Why You Shouldn't Cane Your Child
"Spare the rod, spoil the child". Just how true is this? Experts say that if you cane your child, it can cause emotional scars and may lead to long-term psychological repercussions.
Imagine this: You accidentally drop a plate in the kitchen, which shatters all over the floor.
As you begin to sweep up the broken pieces, your husband angrily storms in and upon seeing the mess, starts shouting at you for being clumsy.
He then grabs a cane and starts to repeatedly beat you with it to “teach you a lesson”.
That would be considered spousal abuse or domestic violence.
Or what if you turn up late for work one day and your boss calls you into his office, asks you to hold out your hands and then proceeds to firmly strike them with a wooden ruler, while maintaining a cold and stern face.
After which, he tells you that you have disappointed him and threatens that if you are ever late again, you can expect the same punishment to be meted.
That is enough for you to make a police report against him for voluntarily causing grievous hurt.
But what if your child misbehaves and does something that gets on your nerves – is it necessary for you to cane her?
Would that be considered a form of child abuse?
Find out why you shouldn’t cane your child and how it can actually be detrimental to her health.
Why do parents cane their children?
A survey conducted by The Sunday Times showed that 57 out of 100 parents felt that caning was an acceptable form of punishment and that they had used it on their own children.
Their reasons for caning their children include: Stubbornness, refusal to listen, and dangerous or harmful acts.
But Psychologist, Frances Yeo, from the Psychology Service of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital says that punishment is not a key part of discipline and the goal is actually to teach him how to behave so that he can mature emotionally and successfully integrate into society.
“Punishment is not disciplining. Punishment merely shows how the parent feels about the problem”, she explains.
According to some research done by Jennifer Lee, a PhD sociologist at the University of California and author of the book, The Diversity Paradox, “Highly educated, middle-class parents are less likely to use corporal punishment to discipline their children than less-educated, working-class, and poor parents.”
She found that rather than using physical force, highly educated parents were more likely to discipline with socio-emotional strategies such as to verbally express their disappointment or give a stern facial cue which signalled their disapproval of their child’s behaviour.
Experts advise against caning children
If you cane your child as a form of punishment or method of discipline, this could cause long-term psychological repercussions, warns Dr Muhamad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari, Consultant Psychiatrist from the Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre.
“Caning is not the best approach to take in the upbringing of a child. Parents should raise their children by reprimanding them when they misbehave and giving them proper advice and motivation”, he says.
He also believes that caning not only results in physical pain but will leave behind emotional scars as well, especially for children who are beaten frequently, and the ill effects will linger even right up until adulthood.
Mr Anthony Yeo, Consultant Therapist with the Counselling and Care Centre in Singapore, believes that hitting a child will just teach him that violence is an acceptable way of correcting behaviour.
He says, “I am not convinced that such treatment is long-lasting as that can instil resentment, with ingrained hurt and psychological damage.”
Ms Lynn Soh, Head and Senior Psychologist at the Psychology Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), says that as long as discipline involves hitting, slapping or smacking a child, it may increase the likelihood of negatively impacting his mental health as an adult.
“The message sent to children through corporal punishment is one of aggression. It includes repeatedly telling a child that he is worthless, useless, unloved or unwanted, and threatening to use physical or psychological violence on him.”
“This message of aggression, more than the actual physical punishment, has an important effect on a child’s psychological health later in life”, she shares.
She also adds that it’s ironic to use physical punishment to teach a child not to be aggressive, as it reduces his understanding of the rules and values being taught.
Negative effects of caning
Some adults who were caned as children might feel that it is a necessary way to teach kids a lesson about respect and they may even claim that they themselves “turned out just fine”.
But many studies have shown that there are actually a number of negative long-term effects of caning which may even remain right up until adulthood, which are:
- Increased aggressive behaviour
- Lack of self control
- Continuing the cycle of abuse (bullying others, abusing their spouse, abusing their children)
- Higher risk for delinquency and criminal behaviour
- Mood disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Alcohol and drug use/ dependence
- Personality disorders
- Anti-social behaviour
- Lesser grey matter in the brain
- Low self-esteem
- Mental health disorders
- Addictive behaviour
- Decrease in cognitive ability
So those who were caned by their parents as kids may not have grown up to be completely unaffected after all.
Non-violent methods of discipline
Parenting is tough and sometimes you’re just at your wit’s end and don’t know what to do to correct your child’s behaviour, so in desperation you might reach for that cane for a quick solution.
So before resorting to corporal punishment for your child, something which is actually considered illegal in some countries, you may want to consider these other methods of discipline:
Be kind but firm
To get your message across, you should get down to your child’s level, make eye contact, touch or hold them gently and tell them in a short, kind but firm phrase what it is you want them to do, for example, “I want you to clean up your toys now”.
Remember to remain calm, because you are the mature adult in this situation after all.
As part of a step in growing up, kids need to be given choices to help them feel like they have some power and control over what they do.
When he is throwing their toys around, instead of caning him offer two choices instead, like, “Would you like to play nicely with your toys or would you like to put them away?”.
This will help him think and make correct decisions on his own.
Be a good role model
How can you expect your child to behave well or not pick up bad habits if you do not set a very good example?
The next time junior mutters a swear word or hits the family pet, ask yourself where they might be copying this behaviour from?
Young children mostly learn from the “monkey see, monkey do” method, so it is important to teach them to right things by being a positive influence and setting good examples.
Use logical consequences
If your child accidentally breaks your favourite vase, caning him may teach him to hide his mistakes, blame it on someone else, lie about it, or simply learn not get caught at all in future.
Instead, you should tell him that his actions have consequences, for example, “You were playing ball in the house and broke my favourite vase. How will you fix it?”.
If he’s old enough, he can help you try to repair the broken vase; or he has to do a few chores to make up for what he did.
This will teach him to be responsible for his mistakes.
This works well on younger children. If your child wants to poke her finger into the electrical socket, smacking her hand or caning her won’t stop her curiousity and she might try to do it again the next time that you’re not looking.
You should explain that it is dangerous to do that and she could get hurt. Then remove her from the area and distract her with another activity such as slotting toy coin chips into a piggy bank.
This may require a bit of patience on your part, but that is a good trait that parents want their child to have after all.
Done correctly, you can use this technique to correct your child’s behaviour by reinforcing good behaviour.
There is no need to inflict pain, use intimidation, dole out punishment, humiliate your child or affect your relationship with them.
Some parents are quick to point out their children’s flaws and mistakes, but should also remember to give praises and acknowledge their good behaviour as well.
Corporal punishment is not effective
When 20 year old Mizah Azmi was beaten with a belt by her parents, she actually became more rebellious and it even caused her to leave the house.
“I got used to the pain after a while and I would just rebel after getting hit by shouting and even shoving my parents. Violence begets violence”, she says.
Fortunately, Ms Mizah and her parents have found a better way and since they started to talk things out, their relationship has actually improved.
A study conducted by Dr Daniel Fung, Chief of the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Institute of Mental Health, showed that parents who used caning as the sole disciplinary method reported the most behavioural and emotional problems in their children.
Senior Psychologist, Ms Lynn Soh from KKH also warns that in a worst-case scenario, a child who constantly receives physical punishment may even contemplate suicide.
Spare the rod, spoil the child?
This saying may have been misinterpreted by some adults to justify their belief that children should be physically punished or else they will become spoiled brats.
But if you really think about it, back then rods (or staffs and sticks) were mainly used by shepherds to guide their wandering sheep, not to beat or hit them with it.
These rods, staffs or sticks were also used to fend off any wild animals from attacking their precious livestock and protect them from danger – not used against them and to beat them into submission.
For children to grow up well, with good values and character, parents should gently guide their little ones onto the correct path, patiently teach them right from wrong and protect them from harm.
Kids will still need guidance and appropriate discipline from their parents and teachers, but it can be done with patience and respect, through a non-violent approach without even using a single stroke of the cane.
Do you agree that corporal punishment for children is unnecessary? Or do you believe that caning is an effective method of discipline? Share your views in the comments section below.