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Spanking is in the news again.   The old saying is if you spare the rod you’ll spoil the child. But a new study finds spanking a child may do more long-term harm than good.

The study in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found a high percentage of American parents spank or slap their children. And it suggests children who are spanked, hit, or pushed as a means of discipline may be at an increased risk of mental problems in adulthood — from mood and anxiety disorders to drug and alcohol abuse.

It equates harsh physical punishment with increased mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse and dependence, severe personality disorders and even depression.  Individuals who are physically punished have an increased likelihood of having mental health disorders. Approximately 2% to 7% of mental disorders in the study were linked to physical punishment.

Some people might even say that spanking turns into abuse later in life.

Many parents don’t believe in it and feel that punishment is a “time out” or sitting in the corner that can do good – even taking away a Nintendo or PS3 or the TV is enough of a punishment for many children today. The reality is that many parents say they do and would use spanking as a form of discipline. So what is the right tactic?

Parents’ right to use physical punishment has been abolished in more than 30 nations, but not in the USA or Canada, says the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment, endorsed by the United Nations and others.

For the study, Afifi and colleagues analyzed data from a government survey of 35,000 non-institutionalized adults in the USA, collected between 2004 and 2005.

About 1,300 of the respondents, all over age 20, were considered to have experienced physical punishment as children. They reported that they had, sometimes or more often, been “pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house.”

But some family researchers argue that spanking, used properly, can be appropriate discipline.

I personally am a fan of not spanking and anyone who needs suggestions on more-effective methods of discipline to a primer on USNews.com called “3 Alternatives to Spanking That Work for Parents and Kids”:

  • Focus on rewarding positive behavior rather than punishing bad deeds. Check out this video with Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Child Study Center, showing how to praise a child right with immediate, focused praise rather than the bland “good job!”
  • Time-outs work, but they have to be done right to serve as effective punishment. A good time-out is short, focused and doesn’t involve lectures after the fact.
  • Be consistent in how you discipline your children. This one’s tough for all parents — hey, we’re humans too! — but will go a long way toward making your home a haven rather than a battlefield.

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No sooner do you lift your toddler out of the car, set him down on the sidewalk, and turn to wrestle his stroller out of the trunk than he suddenly darts away. I think most moms tend to stay fit at this age because they are constantly running after their child.

Children ages 1 to 3 tend to be impulsive, so you cannot expect your teachings to ensure that your toddler always will do what is best for her. Toddlers who wander or run away for any reason are at risk and need the adults in their lives to protect them. For example, because of their small size and limited traffic experience, toddlers suffer the greatest number of pedestrian injuries, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.

What are steps to keep young children safe, while allowing them freedom to grow and explore? See below.

Why Toddlers Run Away
Most children begin to walk, talk, socialize and solve problems during the toddler years. Toddlers naturally are inclined to discover and experiment with independence. However, they are not yet able to determine what is safe and have not learned to stop and think about consequences. Curiosity and lack of impulse control lead some toddlers to test their new freedom by running away, while others might wander off to look at something interesting.

Stay close to him.
If you’re in a safe, open space where you can see your toddler and he can see you, it’s okay to let him run ahead of you. Most of the time, if you don’t yell or run after him, he’ll stop on his own, turn around to see your reaction, and run back to you when he sees you’re not coming after him. But don’t take any chances if you’re in a crowded area or around cars.

Set Limits, Follow Though
Tell your toddler how you expect him to behave before you begin an errand. But make sure you really spell it out for him. Instead of saying, “Can you be a big boy and hold my hand?” say, “Remember, you need to hold my hand when we’re in the mall.” Expressions like ‘big boy’ often backfire. Toddlers turn around and say, ‘I don’t want to be a big boy!'”

Parents must make clear to toddlers that there are consequences for running away or being wild in public. Tell your child ahead of time that if she cannot stay close or hold you hand, then she must ride in her stroller for a while. Explain that when she is calm and ready to hold your hand while walking beside you, she will be allowed to get out of the stroller and try again. If she tries to run away again, put her back in the stroller and do not waiver, even if she has a tantrum.

Give Specific Warnings
Young kids often forget safety expectations midway through an outing and take off. Instead of simply shouting “Stop!” (which is actually a very abstract concept for a toddler, who has to figure out what it is he’s supposed to stop doing), give a concrete command identifying a specific body part or movement — such as “Thomas, stop your feet!” or “Stay on the grass!”  Once you’ve got your kid by the hand again, reiterate the rules.

Distract and Divert
Young children may not remember their parents’ rules and expectations while on an outing, and they might suddenly run off. Instead of chasing a runaway toddler, call his name or say a familiar word or concrete phrase that will stop and distract him. Give him a hug for coming back to your side.

Make Errands Fun
Singing, rhyming, dancing, marching or jumping can encourage toddlers to stay near you while going from one place to another. To focus her attention while out in public, engage your child by playing simple games, asking her to copy your funny movements, saying silly words to each other or playing “Can You See What I See?”

Encourage him when he does well.
When he resists the urge to run wild, reinforce his good behavior by telling him what he did well. But again, be specific. “It’s not enough to say, ‘You behaved like such a big boy today.” Encourage his actions by saying them back to him. Say, ‘I really appreciated that when I called you, you came back to me.'”

Toddlers as Helpers
Toddlers often try to run away because they are bored. Tell your child you need her help picking out groceries, returning library books or taking your dog to the veterinarian. Most toddlers love to help, so give your child a specific job and she will be less likely to wander.

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We have all screamed, “Ouch!” a few times when taking care of a baby or small child who bites. Not to say all children do it, but it is definitely not abnormal and there are ways to prevent and teach your baby or child not to bite. When your child bites, it can be concerning if you send your baby or toddler to daycare or if he or she is in playgroups. This behavior is normal, and stems from your child’s frustration or pain. Teaching your child not to bite — whether he’s a baby or a toddler — is one of the many skills you impart as you raise your child.

Baby Behavior
Babies who bite often do so when teething — and, unfortunately for the mother, this can occur while your newborn nurses. When nursing, if your baby bites, unlatch him from your nipple using your finger or thumb. Look at your baby and tell him to stop. While he may not understand the word, he understands the emotion.

Toddler Behavior
Toddlers bite as a means of expressing themselves prior to having sufficient verbal skills. In other words, its normal behavior during a child’s first three years, when emotions run high, but kids lack the ability to express themselves effectively. At about age 2, your toddler’s biting is an experimental behavior that dies when you respond appropriately. When biting occurs, don’t provide a strong negative reaction — this type of attention reinforces the behavior. Instead, calmly explain that your toddler should not bite her friends, but that she should bite oranges or sandwiches. Next, distract her attention with a game or toy. If she continues to bite, my suggestion would be to separate yourself from the child who is the focus of his or her biting and give her a three-minute timeout.

Be consistent.
There’s no timetable as to how many incidents and reprimands it will take before your child stops biting. But if you respond the same way every time, he’ll probably learn his lesson after four or five incidents.

Know your child’s triggers.
Does your daughter bite when she’s hungry or needs to take a nap because he or she is tired? Give her a healthy snack, and adhere to a strict meal schedule. And don’t forget about outdoor play as a prevention technique — even in chilly weather.

Keep it Chill
Toddlers who bite often do so if they feel overwhelmed. While your toddler goes through this developmental stage, keep his environment calm and free of too much stimuli.

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Every parent has been there….found themselves in deep negotiation with their 2-year-old over whether he can wear his cookie monster shirt 5 days in a row? What parent has not, at one time or another, taken a “walk of shame” out of the grocery store when their child throws themselves to the floor with a tantrum? Toddlerhood is a hard time for many parents because this is the age at which children become more independent and discover themselves as little people that are independent. BUT – although they may be able to communicate well, many have limited ability to reason.

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Here are some secret tactics I gathered from various moms on how to discipline your toddler: 

1. Think Like a Toddler
Toddlers aren’t mini-adults. They have trouble understanding many of the things we take for granted, like how to follow directions and behave appropriately. Try to see the situation from your child’s perspective and help prevent a tantrum.

Giving choices also shows that you respect your toddler and recognize your child’s feelings. In a way, this can make your child feel as though he or she has some control over the situation while you remain in charge.

2.  Avoid Stressful Situations
By the time children reach the toddler stage, you’ve spent enough time with them to know what can set them off. The most common ones are:

  • Hunger
  • Being tired
  • Quick changes in location

With a little advance planning, you can avoid these potential “meltdown” scenarios and keep things relatively calm. If you can, try to make sure your child is home at naptimes, bedtimes, and mealtimes. If you are out, always keep food on hand in case of a sudden hunger attack.

3.  Try Distraction
Fight the urge to raise your voice at your child when he or she acts up, because your tone will either make your child distressed or curious. Instead, quickly and calmly get him interested in another activity. This is especially a good tactic for toddlers who fall down and get a “boo-boo.”

4.  Be Consistent
You and your spouse also need to be on the same page when it comes to family rules. Sending your child mixed messages about whether she’s allowed to get up from the table while everyone is eating or splash you in the bathtub will only confuse and frustrate a child.

Try to keep to the same schedule every day. That means having consistent nap times, mealtimes, and bedtimes, as well as times when your toddler is free to just run around and have fun.

5.  Keep It Positive
If you say the word “No!” to your child all the time, he may start to tune you out — or worse, begin using it himself when he doesn’t want to do something. “Save ‘No!’ for situations when safety is involved.

6. Praise Good Behavior
Sometimes, toddlers act out because they lack communication skills — and it’s a surefire way to get your attention. That’s why you should always let your child know you’re pleased whenever he does something that you like or remembers to follow one of your rules.

7. Know When to Give In
Certain things in a toddler’s life are nonnegotiable. A child has to bathe, eat, brush teeth, and ride in a car seat. Hitting and biting are never OK. Pick your battles.

8. Do the Best You Can
Finally, know that it’s OK to feel stressed out by your toddler sometimes and that you do the best you can. There are good days and bad days, but as long as you parent consistently, you are doing all you can.

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Paulo was put in a timeout while on a playdate. His friend, Amalie, decided to join him for moral support.

I started putting Paulo in timeouts when he was about 12-months old. It seemed so silly to put him in a corner because at his age I didn’t really know if he understood the reason or grasped the concept. According to Dr. Sears, timeouts should be around one minute per year of age. So since he was a year old, he sat in the “naughty corner” for one minute.

The first time I put him in timeout, he sat for about two seconds, then ran back to me with a big smile. I guess he thought it was a game. I couldn’t help but smile back because he was just so darn cute! So just what every mother would do, I swooped him up and showered him with kisses until he giggled.

The subsequent times that followed weren’t “cute” anymore. This time I meant business! Every time he hit his sister, he was sent to the naughty corner. I guess after many timeouts, it finally clicked.  Now at 21-months, he runs up to his sister, hits her, then walks to his corner. (Stinker!) Ok, I guess he learned the wrong lesson, but in his defense, he usually hits his sister if she happens to take away the toy he was playing with.

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Mommy, do you like my artwork?

All in a span of a week, I found myself wanting to pull my hair out because:

  • Paulo drew all over the walls and doors in the house.
  • Paulo broke my 15-year old bongo drum by hitting it so powerfully with a drumstick.
  • Paulo scratched up our leather seat when he discovered that he can “draw” with his fingernails.
  • Paulo broke a lamp because he thought running on the couch was so much fun until he dove into the end table.

Arrrgghhhhh! I tell people this story and they laugh. “Of course, he’s a boy!” My son is really testing my parenting skills, but I can’t be mad. How can I be mad and try to discipline him when I’ve got big ol’ puppy dog eyes looking up at me with such pride? All I can do is pick him up and give him a hug. Oh, boy! Wonder what’s in store for me next week.

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The terrible twos were not so terrible for us, but the ‘challenging threes’ are another story entirely. Preschoolers are fun, very independent, have endless energy and imagination, and test their boundaries on a daily basis. Parents of preschoolers must show ultimate patience in order to teach their children how to get along with others, follow rules, and understand their effect on others. As a parent, you may have noticed that your child can make you angry one minute, and the next minute you are laughing at your child for being the funniest person alive. You must remember this when your child is testing limits. There are moments when I want to lock myself in a room and never come out, but the reality is- sometimes a time-out for both a parent and a child is exactly what is needed.

By age 3 most children are beginning to understand the connection between actions and consequences.  You need to make it clear to them if they do something wrong. For example say, “Johnny, walls are not to be drawn on” and give him an alternative solution such as, “paper is the only place that you are to draw on.” Then make sure he or she understands the consequences if they do it again. “If you do it again, you will have to clean it up and you will not be able to use your pen/pencils/crayons/paint for X amount of time.”

If they are willful and talk back (like mine) then a time-out (usually the same number of minutes as their age or until they calm down) in a boring place may be useful. You want it to be enough time for them to think about their actions, but not enough time for them to become resentful. Every child is different. My daughter hates to be separated from me, so in situation where she will not listen and continues doing the unwanted behavior, not being able to play with me (while on a time-out) works well. For others it may be taking away TV time or a favorite toy. Use time-outs sparingly. Some parents give their child something to think about or have them come up with a solution to the problem during the time-out, “What would you do if I did something I wasn’t supposed to?” Make sure if you establish a rule, and it is broken, it has a consequence. Follow through with your consequence or your child will take this as a sign that every rule can be broken. Consistency is key for all parental figures. Praise them when they do something right, “I was so proud of you for sharing ‘your time’ with me with the other kids at the park”. I know, I know, this is all easy to say but harder to follow through on.

No parent is perfect, but all we can do is strive to be the best we can. Given that preschoolers mimic their parents, if we’re lucky maybe they will strive to be their best too. We just have to give them the tools, have patience and be consistent in our actions, and hopefully they will learn to be aware, thoughtful little people that treat others well and follow general rules (at least the important ones).

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