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Spanking: should I or shouldn't I? For Toddlers and Preschoolers

As children go through toddlerhood, they become more and more independent. They frequently refuse to do things that their parents want them to do, to eat things their parents want them to eat, and to go where their parents want them to go. Sometimes, this behaviour looks like defiance. But it is actually a very normal and important part of developing an independent identity.

Childproof your home. Small hands can't touch the VCR if it is out of reach.

  • turn pot handles toward the centre of the stove and put breakables behind locked doors or on a high shelf
  • keep poisonous substances and dangerous objects locked up
  • cover electrical outlets with childproof plugs

Give choices to your child. Tell him that he can choose to eat the broccoli or the carrots. This approach allows your child to make an independent choice and allows no room for refusals.

Provide activities to prevent boredom - especially in situations where the child has to wait or keep still for a long period of time, such as in the doctor's office, on trips, in airports, etc.

Some materials that can keep children busy for long periods of time are paper, crayons, blocks, blackboards, books, paints, dollhouses, toy cars, and games. Get to know what your child finds interesting and make it easily accessible to her.

Plan for transitional times. Many parents find that the greatest problems occur when they try to move a child from one situation to another. Children don't like to be interrupted or have sudden changes in their activities. You can help to prevent problems by letting the child know what is going to happen and when it will happen. Remind him a few times that, for example, "we will be leaving in a few minutes." If he is prepared for the change, he will be more likely to co-operate with you.

Show and tell your child what you want her to do. Show her by example. Acknowledge and reward her attempts to be good, even if they're not perfect. Children need clear guidelines and good models in order to learn.

Hold or carry your child if he does something dangerous or refuses to walk with you.

Understand why your child might be misbehaving. For example, young children are very easily frightened. Sometimes they don't want to go to bed because they believe a monster is in the room. It is important to be aware of the possibility that your child is afraid and to help her cope with her fear. For example, you could check the closets and the space under the bed with her before you tuck her in.

Young children also misbehave when they are tired, getting sick, hungry, extremely excited, or worried about something else. An understanding of the reasons for misbehaviour can lead quickly to solutions.

Show your disappointment or fear instead of spanking. If your child runs into the street, grab him. Get down to his eye level, look directly at him, and tell him how scared you are. This will have as much impact as hitting him would and communicates much more.

Show your happiness when your child does something that pleases you. Children want their parents' approval and need to know what will earn it.

Give attention to your child. You will not spoil your child by playing with her, holding her, reading to her, or talking to her. Children need to know that their needs matter and that their parents are listening to them.

Don't sweat the small stuff. Decide what is worth making a fuss about and what is not. Ignore those misbehaviours that don't really matter and remember that children learn a great deal through trial-and-error. Those misbehaviours that cannot be ignored should be met with non-physical consequences, such as a clear statement of the rule, an explanation of what could happen if the rule is not followed, and re-structuring of the environment to prevent dangerous behaviour.