Healthy Disciplinary Practices for Parents

  • Published
  • By Ruth Sunde, 92nd Medical Group Family Advocacy
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

We often joke about how when our children are born they don’t come with an owner’s manual; after a long, stressful day we might wish there was a rule book to help us engage with our children when they are being just that---children.  We might reach our limits with our child and after talking, yelling, warnings, or threats, we might lose our cool and control.  For some, we might wonder about the rules around physical discipline toward our children. 

First, let’s explore what the Washington State Law says concerning spanking or physical discipline.  The Revised Code of Washington 9A.16.100 states, “It is the policy of this state to protect children from assault and abuse and to encourage parents, teachers, and their authorized agents to use methods of correction and restraint of children that are not dangerous to the children. However, the physical discipline of a child is not unlawful when it is reasonable and moderate and is inflicted by a parent, teacher, or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child. Any use of force on a child by any other person is unlawful unless it is reasonable and moderate and is authorized in advance by the child's parent or guardian for purposes of restraining or correcting the child.

The following actions are presumed unreasonable when used to correct or restrain a child: throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting a child; striking a child with a closed fist; shaking a child under age three; interfering with a child's breathing; threatening a child with a deadly weapon, or doing any other act likely to cause and does cause bodily harm greater than transient pain or minor temporary marks. The age, size, and condition of the child and the location of the injury shall be considered when determining whether the bodily harm is reasonable or moderate. This list is illustrative of unreasonable actions and is not intended to be exclusive.”

Those being the extremes, where do we find the middle ground for disciplining our children?  Let’s consider some things to evaluate before disciplining your child.

First, is the discipline appropriate to the child’s age and level of development?  Do you know if the behavior you are disciplining is normal and/or expected behavior for your child’s age and developmental progress? 

Next, consider expectations. No one likes surprises, and children thrive on consistency. Setting limits and making sure the child knows the limits are imperative.  Use positive, yet firm, methods of guidance to enhance and promote the child’s self-control, sense of responsibility, self-esteem and spirit of cooperation.  These are just some of the natural, more positive approaches to handle behavior issues: direct the child to another activity or give them choices on issues that don’t go against your value system, and calmly place your child in time-out in a safe area to let them self-regulate and learn to change their behavior. Within our control as parents is the use of good time-management and planning skills to avoid potential problems. 

Adults are rarely motivated long-term by threats, humiliation and intimidation--the same goes for children.   It is natural human behavior to be motivated by more positive statements and encouragement than by negative.  To avoid adult temper-tantrums, parents can take an anger management class to enhance all these skills and help maintain the clear head often needed to manage children. 

The Washington State laws are very clear concerning rendering discipline that causes physical harm to a child.  If you are interested in learning other methods of discipline, including incorporating choices or positive reinforcement for your children and anger management, contact the Fairchild AFB Family Advocacy Office at 247-2687.