By Wendel Abel, I AM WHAT I THINK
Discipline them ... yes, but don't beat them
Eulalee Thompson's article on the corporal punishment of children, published in the June 20 edition of Health, stirred quite a bit of feedback from readers and many of them were either confused or still searching for answers. This is a follow-up article.
Let me state my position clearly. I grew up in a home where we were never beaten and where other strategies were employed to shape our behaviour and maintain discipline. As a result, I do not support corporal punishment. In far too many homes in this country what is considered to be discipline is really the wanton and cruel abuse of children. Consider these points:
1. Not because it was done to you means it is right. Many persons support the spanking and beating of children on the basis that, 'that is how my parents brought me up'. This has been, and still is, a very violent society. Slavery has left us a vicious legacy of abuse and violence. Abuse is abuse, and we must call it what it is.
2. It makes a difference how you see your child. There is no such thing as a 'bad' child. Children are innocent human beings and they learn what they live and live what they learn. Desist from using the phrase 'a bad child'. The child may be displaying inappropriate or acting out behaviour.
3. The heart of the problem is in the family. Many times when a child starts to display acting-out behaviour, the problem arises within the family. There may be family conflict, parents may have migrated, or the family may be on the brink of a break-up. Whenever the family is unhappy, the child becomes unhappy, and very often this unhappiness manifests itself in the form of acting-out behaviour or a deterioration in the child's performance in school.
4. Set clear rules and consequences. It is important that parents set clear rules and consequences. For example, if you have a child who consistently comes in late, you should state clearly what time you expect the child to return home in the evenings and the consequences for not doing so. The consequences should be implemented if the child fails to follow the rule. Parents should both agree on these rules and consequences, and they should not undermine each other's authority.
5. Communicate using 'I Message': Your child did not do his/her homework and got a low grade. Instead of attacking the child and telling the child how worthless he or she is, communicate your feeling by saying: "I am very disappointed in your performance. I had expected you to do your homework and to do better in class." This is an 'I Message'. It states how you feel about the child's behaviour and it also states what you expect.
6. Do not pile up the garbage. Some parents make a list of all the bad things the child does. During an argument or when something goes wrong, the parents just throw out the garbage all at once. Do not focus on the unpleasant things and point out all defects all at once. That is a terrible thing to do. These insults, criticisms and listing of faults can damage the child's spirit and leave emotional scars that take a long time to heal.
7. Exit and wait. Whenever there is a confrontation with you and your child, state what you have to say quietly and briefly and exit, then wait for action. Do not enter into a shouting match with your child. This often results in harsh words being said in anger, and this you may later regret.
8. Stay short and to the point. State a particular rule or consequence briefly. Do not prolong arguments with your child. The preaching and teaching can sometimes turn your child off.
9. Speak in one voice. Parents should agree on how to discipline a child. Do not undermine each other, especially in front of a child. Children will take advantage of disagreements between parents. This is especially so in situations in which the parents are not getting along or are separated.
Dr Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and head, Section of Psychiatry, Dept Of Community Health and Psychiatry, University of the West Indies, 977-1108; email: yourhealth @gleanerjm.com.