Now that spanking is taboo, what are parents using as a last resort? Screaming, say people who are in the know.

And moms — who seem to be the main screamers — are feeling guilty about it, according to an article in the New York Times. Instead of a swift whack on the pants for the four-year-old who — presumably as the climax to spell of defiant behaviour — tears a page out of book or pours milk on the floor, the mom at the end of her tether “loses it” and yells at the child, “Why did you do that? Why would you do that?”

“I’ve worked with thousands of parents and I can tell you, without question, that screaming is the new spanking,” said Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, which teaches parenting skills in classes, individual coaching sessions and an online course. “This is so the issue right now. As parents understand that it’s not socially acceptable to spank children, they are at a loss for what they can do. They resort to reminding, nagging, timeout, counting 1-2-3 and quickly realize that those strategies don’t work to change behavior. In the absence of tools that really work, they feel frustrated and angry and raise their voice. They feel guilty afterward, and the whole cycle begins again.”

What is the effect on naughty little Samantha who tore the book? Well, says Ronald P Rohner (director of the “Ronald and Nacy Rohner Center for the Study of Interpersonal Acceptance and Rejection”, believe it or not) if the parent is simply loud, the effect is minimal, “but if the tone connotes anger, insult or sarcasm, it can be perceived as a sign of rejection.” Does it stop her bad behaviour? Nope; like anything else, the more you use it the less effective it is.

There is hardly any scientific research on shouting at small children — in contrast with the heaps of smacking research — but a 2003 study found that parental yelling was near-universal. Mind you, they only asked parents whether they had shouted/screamed/yelled at least once during the past year.

However, true confessions from moms on blogs and in books suggest that most feel very guilty about losing self-control and doing something they feel is really bad for kids. But they are in a corner: time out hasn’t worked; they may have a job they have to get to; they may be very tired and stressed as a result of the job; they are not allowed the quick circuit-breaker of a smack.

Anyway, smacking is no solution for parents who are angry; no punishment is suitable when driven by anger. If anger is building up then there must be something fundamentally wrong with the parenting style. Whatever it is, removing smacking from the range of disciplinary options has not helped. It is a red herring. The smacking police would be better employed in signing people up for parenting programmes that teach everyone self-discipline.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet