Positive ways to discipline a child


This ruling extends to disciplinary practises in the home and includes moderate and reasonable chastisement, an example of which is spanking. 

The ruling by the ConCourt set social media ablaze and received mixed reactions. While some parents welcomed the ruling, others were fuming, believing that the right to discipline their children should not be imposed upon by the government.

The debate about spanking and other forms of physical discipline has been ongoing for many years, and while some parents are moving away from using corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure, many homes across South Africa are still using corporal punishment. 

Research has shown that corporal punishment is not an effective way to discipline a child.  In fact, physical discipline may make children more aggressive and fails to help children build positive habits or change behaviours in the long-term, as their behaviour is motivated through fear, rather than a logical understanding of the reason to change their behaviour.  Further, spanking can also affect a child’s normal brain development, which can affect their academic progress and their social skills. 

Finally, physical discipline is counter to the dignity and rights of children and counter to the social-emotional development that will support their success in further studies and careers.

READ MORE: How to help your child manage their emotions


In 2018 The American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) made calls for corporal punishment to be banned.  In their updated policy, AAP, argues that spanking is harmful to children and are urging parents to use less harmful methods to discipline children. 

Clinical psychologist Dr Ian Opperman says that parents who were brought up being spanked believe that it didn’t affect them.   He notes, “The spanker who may not be able to emotionally regulate or contain themselves in that burst of anger at their child may be the parent who takes the spanking to a whole other aggressive level, which is why any corporal punishment is a call for concern. Spanking may be considered an emotional release of frustration for the “spanker” only,” he says. 

He adds that childhood trauma can manifest itself in how we behave in adulthood. 

“For example if you were repeatedly spanked as a child, you may act out with aggression because when you did something wrong, or something went wrong, or you were in emotional turmoil, it was met with spanking which reinforced that when there is a problem then you may act with aggression i.e. aggression is reinforced by aggressive behaviour (spanking),” he says. 

However, because spanking is negative reinforcement, it may lead to heightened aggression, antisocial behaviour, physical injury and mental health problems in children. 

READ MORE: Tips to help your child adjust after switching schools

Unlike negative reinforcement, such a spanking, positive discipline has better results and better outcomes in adulthood. 

Positive ways to discipline your child: 

Teach them boundaries 

Setting boundaries teaches children that there are consequences to their actions. 

Dr. Opperman notes, “The catch is that this punitive consequence needs to be a positive disciplinary action. Always just saying “no” is not necessarily setting boundaries; rather explaining: “you may not pick up the coffee mug because you will burn and it will be sore, rather pick up your sippy cup and drink some of your own tea like a big boy” will teach your child why they should not do something and what they can do instead.”

Never make empty threats, and instead reward good behaviour 

Dr. Opperman recommends that parents should issue a clear warning and follow through on the reasonable consequence that was set-out in the warning.  Making over-the-top empty threats contradicts the boundaries described and will encourage children to test and push boundaries.  

Like adults, children require positive incentives, not just the threat of consequences, to change their behaviour or build a new habit.  Rewards are not just tangible items, like toys and treats. Children are often seeking undivided time with their parent or an opportunity to do a special activity together (reading a book, watching a movie, going to the park.

Provide reasonable consequences  

When a child misbehaves, some parents may find their patience flagging and may quickly escalate the situation.  This is when a reasonable consequence, like loss of a TV show after dinner, becomes a week-long moratorium on all screen time.  As the adult in charge, a parent’s responsibility is to be mindful and to regulate their own emotions, rather than allowing frustration or anger to force reasonable consequences into extreme territory.  

Positive reinforcement

Finally, Dr. Opperman reminds us to provide positive reinforce, He says, “When a child does something good that you may have had to discipline them for before (for example, they do not touch the hot mug but take their sippy cup instead) you need to praise them and tell them how good they are, in order to reinforce the good behaviours you want from your child.” 

Our behaviour management techniques and strategies at SPARK Schools are based on building the core value of personal responsibility in our SPARK scholars, through positive reinforcement and fair consequences.  We aim to create a nurturing environment for each child’s social-emotional development. Not only do we have a legal duty to report any physical discipline a child may report experiencing at home, we also believe strongly that consistent discipline from school to home clarifies expectations for children and allows them to thrive in both settings.  

If you would like to learn more about positive discipline and easy ways to implement this at home, please contact your child’s teacher or school leader so that they can share tools and resources with you.

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