This is a guest post by Jasmine Pasricha Balsara, Child Psychotherapist.
Aren’t parents supposed to punish their children ? Aren’t children supposed to feel shame and guilt if they misbehave ? Isn’t punishment important for the development of a child’s conscience and sense of right or wrong? These are typical questions parents ponder on where discipline is concerned. The latest research suggests that the best way to bring up a happy, content and a cooperative child is to avoid punishing, yelling and spanking.
Over the past 20 years, a growing body of research clearly indicates that children who have experienced physical punishment tend to be more aggressive toward parents, siblings, peers and, later, spouses, and are more likely to develop antisocial behaviour.
Over the past few decades, parenting styles and the type of discipline they use have been researched extensively. Among the most robust findings is that children and adolescents who have been raised in authoritative households (i.e., households that are responsive but demanding) are more psychosocially competent, more successful in school, and less prone to internalizing and externalizing problems than their peers who have been raised in authoritarian (e.g., demanding but not responsive) and permissive (e.g., responsive but not demanding) households. Further, nearly all studies have demonstrated that harsh discipline is linked to behavior problems. Additionally, inconsistent discipline, relative to more consistent discipline, has been related to higher levels of childhood depression.
Researchers have found that harsh punishment is linked to slower cognitive development and adversely affects academic achievement in children. These findings come from large longitudinal studies that control for a wide range of potential confounders.Intriguing results are now emerging from neuroimaging studies, which suggest that physical punishment may reduce the volume of the brain’s grey matter in areas associated with performance on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales. Hence harsher the discipline experienced by a child the more aggressively the child behaves.But is it really possible to have a cooperative child without involving punishment of some sort?
The Future : Promoting Non-violent Parenting
I have discussed below some useful strategies which can prove more more beneficial for children than any kind of punishment.
1. Observe yourself: When you are tired ( as parents ) it is sometimes hard not to take this out on children, However it is is very important to be conscious in your interactions with them. Try to catch this before you lose your temper, scream and show inappropriate aggression in any form. However if you feel that your children are pushing your buttons, it could imply that they are triggering an emotion in you from your own childhood by behaving in a way that makes you feel just like you did when you were a child. You were forced to squash this feeling and have since then suppressed it and denied it; the probability is that you will now express this emotion in a way that will lead to negative impacts on your child. This would lead to your child feeling like you originally felt when your parents acted this way. If you feel this could be true of you, then you may need some counselling to decode your own emotional baggage and offload negativity.
2. Help children manage their emotions: By giving positive feedback and being empathetic we can communicate positively with our children – listen to them attentively, acknowledge their feelings and teach them to accept ALL their feelings, but to separate them from actions.For instance if you see one of your children is angry with the other, you could respond by saying ” I saw the angry look you gave your sister, can you tell your sister what you want with words?”.
It is important not to send the children away when they are experiencing an intense emotion.They need you as parents to accept them and love them whilst they are going through it. It is important for parents not to take anything personally whilst they are feeling this emotion.
3. Build Security: To help children build their own internal sense of security, we need to have cuddled them, loved them and been present and in contact with them at every stage of their development to enable them to feel secure enough to handle separation from us. To feel secure inside, children need to first feel secure in their world.
As they grow up, this sense of security is then internalised. How is this done? We first develop the knowledge that our parents love us no matter what. Over time this matures into a knowledge that we are basically ‘okay.’ We internalise our parents’ love and learn to love ourselves in a healthy way. In cases where the child grows up without feeling unconditionally loved by parents, he or she may seek out such love from others.
Children also need a big investment of time, love and care when they are anxious. Helping them feel better means acknowledging and accepting their feelings and not negating them, otherwise they will lose trust in you (parents). This teaches them to accept and acknowledge those feelings themselves and learn how to express their emotions appropriately.
4. Facilitating Autonomy: As children grow older, they are likely to explore and push boundaries. What they are looking for is a sense of autonomy and self-confidence.The way parents handle this is crucial for the child’s development.When children are not allowed to explore or are punished and smacked by parents for what is in reality, age appropriate behavior, they develop a sense of shame. Erik Erikson, a well-known psychologist, believed that is essential that parents give children a chance to seek for this “sense” and make it stronger than the feelings of shame and doubt. Then and only then, will children have the confidence to later pursue and shape their own ideas and plans. Encourage your child to think. Involve him by asking “how” and what” questions. When a child has a healthy sense of autonomy, he respects the boundaries set by the parents.He knows he is free to explore the safe world set up for him and will develop the sense of making healthy choices.