Why hitting children is a bad idea —Experts

Spanking once or twice is almost surely no big deal, and the real problem is the parents who are using it regularly and intentionally as a form of discipline. In this report by SADE OGUNTOLA, experts say that it increases the risk of child aggressive behaviour.

WITH the holiday halfway through, Henry and David set out to play football and looked forward to their team winning the local football competition. They were pupils in a school at the centre of the town and passionate about winning like their favourite soccer stars.

Unfortunately, David’s short knickers got torn as he dribbled Haruna in his attempt to score a goal against his team. “What are you going to do, your mummy must not find out about this,” shouted Henry with a face showing fear.

David, however, was not perturbed. “My mummy will only beat me when she sees it; I will only cry a little, that is all,” he said. “All the time, all mummy does is to hit me with her shoes, scold me or call me names.”

Corporal punishment as a means of deterring certain bad behaviour remains one of the more controversial parenting techniques. While some parents believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child”, others favour the simple time-out or a face-to-face conversation.

Obviously, spanking children as a parenting technique has been a controversial issue for several decades with some parts of some parents using corporal punishment more than others. Religious fundamentalists are also more likely to believe in corporal punishment.

Regardless, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has posited that corporal punishment is ineffective and can lead to mental health disorders.

In a policy statement updating its advice on effective ways to discipline children, they said that children who are spanked by their parents are more likely to develop hostile behaviours and are at an increased risk of mental health disorders.

Children who experience repeated use of corporal punishment tend to develop more aggressive behaviours, increased hostility in school, and an increased risk of mental health disorders and cognitive problems.

In addition, they said aversive corrective strategies, including all forms of corporal punishment and yelling at or shaming children are minimally effective in the short-term and not effective in the long-term.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.”

Though spanking or slapping is most common, the committee also identifies behaviour such as “kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning or scalding as forms of corporal punishment.

“Children are human being; children need to be talked to rather than spanking them. They do not even understand why you are spanking them; that is what will make them hardened,” said Dr Adeyinka Labaeka, a consultant pediatrician at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State.

Though there is a role punishment can have, he said parents can give reward and punishment when the child can understand and told what is good and what is bad.

Dr Labaeka said people should not have the impression that children do not understand and because of that they do not talk to them, adding that even if punishment is to come in, it should be moderation and  commensurate with their offence.

Howbeit, Dr Akin Sodipo, Chairman, Nigerian Medical Association, Oyo State, said spanking, aside, making children become aggressive can also cause them to be timid since such they will not want to be spanked every day.

Also, in instances that a child sees spanking as an assault rather than a means of correction, Dr Sodipo said such a child will also look forward to it when he can unleash it to another person when anybody cannot question him.

Dr Sodipo said much as it is not completely wrong to spank a child as a corrective measure, “if it needs to be done, it is important that such a child know why he is been spanked and it should be done in love. Most of spanking is just to drive fear into children.”

Dr Abdulmalik, a consultant psychiatrist, UCH, Ibadan, said whether a child should be spanked as a form of correction is controversial even among psychiatrists.

Children are unique and different. According to Dr Abdulmalik, “when you spank some children, there is no problem, they take correction and they are fine. Some other children, anytime they offend and you beat them, the lesson they then take from it is that anytime somebody does what you do not like, you physically beat the person.”

He added, “it is like a child growing up in a family where anytime the mother disagrees with the father, the father slaps the mother and the mother keeps quiet.

“Some children may watch that and say I do not like my mummy to be treated this way and it is not nice for daddy because he is bigger to be beating mummy.

“Some other children will say okay it works well. It helps you have your way and so I will also try it out. He then becomes more aggressive and turns out a bully.”

Moreover, Dr Abdulmalik said what studies have shown to be detrimental is excessive spanking, the type of beating, spanking or correction that leaves physical injuries, bruises or causes harm to the child.

“The recommendation is that don’t beat a child if you want to correct a child or if you want to spank a child, do not do it when you are angry and preferably without the use of any instrument like a shoe, whiplash (koboko) or belt.

“You may end up over doing it. Also, let the child know that it is an expression of your disapproval of his action and that you are actually correcting that,” he declared.

Researchers link corporal punishment to an increased risk of negative behavioural, cognitive, psychosocial and emotional outcomes for children.

Many other undesirable outcomes were associated with spanking, including children acting out and having poor relationships with their parents, as well as being victims of physical abuse later in life.

The AAP had previously discouraged spanking in a 1998 policy statement, but the new report goes further in examining the ways in which spanking is detrimental.

The updated report, which offers guidance to pediatricians in the US, brings together many studies into the effectiveness of corporal punishment – defined as “non-injurious, open-handed hitting with the intention of modifying child behaviour.”

It mentioned a 2014 study that found the effects of corporal punishment were “transient” – within 10 minutes of being punished 73 per cent of children surveyed had “resumed the same behaviour for which they had been punished”.

Another study monitored about 5,000 children, from 20 large US cities, between the age of one and nine years old. It found that children “who were spanked more than twice a month were more aggressive at subsequent surveys”.

The AAP suggests that instead of spanking, parents should use “positive reinforcement as a primary means of teaching acceptable behavior.”

Disciplinary choices reflect parental stress, family circumstances and the whole complex cocktail of emotion and personal history and daily life at home.

What parents do influence their children — their brains and their behaviour — and the ways children behave affect their parents. But the cycle of spanking and aggressive behaviour seems to leave everyone worse off.