Spare the rod… and your child

Hitting children is not the best policy to discipline them. There are other more effective and non-violent methods

mom teaching daughterDisciplining your child is one of the most important [and daunting] aspects of parenting. And although there are no set rules on doing it right, there exist many conflicting views on the topic.

While some people advocate never laying a finger on your child, others believe in the 'spare the rod and spoil the child' diktat. Let's examine this aspect closely.

Before we proceed, it is crucial to understand the difference between a simple whack immediately after an action that can harm your child and using the cane to teach him a lesson.

For instance, if you notice that the child is playing with match sticks near a gas or an explosive object, a small whack can catch her attention. However, if the child has erred—not done her homework or not packed her timetable—is spanking going to help her?

Then using the rod is more a means to release our anger and in no way is beneficial to the child. It dilutes the purpose of disciplining your child and will only harm her.

The downside

Here are some drawbacks that make it imperative to review this canon of corporal punishment:

Low self-esteem

Children who are constantly subjected to hitting and physical abuse may develop feelings of low self-esteem. A negative core belief of, "I am not good and hence my parents do not like me", starts to develop. This core belief leads to a negative self-evaluation, which percolates to all life experiences.

Inability to handle emotions effectively

Constant punishment can lead to intense feelings of fear, anger and helplessness in children. Coping with such intense feelings is often beyond them. These feelings either get bottled up within or lead to outbursts and temper tantrums.

While keeping the feelings buried leads to emotional disturbance; outbursts set off a vicious cycle of punishment leading to more tantrums, followed by more punishments.

Inability to forge healthy relationships

Children find it difficult to build healthy relationships with others as their primary relationship with their parents gets marred and is on unsure grounds. The hurt that they suffer permeates to other relationships.

Poor performance in academics and other activities

Too much emotional stress leads to poor concentration and motivation and the children do not perform well not only in academics but also in extracurricular activities.

Rebelliousness

If continued for long, children may resort to extreme behaviour by becoming rebellious and aggressive. This is a coping mechanism, which helps them ward off constant punishment.

As a parent you might be wondering what else you can do to discipline your child. Psychologists now approve of behaviour modification techniques, which can help parents to discipline children without spanking or abusing the child.

Effective alternatives

Positive reinforcement

Notice and applaud acceptable or appropriate behaviour such as sharing, completing homework. At the same time, ignore negative or inappropriate behaviour such as speaking out of turn and screaming.

Shaping

Encourage your children to learn new behaviour or modify negative behaviour in a step-by-step process. Set up small goals for them regarding their behaviour as it becomes easy to follow. For instance if your child doesn't do homework, divide the work into parts. Reward her after she finishes every part. Do this till she learns/adapts to a particular behaviour.

Time out

Isolate your child immediately after she has behaved in an unacceptable manner. Time out allows children to introspect their own mistakes. Two things to keep in mind: firstly, ignore the child's crying, cribbing and attempts to convince you and secondly, use this technique rarely.

Also, isolation doesn't mean locking the child up in the bathroom, basement or other scary places; it might do permanent damage.

A small shift in your attitude and behaviour will make a huge difference in shaping the behaviour and future of your child.

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Shital Ravi is the director and founder member of Disha Counseling Center, which is a mental health setup in Mumbai. She has been practicing as a psychologist for the past 12 years and likes to work with children, adolescents and parents.

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