Using Punishment to Discipline: Does it Work?

Written by Sujata Dewaji on Thursday, 09 July 2015. Posted in Communication

 This blog has been written by Sujata Vasant Dewaji, a facilitator at Parenting Matters.Publised on

I hear this from a few parents.

“I have to hit, for her to comply, else she just does not listen. There is so much to do in the day, her studies, homework, other activities… and if she does not complete on time, she will be left behind!”

“He is so stubborn. How do I teach good behaviour? This is the time to mould him to behave well”.

Did it work for me?

I remember. I was in my teens. Very vividly I remember the one slap I got in my life. I had ‘misbehaved’ with an aunt. I had said, ‘I do not like her and I do not want to go with her’.

I felt the anger emanating from the other side, the hard contact of the hand on my cheek, the smarting, stinging pain that seared my head, the reeling back and my sobs. Anger building within me as a reaction. I was made to apologise. I did it with resentment. I was furious with everyone in the room, those directly and indirectly responsible for this situation!

An adult and a parent now, on hindsight, I realise I was rude. It was not the right way to speak to an elder. But I don’t think I learnt to behave well after I was corrected in that manner. Was I remorseful of my misbehaviour? Not one bit. I was too angry to think of what I had done. Where was the space to ponder over my mistake, to realise it and to accept it? The space was filled being too sorry for myself and too angry with the person who slapped me. It made me feel so insignificant.

To spank or not to spank?

While discussing this question in the parenting group, one said, “I do not think my parents did anything wrong, I have grown up to be fine, actually it has done me good.”  I say, ”Fine, I am not arguing with that, but tell me did you feel good about it then?  Did you at that time think, ‘yes, I did wrong and I need to be corrected this way?”. Another parent said, “I wish I was not, the scars of pain are still here, it has left me feeling unworthy”, pointing to her heart.

Want to ask a pertinent question – As the child grows older what will stop him from hitting back at the parent? You know, he could, as he is becoming stronger. The fear of the adult represses his emotions and he is left feeling angry and resentful.

So how does he expel this rage within him? He could bully his siblings or friends or classmates around him who are weaker than him or continue to be bullied in his environment, an extension of what is happening at home. One reads stories in the newspaper on how children are not able to handle anger and tragedy strikes.

I shudder to think what might happen when he has a partner in his adult life or when he becomes a parent himself! One never knows which way the wind will blow.

To summarise:

  • Hitting teaches the child that it is ok to hit others.
  • Hitting affects the child’s self-esteem.
  • Hitting creates fear in the child.
  • Hitting does not improve behaviour.
  • Even occasional hitting can negate all the love we give the child.
  • Research has shown that spanking has long-term bad effects on the child.

Ruth Beaglehole, an eminent parent educator and founder of the Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting, Los Angeles USA, says ‘When an adult strikes another, it’s assault. When a woman is threatened or hit by someone she lives with, it’s called domestic violence. When someone deliberately hurts an animal it’s called cruelty to animals. All these are considered criminal acts. If you strike a child, it’s called spanking. But in our society it is not a crime for parents or caregivers to strike a child, as long as they don’t leave a mark. It is not a crime to undermine a child’s emotional life, although the consequences are terrible and many, not only for the child as she becomes an adult, but for the community and society as a whole. After all, both our communities and the society at large are made up of human beings coexisting together.’

 Connecting while building discipline?

We all want to be connected with our child no matter what. But can we use punishment to correct and also bond with the child?! It seems unlikely. How about correcting in a way where the dignity of the child is maintained? Can we have a dialogue, express feelings with each other and figure a way to solve the problem with mutual consent? Can we see the child as an individual on the threshold of adulthood with an identity of her own and different from ours?

Ruth Beaglehole defines nonviolent parenting as a term that honours the connection with a child, respecting her core dignity as a full and complete person and understanding what she feels and needs

About the Author

Sujata Dewaji

Sujata Dewaji is a facilitator at Parenting Matters. As a trained facilitator, she enjoys interacting with parenting groups at schools and has had her articles published in the ‘Parent Circle’ magazine. She believes that a nurturing environment for the child enriches the family and the society at large.

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