By now, most parents have heard that they shouldn’t spank their children. Not only does it not work, but it can lead to mental health problems, slow brain development and – apparently – can even turn your child into a criminal.

If you read a lot of parenting articles, though, you’ve probably heard a whole lot of other things you can’t do, too. According to one article, putting your child is time-out is basically the same as beating your child. Making your child feel shame is a form of emotional abuse. Yelling at your child is as bad as spanking. And, in some extreme cases, we’re even told that using any form of punishment whatsoever is bad parenting.

In most of these articles, the writer illustrates their advice with a role play that makes you wonder if they’ve ever actually met a child. They tell us about this angel child who hears mama nicely ask him to stop being naughty and just says, “Okay, Mama! Anything you say!”

We never see the child blow up. We never see him cry, or collapse onto the ground, or hit or bite or yell or run away.

If your child’s actually that perfect, that’s great – but don’t be surprised if he starts turning water into wine and healing lepers. For the rest of us, there are moments when positive parenting stops working. We need to do something about it. And we need to know what we can do that won’t scar our children for life.

Can I put my child in time-out?

Some headlines out there make it sound like only the devil incarnate would make children sit in their room for a minute and think about what they did. You’ll see headlines like “The Problem with Time-Outs” or “Why Time-Out Is Out”. A lot of the time, though, they’re just that – headlines.

Take a second to actually click on one of those headlines, and you’ll notice something strange: neither one actually says time-outs are bad. They just say that time-outs can be bad if they’re done incorrectly.

Time-outs are fine. They’re a proven effective way to improve behavior. They just have to be done consistently and correctly.

If you get angry, scream at your child, and lock him in his room for an hour, it’s going to hurt more than it helps. But if you stay calm, use the time-out until your child calms down, and then talk to him about how he could have behaved differently, it’s a perfectly effective parenting method.

Here’s a great guide on how to make time-outs work. Ensure your time-outs consistent and fair, and you’ll be using a perfectly effective method to improve child behavior.

Can I criticize my child?

Our generation’s very sensitive to “shaming” people. That doesn’t just apply to our friends. There are all kinds of warnings about how much shaming your child can hurt. And it’s true – if you’re not careful, a poorly-chosen word really can stick with your child.

That does not, however, mean that you have to tell your child they’re perfect no matter what they do.

Criticism is a problem when it’s directed at your child as a person. If you say something like “You never listen!” or “You’re so lazy!” it makes children feel a type of shame that hurts a lot more than it helps. It makes them externalize their guilt. Instead of realizing they did something wrong, they blame their negative feelings on other people and don’t actually learn anything.

Your words can help, though, as long as you’re focusing on the action and not the person. Pointing out an inappropriate act, like throwing a toy, lets the child know what behavior is not acceptable. Just make sure they know you’re against one bad action, and not against them.

For bonus points, talk about ways they could have handled it differently and encourage them to try other solutions. When you do that, they’ll actually feel more confident and improve their behavior.

Can I make my child apologize?

If your child misbehaves, you should absolutely make them apologize. Kids aren’t born with an innate understanding of right and wrong. We teach it to them, and apologizing is a big part of that.

Just make sure they understand why they’re apologizing. Teach your child to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Help them understand that they’ve caused a problem, and they’ll develop more prosocial behavior – meaning they’ll just be better people when they grow up.

You’ll also start a habit that’ll help them throughout life. Kids who are forced to apologize learn from it, and they start apologizing on their own. That good behavior makes them more popular, too. Other kids like them more when they apologize and are more willing to work with them.

Can I ever spank my child?

The short answer is no.

You can never spank your child. Disciplining your child is fine, but physical abuse is still an issue. Nearly every child psychology study shows that spanking causes at least a few problems. That isn’t a myth we can debunk. It’s a fact.

Sure, some spanking is worse than others. It’s worse if it’s your go-to punishment, or if you’re angry when you do it. No matter what, it always causes problems.

All that being said, if you’re really desperate and don’t know what else to do, one type of spanking might actually be okay. It’s called conditional spanking, and it’s been proven effective by 26 separate studies.

Here’s how it works. First, it’s only to be used when everything else fails – for example, your child is refusing to go into time-out. Second, all you do is very calmly give two open-handed swats to the buttocks.

This isn’t taking your belt off and beating your kids senseless every time they talk back. It only works if used sparingly, gently, and without making your kids feel hated. If your kids start listening when you send them into time-out, it’s working. But if you find yourself resorting to spanking, it means something else is wrong and you need to look at how you’re handling your lighter disciplines.

So, discipline’s not as evil as we think, but we still need to be careful. If you act out of anger or against your child, you can cause some serious problems. But as long as you’re handling it correctly, discipline can help your child grow into a better person.