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Spare the rod, spoil the child! Or may be not

To spank or not to spank is the great Indian debate right now. What's perplexing is, should spanking children be even a matter of debate? Read what the experts have to say

Spanking children Spanking children to discipline them is a skewed and short term solution

‘He just wouldn’t listen. Obviously, I had to spank him to put some sense in that head.’

‘She is too stubborn. A smack on the back and she’ll calm down enough to pay heed to my words.’

‘One tight slap is enough to cut down his back answering ways.’

These are parents of children aged between 4 and 10, speaking about their progenies. The question was, ‘how do you ensure your children listen to you?’. For some reason, we associate disciplining a child with corporal punishments. It’s like the only option available for parents of slightly more challenging children to instill some form of restraint in them. But is that a good thing? Forget good or bad, is it even an essential mode to discipline a child?

While there are a set of parents who feel there is no harm in showing the child who the boss is at home, there's this another set who staunchly believe that you can’t ‘beat sense into a child’. It’s just being Neanderthal.

Nisha Karve, a Hyderabad-based working mother, feels that her four-year-old is usually ‘asking for it’ by not doing his homework or just being extremely naughty in school. “The last thing I want to do as I reach home from work, is to deal with a list of complaints from school. I end up smacking his thigh or arm in frustration,” confesses Karve.

Another common catchphrase among parents who spank is, "My parents did it to me, and I turned out fine." Mumbai mum Preeti Maskeri says the swats she sustained as a child taught her to accept responsibility for her actions, and she's instilling the same lesson in her two children, ages 8 and 10. "Being beaten up as a child made me into the polite person I am today," she says. "I feel it's one way of teaching my children to respect authority and take responsibility for their actions, just as I learned it."

Does all of this justify the act of spanking children? Does it even sound right that ‘I smacked her because I was frustrated/tired/angry’ or that ‘My parents hit sense into me, so I will follow the same with my child’? Not really, says Kamna Chibber, head, behavioural sciences and mental health, Fortis Healthcare, Delhi.

“Corporal punishment or hitting a child, even if it is mild spanking, is something which is absolutely discouraged‎ as it essentially induces fear, can increase a child's anxiety, and not really build on intrinsic motivation to do a task or be a certain way. This can lead to permanent change,” explains Chibber.

Clearly, going by the experts, spanking children in the name of discipline, hinders relationships and creates interpersonal issues, which can span the entire lifetime.

That’s exactly what Ekta Nambiar, mother to a rambunctious four-year-old believes and practices. “I don’t hate my parents for spanking me as a child, alright. But, I know that as a growing child, I never felt close to them. I was too scared to walk up to them and even ask for something as harmless as an extra chocolate or a toy. It was like, if they could hit me for something as silly as spilling milk, they’d definitely be stark raving mad if I told them that I wanted them to ‘waste’ money on a toy,” she recalls.

While getting smacked as a child didn’t leave a major psychological impact on Nambiar, there are instances when the child can actually be scarred for life. When 13-year-old Raj Solanki got into a fight at school, apart from being reprimanded by the principal, he got a verbal dose from his parents as well. Instead of asking him what made him get into a fight, his father just raised their hand and hit him for his undesirable behaviour.

In a state of shock, Raj did not understand what hit him. He went into a shell and did not say anything. He was grounded and told not to come out of his room. As dinner time approached, he was called out, but the family realised he was not really responding. He seemed to be in a daze. This got his parents worked up and he was immediately shown to a mental health expert the next day. Apparently, Raj was so shocked with how his parents reacted that he dissociated himself from the events around him for a period of time.

"There are many studies where physical abuse of the child has lead to permanent mental disability. Corporal punishment doesn’t have any positive effect on children. For instance, a student who is very naughty, or least interested in studies, when subjected to spanking/corporal punishment, may become more aggressive in nature. He may even just give up on studies," says Dr Rajesh Goyal, consultant psychiatrist, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi.

So how do you discipline your child without raising your hand or voice? Chibber says, "It is important to keep a few aspects in mind when working with your child. The first time your child does something unacceptable is the right opportunity to point it out to him. You should not wait to see whether an undesirable behaviour would disappear over time. Rather, you should address it firmly and assertively in the first instance itself."

It is important to be clear and precise in what you state to your child regarding what is unacceptable about his behaviour and simultaneously also point out a desirable attitude instead. Do not make everything into a battle and pick and choose what you deem to be absolutely essential to address. Also, listen to what your child has to say about why they behaved in a particular way and then point out your areas of disagreement. This would help him understand your perspective, while also helping him develop better reasoning and decision making skills which are important life skills.

Experts do not recommend spanking. According to Dr Goyal, there are other ways to discipline your child effectively that includes using timeouts, withholding rewards, modeling appropriate behavior like self-control, and helping children understand the connection between actions and consequences. "If child is not following your instructions, just withdraw positive rewards like if you give him chocolate, gift or take him out for fun then stop doing that to make him realize his mistake," he explains.

As for the ones who are guilty of spanking children because they were spanked as a child themselves or because their work/spouse/in-laws leave them frustrated—time to rethink the strategy, perhaps?

Do you have any questions regarding this article on spanking children as a form of discipline?  Please share in the Comment box below.

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