I am strongly opposed to the idea of giving hidings to children. Call it what you will – spanking, giving smacks, corporal (or physical) punishment, “reasonable chastisement”, it’s all completely against everything I stand for as a Play Therapist, a teacher, and a mother.
Until a few years ago in South Africa, parents could use physical punishment, such as hidings or smacks, in their own home, as long as this chastisement was reasonable. A recent Constitutional Court ruling found that this form of punishment goes against our constitution. Every person in this country has the right to have their dignity respected and everyone has the right to freedom from violence. This most certainly includes our children. So why is it still popular culture in our country to hit a child who has made a mistake or whose behaviour is seen as unacceptable?
This is how I see it. As an adult in the workplace, do I hit someone if they transgress the company code of conduct? No, that would be considered assault. How would I, as an employee, react if my boss smacked my hand, or pinched my leg because I made a mistake at work? I would call the police.
So, why do we think it is acceptable to do this to our children?
Perhaps you might argue that children need to be taught the right way to behave, and the only way to do that is by smacking them when they cross a line. Sure, this may work in the short term, because you’ve stopped the behaviour that you didn’t want. But what are you actually teaching your child? Are you teaching them any skills, values or knowledge that will help them become well adjusted adults? No, you’re only showing them that an acceptable consequence for making a mistake is violence.
It’s even worse when children are told that they got a hiding from an otherwise nurturing parent out of love. These are the parents who hit their children and then give them a hug afterwards. What message are you sending your child then? That love equals violence, humiliation and hurt!
Can you see the damage that is being done to our children? Children who grow up receiving hidings do not learn how to handle their emotions appropriately, do not learn logical consequences for their actions and enter young adulthood with the belief that hitting someone is an acceptable solution to a problem. Children who are smacked when they do something wrong, grow up to accept this kind of action from someone they love. They learn not to question pain and violence as a consequence for a transgression. Fear and pain becomes mixed up with love and acceptance.
What can we do instead of giving hidings? We can show our children empathy and understanding while still keeping boundaries and routines in place.
Understanding your young child comes with understanding brain development. The brain only fully develops in our 20s. The areas of the brain that are responsible for survival, (flight/fight/freeze) and emotions are highly activated in young children, leaving the cognitive, logical thinking part of the brain to only fully develop later. This tells us two things. Firstly, that children will make seemingly illogical decisions, and be driven by their emotions because the emotional, not the logical, part of the brain is very often running the show. This is a part of growing up – so accept it. Secondly, it tells us that every experience children and adolescents have, either negative or positive, shape the way their brain develops. More specifically, their life experiences shape how their cognitive, thinking brain develops. The concept of the Whole Brain Child by Dr. Dan Siegel is really fascinating. Read more about it here, or watch this video here.
What does fear, stress and humiliation do the developing brain? Studies have shown that stress and trauma in early life can severely hamper the development of the prefrontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain. This leads to young adults who are not able to make sound decisions, who don’t have control over their emotions and who have lowered empathy for others. And yes, I am suggesting that hitting your child could cause trauma. Read this article about Little “t” Traumas to find out more.
What, on the other hand, can overcome trauma and ensure that the thinking, cognitive part of the brain develops to its full potential? An empathetic, understanding and accepting relationship with a primary caregiver.
You have the choice to either make or break your child with the kind of relationship you build with them.
The first and most important relationship that your child has is with you. In the first years of life, everything that your child learns about the world, about relationships with other people, about themselves, is learned through their relationship with you.
Why would you taint such an important relationship with fear, humiliation and violence? Nurturing your early relationship with your child is the most important thing you will do as a parent. Make sure that it is based on empathy, understanding and unconditional acceptance, not violence.