A joint study by Singapore Children’s Society and Yale-NUS College has found that while many parents do not perceive physical discipline as effective or acceptable, they still use it frequently. The use of fear to control children is also so ubiquitous that most adults don’t even realise they are doing it.

But there are also many ways to spare the rod and not spoil the child, says Dr Cheung Hoi Shan, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yale-NUS College and a member of Singapore Children’s Society’s Research Committee. Here, she shares three principles of positive parenting that can help keep children in check without causing physical or emotional pain.

Insights on discipline: Even parents who don’t believe physical discipline is effective sometimes use it to keep their children in check, as shared at our October media briefing

Connect before you correct

To discipline is to teach your child desired behaviours. If you are able to connect with your child by understanding their point-of-view and needs, the parent-child bond is strengthened, and your child will listen better. As a result, they will be more ready to be corrected by you.

Connections can be built in various ways, including by giving your child your full attention, acknowledging and validating your child’s feelings and sharing yours, co-creating solutions with your child after all parties are calm, and showing physical affection like hugs and kisses.

Consistent, predictable, and repetitive positive interactions allow for mutual respect, and help create strong attachments that allow your child to feel safe, have the courage to learn, and remain curious about their self-identity.

Teach, Process and Model

Every child is unique. It is important that you understand your child’s developmental stage and temperament, and customise your disciplinary methods accordingly. At each stage, there is knowledge that must be shared and skills that need to be taught.

For example, a pre-schooler might try to do things independently. They would respond better to clear instructions and expectations, or “start requests”, than “stop requests” like “don’t”. It is also helpful to provide choices and coach them on problem-solving skills. Otherwise, your child may gradually feel less confident and internalise shame and self-doubt.

Focus on your child’s strengths and encourage good behaviour through praise, physical affection, quality time and rewards.

As your child’s brain is still developing, be patient and allow time and space for them to process your teachings. When you model desired behaviours, it helps your child to learn through observation.


Your emotional state affects your ability to practice these principles effectively. Reflect on issues that could be triggering. Validate your emotions and show yourself compassion – you are learning as well.

There is a space between a trigger and your response in which you can choose how to react. If your child is not in danger, pause, take a deep breath and think: “What am I feeling right now?” When you are better regulated, you will be more ready to connect before correcting your child.

Expressing parental authority shows your child that you are in charge and in control of yourself. It is not loud, angry or mean, but communicated in a calm and affirming tone.

To learn more about our findings on physical discipline, view the study brief here.

Click here to read the story in Chinese.

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