Disciplining children

CPA Head Ms. Ann Greene.

‘Licks’ or no ‘licks’?

AS little Benny’s mom, Lucy, snuggles with him in her arms and watches him effortlessly drift off to sleep, she cannot help but reflect on an incident earlier in the day that for some reason, has been pounding on her conscience ever since.

Dr. Rohan Jabour.(Samuel Maughn Photo)

Benny’s adorable little face, with eyes shut and looking as innocent as ever, brings an intense feeling of guilt to Lucy who cannot stop remembering the lashes she put on his feet for climbing up to turn on the pipe in the kitchen, despite her repeated warnings. And compounding her pain, is the fact that she can still see the redness from the lashes lingering on his feet.

“Don’t! Don’t, Benny. Stop climbing up! You’ll fall and hurt yourself. Please listen to mommy, Benny,” Lucy would plead, as she divides herself between sorting clothes for laundry, stirring the rice pot, and her constant thoughts of calling to remind Benny’s dad of what he has to pick up from the supermarket on his way home.

Benny, who just turned three years old, continues to do as he pleases, soaking ‘Wooly’, his beloved, stuffed-animal under the pipe and occasionally spattering water on the floor.
Lucy has had it. She feels overwhelmed and the smirk on Benny’s face, as she reaches to him, incenses her to the point where she feels lashes are justified. After placing two stinging lashes on Benny’s feet, he screams in her face and continues to do so relentlessly. Lucy places another two lashes on his feet and sends him to the living room to play with his toys.

After a few minutes, Benny complies and Lucy watches him as he sits quietly and cheerfully playing. He turns around and brings one of his toys and tells her: “Look, mom, it’s the colour green.”
“Yes love, it is,” Lucy responds with a kiss on his cheek.
Lucy’s and Benny’s (not their real names) story illustrates well the dilemma many parents find themselves in when the time comes to administering discipline to their children. While accepting that doing so in the form of using the ‘rod’ is warranted on occasion, some parents still feel guilty afterward.

To date, although much has been said on the subject of spanking, also referred to as corporal punishment, views vary greatly from one parent to another. In fact, while many say that they obtain positive results from simply talking with their child and patiently explaining what behaviour is appropriate and what is not, others say frankly that without licks, their children will not get the point.

As to the latter view, one of Guyana’s well-known Pediatricians, Dr. Rohan Jabour, who has specialised in ‘childcare’ for about 34 years, says once it reaches a point where parents feel beating is absolutely needed, then it means that what they were doing from before has failed.

In an interview with the Pepperpot Magazine, Dr. Jabour made it clear that while there are no hard and fast rules on how to discipline children, hitting should be the last resort when all other methods have been tried by the parent.

“Your discipline has to be at the level of their ability to understand what you are doing. The problem we have is that most of the time, the parents are going to get to that stage not because of what the child is doing, but [because of] their frustration. They are not getting through and the child does not seem to understand, so they get angry and then apply physical force, and that is wrong. Physical force on any child should never be applied when you’re angry,” he cautions.

If a parent finds themselves in a situation where dealing with the child becomes overwhelming, then it would be best for them to separate themselves from their child for a moment in order to calm down, Dr. Jabour, a father of five, advises.
“You have to find some means to calm yourself down, step away for a few seconds. That’s all it needs. Count from 1 to 10; 1 to 20, whatever works for you. And so never discipline a child when you’ve lost it. All you’re doing there is satisfying yourself and the child is not going to gain anything,” he said.

What about parents who feel that they need to apply lashes to a very young child so as to begin training him from early, what behaviour is inappropriate? “A one-year-old doesn’t understand what you’re doing. He’s now in his exploratory stage. He’s now learning to move, he’s now learning to walk. So he’s gonna start exploring and troubling things that he’s not supposed to trouble. But he doesn’t know that. So getting angry with him for pulling down something is not his problem. It’s your problem,” expressed Dr. Jabour.

One of the things a parent can do to avoid this situation is simply ‘baby proofing’ the environment so that the child cannot access items that may be valuable or harmful to him.
While it is true that some children are smart enough to figure out some things that they are not supposed to do, this still doesn’t mean that there’s a need for whipping. “With children, just like puppies, what command their respect are your demeanor and your tone of voice. And that’s all that it usually needs. Once they see that you’re upset and angry, they can understand that. They can read that. And so you can give them that impression without hitting them. You don’t have to do that. A firm ‘no’ is what they’ll understand,” continues Dr. Jabour.

A parent resorting to hitting usually indicates that he is losing control and something has gone wrong with his parenting skills and strategies. “You are not controlling the child, the child is controlling you. At times just the act of a tap, it doesn’t have to hurt; and they’ll understand.”

Even the ‘terrible twos’ as they are called do not have to be beaten for throwing tantrums like screaming, crying, and throwing themselves down. “All you have to do is ignore what they’re doing. Walk away from them. Most parents, when the child starts, run to them and try to tell them to stop, but in doing that, the children get the attention they want; whereas, if you walk away from them, they see that this behaviour is not working. It’s little techniques like these that you have to learn,” says Dr. Jabour.

A three or four-year-old usually does well with a timeout, which Dr. Jabour advises must be set up properly. “You have to have an area that is going to be their timeout place. But do not forget them in timeout. Sometimes the parent is busy with housework and all kind of things and the poor child remains there 15 minutes or half hour. No, timeout only needs five or 10 minutes to be effective. If it goes on for too long, it loses its weight. And once you do it consistently, they learn. They’re very logical creatures.”

Constantly hitting a child can make them immune to ‘licks’. “If you are at the stage where you have to hit, then that is a result of what has been going on from before. It means that you’ve failed in what you’ve been doing from before. So you’re dealing now with a child who will only understand ‘licks’. They understand the lash because it hurts. But after a while, the lashes don’t hurt. When you reach the stage of hitting, the child has lost respect for you,” the doctor said.

An interesting find in his research, Dr. Jabour says, is that some children who were abused through beating, deliberately put themselves in a situation to be abused again by the parents because that’s usually the only time that they get attention.
Something he fondly remembers about his mom, is that she kept the belt in a place that made it difficult for her to access it when it was time for discipline. Hence, this gave her an opportunity to calm down by the time she found the belt, Dr. Jabour recalls.

Apart from physically removing yourself from the child, another good suggestion would be to ask for help from level-headed family members.
Dr. Jabour is totally against teachers who beat children to get their work done. “There are certain schools in the society right now, well-recognised schools, even extending to the private ones, which have teachers beating children for work. You don’t beat children for work. You discipline children for behaviour. If you’re beating a child for work, the teacher is not doing his job. Those teachers should be disciplined.”

If a child doesn’t understand what he’s doing, he’s not going to work properly, Dr. Jabour, who says he even has the name of some of the teachers, said. “If a child doesn’t understand, he doesn’t understand. That’s why he’s in school; to learn. If he knew everything he wouldn’t be in school and you have to have the patience to teach them properly.”

Head of Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA), Ann Greene, also spoke to this newspaper recently on the issue.
Greene reiterated that the CPA, an agency which falls under the Ministry of Social Protection, continues to promote non-violence when it comes to disciplining children.
“A lot of persons will tell me, ‘I was beaten as a child and look I turned out good.’ I say to them, ‘How you know you turned out good? You might have been better if you weren’t beaten.’ There’s too much violence in society. Why [do] you need to beat a child? Why [do] you need to lash? People mix up punishment and discipline. Discipline is what you do for a child and you don’t need to lash,” she said.

The only punishment some people seem to know though is lashes. “Everything is ‘beat’. You beat for breakfast, you beat for lunch, you beat for dinner. All people know is lashes. Since you say something, lash! There are other ways of disciplining children,” she said.
Ms. Greene, whose expertise in the human services’ field spans more than 30 years, insisted that beating is a form of child abuse and noted that the CPA can very well remove a child in this situation from the parents if it is reported.

“After a while, licks don’t even move children. You are teaching the children that for them to do something, you have to beat them. So the child waits for it. But it doesn’t mean anything. Constantly beating a child is a form of child abuse. My dear, newsflash! In today’s terms, it is child abuse. We could remove a child for that and work with you so that you can develop other methods of discipline.”

While many parents agree that a little smack on the child won’t do any harm, Ms. Greene was careful to note that this could lead to a pattern.
Speaking on some of the psychological effects that hitting has on children, she said: “It is hurtful to a child. A child has rights. A child is not an adult. If you hit an adult, he might want to hit you back. But children, because of their status and size, they have to take hits. It is demeaning; it’s putting down and all of that. You hit me and I can’t hit back.

“One of my friends told me when she was a little girl, she was playing and skipping about outside when her mom called her for some ginger beer but gave her a good licking instead. Up to now, at Christmas time, my friend’s husband has to make his own ginger beer. She doesn’t deal with ginger beer because she associates it with a good first-class beating,” Greene said.

While agreeing that some children are tough to raise, she believes that if a parent possesses sufficient skills, then they’d know how to handle the situation differently. “If you had skills, you wouldn’t hit. It has to be sick people who hit babies for crying.”
Greene said that mental health issues experienced by parents could put children in a vulnerable position and urged parents to seek help if they experience these. “Mental health issues affect a lot of parents. Not that we’re saying you’re mad, but persons ought to check their mental health. A lot of parents are not enjoying good mental health and that creates vulnerability for children.”

Greene, like Dr. Jabour is totally against those teachers who beat children to do their work in school, and who place reading as a form of punishment. “How could you beat me to read and then expect me to like reading? It doesn’t work. In beating children, you damage their psyche. So people have to look at that,” she said.
She, too, is suggesting that a parent should create some distance between him and the child in an overbearing situation. “Don’t let your frustration get the better of you. You damage them,” she said.

Earlier this year, in a statement published in this newspaper, the CPA said as a child grows and develops a better sense of understanding, parents should continue to explain things to them and appeal to their sense of reasoning. “This is a healthier approach to parenting and one that can result in strong ties and life-long bonding between parent and child. It is far better than beating a child into submission, or beating a child as a punishment for something he/she did wrong,” the CPA said.

According to the agency, statistics prove that building a good relationship with a child, where you can discuss things and decide on boundaries together, is far more effective in the long term, than the frustration and pain associated with beating.
“The ball is in your court; only you as the parent can decide what route you choose to take when it comes to disciplining your child, but we at the CPA would like to make you aware that there are alternative methods of getting your message across to your child without physical violence.

“Of course, children also get it when they are yelled at, shoved around and called names from very early on in their lives. They get it when everything they do wrong warrants a slap, cuff or a beating from their parents. This negative interaction does not enhance their development or their confidence as a person. They grow up learning and believing that physical violence is the way to sort things out.”

To learn more about disciplining children without beating, parents can call the CPA on telephone numbers 227- 4420 and 225- 1257.
Furthermore, if someone is concerned about the welfare of a child, they can reach the CPA hotline number on 227 0979 or write to them at childcaregy@gmail.com.
“We are aiming to give parents that support. We have a whole section here for family support,” Ms. Green noted.