Spare the rod and spoil the child – is this a sensible justification for the use of physical punishment in disciplining a child? What is discipline really all about? To some parents, discipline is associated with corporal punishment, such as by caning, slapping or spanking. In extreme cases, it may include forcing hot sauce into a child’s mouth as punishment for swearing. Sometimes, it becomes difficult to draw the line between reasonable corporal punishment and physical abuse.
Not many parents will admit that they cane or spank their kids. But a survey conducted by an international research agency YouGov found that close to 80 percent of parents in Singapore adopted such physical means of punishment. Does caning still have a place in modern-day parenting? In some way or another, we are all shaped by different life experiences, cultures and familial backgrounds. It shouldn’t be a surprise that we each possess differing opinions and perceptions. Some of these parents themselves may have been parented under strict and harsh supervision, where they had grown accustomed to physical forms of discipline and do not view them to be problematic. However, there is an increasing need to recognise that the act of disciplining children can take on many other forms. While we do not have the right to correct your teaching methods, we hope to convince you, as well as other parents out there, that corporal punishment is not the only mean to teach a child good behaviour.
Why Corporal Punishment Isn’t The Best
We acknowledge that parenting isn’t easy. When your toddler “accidentally” smashes that one precious family heirloom, or when your underaged teenager gets caught for drinking, you might fly into a rage and rush to pick up the cane. However, corporal punishment has been proven to be ineffective and potentially harmful. It may serve its purpose of an immediate response to an undesirable behaviour and to curb it temporarily, but it will leave a long-lasting psychological mark on your child. As published in numerous research journals, physical punishment may bring about more harm than good. Let’s break it down:
- Deteriorating Relationships
Consider the message that you’re sending your child as you’re hitting him. While you may think nothing of it in a fit of anger, your child may – whether subconsciously or not – internalise that he is unworthy of love, or that he is worthless. Over time, this will also strain your relationship with your child.
- Increasing Your Child’s Susceptibility to Mental Disorders
Physical aggression often ties in with psychological aggression. At the end of it all, your child may develop a flawed belief that using violence to achieve desired results is completely acceptable. Not only does corporal punishment increase a child’s aggression, it may also lead to antisocial behaviour, as well as other mental health disorders. Long-term use of violence against a growing child can lead to the development of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, as well as intellectual disabilities. In particular, it may also cause a downward spiral of your child’s self-esteem.
- Failing to Induce the Desired Behavioural Change
Corporal punishment does not develop compliant behaviour, it simply stops undesirable behaviour temporarily. This may give parents a false sense of security, and trap them into thinking that they’ve successfully steered their children away from unwanted behaviours. However, the reality is that children may only stop immediately for the fear of being punished further. There is always a chance for such behaviours to return. Assuming your teenager picks up a bad habit but is afraid of being punished, she may instead resort to various means of hiding it from you. As you can see, the unwanted behaviour isn’t eradicated at all.
By now, you’re probably curious about how you can encourage behavioural change more effectively without physical punishment. Here, we’ll share some useful tips in regards to educating your child the right behaviour.
When your child misbehaves, you can consider withholding or removing certain privileges from him. This is certainly less harmful psychologically and physically as opposed to spanking him. For example, if your child leaves his toys lying all over the bedroom floor, you can opt to confiscate them for a day or two. Do note that this will be particularly effective if the consequence is directly linked to the unwanted behaviour. In this case, it wouldn’t be ideal to punish the child by banning TV time for a day.
Needless to say, positive reinforcement plays a huge role in disciplining your child too. If your parenting style solely includes punishments and no rewards, your child may grow up feeling resentful, unhappy and lack a sense of self-worth. Be equally generous with praises and rewards when deemed fit – balance is key! If possible, you may also tie in a reward system with a certain behaviour that you want to encourage. Let’s say you want your child to develop a habit of returning home no later than 10pm. The consequence for not sticking to the curfew may be grounding her for the next two days. However, if your child adheres to the rules and returns home by the stated curfew for the entire week, perhaps you can reward her for being responsible and consistent. This could mean giving her an additional hour out during the weekends, or bringing her out for her favourite meal.
One major issue with corporal punishment is that apart from inflicting physical and psychological harm, it does not direct your child towards the desired behaviour. Discipline should be aimed at teaching. Ensuring your child learns from the event and to correct themselves in the future is what really matters. With that said, sometimes teaching them new skills can go a long way. If your child throws temper tantrums, teach him how to calm himself down and to deal with his frustration instead of spanking him. Such problem-solving and emotion-coping strategies will certainly help your child to build emotional resilience as well.
The environment around us can influence the way we grow and behave too. If you have children or teenagers at home, lock the cabinets to the heavy liquor. If you want to foster a non-gambling home environment, keeping items such as poker cards away from sight can also be beneficial. Small changes to the surroundings can have more influence than you may think, and will also prevent the need for any serious punishment.
Above all, it is necessary to be consistent with what you say and encourage your children to do. Be consistent with the rules you put forth and stand your ground, it is important for a child to know that the consequences and rewards aren’t selectively enforced. Guiding children away from misbehaviour can be a tough feat at times, but just as you’re about to reach for the cane, we hope you’ll think twice.
- https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/education/most-parents-here-dont-spare-rod-on-kids-at-home-study (Accessed 22/02/2021)
- https://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/disciplining-children (Accessed 22/02/2021)
- https://www.healthxchange.sg/children/parenting-tips/child-discipline-physical-punishment-psychological-marks (Accessed 22/02/2021)
- https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/10/child-discipline (Accessed 22/02/2021)