Friday 18 June 2021
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Tough love: Grooming or breaking children?

Strict father punishes his son. Isolated on white background

They say there are two ways to skin a cat. This statement rings especially true  when the discussion on discipline  emerges. To spank or not to spank that is the question. Some parents deem spanking as an important, effective, and useful tool in teaching kids how to behave, while many believe that physical punishment has lasting demerits and labels corporal punishment as ineffective and potentially harmful.

Ndilimeke Nambinga, a psychologist says that one major reason why a parent spanks their child (ren) is to discipline the child. “One thing we need to also understand is English terminologies of words, spanking is not hitting or slapping a child there is a difference, I therefore prefer to use the term spanking than hitting. Furthermore, it is important to distinguish the difference between punishment and discipline,” she says.

Ndilimeke clarifies that punishment is mostly done to inflict penalty for an offense whereas discipline is to train the child for correction and maturity. The main reason for punishment is because of past misdeeds whereas discipline is enabling the child to have future correct acts. When a parent is punishing a child, he/she is usually acting out of frustration and discipline is usually done out of love and concern. She further deems it very important to note that when a child is punished the most likely emotion that will be evoked in him/her is guilt and fear whereas discipline although not always is most favoured in children as it brings security.

“Disciplining a child physically or spanking a child only comes after words have not done the job. Physical spanking is a means of correction and only appropriate in cases of clear disobedience and then only at certain ages between ages 0-5,” she says.

Disciplining without a spank
Ndilimeke affirms that it is possible for parents to discipline their children without hitting them, however she says that there are key things that need to be considered such as when and when not to spank. Parents have to consider the magnitude of the offense and whether it was done out of intentional disobedience or a mistake considering if there were clear warnings established on the very same offense before or it is was a simple mistake.

She also says that the age of the child matters because as soon as the child is more mature or in their adolescent age, spanking may no longer be appropriate. “Also consider where the discipline is taking place. Although the aim is to discipline the child, remember you are not trying to embarrass the child. Furthermore you should speak to your child after the discipline about their actions and why you took such a step. Allow them to apologise and accept their apology as well as responsibility for their actions,” advises Ndilimeke.

Keeping within boundaries when using action as a form of discipline
Ndilimeke says that parents have to set clear warnings. Your first interaction with your child about a situation should be verbal. A child should never be blindsided by the discipline you hand down to him/her. It should always be preceded by a clear warning, both for their sake and for yours. You want to know whether your child deliberately crossed a line or made an honest mistake. A clear warning will help her steer clear of danger and will help you know you’re correcting intentional disobedience. That’s why it would be appropriate to issue a warning to Johnny the first time you see him walking out of the neighbor boy’s house.

She says that parents should also establish responsibility. It’s important for the child to own up to their misbehaviour. Many parents make the mistake of asking, “Why did you do that?” That’s not a good question; “why” doesn’t help him admit his responsibility in the situation. Besides being a theological no-brainer your child naturally has the predisposition to disobedience, that question gives him room to inject shades of gray into his understanding and explanations. He’ll begin to rationalize, and you’ll lose sight of the real issue.

“Never embarrass your children in front of their friends, siblings, or even strangers. Don’t pull them out of a booth at a restaurant, don’t yell where everyone around can hear you, or do anything else that will make your children feel as if all eyes are on them. All that accomplishes is shame. Instead, go to a private place. At home, that can be the bedroom. In public, it can be a trip to the restroom for a young child or a firm statement that “we need to talk later” to an older child. However when you do it, don’t damage your kids’ esteem among their peers or even among strangers. Embarrassment can do a lot of damage that you’ll have a hard time undoing later on.

Also, it is important to communicate your grief rather than your anger. As a parent, one tends to be disappointed and heartbroken when they disobey you. Early on in their lives, let them know you trust them. And when that trust has been violated, they need to know that the relationship is wounded. I have had personal experiences many times where I’ve had tears roll down my face when my daughter’s actions hurt me and betrayed our relationship. I also realised that when she saw my grief, she better understood how her disobedience affected me.

Also show sincere remorse.

When my daughter was much younger, I’d let her sit somewhere near me in my full view after a spanking and I would allow her to cry for a while. That was a great time to model for her the love behind the discipline. Then after a few minutes, I’d ask, her if she was ready to talk about everything with myself.  When I received a nod and could tell remorse and genuine sorrow had occurred, I would revisit the issue and ask her, “What she did wrong?” I wanted to help her clearly relate the discipline to the behaviour, not to herself as a person.

For my part, some of the most intimate, touching moments I have ever had with my daughter were right after exercising discipline. So after disciplining your child, let me encourage you to take him in your arms and maybe pray for her and instill encouragement and love once more in her/ him. I would most strongly advise parents to pray for their children in their presence with loving and affirming words. Also show that you have forgiven your child whole heartedly and have accepted their apology.

However, many people have bought into a bad, stereotypical model of spanking, where out-of-control parents beat children instead of disciplining them. Not surprisingly, they have rejected it entirely, assuming that since they don’t know how to do it right, it shouldn’t be done at all. “Extreme spanking” has dominated the discussion at the expense of more moderate practices of physical discipline. As a result, a huge segment of the population believes spanking is barbaric, basing that opinion on the abuses rather than the biblical model that I have taken up as a form of disciplining my daughter. But many parents who believe this are having enormous problems at home constant conflict, high tension, complete loss of control, and no tools to deal with any of it,” says Ndilimeke.

Inspector Simaho Christiana of the Women and Child abuse centre notes that traditional norms mostly play a role in child abuse saying that in the past people believed that a child should be beaten to behave. “It’s the mindset of our people; some people grew up being beaten as a way of being taught manners and they feel their children must also be brought up that way. However what most parents don’t realise is that beating a child is a crime,” says Christiana.

Ndilimeke says that if parents become consistent with the actions of discipline for a few weeks, they’ll find that their children have clear boundaries, and they’re likely to have a clearer conscience and changed behaviour. “You’ll probably sense much less destructive stress in your home environment as well. Your children will feel a lot more loved, and they’ll have the privilege and blessing of being in a home that’s at peace. Remember the point of a spanking: It’s to sting, to provide a painful deterrent to misbehaviour, not to injure,” she reminds.

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