Lamar Kanafani, the island’s first, and so far only, licensed marriage and family therapist, writes for WTM on the issues that concern mums.
In last month’s article, I wrote that spanking isn’t an effective parenting technique in that it only produces negative outcomes, like teaching children that physical aggression is the way to express emotions and solve problems. It also builds resentment, distrust and insecurity in the parent-child relationship, and fails to teach effective communication skills, internal controls and self-discipline.
If you find yourself resorting to spanking whenever you have to discipline (teach/guide/mould) your kids, chances are you get angry often and express your emotions through yelling, threatening, punishing, emotionally withdrawing, silent treatment and other forms of power and control over your child. So, simply giving you a list of the alternatives to spanking won’t make much of a difference. You need to first ask yourself why this happens. Is it truly your child that is causing this reaction in you, or is it about you?
Studies have shown these techniques are just as harmful as spanking. So, for the purpose of this article, spanking and verbal aggression fall under the same category.
It isn’t easy to look inwards and reflect on what might be causing our internal upset, whether it is in the moment or generally. Many times, we skip over and disregard the real (primary) emotions that lie beneath the anger and frustration (secondary emotions). Primary emotions are those feelings that are vulnerable and difficult to communicate (embarrassed, worried, afraid, etc), and most of us were taught through ‘old-fashioned’ parenting techniques to brush off or hide our feelings, before we even learn to be in touch with and identify them. If we grew up learning to handle emotions through anger and its various synonyms, we teach our children to do the same. It’s a vicious cycle.
It somehow feels riskier to tell your child: “I feel embarrassed and afraid of being criticised when you don’t practise the table manners I taught you at home.” Baselessly, we believe this honesty will encourage our children to take advantage of us. Compare that with: “You’re being rude and impolite at the dinner table. Show some respect and watch your manners!” The former is devoid of criticism, put-downs, name-calling, blaming and judgement; and in fact invites your child to understand and empathise and to willingly cooperate from a desire to please you. The latter communicates that your child is bad and there’s something wrong with them. So why should they try any harder when that is what you think of them? Children live up to your expectations, which are communicated through your words and actions.
One way to prevent yourself giving in to spanking is to make an effort to prevent the anger taking over in the first place. You will need to be very self-aware in the moment and understand what might be contributing to this. Ask yourself: Am I tired or sick, am I physically in pain, am I frustrated with my husband/wife, was I yelled at by my boss today, have I been overloaded with stressors lately, etc? Also, ask yourself: Is my child tired, hungry, upset at something unrelated to the moment, worried, exhausted, uncomfortable, etc?
Remember, your child’s behaviour, any behaviour, is his/her way of communicating something internal; so get curious, rather than reactive, and then investigate the matter to attend to the root cause of the emotional overwhelm. If you find that you’ve reached your limit, take care of yourself first because you won’t otherwise be able to properly take care of your child. Get yourself in the habit of telling your child something along the lines of: “I’m feeling such and such right now, so let’s take a break. I need to calm down, gather my thoughts, and we will readdress the issue later.” If you’re in public, remove both yourself and your child from the crowd. This small but significant act in itself gives you time to breathe and think before you act, and it eliminates the embarrassing emotions generated simply by being in public.
For more suggestions on what to do in the moment, like breathing exercises, counting to 10 etc, you can visit anti-spanking websites. However, be mindful and disregard ‘expert’ advice that encourages punitive, controlling or shameful parenting tactics.
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