Yelling or spanking -- is old-school parenting really effective?

If you thought yelling was less harmful than spanking your child, understand that none is a way of disciplining your child constructively.

There isn t such a thing as perfect parenting. We all learn with our experiences. As a parent, disciplining your child is one of the biggest challenges you will ever face. When you discipline children, you help them learn how to and how not to behave. But it s easier said than done. Many things that kids do can get on your nerves -misbehaving, disobedience, spilling milk on the carpet, whining about buying a toy at the store, not doing their homework, etc. So, what do you resort to - spanking or yelling? Your parenting decisions or style can have long-term psychological effects on your child. Whatever you choose, you need to be aware that there is a difference between bad behavior and annoying behavior. When you spank or yell, the chances are that you are annoyed.

Spanking the hurting and embarrassing smack on the bottom

Our generation has grown up hearing spare the rod and spoil the child. While some of us don t believe in the saying anymore, there are many who abide by it. But spanking your children is only a temporary solution. It does more harm than good. The truth is that there is a high possibility of spanking being fuelled not by your kid s behavior, but by your anger and frustration. Children may listen to their parents at that point in time. They may not repeat the behavior due to fear of being hit and not because they think it s wrong. And the side effects of all those beatings show up only later. Spanking increases the risk for increased child aggressive behavior [1]. Children may begin to think that violence is the way to solve their problems. Physical punishment has been associated with adverse outcomes like child aggression, mental health issues, and physical abuse. Frequent spanking makes a child irate, vengeful, insecure, and they often suffer from low self-esteem. (Read: 5 things you should not do to punish your child)

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Yelling the new spanking

The chances are that the few of us who have sworn not to hit their child will resort to yelling. After all, it s better than hitting. Or is it? The simple act of screaming your lungs out could turn out to be potentially harmful depending on what and how often you yell.

Raised voices are almost a norm in every household. You inadvertently yell for a child who is far away. When children do something unsafe like running into the street, etc., it s only natural to scream out to them. And at times, parents need to speak the unpleasant truth to their children in a stern tone. Occasional outburst at such times wouldn t be damaging to children and in fact, could be on the contrary. But watch out the words you throw at your child while yelling. Using demeaning language, name-calling, belittling or threatening while yelling can amount to verbal abuse. Verbal abuse in childhood can have a lasting adverse impact. Findings suggest that childhood verbal abuse may contribute to the development of some types of personality disorders [2]. A study has linked it to an earlier age of onset of bipolar disorder [3]. (Read: Punishment versus rewards Striking a balance)

Yelling may instantly get your child s attention. But there is nothing constructive about this discipline technique. Children respond to the psychological aggression in either of the two ways freeze or yell back. When screaming becomes a routine, there is a high probability that your kid will take you seriously only when yelled at. The child may even build up a tolerance to your yelling. Also, remember that most children follow in their parents footsteps. By bellowing, you model the behavior that you wouldn t want to see in your child. Your child may grow up to be aggressive. Some children could end up just the opposite disgraced and withdrawn.

There are alternatives to spanking and yelling

When you are desperate, tired and angry, spanking or yelling seems like the best and easy way out to discipline your child. But all the spanking and yelling in the world can t teach discipline to children until they are developmentally ready to learn it. So, what are your alternatives?

You cannot instill social behavior in an infant. No form of physical discipline can help. How do you manage one then? An infant's only means of communication is crying. Just respond to the baby s basic needs for food, warmth, comfort or security and you have learned to manage one [4].

Toddlers are naturally very curious, a trait which can put them in potentially dangerous situations. Fatigue and hunger may promote negative behavior in them. They also struggle to cope with the conflict between wanting to be independent and the reality of being dependent on adults. This conflict can cause temper tantrums in them. And expecting them to do something before they are capable only adds to the difficulty in disciplining them. Firstly, maintain diet, rest, and sleep routines in your toddler so that the tantrums don t occur. When tantrums do occur, it is best to ignore their actions. Distraction can be a very useful tactic for managing toddlers. Giving them choices whenever possible can help them feel a greater sense of autonomy. Reward their positive behavior. (Read: 10 things good parents do with their kids)

Preschoolers are better able to recognise and understand others feelings. Timeouts can be effective in disciplining them. A few minutes of timeout away from the current situation can help children calm down and think about their actions. It can then be accompanied by clear explanations of expected behavior in the future. Generally, the guideline for timeout is the number of minutes per child age in years. Revoking privileges, when used appropriately, can be helpful. Children need to be told that a particular behavior is unacceptable and if continued it will result in removal of a privilege such as not being allowed to watch their favorite show on TV or to play with the favorite toy, etc.

Older children spend a lot of their time away from home and hence are no longer always under direct supervision. As a parent, you need to explain clear rules and consequences. Since these children are more independent decision makers, they can take part in framing family rules. They can be grounded for a reasonable period for breaking the rules.

Lastly, you need to be fair and consistent when it comes to disciplining. You can be flexible at times. Give your children the space to spread their wings and keep them disciplined too. Praise your children openly, condemn them secretly. Understand the reasons behind their behavior. Withdraw your mind from the situation and take a deep breath when you find yourself losing control. It will help you consider the situation objectively. You need to control your behavior to be able to help your kids regulate theirs. Aim to correct less and connect more. (Read: 10 ways to turn your child into a good human being)


1. Taylor CA, Manganello JA, Lee SJ, Rice JC. Mothers' spanking of 3-year-old children and subsequent risk of children's aggressive behavior. Pediatrics. 2010 May;125(5):e1057-65. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-2678. Epub 2010 Apr 12. PubMed PMID: 20385647.

2. Johnson JG, Cohen P, Smailes EM, Skodol AE, Brown J, Oldham JM. Childhood verbal abuse and risk for personality disorders during adolescence and early adulthood. Compr Psychiatry. 2001 Jan-Feb;42(1):16-23. PubMed PMID: 11154711.

3. Post RM, Altshuler LL, Kupka R, McElroy SL, Frye MA, Rowe M, Leverich GS, Grunze H, Suppes T, Keck PE Jr, Nolen WA. Verbal abuse, like physical and sexual abuse, in childhood is associated with an earlier onset and more difficult course of bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disord. 2015 May;17(3):323-30. doi: 10.1111/bdi.12268. Epub 2014 Oct 13. PubMed PMID: 25307301.

4. Ateah CA, Secco ML, Woodgate RL. The risks and alternatives to physical punishment use with children. J Pediatr Health Care. 2003 May-Jun;17(3):126-32. Review. PubMed PMID: 12734459.

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