Spare the rod and spoil the child. Such an age old saying, and generations of children have been brought up in this way for the fear they might otherwise turn out spoilt. We parents often resort to punishments as we want our children to develop a sense of discipline. The ‘rod’ symbolizes punishment of various kinds – scolding, shaming, threatening, not talking to the child, taking away privileges, timeouts and hitting.
So we scold and shame “Look what you have done! Why are you so messy?”
Threaten - “Stop crying at once, else I’m calling the policeman to take you away.”
Give the silent treatment by ignoring the child when we get angry.
Take away privileges - “You have not taken a bath, no TV for you.”
Give a timeout - “Go and stay in that corner till you say sorry for your misbehavior.”
Our intention is to inculcate discipline in our children. We wish for them to be well behaved, work hard, and cooperate with us. We hope our children to grow and become responsible capable adults. Using punishments to discipline, works but only for a short while. In the long run, it is ineffective in building discipline and also weakens the parent child bond.
In our parenting workshops we discuss such matters. Parents have shared, “If she does not complete her work, she will be left behind! I end up hitting otherwise she just does not listen. ”
“He is so stubborn. This is the time to mould him to behave well. How else do I teach good behaviour?”
Some relate, “I was punished as a child and I have grown up to be fine. So why is it not a good tool to discipline?”
To find answers to these questions, we can turn to current research in neuroscience and brain scans which provide information on the effects of punishment on the growing child. In her book ‘The Science of Parenting’, Margot Sutherland, child psychologist states that if a child is repeatedly on the receiving end of criticism; threats, timeouts, hitting, it pushes the child’s brain into alarm mode – the fight, flight or freeze responses. He becomes angry, and rebellious, or submissive and scared. Having these feelings is stressful. Shouting, kicking and hitting back is a common way of a child discharging his feelings. Withdrawing into a shell and becoming subdued is another form of reaction.
In both cases, children do not get the message of good behaviour. They are reacting, not understanding.
When the child’s brain is in a continuous state of alarm, she learns that about relationships that are based on power and control and little about relationships based on warmth, kindness and cooperation. The growing brain is unable to develop in essential skills of learning, reasoning, empathy and problem-solving.
Armed with this very powerful information what can parents do?
We can first move from anger to calm.
We listen and engage with the child in a conversation –
“How can we clean this up? Let’s get the mop.”
“I think we need to discuss and find a solution about when you would like to sit down for homework every day.”
“You seem very upset that you could not go out to play.”
“In our family, we use words to express our feelings, and not by hitting.”
As our communication moves away from violence and towards connection, we will notice our children having a sense of safety, and hence feeling a sense of calm and well-being. They are then in a position to do right because they understand its value and not for the fear of punishment. By sparing the rod we are raising children who are open to listening and cooperating with us, as we nurture them into compassionate adults.
Author: Sujata Dewaji is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.