RECENTLY, pictures of students being made to sit under the sun for going to school late went viral. Parents disapproved of the school’s method of discipline. However, some argue that this form of punishment has been going on for decades, and it’s perfectly acceptable and effective.
“I experienced it as a kid and it was quite fun, as the whole class was sent out under the sun under the watchful eyes of the whole school,” says Integrated Psychology Network consultant psychologist Valerie Jaques.
“However, parents and educators need to focus on behavioural interventions that encourage the positive and holistic growth of a child. When punishment is meted out to a child or a group of children, the parent or educator needs to think of the possible outcomes that they would like to see happening as a result of the intervention.
“Reinforcement is a term that’s important to keep in mind. Any punishment or lack of it reinforces certain attitudes and behaviours. For example, the good cop/bad cop routine only confuses the child. Remember that parenting is about two people with one response. This is a challenge if a parent wants to have his way and is opposed to his spouse.”
She says children learn to manipulate parents in this situation. But does this make the child bad and does this mean he needs more punishment?
“No. The child is learning to cope in his environment. Similarly, when the child goes to school, the parents need to work with the teachers and the school in teaching their children values. Imagine if parents are already in disagreement with each other and then they unite to disagree with the teacher. Then the only one who suffers is the child. This type of psychological pain is more punishing than making children stand out in the sun because they broke a rule,” she adds.
Jacques says the important thing to remember is that children are born happy, creative and curious about learning, but if adults respond in an inconsistent and confusing manner then children start to lose focus and interest.
“So it’s not about the type of punishment that is meted out, but rather parents and teachers presenting a united front.”
So are “soft parenting” methods such as talking matters out or withholding toys and game time more effective?
“While talking is an adult medium of communication, children respond to the five senses — see, hear, smell, taste and touch. So, if they see something horrible they’ll stay away from it. Even though children today seem very exposed and talk like adults, the reality is they are still children and often do not understand a lot of what we adults assume they understand.”
She stresses the need for tough love. It means allowing the child to feel some pain when he falls and watch him get up or help him get up with encouraging words.
“Tough love means being firm with children and giving them good structure and discipline at home. There’s room for flexibility and adjustment based on the child’s capabilities and needs, but otherwise it means engaging, communicating and playing with one’s child.”
Old school methods which involve caning, public shaming and piling on homework where there’s no room to go out and enjoy extra-curricular activities is not only bad for today’s generation, it was bad for yesterday’s generation as well, says Jacques.
“There’s no one particularly effective parenting style. Every child is unique. When parents and grandparents get overenthusiastic with the development of the child, it gives the child an inflated ego and he become fearful of letting the adults down. So, highlighting their shortcomings or correcting them becomes very uncomfortable when they are older. So, if we want children to have a balanced ego, we must respond with balance. So, even rewards can be structured and not blown out of proportion.”
She says overprotective parents prevent their children from fully expressing their abilities physically, emotionally, socially, cognitively and it often results in children not knowing how to follow their own instincts or fearing failure and this affects their self-esteem, confidence and self -image.
“When they breakdown it may come in the form of eating disorders, calling themselves fat and wanting to starve, saying they are ugly, not tall enough, inferior to others, allowing others to treat them without respect sexually. These promote social problems such as teenage pregnancies, drugs and gangsterism.”
Parent Action Group for Education Malaysia (PAGE) president Datin Noor Azimah Abdul Rahim has similar views.
“We believe children can be reasoned with from a young age, and if reasoned with sincerity and love, children who have pure minds will understand and appreciate why certain things have to be done in a certain way.
“It’s tough being a parent but it’s even tougher being a child in this day and age, with so many distractions. Children only want attention and such attention does not mean buying expensive toys or branded clothes. Parents should look at sharing activities which they enjoy. It creates value in the relationship.”
When parents adopt a particular parenting style, they may find that some tweaking is required to suit each child’s character and personality, Azimah say overprotective parents should take a step back and provide guidance to the child.
United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) senior child protection specialist Phenny Kakama says children are full-fledged persons who have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them.
“Respecting their views means that such views should not be ignored; it does not mean that children’s opinions should be automatically endorsed. Expressing an opinion is not the same as taking a decision, but it implies the ability to influence decisions.
“A process of dialogue and exchange needs to be encouraged, in which children assume increasing responsibilities and become active, tolerant and democratic. In such a process, adults must provide direction and guidance to children while considering their views in a manner consistent with the child’s age and maturity.”
Kakama points out that research has consistently shown that corporal punishment rarely motivates children to act differently, because it doesn’t bring an understanding of what they ought to be doing nor does it offer any kind of reward for being good.
“The fact that parents, teachers and others often have to repeat corporal punishment for the same misbehaviour testifies to its ineffectiveness. In countries where corporal punishment has been eliminated, there’s no evidence to show that disruption of schools or homes by unruly children has increased.
“Not only does corporal punishment impact a child but violence against children has long-term effects on society and country for generations to come. It increases the use of violence in a society that should be moving away from all forms of violence. It also undermines a country’s social and economic development through an increased burden on health care systems, higher levels of violence and criminality, disability and even death.”
He believes that spanking is a poor substitute for positive forms of discipline which, far from spoiling children, ensure that they learn to think about others and about the consequences of their actions.
“However, positive discipline doesn’t mean total freedom for children as well as the absence of rules, limits, standards and expectations. Positive discipline focuses on a long-term positive relationship between adult and child, emphasising mutual respect, guidance and self-discipline.”
He says children must be empowered from an early age to participate in matters affecting them. They must be prepared to make decisions and to grow into powerful and competent participants in society. The process of nurturing young children to achieve this begins in the earliest stages of life and heavily depends on the environment in which a child is raised.
“Optimal conditions at home, responsive and adequate feeding, interactions with parents and caregivers and non-violent disciplining practices, all greatly affect a child’s well-being. Responsible parenting includes the provision of a safe physical environment, close monitoring of children’s activities, supervision of their behaviour, fostering their socio-emotional and cognitive competencies and providing directions and guidance in daily life,” Kakama stresses.