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Does "spare the rod and spoil the child" the right way to discipline children?

In light of the recent article on about a father being arrested for hitting his daughter with a wooden cane (linked below), there have been some contradicting views in the comments section that have caused confusion for many.

"There's nothing wrong for parents to hit their own child"

"There's a fine line between discipline and abuse. The father's intention is clearly disciplining his kid."

"Many of you are fine with caning. I personally don't think getting caned at any parts of the torso is very helpful to "growing up fine". What are you all living in some ancient dynasty as a slave?"

"It should be treated as part of disciplining the kid, not torturing. The teacher is overdoing her job."

"Children who misbehave and get disciplined will turn out to be obedient."

"We live in 2020 and some of you still don't know how to differentiate between discipline and abuse."

"My mom used to hit me and I'm doing okay in life. Parents should discipline their kids."

After reading these comments, the big question for everyone to ponder is - "so should we HIT to discipline, or should we not?" The answer is NO to physical punishment as a discipline method. Discipline can be done effectively in a RIGHT and POSITIVE way. According to the 2019 article from the American Psychology Association, the common parenting term "spare the rod and spoil the child" is now debunked and outdated. It is time to shift our parenting mindset from punishment to positive parenting. To do that, we first have to understand the basis of discipline from a brain neurological perspective.

1) Negative discipline causes Fear.

In Asia, we see discipline from a different perspective. We associate discipline to negative experiences like hitting and scolding. We discipline to get children to obey and be compliant. We instil fear in children to get them to listen and not to make the same mistakes again. But, that's a wrong concept of discipline.

When we hit or yell at kids, we are not calming them down, nor are we creating a kid that is more intelligent or obedient. When we use violence on kids, we are actually inflicting Fear in their brain. Children's brain fear centre and the emotion control centre called the amygdala is very sensitive. When we inflict pain, we are triggering their "fight, flight or freeze" response. Children can't learn in unsafe and fearful conditions; well, even adults can't. No adult wants to learn or work in an environment that causes pain and stress. Then, why are we doing this to kids? Putting kids in constant fearful situations and prolonged activation of the fear brain can have adverse effects in their psychological wellbeing.

A child may become obedient today, but there will be many underlying internalised stress that will follow them into adulthood. And these hidden stress will eventually manifest into low-self esteem, anger management issues, insecurities, and trauma in later life.

Many of us will say "my parents used to hit me, and I grew up to be fine", but here are some points to ponder and reflect upon.

Are you suffering from low self-esteem?

Are you easily triggered or annoyed by others?

Do you find yourself yelling, throwing or hitting when you get angry?

Are you afraid to voice out and be expressive?

If you experienced the above, then you are unconsciously suffering from your childhood. Just because we don't have depression, anxiety or PTSD, doesn't mean we are not affected by past negative punishments. We are oppressed in ways that are affecting us now that we are UNAWARE of. Therefore, it's important for us to reflect and have insights into the invisible damages we have in our own lives.

2) The brain is still growing!

Our brain does not fully develop until the age of 25. That means the brain's primary executive function, like problem-solving, emotion regulation, and analysis is still growing in young kids. But, the brain can't develop healthily under fearful conditions. When we hit children, the size of the brain's amygdala will increase and they will grow up to be insecure and fearful adults.

The brain is still growing, which also means attention span for a 12-year-old is an average of 24 minutes only. Forcing a child to pay attention in front of screens can be challenging for them. Well, even adults (max of 45 mins attention span) get distracted and zone out in Zoom meetings, let alone kids.

Moreover, in this pandemic, both children and teachers are forced almost immediately to adapt to this new online learning environment without any prior experience and guidance. Children have to attend school at home, but to them, home was supposed to be a place for comfort. This significant change and sudden transition can be difficult and stressful for kids. As parents, the least we could do is to be understanding and supportive to our kids in this new normal condition.

3) Discipline should be a POSITIVE experience.

Discipline is not about raising a compliant and obedient kid (kids are not animals or robots). Discipline is not about oppressing children, making them feel guilty and scared. Discipline is not about forcing children to listen and follow our commands. No one wants to learn and listen from a violent and angry person. No adult wants to learn and work under an evil, rude and dangerous boss. Same applies to children.

Discipline is about raising kids with self-control, dynamic thinking, confidence, and independence. Discipline is about guiding kids POSITIVELY, giving them the trust and autonomy to lead a successful and fulfilling life. Discipline is about love and understanding and knowing how to set healthy limits and boundaries in children. We want to provide children with a safe environment for self-directed learning. We are role models for young kids. How we regulate our emotions and solve problems serve as an example for them. There's a whole section dedicated to emotions here.

The year 1960 and 2020 is different. There is much new research about positive parenting today as to then in the past, and we should learn from them. A few famous positive parenting advocates like Dr. Laura Markham, Dr. William Stixrud, Dr. Dan Siegel, and Dr. Mona Delahooke has enlightened us with so many new positive parenting insights. If we continue to adopt the same parenting concept from the 60s, then we are not giving ourselves the chance to reflect, to learn, to improve and move forward.

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