The impact of violent discipline methods on children is contingent on the culture or community they belong to.
Parents yelling at and punishing their children in order to discipline them isn’t exactly a rare sight in our country. Parents, more often than not, tend to get impatient and exhausted with their children’s unruly behaviour. In such cases, their best resort to teach their children a lesson is either by scolding or spanking them.
According to a survey conducted by Bornsmart, a parenting organisation, in 2015, around 80 per cent of parents admitted to spanking their children. Worldwide, close to 300 million children aged two to four (three out of four) experience violent discipline by their caregivers on a regular basis, while 250 million (around six in 10) are punished by physical means, as mentioned by Unicef in a report.
Scolding or subjecting a child to physical punishment may seem to be a common phenomenon. For most parents, it is the accepted, ‘normal’ way of controlling their child’s actions. What we fail to take into consideration is the kind of impact it would have on children.
How does scolding or physical punishment affect children?
Recall the video of a little girl crying while being schooled by her mother, which went viral on social media. The mother’s behaviour irked netizens including Virat Kohli, who talked about how intimidating a child wasn’t the best way to teach. Instead, such violent methods, in turn, can impact the child’s well-being.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development banned physical punishment in schools, in 2010, even though some schools reportedly continue to flout the rules. Parents, on the other hand, are more commonly known to exercise it as the most effective tool for discipline. Studies conducted around the world have shown how using violent disciplinary methods can put the child at risk of developing increased levels of anxiety and stress. Not just mental health, it can also impact the child’s overall development, child psychologist Dr Dharendra Kumar told Express Parenting. “Scolding or subjecting the child to corporal punishment can affect his or her cognitive, emotional and social development too. “When physical punishment is harsh, it may harm cognitive development also–thereby impact his or her day-to-day activities including studies, especially if he or she is hit on the upper parts of the body. The two most common things that children tend to suffer from, when subjected to yelling and physical punishment frequently, are depression and anxiety,” he said.
Besides, exercising corporal punishment on children can also drive them towards antisocial behaviour in future, as documented in several countries in the world. A 2013 study by Murray A Straus, at the University of New Hampshire, revealed how children across numerous cultures who were spanked committed more crimes as adults than children who were not spanked, regardless of the quality of their relationship to their parents.
How the impact of scolding or corporal punishment varies across cultures
The impact of violent discipline methods on children is further contingent on the culture or community they belong to. “The impact may vary with respect to its acceptance as a means to teach a child in a particular culture. The impact would be comparatively less in India, for instance, as compared to some other countries, where children are not used to such forms of discipline. Culture tends to moderate the impact,” explained Dr Kumar.
The impact further varies across all strata of Indian society. “In rural households, for instance, yelling at or punishing children is quite common, whereby its impact on the child’s development would be comparatively less. But in spaces where it is not the norm but it happens to a particular child, the effect is much more,” he added.
The ‘Play It Safe’ opinion poll conducted by Unicef, NINEISMINE and Mumbai Smiles, involving interviews with almost 5000 children across Maharashtra, found children in rural areas experienced more physical punishment at home than those in cities and towns-three out of five children in rural areas; two in five in urban areas-and were slapped, forced to stand outside their homes, locked in a room or had their ears pulled as punishment.
Unicef India talks about how even a little slap carries the message that “violence is the appropriate response to conflict or unwanted behaviour. Aggression breeds aggression. Children subjected to physical punishment have been shown to be more likely than others to be aggressive to siblings; to bully other children at school; to take part in aggressively anti-social behaviour in adolescence; to be violent to their spouses and their own children and to commit violent crimes.”
How should one discipline a child?
The key lies in positive discipline. “There are multiple positive ways to discipline a child. To begin with, you should have clear rules at home. A child should be explicitly told about what is the accepted behaviour and what is not. To inculcate positive behaviour in children, it should be practiced repeatedly at home. Parents can also lead by example. Many a times, children misbehave because they do not know what correct behaviour entails. Parents can practice such behaviour themselves and help their child learn from them. Besides, they can also reason out with kids and explain why a particular kind of behaviour is unacceptable. This in turn, will promote self-monitoring which is more effective than punishing the child each time he or she displays any form of untoward behaviour,” suggested Dr Kumar.
Preeti Vyas, mother to a nine-year-old son, said, “Spanking is a definite no-no. Scolding is also unnecessary. Establishing boundaries and being firm about enforcing them is what actually works.”
And Hemal Khambatta, father to a five-year-daughter, agrees. “In most cases, scolding a child is not an effective tool. In fact, it makes the child very aggressive and might provoke them to retaliate too.” Having said that, scolding might be required at times, depending on the situation, said Hemal. “Most of the times, we try to explain the situation to our child. Only when things go a little out of hand do we scold. As a parent, I try my best not to scold but make my child understand,” he said.
Hemal’s wife Namita Khambatta added, “We would generally tell our child, ‘This is not something I would want my daughter to do,’ and explain why. Parents often assume that children won’t understand and the only way to discipline them would be to be angry at them. But I feel, it is always better to converse with your child and reason out.
Besides, as Stephen Marche writes in an article in New York Times, yelling “doesn’t make you look authoritative. It makes you look out of control to your kids. It makes you look weak.”