Spare the rod

  • What children need are repeated reminders and a lot of love, patience, and guidance, not a slap or a beating
- GEORGE HOLDEN, Umesh Raj Regmi
Spare the rod

Apr 20, 2015-

Should parents spank and slap their children in an effort to discipline them? The answer to that question, for most of history and in most countries around the world, has been a resounding YES! After all, parents have been disciplining their children with corporal punishment for thousands of years. Most of our parents hit us and we turned out okay, didn’t we? And when you hit a child, it appears that discipline works very well and quickly, because the child stops engaging in misbehaviour.

However, increasingly, parents, researchers, and even politicians are recognising that children should not be disciplined with physical force. We will provide four reasons why parents should not discipline children through corporal punishment.

Only breeds more problems

First, hitting does not work in the long term. If it worked, a child would only need to be hit a few times. But most children are hit frequently and often for the same misbehaviour. A research study published last year by one of the authors (Holden) illustrates how mothers were using corporal punishment in the home. A total of 33 mothers of children aged two to six years wore digital audio-recorders on their arms for up to six nights. In the course of listening to hundreds of hours of recordings, 41 instances of corporal punishment were identified coming from about half of the mothers. Mothers were slapping and spanking their children for very minor misdeeds, such as sucking fingers or getting out of a chair, and often with little warning. One mother hit her child 11 times for one misdeed. And the recordings indicated that the physical discipline did not work for long.  In 73 percent of cases, children were misbehaving again within 10 minutes.

The second reason to avoid hitting children is that parenting experts are in accord that spanking is not a good disciplinary technique. Not only is it ineffective, but such behaviour is linked to a variety of problems. Over the past 15 years, hundreds of research studies have found that spanking and slapping children can result in unintended negative consequences. The most common finding is that children who are hit by parents are more likely to be aggressive with their peers. Is it any wonder that children are learning to hit others when their parents hit them? In addition, a variety of other problems are linked to corporal punishment. These include children having more behavioural problems, having emotional problems (like depression or anxiety), and being less likely to have loving,

cooperative relationships with their parents.

The third problem linked to corporal punishment is physical child abuse. Parents who physically discipline their children are at risk of inadvertently injuring their children. For example, in a study analysing the events that led to physical child abuse cases, in about 80 percent of cases, the abuse came as an end result of a disciplinary incident. In some cases, the child was injured unintentionally. But in other cases, the punishment escalated into child abuse because the parent became angry when the child did not comply, or hit the parent—in response to being hit.

The fourth reason to avoid spanking or slapping is that children, just like all people, have a right not to be hit—by anyone. Most people now accept women’s right not to be hit by their husbands (or anyone else). However, we have a different standard with children—adults appear to have the right to hit them. Children’s rights not to be hit is indicated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, something that Nepal signed on the very first day it became available for signatures in 1990. Hitting a child is a direct assault on a child’s dignity and physical integrity. All people (and children are people), share the universal right not to be hit.

Discipline without punishment

There is no question that being a parent is stressful and hard work. But that should not be an excuse to hit children just because they are not immediately compliant or obedient. Most parents wish their children would behave better and act more like adults. But let us remember that, from a neurological perspective, children’s brains are not fully developed (something that is not accomplished until individuals reach their early or mid-20s). Thus, young children do not remember instructions, are not capable of adult-like behavioural regulation, do not have mature judgment, and cannot deal competently with situations the way adults should be able to. At the same time, children are developing their own sense of autonomy and independence from parents, a critically important developmental process that involves expressing their own opinions and making their own decisions. For these reasons, children need to be treated with more understanding and compassion and less punishment.

So how should parents manage their children? Warm, kind guidance and appropriate discipline are essential for healthy child development. But discipline does not require punishment. What most children need (depending on their temperament) are repeated reminders, and a lot of love, patience, and guidance. Adults must remember that normally developing children are not going to be compliant and obedient all the time. Parents need to adjust their expectations about child behaviour so they are realistic and vary based on the child’s age and the immediate situation. This is the essence of what is now called  ‘positive discipline’ and is the approach to parenting that is increasingly being advocated by parenting experts. All parents want their children to develop into loving, responsible, productive adults. By using corporal punishment, parents may be unwittingly undermining their long-term goals for their children. Children reared without corporal punishment will have an easier time developing into well behaved, respectful, competent, and accomplished adults. So an end to beating children would actually help parents become better parents, while

protecting children.

Put it to an end

Nepal can promote the goal of raising healthier and happier children by banning all types of physical punishment of children—both in schools and in homes. Let’s hope that Nepali children won’t continue to be the victims of sticks in schools and slaps on their ears in homes. Both schools and homes should be fear-free environments. If Nepal bans all corporal punishment of children, it will join 44 other nations that have prohibited the practice. Just in the past two years, nine countries have passed legislative bans. It is now time for Nepal to help parents and their children by ending corporal punishment.


Holden is a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, the US, and Regmi is associated with Tribhuvan University


Published: 21-04-2015 10:01

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