In my first post on this topic, (Nov 6,2012) I outlined some of the theories of psychosocial development in relation to children in their first 4 years of life. I now turn to children 4 years old and up.
In an ideal situation, a child enters his fifth year of life with the strength of mind to be able to set goals and work towards them; and to be able to control impulses to do things which he knows are unacceptable. However, situations are rarely ideal. We as adults do and say things, intentionally and unintentionally, which we know violate our own moral codes. We give in to temptation. We make excuses for ourselves and justify our behavior, or we suffer from feelings of guilt and we ask forgiveness of ourselves or of others. We resolve to learn from our mistakes not to repeat the same behavior. Then we move on.
Aware of our own weaknesses, we strive to ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ (Proverbs 22 v 6). Many people in Jamaica believe that this should involve corporal punishment. However, research has shown that harsh and excessive corporal punishment has the opposite effect to that which is intended. The child may avoid behaviors which result in such punishments, but does not internalize a moral code. It is this internalization which children need to achieve, so that they will be able to direct their own behavior, independently of their parents. Psychosocial theories help to explain how this takes place, and thus how parents can best assist.
In the early school years (ages 4-6) a child develops a self-concept of himself as an individual. The developmental tasks include early moral development – “understanding that lying, cheating, stealing, hurting others, or making fun of other children’s differences are morally wrong and that telling the truth, playing fairly, sharing, being helpful and respecting people’s differences are morally right.” (Newman). It has three aspects to it: knowledge, emotions, and action. Children learn the moral code of their community and to make judgments about actions. They experience feelings of anxiety and guilt when they know they have done something wrong, and pleasant emotions when their actions involve caring for others. They act to reduce the unpleasant emotions and increase pleasant ones, so inhibit harmful impulses, and make an effort to do the right thing.
The purpose of disciplinary methods taken by parents is to assist children internalize the moral code. They should help the child interrupt forbidden actions; suggest more acceptable forms of behavior for the future; and provide reasons, which the child can understand, why one behavior is preferable to another. They should help children to empathize with others, by asking children to put themselves in the victim’s place, to see how they would like being the victim. None of these can be achieved by corporal punishment, but by continuing dialogue.
Parents also need to set examples in their own behavior. It shouldn’t be a case of “do as I say and not as I do”. The importance of rewarding good behavior cannot be overemphasized; and the importance of reading to children should not be overlooked.
Reading a story presents an opportunity to discuss with a child what the characters have done, and what happens to them. Until about sixty years ago, books written for children usually had an overt message, the purpose being moral education. Many of these books are still read to children, but in more recent years, publishers and children have rejected these types of books. More modern books are less preachy, but they still have messages embedded in them. Reading to children also means spending quality time with them.
Children, by the time they are six years old, will have internalized a moral code. However, they still misbehave at times. From 6-12 years old, they still need parental discipline to reinforce that moral code. They need lots of affirmation for good behavior, for example stars can be put on a chart. A certain number of stars could be required for purchasing a toy or something else the child wants. Stars could be removed for bad behavior. Watching TV can also be used as a reward for good behavior, and no TV for bad behavior. Corporal punishment should be the last resort, although I've heard adults say that, as children, they preferred a quick slap, administered immediately after they had done something wrong, to other kinds of punishment. If love withdrawal should is used as a punishment, it will most likely result in the child suffering from overwhelming feelings of guilt. Whatever discipline technique is used, it’s important to keep channels of communication open – to talk with (not to) children at every opportunity.
During the 6 - 12 years, children should begin to read on their own and choose what they would like to read. Reading shouldn't be used as a punishment – it’s supposed to be a pleasure!
The teenage years are characterized by turmoil, resulting from physical and psychological changes which teenagers undergo, coupled with social and educational expectations, and peer pressure. It’s a time when they need support and encouragement from their parents. They appreciate restrictions put on them by parents, as an ‘excuse’ for not indulging in risky behavior. They are still dependent on parents, so, if punishment is necessary, it can include cutting allowances and gating. Corporal punishment should not be inflicted on them. However, if parents continue to discipline by power assertion, as they did in the earlier years, teenagers are liable to rebel. When I was teaching, a mother phoned me to ask,
“Is my daughter was attending class? If she is, please tell her she must come home. I won’t beat her.” The girl in question was seventeen years old. I suspect that many of the girls reported missing have in fact run away from home because their parents beat them. It is highly likely that they in turn will become mothers who beat their own children. One of the ways to break this vicious cycle is to have parenting workshops where information can be spread about alternate methods of disciplining children.
Reference: Development Through Life - A Psychosocial Approach by Newman and Newman