Spare the Rod and Spare the Child: Disciplining your child without hitting them
Author: Alice Sithole
All too often we hear the saying, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Or “Spoil the rod and spare the child.” In essence this is a school of thought that advocates physical punishment; sometimes corporal punishment in the discipline of children. There is no evidence to suggest that children who are subjected to corporal punishment are any brighter or more attentive than their counterparts who have not experienced the same. Rather what this can cultivate is an innate fear in the child of the adults who dish out this punishment. If a child is living in fear of physical punishment they are less likely to approach the adults in authority when they need support or when they have done something wrong.
Disciplining your child without hitting is a process that starts from birth. Child Psychologists refer often to the ‘developmental stage’ of life. This is when the child is exploring and testing out their world. They are experimenting with boundaries constantly. If you remember your own learning processes you will appreciate that when you are excited about something you can pursue it relentlessly until you have learned all you can about it. Children are no different. Granted, they have more energy than adults, but essentially they are tiny individuals right from birth. Therefore it is important for parents to:
- Talk to your baby even during pregnancy. Make plans with your unborn child as to all the wonderful things you will do together once they are born. Re-assure them that the pregnancy is a joy to you the mother and/or father and not a mistake.
- Avoid calling your child harsh names or being too negative or abusive – both verbally and physically – in childhood. We all have stressors and things we are angry about in certain parts of our lives. A child is not an emotional sounding-off platform. Remember, they are human beings too. If you would not like that sort of treatment do not dish it out to someone else. Find other ways of coping with – or releasing your tension – that do not involve lashing out. Always seek the positives in your child and your relationship with them. Remember, for better or worse, you are their parent for life. Show them that means something to you.
- Learn to negotiate with your child, develop positive communication at all times. Whether you believe in clear visible parent-child boundaries or not, it does not hurt to listen to what your child is trying to say. It is no secret that if someone feels heard or they feel their opinion counts they will feel more valued. Your child is no different. No matter how trivial you think their concerns are, take the time to hear them out.
- Learn to listen to the child’s needs with compassion.
- Give some time to be with your child during leisure time; and talk to them in a relaxed manner.
- Be consistent within your approach to boundaries and rule setting. When you say no make sure it means no. In the same way, give praise where it is due, and when your child does well acknowledge it accordingly. Consistency and honesty are vital for children inasmuch as they are for adults. If your child becomes accustomed to you changing the goal-posts they will find ways to get around your boundaries and rules as they will realise these are fluid concepts.
- Create a loving and approachable rapport with your child so they find it easy to discuss difficult and happy situations with you the parent. If they feel they can come to you when they are happy, they will feel more comfortable confiding difficult situations with you.
- Set the good examples as adults.
- Create a loving environment for the child, not just offering material love but being there for the child.
- Give love to your children not hatred and fighting. Maria Montessori, one of the earliest opponents of slapping children’s hands, believed that children’s hands are tools for exploring, an extension of the child’s natural curiosity. Slapping them sends a powerful negative message. Sensitive parents all agree that the hands should be off-limits for physical punishment. Research also supports this idea.
- Speak to each other with love and respect in the family not swearing at each other because children are good at emulating us adults in later life. Research shows that people are more likely to recall traumatic events than pleasant ones.
- Love and passion are key factors in bringing up children for the benefit of tomorrow’s world.
As adults we should remember that hitting a child is a sign of self defeat. Academic research in corporal punishment states that children whose behaviors are spank-controlled throughout infancy and childhood may appear outwardly compliant, but inside they are seething with anger. They feel that their personhood has been violated, and they can detach themselves from a world they perceive has been unfair to them. They find it difficult to trust, becoming insensitive to a world that has been insensitive to them.
Research has shown that spanking may leave scars deeper and more lasting than a fleeting redness of the bottom. Here is a summary of some academic research on the long-term effects of corporal punishment:
- Children who were raised in homes with a lot of corporal punishment, turned out to be more antisocial and egocentric, and physical violence became the accepted norm for these children when they became teenagers and adults.
- A study to determine whether hand slapping had any long-term effects showed that toddlers who were punished with a light slap on the hand showed delayed exploratory development months later.
- Students showed more psychological disturbances if they grew up in a home with less praise, more scolding, more corporal punishment, and more verbal abuse. If a child is subjected to hitting at an early age, that child will remember it vividly because that action confuses the child and much as they do not understand the rationale or message behind the hitting, it destroys the child’s self-image and the child grows up wanting to do the same to the weaker victim in adulthood who may be their own child, wife, husband or nation depending on the adulthood position of power that the child attains.
- Those who recall being spanked as children accepted spanking as a way of discipline and intended to spank their own children. Those who were not spanked as children were significantly less accepting of the practice than those who were spanked. Human nature is such that we remember situations that hurt us the most in a more negative way over the good things that happened in our lives.
- Spanking seems to have the most negative long-term effects when it replaces positive communication with the child.
As a parent you need to remember that the home is the first environment the new born gets into contact with the world. What you teach, and how you teach it, has long lasting effects. As a parent you have the responsibility of building the foundation of tomorrow’s world. You will nurture tomorrow’s presidents, lawyers, teachers, nurses, doctors, mothers, fathers, whatever profession your child will pursue is in your hands today. If a child is brought up harshly or with the notion they are a failure, they are more likely to:
- Design harsh laws when they in turn are adults because it is a way of life for them.
- Be war mongers and start civil wars or fight neighbouring countries because that is what they will have known all their lives.
- Be victims of domestic abuse since that would be normal during their upbringing. They reflect aggressive behavior or are more likely to behave aggressively towards their families or other family members and peers.
- Turn into violent criminals since they would have grown up in a violent home environment.
- Chances are they will be victims of perpetrators of violence since they will have grown up having pain inflicted on them.
- Fail to handle customers or clients at work well; who they come into contact with, because they will portray the way they were also brought up.
The family is a training camp teaching children to handle all forms of situations in their adulthood. Everything wrong that the governments are trying to fight and eradicate today will never be eradicated if parents fail in the upbringing of the child.