A commentary on corporal punishment prompted me to share my experiences.
I am from a generation where it was a norm for parents and teachers to dish out corporal punishments. My siblings and I were recipients of these punishments until we reached upper primary level. Somehow we all turned out to be fine contributing citizens.
My brother is a certified public accountant and my sister a co-owner of a mechanic workshop. A few of my friends who received similar disciplinary treatments are now honchos in their respective fields.
Sometimes, we would reflect and joked upon those canings during our childhood days. We even debated at great length whether sparing the rod would spoil the child.
When should the cane be used, and for what offences committed should it be used? Can the cane be avoided when dealing with a difficult child?
Despite the difference in our views, we were all agreeable that our parents had our best interest in mind. So when I embarked on my journey as a parent, there was a deep belief in me that corporal punishment still had its merits.
Based on my conversations, I noticed there are parents who still adopt corporal punishment today. Very often, these include (but not limiting to) the following:
- Preventing the occurrence of an undesirable behaviour:
- Trying to impose conformity,
- To avoid self – endangerment,
- For breaking rules etc.
The triggers can be anything.
They can be as trivial as witnessing a child accidentally knocking a plate over the table, spilling milk on the floor, breaking a lipstick or being playful at the escalator.
Caning Yields Immediate Results
The reason is obvious because the child complies out of fear, although not necessarily all the time. Children can go back to their old self when the disciplinarians are not around, especially for those who have yet to understand the connection between their actions and consequences (due to a lack of thoughtful counselling).
It has been reported that there can be severe and lasting consequences for using physical force on the children. These studies have shown that mental illnesses in adults are somewhat linked to such punishment during childhood times.
In a groundbreaking research, Professor Straus from University of New Hampshire found that children who are spanked tend to have lower IQs.
Why I Stopped Caning My Kids
4 years ago, I gave up the cane because I couldn’t bear to see my teary-eyed children pleading before me. Spanking did not permanently correct their behavior, and that led me to re-evaluate my disciplinary strategy.
For any disciplinary method to work well, parents need to get the children’s attention first. Without the power of the cane, I found myself lacking in this area. For me, I shouted more, used a harsher and angrier tone to get my children’s attention.
It wasn’t too long after I realised that the kids took after me when they started to shout at each other during playtime. I recalled vividly on one occasion, my eldest child shouted angrily at me “Stop doing your work. Put down the phone pleaseeeeee!”
Judging from the time they spent watching TV, I tried to tell myself that they probably mimicked the aggressive behaviour from what they saw on screen. But as a responsible parent, I would rather be safe than sorry.
One night before they slept, I asked the eldest kid how she felt when I shouted at her to get things done.
She replied, “Papa, you were scary and we were afraid of you. You always told us to talk and not fight or shout. But why did you have to shout like that? We are still small and trying to learn right?”
With a weak smile I replied, “Papa is also learning too, let’s do our part by listening to each other okay. Please forgive me.”
I was totally destroyed! I didn’t keep to my promise as a parent to provide a safe and loving environment. Not only that, I had chosen an easier and lazier option of discipline.
On that night, I made up my mind to eliminate caning and shouting when it comes to disciplining the children. Gradually, I started to channel my energy to rationalise with the children on the boundaries and their behaviours during those teachable moments when they stepped across the line. E.g. jumping on the sofa or trying to run across wet floors.
It was mentally draining and time consuming. What could have taken 10 seconds (with the cane and incessant shouting) instead took up several minutes to bring across the same message.
While I am not a parenting expert, I recognise that every child is different and understand that it is the prerogative of parents/caregivers to discipline their child.
Here are discipline strategies that worked for me over time. I hope you find them useful in some ways.
Discipline Strategies To Use At Home
#1 Stay Calm
Take one deep breath or as many as required to get rid of that strong urge to pick up the cane or shout. Visualise the desired outcome before approaching the kids e.g. fighting stops and kids are playing harmoniously with one other, or kids are doing their homework.
Vocalising thoughts in a humorous way such as “Papa is going to transform into the incredible hulk and get very cranky and angry. The only way to stop him is for your kids to clean up the place in 5 minutes,” may help to let off some steam.
#2 Take Away Their Privileges For A Period Of Time
When kids misbehave, take away things that they like, such as toys, drawing canvas, play cards. Provide ample reminders and consistently follow through your words. Set a time where these privileges will be limited and provide options to earn them back.
#3 Respond Only When The Kids Are Courteous
Don’t respond to the kids until they ask politely about their needs. Politeness and being courteous needs to be learnt.
Related Read: 10 Tips To Raise A Polite Child
#4 Praise Desirable Behavior
Praise children when they exhibit desirable behaviour, such as playing nicely with siblings, clearing the plates after a meal, switching off the TV when their time is up. Highlight the desirable behaviour in your praise. e.g. “You are doing a good job following the timetable today.”
#5 Intervene When Kids Yell At Each Other
When I hear my kids shouting at each other, I would ask them this question and get them to complete the sentence, “The only thing you get from shouting is a ___?” They would promptly return the answer “sore throat” and lighten up. I would then follow up to find out what was bothering them.
#6 Instilling Family Values
This is an effective tip that I learned from Michele Borba, an educational psychologist – set family values collectively. This can include pledging to be caring, considerate and kind citizens of the family, and not using certain words, i.e. Stupid, Lazy, in the family etc. Get family members to remind each other to practice these values, and praise the behavior when someone follows the values.
Looking back, the effort pays off. My children often come to me when they need someone to talk with. Instead of fearing and avoiding me, they trust me to be their safe harbor and listener which we, parents ought to be.
Every child is unique and it is up to the adults how they would discipline their child. Eliminating physical punishment may not guarantee a better parent-child relationship but it would probably improve your odds at it.
You might be wondering, what happened to our cane?
The grandma uses it occasionally to scratch her back.
This article is contributed by Tan Chin Hock. Chin Hock is the author of the book, ‘Father (父), Mother (母)’ and a daddy of three little kids.
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