11/20/2014 03:18 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

Can We Trust Our Parenting Instincts?

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"I shouldn't even admit this to you," my husband began, as he relayed the afternoon's struggle. He described how our toddler pushed on the screen door, he told her not to, she pushed on the screen door, he told her not to, she pushed on the screen door, and he lightly slapped her on the wrist.

Minor as the punishment seemed to him, it caused our toddler to wail to the point of hyperventilating.

"She didn't obey me, so I had to do something," he said.

I could relate. Around 18 months old, G hit me. I told her, "We don't hit people. That hurts." She smiled -- and hit me again. My instinct was to gasp in betrayal, grab her arm, and yell, "Hey! You don't hit me!" Her face completely crumpled in tears, and I felt just as bad.

Plenty of good parenting happens by instinct, and instinct is essential in parenting. But that's when I realized that not all of the parenting instincts we have are the parenting instincts we want to have.

I dove into the research around discipline. I began learning more about alternatives to getting physical or yelling, and what makes those alternatives less stressful and more effective for everyone. And my husband and I began to practice those alternatives. (So many opportunities to practice!)

With those tools -- the same ones I share in Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science -- I feel like I have new parenting "instincts" when it comes to discipline. Here are a few of them:

Did my husband and I have to "do something" when our toddler tested her boundaries? Sure. What I've learned is that we all have options that don't end in hyperventilation -- for our child or for us.

And that if we don't like how it feels to go with our instincts, we can set about changing those instincts.

Get more of Tracy's parenting tips