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Positive parenting in a ‘Spare the rod’ society (Part 1)

Positive parenting in a ‘Spare the rod’ society (Part 1)

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We often replicate patterns of behaviour that we learned as children, especially from our immediate family members. It is during childhood that certain behaviours are learned and certain practices normalized. This is especially so when it comes to discipline. Whenever discussions about disciplining children crop up in our society, lines are usually drawn quickly, and folks usually fall into one of two categories: “spare the rod” and “positive parenting.”

The people who fall into the first category are the ones who are quick to quote Proverbs 13:24 as justification for spanking/beating their children. They argue that there is a difference between discipline and abuse, and believe that corporal punishment is a dependable way of instilling good behaviour in children. Many proponents say that it was administered to them and that they turned out fine; that they are grateful for having been whooped as children, because it kept them on the straight and narrow. In fact, we often laughingly recollect the times when parents would grab whatever they could: peas bush, slippers, hangers, belts, etc, to beat us whenever we did something ‘wrong.’ In short, we live in a society where inflicting bodily harm on children is normalized and we dismiss alternative methods as not being effective.

The idea of corporal punishment is so imbedded in our society that we make allowances for it in the education system. In the primary schools, for instance, senior teachers and principals can beat children who misbehave, or for whatever reason. This is something that I have experienced myself, so much so that even at my age, memories of the various teachers I have had at the primary level are often mixed with the times they would have beaten me and others, and the blue and purple welts their straps left on our backs.

Why do we think that it is okay for adults to inflict pain on children? Rebecca Eanes, founder of positive-parents.org and best-selling author of several books on positive parenting, suggests that our methods of discipline are influenced by a fear mindset; i.e. we believe we have to control our children’s behaviour, that we are dominant and our children are subordinate to us, and that we want to teach our children through punishment or consequences not to repeat bad behaviour. Additionally, in Caribbean societies, we fear that our children’s behaviour would be a reflection on us, so to stave off any potential embarrassment we beat our children into good behaviour. Author Stacey Patton links corporal punishment to slavery, colonialism and religious indoctrination, suggesting that “African slaves who endured the trauma of their own beatings, inherited their oppressors’ violence and for centuries, passed down these parenting beliefs.” Granted Patton is speaking from within an African American context, but her observations should cause us in the Caribbean to wonder if our ideas of corporal punishment emerged from the brutal institution of slavery.

I am not aware of any local study that has examined the long-term effects of corporal punishment. However, there are studies that suggest that many adults bury their childhood traumas, forgetting what it was to be a child in the moment they were first struck by someone who was supposed to protect them. We are satisfied with the idea that beating might keep a child in check, or that it might lead to one less occupant in the cells of Her Majesty’s Prisons. Parenting should be more than this. Beating children teaches children to fear their parents and adults. It also teaches children that it is okay for adults to inflict bodily harm on them in the name of discipline. A child’s developing mind does not understand consequences in the way that an adult’s mind could, so inflicting physical pain might be doing more damage to the psyche of the child than anything else.

It is for this reason that I sought other tools for parenting, in particular positive parenting/discipline, which I will highlight in next week’s column.

Sources:

Eanes, Rebecca. “Changing your Mindset.” positive-parents.org/2011/06/changing-your-mindset. Accessed 11 Mar. 2018

Patton, Stacey. “Stop Beating Black Children.” nytimes.com/2017/03/10/opinion/sunday/stop-beating-black-children. Accessed 11 Mar. 2018

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