Corporal punishment: should you spare the rod and spoil the child?
The saying ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ is popular all over Nigeria. Parents believe in corporal punishmentas a form of discipline. Schools and religious organisations are not left out of using the threat of pain to get children to follow rules. In Nigeria, there are many news stories of children being flogged to death by their parents and teachers.
Is flogging a child or dishing out pain the best form of discipline? And if not, what is the best way to correct a child? Before we answer these questions, you should first of all know what corporal punishmentis.
What is corporal punishment?
Lots of Nigerians have experienced corporal punishment. Parents have been known to routinely flog children who have erred. This is to make sure the child never repeats whatever had needed correcting. In schools, children in primary and secondary schools get caned for going to school late, not turning in their homework, being disrespectful to teachers, and a host of other offenses.
Corporal punishment has been normalized to the point that parents who don’t believe in inflicting physical pain on children are seen by some as spoiling their kids.
The Council of Europe defines corporal punishmentas any punishment through which physical force is used with the intention of causing pain or discomfort. The term has Latin roots, as the word corporal derives from the Latin word corpus—meaning body. The use of physical punishment to correct behavior isn’t new. In fact, this practice is as old as time.
Some forms of corporal punishment
Most times, physically punishing a child doesn’t begin and end with spanking them on strategic parts of their body. According to the Centre for Parenting Education, most children have to endure:
Being forced to swallow harmful substances
In Nigeria, other severe forms of punishment include:
Being forced to contort their bodies into painful positions and maintain it (eg. Pick pin, etc.)
Having harmful substances rubbed on their bodies (ground pepper in the eyes and genitals)
Intensive exercises and drills
Why do some parents beat their children?
Young people who were hit by adults grow up and become parents who also hit their children. Given that these parents, who also experienced corporal punishment, readily use this form of discipline, why do they repeat the cycle when they know just how harmful it is?
The excuse some of these parents and people in positions of authority give is that:
• They believe hitting children will make them grow and become well-behaved members of society
• The fear of being punished will deter children from acting out or behaving badly
• Children who aren’t flogged will grow wild because they are learning that their actions have no consequences
• Culturally, corporal punishmentis an acceptable form of discipline
• They themselves were flogged and they turned out fine
Child abuse or discipline?
Recently, there’s been a lot of debate about the short-term and long-term effects of corporal punishment. People are speaking out against violence against children. Sweden was the first country to ban corporal punishmentin 1979, and 53 countries have also effected the ban since then.
Experts have identified the negative effects of corporal punishmentto include:
1. Children will learn that it is okay for people who love them to also hurt them
2. By hitting a child, you are teaching the child that they are allowed to be violent towards people who are smaller or more vulnerable
3. Children will grow to resent parents who hit them
4. Hitting a child is a surefire way of turning them into aggressive bullies who see nothing wrong with picking on others
5. It breeds fear, which can make a child distant from parents to the point that they can’t confide in their loved ones
6. The child will believe that violence is the only way to resolve differences
7. It humiliates the child
8. Corporal punishment can allow sexual abuse to breed undetected since the child will be afraid of reporting offenders to their parents because of the fear of punishment
9. It could cause self-esteem issues
Constructive discipline: how to correct a child without hitting
Convincing people to forego the age-long practice of beating children will require teaching them alternative ways of discipline. Correction doesn’t have to hurt!
• Teach your children to talk about how they feel
You will have to get your child to verbally express how they feel when they are upset rather than just acting out their feelings. This way, they are less likely to do something that might make you hit them.
• Let the situation pass
You can postpone dealing with a difficult situation until everyone’s head is cooler. Acting in the heat of the moment might cause you to do something you will regret
• Their actions can have other consequences apart from physical pain
Parents and people in positions of authority can take away certain privileges when a child errs. You can also take away toys.
• Reward them for good behaviour
As much as you would discipline them when they don’t behave well, you should also learn to reward them (with praise or gifts) when they are on their best behaviour. This is a great way to teach them what is acceptable and what isn’t.
• Work on your anger
Most parents resort to corporal punishmentin the heat of anger. Counting from one to 10 and physically removing yourself from the situation until you are calm enough to deal with it helps you control the impulse to hit.
• Teach your kids what is right and what is wrong
When it comes to parenting, communication is key. Let your children know what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.