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Corporal punishment: What it means for children, society

By Geraldine Akutu
08 April 2018   |   4:14 am
In the olden days, administering corporal punishment as a way of disciplining children was a vital part of parenting. However, this idea has become quite controversial in recent years, as there are now divergent views as to the best method of raising children.

In the olden days, administering corporal punishment as a way of disciplining children was a vital part of parenting. However, this idea has become quite controversial in recent years, as there are now divergent views as to the best method of raising children.

While some see corporal punishment as appropriate, others see it as an abuse and a violation of children’s rights. Some experts share their views on the issue with The Guardian. Mrs. Tiwalade Soriyan, a Counseling psychologist, explained that a good number of parents choose corporal punishment for various reasons, which include habit, anger, ignorance of other effective forms of discipline and tradition, among others.

She said: “While a good number of parents will argue with this point, many indulge in corporal punishment as a reaction to a stress or, rather than as a response of discipline. What this implies is that, many parents are actually acting out their anger with the distress caused by the child’s misbehaviour, rather than taking a step to correct such actions. Hitting with the hand or an object is very common and has become a spontaneous reaction with many. They don’t even think about it and many feel justified with such reactions. The reason for this is because they get an outlet to vent out their frustrations, but it really has no impact on correction of the cause of misbehaviour. While children may fear the repercussions, they don’t get to learn why and how not to repeat their faults.”

She said corporal punishment becomes an abuse for the same reason she cited above and that is the motive, which is often not to correct wrong behaviour but rather to express anger.

“For instance, this misdirected anger is what can make a spank turn into a slap that can cause irreparable damage/injuries to a child. In this way, many parents abuse their children ignorantly. The only way it can be avoided is for parents to be aware of the real difference between the two motives. It is really not easy, when it has become a habit and so, parents must train themselves to identify and control their emotions. Investing in parents’ seminars and courses will help.

“The dangers of mismanaged corporal discipline cannot be overemphasised. Many parents, today, are in deep regret over such actions that cannot be rewound. Children have suffered from loss of hearing to broken limbs. Some are totally incapacitated.

“The point is that when people are enraged, they often lose their sense of reasoning and they get into a ‘defensive mode,’ which is to deal with the source of stress. Because many are used to hitting, they resort to the nearest object at their disposal to express their frustration, which they term punishment. Of course, there is also the psychological effect of these actions. Often times, uncontrolled anger is expressed physically and verbally at the same time. You find parents using expletives when enraged. The whole episode dents the child’s esteem rather than build it up. As a matter of fact, punishment that really has no restorative element included can be seen as an act of disdain.”

Soriyan suggested that effective discipline must show the disadvantage of misbehaviour and the advantage of appropriate ones. That means while the child is made to experience displeasure associated with the former, he must also be shown the pleasure or benefits of the later.

“In all effective discipline, it is critical that the child knows that he is loved and discipline is about effecting boundaries for his safety and good. Time out, over-satiation, grandma’s principle and community service, among others, are examples of discipline forms that are progressive. However, the child’s personality and interest must be taken into consideration, because what a child doesn’t find as displeasure will not deter him from behaviour to be discouraged,” she explained.

Professional counsellor and administrator at University of Lagos, Mrs. Aderonke Asiwaju, said corporal punishment is a way of ensuring that children are well behaved, but it has been abused often times both by parents and the school.She said: “Corporal punishment is used as a corrective measure and also serves as a deterrent for other children. When a child does a wrong thing and he or she is beaten, others remember it and avoid trouble. It is a consequence of wrongdoing, but sometimes, I see it as parents taking out their frustration on children. That is the only means of disciplining a child known to many.

“I am not saying we should not use corporal punishment, but we should use it sparingly and correct children in love; so, that they don’t see it as a form of hatred or that the parents don’t love them. When a child misbehaves and parents are angry, that is not the time to use corporal punishment. You must calm down and tell the child what he or she has done wrong and why that child must be punished. By so doing, the child will understand you don’t hate him or her but mean well. It becomes an abuse, when it is frequently used or used out of proportion. It shouldn’t be all the time that we bring out cane and flog children, when they misbehave. As children mature, we should talk to them more, rather than treat them like animals. Also, the child should be punished according to the offence committed.”

Should corporal punishment be prohibited in schools then?
Asiwaju said corporal punishment should not be prohibited in schools. Rather, it should be controlled. “If it is everything we do wrong that God punishes, nobody will be on planet earth,” she said. “Parents and even teachers must be fair in their judgment and adopt other effective forms of disciplining children, such as communication. Let them know the right from wrong. A lot of times, children are hardened and become maladjusted, when they are frequently flogged. We shouldn’t talk condescendingly to our children. Parents are quick to punish children, when they misbehave and are silent when a child does positive thing, as if they were waiting for that child to misbehave. We should also appreciate their good moments, positive behaviour and motivate them. Parents should also send their children for counseling because it helps.”

On his part, Dr. Olayinka Atilola, a Child and adolescent psychiatrist at Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH), said corporal punishment could have a mentally damaging effect on the child.

He said: “There is a researched evidence that corporal punishment is associated with various forms of mental health problems in children, but I must quickly add that there are certain factors that need to be considered. For instance, there is nothing wrong with a bit of spanking just to emphasise to the child you are not approving of what he is doing. But when we say corporal punishment causes harm to children, this is at a certain level.

“The point to draw a line is when a parent leaves a mark on the body of a child, bruises or injuries that require hospital attention. Then, it is no longer correction but has entered the realm of physical abuse. It is a continuum between what is called a healthy correction and a physical abuse. It is so broad that if you are not careful, you will not know that you have descended into child abuse. And that is why it is not generally encouraged because it can easily metamorphose into abuse without you recognising it. I’ve seen disheartening videos of teachers flogging children like goats. It doesn’t make sense and I don’t think that is the way to bring out the best in a child.

“Managing a school is a bit of a complex activity. I think it should be well regulated, such that there is a definition as to what you can use to correct a child like a little spank on the palm, telling the child to go and kneel down at a corner, keeping a child beyond school hours, making the child to do home work, environmental cleaning and any other exercise that will make a child know that he/she has done something wrong, instead of resorting to flogging.

Sometimes, it might not be the cane, but the humiliation like lying on the floor with two people holding the child’s hands and legs while being flogged. I don’t think that is good from mental health perspective. It does affect the child’s behaviour. One of the ways delinquent behaviour (conduct disorder) starts in children is from recurrent physical abuse. After that, they have emotional deregulation in which they become angry, irritable and show behavioural challenges.”

On the way forward, Atilola suggested that parents can correct a child by withdrawing such privileges as TV, Ipad or other things he or she likes, but children should not be deprived of food.

“All these are effective tools that parents don’t pay attention to. When children do something impressive, it is good to reward them, so that they can associate reward with good behaviour. My advice to teachers is to have more patience in dealing with children and correct them without being too hard. When a child is recurrent, there should be provisions to the family, school counselor and sometimes mental health practitioner outside the school. I do get referrals from schools on one child or the other about recurrent behavioural challenges. A school should have a robust mental health programme within which some of the more disturbing behaviours can be addressed, rather than the easy and shortcut approach of going to get the cane and flogging children like animals.”

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