For the children Editorial
Stabroek News
May 8, 2004

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In nine months' time, once the current positive trend continues, parents and teachers in the East La Penitence and Agricola areas should be well-versed in parenting skills.

This project, an initiative of EveryChild Guyana, seeks, over the period of one year, to inform people who have direct responsibility for children, about nutrition, health and safety, factors shaping child development, HIV/AIDS, parenting, counselling skills and discipline in the home and classroom.

Of particular interest, given the current, ongoing and often heated debate on corporal punishment, is that a non-violent approach to discipline is being advocated at these seminars, facilitated by Early Childhood Specialist Bonita Harris. And the debaters should note that already, parents have identified and supported alternative methods of discipline recognising that "the traditional beating and shouting were proving not to be effective", a report on the project said (SN 04-05-04).

The purpose of the project, EveryChild Guyana said, is to equip the guardians of children with skills to care for them in ways that maintain their best interest.

Most people assume that once they physically become parents, the rest comes naturally. If only this were true. The reality is that the majority of people who become parents, particularly young people, have not given parenting any thought at all. Because of the high incidence of unplanned pregnancies, the reality is that every so often one sees parents throw their hands up in despair when they do not know what to try next. True, workshops in parenting skills cannot teach every aspect of complete and proper child-upbringing. What they can do is provide parents with the necessary skills to deal with situations; parents also learn when to seek professional help.

A tour of the internet indicates that parenting training in the developed world is quite widespread and easily accessed. In developing countries, organizations which could actually offer such training have tended to focus more on the bread and butter issues and rightly so given that parents with starving, naked children would rather be taught to plant and sew, than how to dispense discipline and maintain loving parental control. But there are instances when these things could and must be offered in addition to poverty reduction methods. EveryChild Guyana must be complimented for taking this step, in addition to its schoolbook voucher project, which also targets children in the same areas.

A unique feature of the parenting skills project is its cascade effect, in which the information grasped at workshops will be passed on in the communities, by the participants. This informal approach to training can only redound to the benefit of the target group, since constantly repeating the information gives parents a better opportunity to assimilate it. Support will be given in the form of follow-up sessions to evaluate and guide the cascading process.

An article in Positive Parenting magazine relates, that research has found that parents who use physical punishment, such as slapping, spanking or hitting, tend to raise children that will be outwardly aggressive, or more likely to commit homicide. Whereas children that are raised with psychological punishment, such as withdrawal of love, or lecturing to induce guilt, tend to raise children that would be prone to inward aggression or suicide.

It would be foolish to translate this to mean that hitting your child would cause him or her to be homicidal, in fact, as letters writers would no doubt hasten to inform, most children who are physically punished and psychologically punished do not become aggressive, either inwardly or outwardly. But cognizance should be taken of the fact that statistics showed there was a correlation with physical and psychological punishment in childhood and people who committed homicides and suicide. That said, would it not make sense then to move away from the punitive methods of discipline we were raised with if workable alternatives are offered? Perhaps at the end of its one-year project, EveryChild Guyana and Ms Harris would be moved to produce a local parenting manual that we can all benefit from.