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How to discipline your kids without lifting your hand

When it comes to discipline, the idea isn't to force your child to submit, but rather to teach them how to make better decisions.

One of the most hotly disputed parenting concerns is spanking children as a form of punishment.

While most paediatricians and parenting experts advise against spanking, the vast majority of parents admit to spanking their children around the world. Spanking can seem like the quickest and most successful technique to improve a child’s behaviour for many parents. It also frequently works in the short term. However, research shows that corporal punishment has long-term implications for children.

The good news is that there are alternatives to using physical punishment to discipline your child.

What the law says in South Africa

The South African Constitutional Court found on September 18, 2019, that corporal punishment in the home is unlawful. This judgement makes it illegal for a parent to employ physical punishment on their child in the guise of discipline, such as hitting or spanking.

Alternate techniques for disciplining children

A number of experts have suggested alternate techniques for disciplining children, but all of them have one end goal in mind – not only stopping the unacceptable behaviour but reinforcing the fact that it is unacceptable by making your child face the consequences of that behaviour.

Be consistent

Even the youngest children have some concept of right and wrong and they need to understand from as early an age as possible what is and isn’t acceptable. And those rules need to be maintained across the board by everyone who has responsibility for your child, whether it’s you, another family member, or a babysitter.

Time out is effective for younger children

Placing a child in time-out can be a much better alternative to spanking. When done correctly, time-out teaches kids how to calm themselves down, which is a useful life skill. Simply choose a particular step on the staircase, usually toward the bottom for safety’s sake, and make them sit there for a particular amount of time whenever they act up.

Losing privileges are effective for older children

If your older child misbehaves (ages eight to 18), teach them the consequence is a loss of a privilege. Make it clear when the privileges can be earned back. Usually, 24 hours is long enough to teach your child to learn from their mistake. So you might say, “You’ve lost TV for the rest of the day, but you can earn it back tomorrow by picking up your clothes the first time I ask.”

Chores are effective for siblings

If your children are arguing or antagonising one another, have the two of them work together to complete a particular chore. The specific chore is up to you: clean the bathroom, wash the kitchen floor, straighten up the garage. Any household chore will do and it will get both siblings working together rather than fighting with each other.

What about disciplining in public?

Disciplining can be even trickier if you happen to be out in public but there are ways around it here too.  If your children are fighting with each other, have them hold hands as you walk through the mall or the grocery store. It sounds benign, but to most children, especially those in the awkward pre-teen years, it can be worse than any spanking.  It will certainly not be an experience they’ll want to repeat any time soon, which is the entire point. Of course, the time out has become quite popular and it can be effective too as a way of making your child reflect on his or her bad behaviour.

Good to know

Whichever form of discipline you use, it is important to remember to be firm without being threatening and to always follow through. Once you have established those rules, it is up to you to enforce them while bearing in mind that they are in your child’s best interest.

Discipline never comes easy but you can take matters into your own hands without becoming a dictator. It will be hard on you and your child, but in the end, it will be worth it when your child grows up to appreciate the importance of good behaviour.  


I'm an experienced writer, sub-editor, and media & public relations specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the media industry – across digital, print, TV, and radio. I earned a diploma in Journalism and Print Media from leading institution, Damelin College, with distinctions (Journalism And Print Media, Media Studies, Technical English And Communications, South African Studies, African & International Studies, Technology in Journalism, Journalism II & Practical Journalism). I also hold a qualification in Investigative Journalism from Print Media SA, First Aid Training from St John’s Ambulance, as well as certificates in Learning to Write Marketing Copy, Planning a Career in User Experience, and Writing a Compelling Blog Post.
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