Fresh, urgent call from experts to stop hitting your child
Smacking your child as a way of discipline is quite common in Asian culture. There’s even a Chinese saying that goes “打是疼，骂是爱” . It simply means to demonstrate one’s love through harsh words or deeds for sometimes, tough love is the only way.
However, experts in child development and psychology are increasingly urging parents not to resort to corporal punishment as a form of discipline, saying it can lead to many issues down the road. This includes caning or hitting your child, and then showering them with love later.
Is Smacking Your Child an Effective Form of Punishment?
More commonly termed as corporal punishment, this involves any act of “spanking, hitting, and caning” your child. In many countries around the world – not just those in Asia – it’s common knowledge that spanking happens.
For example in the UK, section 58 of the Children Act 2004 states that it is legally allowed for parents and carers to smack their children lightly so long as it can be described as a “reasonable punishment”.
In that same country, there’s even a defense that exists for corporal punishment of toddlers — as long as it does not leave a mark.
But where does one draw the line between what’s reasonable or not? When does smacking a child cross that line into the territory of abuse?
Experts in the fields of psychology and child development have always firmly held the stance that corporal punishment of children is unnecessary and of concern. It can affect the child both mentally and physically.
Now, there are fresh and even more urgent calls to impose spanking bans.
To tackle this situation, psychologists around the world are stepping up. The Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) in the UK, for example, have presented a motion to the Trades Union Congress (TUC) of their country.
It is to urge the British government to “acknowledge that physical punishment can have negative long-term effects on a child’s development.”
Even “lesser forms of aggression and violence” can have such effects on individuals, according to Ms Emma Kristensson of Sweden’s BRIS (Children’s Rights in Society). Besides, it’s a “basic human right to grow up free from violence of any kind.”
Smacking your child impacts your child’s mental health, sending them further damaging messages about violence.
These are some negative impacts:
- Corporal punishment could breed contempt.
- Not knowing how to channel those energies (first point) could cause children to become anti-social.
- It develops poor self-esteem. (They learn to fear punishment, rather than try to understand why they should follow rules.)
- It leaves psychological marks, leading to mental illnesses such as depression, bulimia, personality disorders and intellectual disabilities
- Corporal punishment may cause childhood anxiety (could extend into adulthood).
- It sends the message that it’s ok to hit others.
Children tend to mirror your actions and this could translate to exhibiting such behaviour elsewhere, such as to their friends (see next point).
- Aggression and violence to others.
- Difficulty in learning self-control or appropriate behaviour (when they internalise that there are no rules and things can be settled from being physical).
The tendency to lash out physically in a heat of anger is extremely common but know that smacking your child is never an effective method of disciplining them, no matter the circumstances.
Your parental warmth doesn’t alleviate the situation and could “make things worse”, according to experts. In fact, it even mimics one of the key signs of an abusive adult relationship, that follows a cycle of violence and forgiveness.
With kids, this can manifest into childhood anxiety and actually gets worse when parents are very loving alongside using corporal punishment. Basically, your child doesn’t know when to expect the next caning or spanking.
Besides, being very loving one moment then aggressive in another can be very confusing for a child. To some children, it could be interpreted as being “rejected” when they are subjected to aggression.
There’s a difference between punishment and discipline.
Dads and mums, here are some techniques you can use when you feel like there’s no way out with your kids:
- Combine punishment with positive strategies to manage behaviour.
- Punishment/negative consequences work best for children over three. (Younger kids cannot see the connection between their actions and the consequences.)
- Have clear family rules to help manage expectations. (Younger kids need your help to remind them of the rules.)
- Avoid challenging behaviour by planning ahead (e.g. if you know that they tend to misbehave in the supermarket, have them sit in the trolley and give them something interesting to do).
- Manage your frustration, stress and anger (if all else fails, take a deep breath and count to 10 before you act on impulse).
- Take away their privilege to something (e.g. watching the television while having dinner, no playing with friends at the playground, etc).
- Time-out (remove them from the situation; give them time away to reflect on their actions).
If you can, don’t give them your attention for a short while.