28 JUNE 2010
The task of parenting is complex. It encompasses general aims such as attending to the chiIdís physical needs, giving love and encouragement, ensuring the childís education, facilitating learning, providing boundaries and encouraging polite and considerate behaviour in the child. The aim of good parenting is to produce a happy and moral adult who has a conscience, who is empathic, and who is capable of fulfilling his or her potential. To complete the cycle, the parent hopes to see the child become an adult who is capable of successfully parenting the next generation.
Our behaviour as parents is heavily influenced by the parenting we received; how often do we hear parents remarking that they have heard their own parentís phrases being spontaneously and surprisingly spoken from their own lips? People often utilize the same disciplinary tactics as their parents did, so it stands to reason that where the majority within a population recalls being physically punished by their parents in the past, this is likely to remain a method of providing discipline.
Smacking as a means of controlling a chiIdís behaviour is very common. It is seen as a quick intervention, which usually stops misbehaviour in the short term. However, a smack tends to terminate a row ("Now let that be an end to it!"). It does not tend to be associated with a positive learning experience in which the child is helped to develop its conscience, become more empathic or internalize moral values. Rather the parent has modelled an aggressive response, and children who are smacked frequently learn to respond with aggression when they are frustrated.
Furthermore in order to obtain the same effect in future situations of conflict, many people find that they have to smack harder. Some of the parents presenting to Health and Social Sen/ices agencies are worried that they will "go too far" in disciplining their children. They feel increasingly frustrated and angry with the child who is no longer responding to physical punishment, try as the parent might. On the other hand the child who is harshly disciplined often learns to hide or to lie about problems in order to avoid being chastised.
The use of corporal punishment is associated with significant increases in physical abuse, with long term aggression and other antisocial behaviour, and with mental health problems; later on, in adulthood, it is associated with the abuse of a partner or child (Gershoff, 2000). It must be said, however, that many of these links are interrelated in a very complex manner; other parenting deficits can go hand in hand with resorting to smacking, and may be responsible at least in part, for some of the persistent negative effects attributed to smacking. This means that in attempting to help parents find other means of managing difficult behaviour, attention must be paid to these surrounding areas of parent-child interactions, and parent issues.
DR FIONNULA LEDDY
Leddy, F. (2001). Using non-violent means to parent
children, through understanding how problem behaviours develop.
Child Care in Practice, 7, 3. pp. 222-223.
Gershoff, E. (2000). The short- and long-term effects of punishment on children: A meta analytical review. In Elliman, D. and Lynch, M.A. (2000). The Physical punishment of children Arch Dis Child, 83. pp. 196-198.