead of Spanking

  1. Kriz

    I often get stumped on this question when ppl ask me when I say I dont beleive in spanking. ” Well if talking to them doesnt work, then what are you going to do.?” So my question is, if these other alternative ways to discipline kids does not get the child to understand /behave, then what do you do ?

    • adminadmin Post author

      You’ve hit (no pun intended) on the core piece here, Kriz. You give up control when you stop spanking, or at least the illusion of control. Check out the book Liberated Parents, Liberated Children; it says it better than I can. In truth though, it’s your disapproval, your concern that motivates your child and is what does so when you don’t spank.

      What you do if nothing works is to come back to these essential questions:
      What good reason could my child have for this behavior?
      What issues for me are triggered by my child’s behavior?
      What would I like me to do if you were my child?
      What would happen if I do nothing?

      Then, keep looking for, trying solutions. Try something new. That’s why doing nothing can sometimes be interesting. Your child loves you and wants to please you and this is what ultimately keeps all relationships in balance. So, when you want to do something or talk to your child, make sure that your love for your child is flowing strongly within you, and then whatever you do will be as close to right as is humanly possible.

  2. Kimberly

    Wow. Thank you so much for your honesty. I don’t spank, but I do find myself yelling, using harsh, angry language and too rough hands on my four-year old son. The rage that shoots through me sometimes takes me by absolute surprise and the guilt afterwards can color my parenting for days and days. I have tried an internal “thank you” when I notice my patience is shot or my anger flares, as an opportunity to dig into what has me triggered. It requires me to be 100% present, which I really struggle with, but I am improving upon – it really helps when I’ve had enough sleep or some mama self-care like a long walk or chat with a friend. This parenting gig is absolutely no joke – it is the hardest work I have ever done, and has forced me to come face-to-face with my own childhood wounding. This article was so wonderful Peggy. Again thank you for your honesty, wonderful list of alternatives as well as the additional probing questions and book recommendations in the comments. Another useful site that mirrors this type of conscious parenting that I’ve recently enjoyed is

  3. Sondra

    What do you do if its worse than just spanking… Like hitting wherever you can reach just out of angry and constant screaming at the top of your lungs at your children. The hitting isnt the biggest isssue for me thats not constant but the yelling and screaming is and its not normal yelling its litterally at the top of my lungs and most of the time for what could consinder no reason of my kids doing just pure stress and aloneness on my part. How do i now teach them whats standerds to have for being treated when the only standerd the know is being treated horrible.

    • Peggy O'MaraPeggy O'Mara Post author

      Well, you have to start where you are. Admitting your behavior is a big step. You can teach them the standards you want them to learn by learning new standards yourself. You may want to consider talking to a counselor or friend to sort our your own anger response. You’re probably doing what was done to you. Read one of the books mentioned in the article. Take a parenting class. Ask for help. Be gentle on yourself as you learn a new way, but begin.

  4. Pingback: End Corporal Punishment | Peggy O'Mara

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