MA Judges Say It's OK to Spank - But You Don't Have To

Last week, Massachusetts' highest court determined that parents cannot be charged for spanking their minor children as long as the force used is 'reasonable.' The spanking delivered cannot cause the child physical harm or mental distress. But just because this group of misguided justices says it's OK to hit a child, there are far more effective means for handling misbehavior in young children. Here are five alternatives you can begin using immediately.

Satisfy a Need. Children who fall in the 0 - 18 month age bracket do not misbehave; they are simply expressing needs that must be satisfied. Therefore, there is no need to spank or use any other punitive means for managing behavior. During this phase of the child's life, they are moving, touching and making sounds to express a need that parents must learn to interpret and meet.

Redirection or Distraction. Toddlers and preschoolers often
do things that are annoying or frustrating to the adult: trying to touch something they shouldn't, being demanding about performing a difficult task, or screaming loudly. Using emotional excitement in bringing the child's attention to something else in the moment is an easy way to break or stop the annoying behavior. Saying "Quick, quick... let's look out the window and find a birdie in the back yard," can move a child from fascination with a wall light switch to scanning the flowers for a feathered creature.

Remove the Child. As I always tell parents, churches, restaurants and grocery stores were made for adults, not children. If it's a tantrum that you're dealing with at one of these places, you can try one of the suggestions above. But if you do and you don't get the results you're looking for, taking the child out of the establishment and going home may be the only solution. Think about how you feel inside when you're hungry, tired or stressed. Would having someone hit you solve the problem?

Remove the Target. If the child is mistreating a pet, throwing toys or hitting another child or an adult, removing the target may be the solution. The reason this works is because it presents a perfect learning opportunity to the child; a logical consequence. If you mistreat or misuse something, then you lose it. If she is mad and throwing a toy, the toy is placed out of her reach. If he is hitting another child, then play time is over. And if she is being too rough with a pet, then the pet is moved to another room.

Calm Yourself. The next time your child is out of control, check in with yourself and assess your own disposition. Adults caring for children who are feeling anxious, stressed or angry can actually transmit those feelings to the children around them. Have you ever noticed how we sometimes take on the emotion of other adults we are with? The same can happen to children.

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