The saying ‘spare the rod, and spoil the child’ is one that we hear often in the context of disciplining children. In our society, it has been accepted that spanking and other forms of corporal punishment are justifiable forms of disciplining children.However, in 2019 the Constitutional Court of South Africa declared the defence of reasonable chastisement unconstitutional, which means that parents can no longer lawfully use physical punishment as a means of disciplining their children. For many, this ruling was long overdue; while others did not agree with it.
In order to fully understand the reasoning behind this ruling, it is important to preface it against modern day South African society. South Africa is troubled with high rates of crime, and the Gender Based Violence (GBV) statistics are appalling. GBV is not only limited to women and non-binary people, but it includes the vulnerable in society. When clarion calls are made to end GBV in South Africa, we are in fact crying out to ensure that all vulnerable people are protected. Children are vulnerable in society and they too must be protected against all forms of violence. The line between disciplining children and inflicting violence on them can be difficult to draw at times, and this ruling attempts to clearly demarcate it; to ensure that no child is subjected to violence and abuse at the hands of a parent or even death in some instances.
Disciplining a child plays a major role in parenting, and physical punishment is the primary form that many parents use. However there are many other ways of disciplining a child, without resorting to corporal punishment. Moreover, it is imperative that parents also understand the mental and social development of their children. Parents need to understand why their child behaves in the ways they do and communicate to them which behaviours are acceptable and which ones are not.
In putting the best interests of children forward, we also need to think about the effectiveness of physical punishment. Remember that discipline is not meant to be punitive, rather the aim is to correct a child’s behaviour. Research has shown that physical discipline is not as effective as other forms of discipline. In fact, it is reported that children who experienced physical discipline are more violent, aggressive, and have self-esteem issues than those who do not. Disciplining children should be an exercise meant to understand why a child is behaving in a certain way, and not a reaction to their actions. In this way, discipline becomes part of a learning process that parent and child can grow from.
The judgment has given us a chance to critically reflect and assess whether using physical discipline is the best way to raise a child. Some questions to ask yourself as a parent might be:
- Does my child understand the difference between the physical discipline I inflict and violence in general?
- Why do I feel the need to use physical discipline as a form of discipline?
- How is my child impacted when I use physical punishment to discipline them?
When disciplining your child, here are some things to bear in mind:
- Be a role model for your child. Children learn what they see, not just what they hear.
- Learn to listen. Do not be defensive but be attentive to what they are saying.
- Time out – Take away reinforcement and warn your child about this prior to doing it.
- Have a time out area. This area should not have anything that will entertain the child.
- Do not make unrealistic threats.
- Most importantly – BE CONSISTENT about the form of discipline you use.
Photo credit: Photo by Santi Vedri on Unsplash