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How to Discipline Children Without Physical and Verbal Punishment

by Mary Serphos
Certified Health Coach and Licensed Psychotherapist

A 2008, report found that 65.3 percent of adults in Costa Rica hit their children and that 74.2 percent yell and resort to what is categorized as verbal and emotional abuse. During the same year, Costa Rica reformed legal articles to defend the rights of children and adolescents, requiring adults to discipline without physical punishment or verbal assault and humiliation.

By inflicting physical or verbal punishment on a child, whether by hitting, spanking, using any amount of force or by harsh verbal means, children are taught to be fearful, angry, and resentful. If we want to raise children who are successful, capable, and secure, it is critical to use nonviolent means of discipline, and adults should act as exemplary role models.

Positive Discipline
Positive discipline is a technique that defines misbehavior as an opportunity to teach new behaviors and incorporates discipline techniques that teach self-control and responsibility. For example, a statement such as "don't do that" does not explain to the child why a certain behavior is wrong. Rather, by gently teaching a child why a certain behavior is not appropriate and then providing direction and offering alternatives, we are guiding children to make responsible decisions. For younger children, toddlers and young pre-schoolers, distraction can be an effective tool in order to redirect attention to an appropriate object/toy, etc.

For all children and adolescents, it is important to: follow through with what you say, be consistent, model appropriate behavior, be firm yet kind and fair, clearly state expectations, offer choices, reward positive behavior and provide consequences for misbehavior such as no video games, TV, dessert, etc. or assign an extra chore at home or supervised community service.

Positive Feedback, Reward and Point Systems
The Reward System: Intended as a supplement for other methods of discipline, the reward system focuses on positive behavior. For example, if your child has helped out with a chore or task such as cleaning his or her room, thank your child or comment on the good behavior.

The Point System: By giving points for good behavior and subtracting points for misbehavior, a child learns to behave better. Accumulated points are traded in for rewards. A reward may be extra one-on-one time with a parent or a special outing in which the child chooses where to go. Privileges are based on behavior, and dropping below a certain point level may cause a loss of privileges. Be aware that children need to also be taught about their choices so they aren't just engaging in the behavior for a reward.

The goal of these techniques is to offer parents and teachers proven ways to reinforce good behavior and minimize misbehavior in hopes that the vicious cycle of child abuse and neglect will be broken


The National Foundation for Children in Costa Rica (PANI) is responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and raising awareness campaigns aimed at eradicating physical abuse. According to data from PANI, from January to June 2012, they received 47 reports of physical mistreatment and four of emotional abuse in the Nicoya regional office.

To report physical or emotional mistreatment:
1) Call 911
2) At www.pani.go.cr there is a link to report mistreatment either anonymously or personally.
3) Go to the office of PANI in Nicoya, located from the Servicentro de Nicoya 125 meters west along the main road.


More Health News

Bikers Without Helmets are the Most Vulnerable on the Road

Nicoya is one of the 15 cantons in which 60% of all traffic accidents nationwide take place. Many occur on a motorcycle and are caused by reckless driving and a lack of basic safety equipment, such as helmets.


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