According to Unicef reports, more than 2 in 3 children are subjected to violent discipline at home in the majority of countries around the world. In the Sub-Saharan region, 81 percent of the children from 1 to 14 years old have experienced some kind of violent discipline, including psychological aggression and physical punishment in the previous month of the collection of the data. In West and Central Africa this percentage rise to 83 percent. The Middle East and North Africa are the regions with the highest percentage of children subjected to verbal and physical aggression reaching 87 percent.
In many cultures, spanking, slapping or smacking are part of children rearing, been seeing as educational measures. Many parents, grandparents and people with a close relationship to the children have experienced themselves these types of violent discipline and therefore believe they are appropriate and necessary to correct misbehavior. The caregivers, most of the time, do not have the intention of causing harm or injury to the child, but educating them. However it is important to highlight that all forms of violent discipline are violations of children’s rights.
Unicef defines Psychological aggression as the action of shouting, yelling or screaming at a child, and also calling a child offensive names, including “dumb”, “lazy”, etc. The physical punishments involve all actions whose propose is to cause pain or discomfort, not injuries, and include hitting or slapping on the bottom, hand, arm or leg, shaking the child, hitting the child with a hard object, and beating hardly the child. All these aggression can have a significant impact on children’s development and erode their feelings of self-confidence.
According to a study conducted by Gershooff and Grogan-Kaylor (2016), who analysed 50 years of research on corporal punishment, spanking was consistently associated with negative outcomes for children, including child behavior problems, antisocial behavior and child aggression. Afifi, Mota, Sarren & MacMillan (2017) investigated the U.S. population and found that mental health problems and antisocial behavior in adulthood are associated with being spanked as a child. Pace, Lee & Grogan-Kaylor (2019) investigated low- and middle-income countries and also found a negative association between spanking and young children’s socioemotional development.
Corporal punishment is forbidden in many parts of the world. Sweden was the first country to implement a law to forbid this practice in 1979. Before 1960, corporal punishment was a standard in the majority of households in Sweden. The number of children spanked at home has been decreasing since the implementation of law in Sweden and other countries also stated a ban on corporal punishment of children.
Since 2007, corporal punishment of children is also forbidden in the Netherlands. Parents cannot use any king of violence against their children at home.
How to discipline a child, then?
Words are still the best option to educate a child. Children of an early age cannot comprehend the reason of being spanked or relate it to a previous behavior. Also a relationship between parents and children must be based on love, dialogue and protection.
Sometimes stressful situations and tantrum can disturb home harmony, but these are not excuses to use any kind of violence against a child. There are more effective methods to educate them without the use of spanking, slapping or yelling. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 10 positive discipline strategies that teach children how to manage their behavior in an effective way contributing to a healthy development:
Show and tell. Teach children right from wrong with calm words and actions. Model behaviors you would like to see in your children.
Set limits. Have clear and consistent rules your children can follow. Be sure to explain these rules in age-appropriate terms they can understand.
Give consequences. Calmly and firmly explain the consequences if they don’t behave. For example, tell her that if she does not pick up her toys, you will put them away for the rest of the day. Be prepared to follow through right away. Don’t give in by giving them back after a few minutes. But remember, never take away something your child truly needs, such as a meal.
Hear them out. Listening is important. Let your child finish the story before helping solve the problem. Watch for times when misbehavior has a pattern, like if your child is feeling jealous. Talk with your child about this rather than just giving consequences.
Give them your attention. The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviors and discourage others. Remember, all children want their parent’s attention.
Catch them being good. Children need to know when they do something bad and when they do something good. Notice good behavior and point it out, praising success and good tries. Be specific (for example, “Wow, you did a good job putting that toy away!”).
Know when not to respond. As long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behavior, ignoring bad behavior can be an effective way of stopping it. Ignoring bad behavior can also teach children natural consequences of their actions. For example, if your child keeps dropping her cookies on purpose, she will soon have no more cookies left to eat. If she throws and breaks her toy, she will not be able to play with it. It will not be long before she learns not to drop her cookies and to play carefully with her toys.
Be prepared for trouble. Plan ahead for situations when your child might have trouble behaving. Prepare them for upcoming activities and how you want them to behave.
Redirect bad behavior. Sometimes children misbehave because they are bored or don’t know any better. Find something else for your child to do.
Call a time-out. A time-out can be especially useful when a specific rule is broken. This discipline tool works best by warning children they will get a time out if they don’t stop, reminding them what they did wrong in as few words―and with as little emotion―as possible, and removing them from the situation for a pre-set length of time (1 minute per year of age is a good rule of thumb). With children who are at least 3 years old, you can try letting their children lead their own time-out instead of setting a timer. You can just say, “Go to time out and come back when you feel ready and in control.” This strategy, which can help the child learn and practice self-management skills, also works well for older children and teens.
Be patient with your child and ask for help if you think you cannot handle the situation.