One of the biggest rules in parenting, a cardinal rule that must be taken into account at all times is: there is a distinct line between discipline and punishment. On the one hand, there is the behavioural modification approach that allows parents and caregivers to teach children about right and wrong, and how to abide to the rules. It revises negative behaviour and rewards the positive. It is concerned with correcting unacceptable behaviour, which teaches children that there are rules to abide by to function in society. On the other hand, however, there are punitive and humiliating forms of punishment that people inflict onto their children. Consequently, it can do untold damage to the child.
Types of punishment include:
Corporal punishment – a physical action that hurts a child in any way in the name of punishment. This includes slapping, pinching, pushing, deprivation of food, forcing of hot foods, excessive salt, cooking materials, cleaning materials, and or binding children or forcing them to sit or stand for long periods.
Emotional punishment – this is an action that is done to deliberately cause distress to the child. Examples of this include a teacher calling on the class to ridicule a student, making threats, humiliating someone, shutting a child in a dark cupboard and refusal to communicate with a child for an extended period.
Intellectual punishment – this is a difficult form to characterise but mostly consists of an adult forcing a child to agree with a statement they do not accept as true, or forcing a child to do things they are not ready to or capable of doing.
None of these forms of punishment are considered acceptable. Studies and research have shown that children can be damaged physically such as damage to the brain during being shaken or by repeated blows. It opens the door to physical abuse because a child may come to expect such actions. It also damages development, both socially and cognitively.
Childline South Africa offers various alternatives to physical, emotional or intellectual punishment, each of which has been researched and shown to promote healthy moral development of children.
- Reward positive behaviour.
- Lead by example and practice what you preach.
- Be realistic about what is thought to be bad behaviour and what is considered normal development.
- Avoid threatening or shouting. Children are wily, and they understand more than we give them credit for. They will learn you don’t mean the threats.
- Use ‘good’ words to describe children so that they have a clear distinction when you are explaining bad actions.
- Negotiate a compromise.
- Children learn by doing.
- Set boundaries and encourage children to respect them.
Remember that there is a need for rules and limits, and it doesn’t make you a bad parent to teach your child those rules. Be firm, but be responsible to your child as well. If you hit him or her for doing something wrong, what’s to stop them from hitting others? They learn from us; it is our job to teach the right lessons.
Sources: Childline SA