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It is part of an ongoing series of articles in the partnership between the Guyana Chronicle and Help & Shelter to deal with domestic violence and some of the other problems in our society which prevent individuals from achieving their full potential. The information in this article is gleaned from different sources.
The belief that beating children is a normal part of life has been entrenched in our culture, with the result that many children have been brutalised and traumatised by the people who are supposed to love them.
Many Guyanese adults are also survivors of the beatings of childhood, and one way of dealing with the pain of beating is to say that 'I was bad, so I got what I deserved' and to inflict the pain on the next generation.
Many adults too feel badly after beating a child they love, and rightly so because we are not supposed to hurt the ones we love.
What is wrong with beating children?
Beating children provides immediate gratification for the adult who is beating. It would seem that the behaviour is stopped or that the child is punished for not doing the right thing.
There are several reasons why it is wrong to hit children - and children will do as we do more than what we say, and when what we do conflicts with what we say, then what we say counts for nothing at all.
1) It is criminal to hit other people - and children are people too. Using violence against a child to right a perceived wrong is teaching through fear; all that happens is that the child becomes resentful or continues the same behaviour when they cannot be caught.
2) Hitting a child teaches the child that it is okay to hit another person if you are bigger and stronger. It is saying that hitting someone is an appropriate way to react when you do not agree with a person's behaviour or actions.
3) Adults hit children with weapons, so that the violence could hurt. This causes physical damage and emotional damage. A child reacts by feeling that they deserve to be treated this way, and this lowers their self esteem.
A child may also become more defiant and indulge in destructive behaviour to prove that they are 'stronger'. Some children will try to ignore the pain and not deal with their own emotional or physical sufferings.
4) Many adults are frustrated and angry when they hit children and as a result, the children learn that it is a good way to vent anger and frustration.
5) An adult is bigger and stronger, and should act with more responsibility and use their power over children in constructive ways to resolve problems. When adults choose to use their power to resort to violence rather than think of non-violent ways of asserting themselves, the children will learn that when they become adults, they too should do the same thing, and the violence is handed down to the next generation.
6) Many times when an adult hits a child, it is not in response to the child's behaviour or actions, but rather as a result of the adult's stress, frustration or helplessness. This creates confusion in the child especially when after venting out the feelings, the adults pretend nothing is wrong when the hurt child tries to cry.
They also learn that it is not their behaviour that is the problem, but rather the mood of the adult - so learn that it is okay to resort to violence against weaker people if there are feelings of frustration.
Some children do not hear when you talk to them, so what else can you do?
The goal of discipline is to teach appropriate behaviours and values.
Research has shown that most children learn by imitating the actions and behaviour of the adults in their surroundings. They are less likely to learn by being talked to or shouted at than if the adults take time to show them the correct behaviour or to provide alternative ways for the child to express anger or hurt or take time to spend time with them.
Young children especially need time and attention and will sometimes resort to doing things which are bad to attract the attention of their caregivers.
Children curse because the adults around them curse; they forget things like adults do because their minds are pre-occupied with other interesting things.
The teaching should begin from birth - many times the first time a child does something 'wrong', it is considered funny, and then the child is beaten when they do the same action later.
It is possible to discipline a child without beating him or her. The first thing is for the adult to take some time to think about what is happening, and whether the anger and frustration is at other things other than the child. The discipline has to be age appropriate.
Other things to think about include:
1. Children will learn from a very young age what will get a response from the adult. If they throw a tantrum and start screaming, it is better to ignore them or to talk them into quieting down to find out what is happening.
2. Children are inquisitive and will reach out and touch and hold new things in the environment. You may have to change the environment - remove the expensive ornaments, cover the stereo and VCR or remove the child from near to them every time the child moves their hand to it.
3. Do things with the child - let the child help you to clean up and pack up, let packing up be a game. A child needs attention and love and the adults around the child have to spend time to teach the child. It will be better to sit and read with a child rather than shouting at the child to 'pick up yuh book or ah gun put dis belt pun yuh'.
4. There may be reasons why your child is behaving badly - he or she may be hungry, tired or bored. Try to find out what is happening and deal with the need of the child. You may have to hold or hug a child.
5. You may want to remove your child from the situation and spend some time with him or her to calm down and to find out other ways of dealing with the problem.
6. Children will be untidy, messy, active, wild, running around, forgetful, easily bored, creative and demanding your attention. You may want to accept them as they are while trying some other ways to get them to be assertive and responsible.
7. Be aware of your own needs and your own well being. If you are tired, angry, stressed or worn out, take some time for yourself to calm down. Your children will probably also be feeling the same way and conflict situations will arise.
Talk to other parents and caregivers who do not beat children and who have the same difficulties. Remember when you were a child and how you felt about different things and why you felt the way you did - your children are probably going through the same things now.