Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Spare the rod, spare the child

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THE broad acceptance of physical punishment is a world-wide issue.

According to Penelope Leach, a British pediatrician and parent educator, a random sample of British children at the age of four years indicated that 97 per cent were spanked. The United States reported that more than 90 per cent of all parents slap or spank their children. In Canada, 75 per cent of Canadian parents use spanking as a regular method of discipline, according to a 1995 University of Manitoba study by Drs. Durrant and Rose-Krasnor.

What's so wrong with a spanking? There is a growing body of evidence, which contradicts the use of corporal punishment as a teaching tool. In fact, studies show it has the exact opposite effect in increasing aggressive behaviour and providing children with a model of using violence as a problem-solving option.

Leach suggests using your own observations if you are still not convinced. If children have learned from having been spanked you would expect that they would need it less often. But in fact, what is more likely to happen is that the level of punishment must be increased, hence the danger of it escalating into abuse.

A number of countries have already instituted legislation prohibiting its use as a regular parenting tool.

They include Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Cyprus, Latvia, Croatia, Israel, Germany, Italy and most recently, Scotland for children under the age of three, according to the Repeal 43 Committee.

The Repeal 43 Committee (www.repeal43.org) in Canada continues to follow their lead to have this archaic (1892) and draconian law removed.

At present, it allows teachers, parents and guardians to use 'reasonable' force by way of correction, the term 'reasonable' providing a wide latitude of legal interpretation. When something is entered into law, it sets guidelines, expectations and standards by which a society ought to live. The purpose is not to criminalize parents but to provide direction for the appropriate discipline of young children.

The extensive research alone showing the negative impact of physical punishment should be reason enough. But there are additional bases that justify change to this approach to discipline.

According to Abraham Maslow, world-renowned psychologist, feelings of safety and security are one of the basic human needs second only to air, food and shelter. Humans need to feel free from any real or perceived danger to maximize their full developmental potential. How safe can a child feel if the person who is supposed to nurture and provide protection becomes the attacker? In the eyes of a small, helpless child, this powerful, angry giant can appear very frightening indeed.

Control through fear may work temporarily but does not develop internal discipline. The child will behave only under external controls that can continue into adulthood, not to mention triggering feelings of resentment and anger that fester into revenge behaviours.

But children are not capable of organizing and have no political voice. The U.S. National Convention on the Rights of the Child spoke for them in 1989 and determined children have the same rights as all human beings. They have a right to grow up in a safe and secure environment.

While it is unfortunate that laws should be required to enforce humane care of our children, I would hope that reason and understanding may also persuade some that non-violence is the best teacher. We start with the premise that most parents want to help their children develop not only into well-behaved, socialized human beings, but to be happy and healthy adults as well. It is not the intent but the method that presents problems. What behaviours we, as parents, choose to reach that goal will depend on our knowledge and beliefs.

Our choices are based on a belief system that originates from various sources, such as our own childhood experiences, our religious views or simply a lack of knowledge. Historically, the view of the nature of the child has changed over the centuries. For example, at one time the child was seen as inherently bad -- a creature actively seeking to "get away with" or "oppose the norms." This "badness" had to be "corrected" by the use of physical punishment in order to "knock it out to ensure the future of cooperative citizens.

But our understanding of the nature of the child has changed. When childhood was eventually identified as a unique stage of human growth our knowledge of child development exploded. Extensive research and studies for over a century has led to our present understanding of the child as being neither good nor bad. Children behave to get their needs met, as we all do. Their behaviours will be directed according to what is socially acceptable in a particular family and environment.

The concept of parenting skills and the role of parents have emerged as central in response to this new information. As children develop, their needs change and parenting is a constant challenge that requires knowledge, intelligence, patience, creativity and yes -- discipline.

But discipline and punishment are not synonymous. Discipline is defined as teaching, while punishment is defined as causing or inflicting pain (in one form or another). It is generally accepted that people do not learn well under stress or pain, so punishment in the form of spanking is a poor teacher. Yet, despite our present knowledge, these beliefs are still very much with us today.

While SpankOut Day encourages parents and caregivers to set aside one day not to hit children, the goal is to expand that to 365 spank-free days through awareness and education.

"To get where we want to go with our children we need to take a longer route, teaching them with our heads and hearts rather than with our hands and belts," Penelope Leach says.

 

SpankOut Day on April 30

On April 30, a special day will be set aside in the U.S. and many countries around the world called SpankOut Day.

It is sponsored by the Center for Effective Discipline, the headquarters for EPOCH-U.S., an acronym for End Physical Punishment of Children. Coalitions in various parts of Canada also participate in planning events to promote this day as part of the Global Initiative to End Physical Punishment of Children (www.endcorporalpunishment.org).

These groups are maintained by several organizations that include the Canadian Institute of Child Health, the Canadian Public Health Association and the Child Welfare League of Canada, which endorse similar objectives.

The purpose is to bring attention to the negative impact of corporal punishment and to promote non-violent discipline. All parents, guardians and caregivers are encouraged to refrain from hitting children on this day and seek alternative methods available through programs in their communities (www.stophitting.com/spankOut/toolkit.php).

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2007

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