Tuesday, November 6, 2012

To Beat or not to Beat? - Part 1 - in the Home.

I remember the feeling of terror I had when our first grade teacher showed us the strap. A boy in the class had challenged her pronunciation of the word ‘Gaelic’. Her response was to let us know what would happen to us if we stepped out of line. This was in Scotland in the late 1940’s. I was brought in up a loving family, without corporal punishment, so by the time I was five, I had a strong sense of right and wrong. I was not a child who needed the threat of the strap to make me behave.
     There are now 117 countries in the world where corporal punishment in schools is against the law, and 32 countries where it is prohibited in the home. In Jamaica, however, up to January 2011 it was still legal (except in Basic Schools). In a Green Paper on Safe School Policy, there are plans to abolish it. There is strong support for it in the home. People say that badly behaved children should get ‘a good lick’ and ‘if they can’t hear they will feel’. They quote what they claim to be a Biblical injunction ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ which in fact does not appear in the Bible. Parental discipline is often harsh to the point of being abusive. Many parents give accounts of the beatings they received as children and how it ‘didn’t do them any harm’.
     Why is it that countries around the world are making corporal punishment illegal? The main reason is the research that has been done into the psychology of development.
     One of the most widely accepted theories in psychology is Erik Erikson’s eight-stage theory of human development. In each stage, Erikson identified a psychosocial crisis or conflict. Successful resolution of these conflicts at each stage of development results in the acquisition of an ego quality. In other words, the individual is well-adapted and ready to move on to the next stage. Failure to resolve these conflicts results in a pathology which hinders future development.
     In the first life stage, infancy, the first 2 years of life, miraculous development of the brain takes place. The baby gradually gains control over his muscular movements and he begins to make sense of his world. He discovers that he be the cause of things happening and knows what to expect, an ability that continues to develop through life. One’s ability to plan, carry out and evaluate the plan, depend on this skill. He experiences new emotions ranging from pleasure to fear and anger. Babies cry because they are hungry or uncomfortable and are entirely dependent on the caregiver (mother or whoever is acting in her place). It has been found that babies, whose mothers responded quickly to their cries in the first 6 months of life, cried less often in the second 6 months. There are people who recommend that the baby be left to cry, implying that the baby is bad or simply a nuisance. In Jamaica, uncaring caregivers say the child will have a good singing voice when left to cry.
     Erikson identified the conflict at this early stage as trust versus mistrust. If children successfully develop trust, they feel safe and secure in the world, and the ego quality which they acquire is hope. If they fail to develop trust, they become withdrawn. They lack confidence that their needs will be met by the caregiver and doubt their own lovableness.
     A caregiver might be tempted to spank an infant who is exploring his world, touching things he shouldn’t touch and putting things in his mouth. However, spanking will only make the infant lose trust in the caregiver. A better strategy is make the environment suitable for the baby by putting things he shouldn’t touch out of his reach and providing alternatives. These don’t have to be expensive toys. They can be simple things like boxes and plastic containers into which the infant can put objects, which shouldn’t have any sharp edges, and should be too big for him to put in his mouth.
     In the second life stage, toddlerhood, encompassing years 2 and 3, children become more physically active and language develops. They also engage in fantasy play, a normal and necessary activity, in which they act out situations they wouldn’t be ready to deal with in the real world. During these years also toddlers learn self-control. They learn to behave in a socially acceptable way without external direction. Training at this stage includes toileting. If an accident happens, it must be dealt with in a good tempered manner, without a fuss. If the child is criticized, shame and doubt occur.
     At this stage the discipline strategies caregivers use fall into three categories: power assertion – shouting and physical punishment; love-withdrawal – expressing anger or disappointment or walking out; and induction – explaining why the behavior is wrong. The first two should be used sparingly.
     The manner of discipline is of great importance. It should be immediate or as close to the situation as possible, brief and appropriate. An alternative to corporal punishment is ‘time out’. Praise for good behavior when they are behaving well, and distracting them from undesirable behavior are also important. Toddlers learn by imitation, so parents also need to model desirable behavior.
     Frequent harsh punishment, such as beating, doesn’t achieve its intended goals. Instead, it gives rise to emotional distress which in turn generates externally directed behaviors including arguing, disobedience, destructiveness, and intentional hurting. Many of the behavioral problems encountered by teachers stem from the system of punishment inflicted by primary caregivers. The high incidence of violent crime in Jamaica is thought to be a result of frequent physical abuse and neglect by caregivers of these criminals when they were children.
     In contrast, reading to children has many benefits. Reading to a child sitting on your knee, or when he is tucked up in bed at night, comforts him. Stories illustrate the kinds of moral choices children are faced with, and help them to empathize with the characters.

Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach by Newman and Newman

Gleaner article: Creating Children who are Winners by Eulalee Thompson

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