Why Sheryl Lee Ralph Is Absolutely Against Any Kind of Physical Punishment in Parenting

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JULY 01: Sheryl Lee Ralph speaks onstage at the 2023 ESSENCE Festival Of Culture™ at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 01, 2023 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE)
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE

Sheryl Lee Ralph is dropping parenting gems left and right, weighing in on hot-button topics like spanking and early childhood development.

Any parent knows it can be tough not to compare your little one's milestones to that of other children their age, but that's easier said than done. Ralph is encouraging new parents to run their own race — something the "Abbott Elementary" star had to learn with her youngest child, Ivy-Victoria "Coco," who's now 28.

"She did not talk for a year," Ralph tells POPSUGAR while promoting her latest partnership with MadeGood and its back-to-school campaign donating money to teachers across the US.

"We were so concerned. We thought something was going on: Is she developmentally challenged? What is happening?" Ralph says. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most kids tend to start mimicking simple words like "mama" or "dada" around 6 or 7 months, but Coco didn't start talking until the following year. In the end, Ralph was relieved she gave her daughter the space to develop at her own pace. "She just wasn't ready to talk. She was not ready to share her voice," Ralph says.

Today, the two are extremely close and work together regularly, as Coco is Ralph's stylist. In fact, she styled the iconic red pantsuit her mother wore to perform at the 2023 Super Bowl. "I continue to learn so much from my children about myself," Ralph tells POPSUGAR, adding that her kids are probably some of the most unexpected teachers she's had.

It was Ralph's daughter who encouraged her to go to therapy after her son, Etienne, 31, was mugged and stabbed in 2013 after being involved in a life-threatening car accident. "My daughter said to me, 'Mommy, you need therapy because you have been traumatized,'" Ralph told People in August. "And I was like, 'No, I haven't.' And she said, 'See? You're the kind of person that really needs it.'"

"If your children are really tap dancing on your last nerve, hug them."

Now, the two practice their own mental health strategies together, like yoga and breathwork. "We were doing some yoga stretches, and she [Coco] was like, 'You don't breathe.' And I was like, wow, I know I breathe, but that whole deep breath — you know, when you inhale deeply and then you exhale — you can calm yourself down real good," she tells POPSUGAR. "When you see it on TV and people are losing it and they say, 'Breathe, breathe,' I thought that was just a line. But it's not just a line. It's a way of being."

Taking a breath is an asset in parenting, too, Ralph explains — advocating for better, gentler discipline methods. "Please stop yanking your children around, please stop hitting and beating your children. Because most times when you're doing that, you are out of control. If your children are really tap dancing on your last nerve, hug them," she tells POPSUGAR.

Spanking has been a long-debated discipline method among parenting experts. Recent AAP guidelines argue that spanking does more harm than good, advocating for a ban on physical discipline, while some experts on the opposition argue that these policies risk vilifying Black parents. But Ralph has a zero-tolerance policy for the practice.

"When you respond to your children with violence, how the hell do you think they're responding to other people in life? They're responding with what you've shown them. They're responding with what you've taught them, whether it's with their hand, whether it's with a gun. You're not giving them time to think about things like consequences," she says.

Another parenting tip from America's favorite TV mother and teacher? Be an active participant in your child's schooling. "The education of your children is a partnership," she says. "Do not expect teachers to do everything for your child on their own."

Ralph's father was a college professor and instilled in her the importance of teachers and education. It's one of the reasons she's partnering with MadeGood in its Share Some Good Fund to donate $200,000 across the US to 1,000 nominated teachers.

Sheryl Lee Ralph Made Good
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for ESSENCE

"In this climate, there [are] so many teachers that need the extra funds in their classroom," Ralph tells POPSUGAR.

"I've been talking to teachers across the country. I have spoken to a teacher, all she makes is $25,000. I've spoken to the teacher, all he makes is $30,000. I have spoken to the teacher who has had to leave the classroom to take on another job because he could not afford to spend the extra money needed to put essentials like crayons and pens and paper in his classroom," Ralph says. "Does that make any sense here in America? Absolutely not."

Now through Sept. 24, you can nominate one teacher per week for Made Good's Share Some Good fund. Winners will receive $200 for school supplies.