Saturday, February 24, 2018

Positive discipline, not ‘sound beatings’

 I can genuinely understand, with all that is taking place in schools these days, why some older heads would call for the return to corporal punishment. It seemed to work back then, and children were more orderly and controlled. It’s difficult, I guess, to be open to the idea of “positive discipline”, which would sound so lenient and trivial and ineffective given the kinds of problem behaviours we seem to be facing. Licks and beatings made a parent feel like they were “doing something” about the problem.

The fact of the matter is the world children live in today is far more complex. The suppression that comes of a “sound beating” now has so many avenues for rebellion. So many more forces are working against a serious parent that we are more likely to lose our child than we are to get them to conform to our values.

We now have to find ways to be both firm and disciplined and yet engaging and approachable with our children, so that, in the face of painful consequences for their actions, they can still feel fairly safe and sure of our love and concern for them.

We need to create scenarios where our children can rethink their actions, without having to lose face in front of us. Positive discipline provides such opportunities, allowing a parent to take some action on a child’s problem behaviours, while remaining their child’s “safe haven”. It’s not enough to beat my child into submission any­more, not when there are so many opportunities for that child to act out the message, “violence is power”.

And neither is it enough to deal with children’s behavioural problems and poor parenting in isolation anymore either. Positive discipline teaches there are negative consequences for negative behaviours and positive ones for positive behaviour, and that over time behaviour can be shaped for the better. But that lesson cannot be taught in a moral vacuum—not when our political, corporate, religious and civic leadership so often demonstrates the exact opposite!

It’s unfair to target parents and maybe teachers as the source of all our children’s problems when the idea of accountability for one’s actions remains precisely that: an idea. Not when a doctor could make such a horrific and obscene error in judgment as in Quelly Ann Cottle’s case and expect to have his behaviour excused.

No, we can’t transform family life in a moral vacuum. Corporal punishment alone cannot get us where we need to go, for so many reasons now supported by science and research. There are many options we can explore for the develop­ment of our children and family life. But we must be willing as a nation to connect the dots and take an integrated approach. Our national past-time has become “protect the guilty and accuse the innocent”. We’ve got to hold ourselves accountable for the mess that our nation is in, and then go from there. Blessings to all. 

Alicia Hoyte