Child abuse: Discipline or punishment?

Janet Mark

Over the years, African parents keep making this common mistake that abusing a child is the best form of correction. They believe that metting hard punishment teaches a child respect and obedience hence they beat the child, (hurting and inflicting pain on the child in the process) in a bid to ‘discipline’ the child. This practice which is now a long standing tradition in Nigeria is being passed from generation to generation, while an increasing number of children/minors are constantly abused everyday. The question is: has this method of child discipline been effective?

What parents don’t know

Parents want the perfect children when they themselves were not perfect; they impose and violate their children because they gave birth to those children and feel they know ‘what is best’ for them, but what parents don’t know is that:- A child is an independent being born with their own thoughts, feelings and mind.- Beating a child will only instill temporary fear in the mind of the child and when the child outgrows the beatings, no legacy is passed on.- Discipline is quite different from punishment- A child wishes to be respected, listened to and understood. Sadly, what parents don’t know are some reasons parents fail.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is when an adult, parent or guardian hurts a child’s feelings or body.  

Types of Child abuse

a) Verbal abuse: this is the use of derrogatory words on a child. Eg ridicule, laying curses or using abusive words on a child.

b) Physical abuse: this entails physical toture eg beating, hitting or flogging the child.

c) Sexual abuse: this is when an adult pressures or forces a child to engage in sexual activities by having physical contact with the child’s genitals and other sensitive parts of the  body.

d) Emotional abuse: This is when a parent denies a child love, approval, security, or mistreats a child in the way they speak or act towards them. Eg bullying, yelling, terrorising, isolating, harsh or excessive critism on the child.

e) Neglect: Child neglect is when a parent or other persons with responsibility for the child fails to provide a child with the basic things they need to grow such as shelter, food, hygiene, supervision, medical attention, education or safety to the degree that the child’s health, safety or well-being is threatened with harm. 

Reasons of child abuse

a) Anger: parents hardly beat their children when they are happy but when they are provoked, hitting the child becomes the next fast or convenient thing to do.

This means that most parents act based on their emotions and not necesarily on the basis of correction. Simply put, they react before they think or act.

b) Impatience: patience is a virtue to be imbibed when it comes to child upbringing, but since many parents are too busy, burdened or too tired to exercise patience when kids make mistakes, they abuse the children hoping that they will understand and probably change.

c) To instill fear: one biggest tool adults use on children is fear. This is because when they threaten a child with a cane or any object that represents toture, the child suddenly becomes scared and temporarily remorseful.

They scare the child to listen and unfortunately end up abusing the child in the process.

d) Force obedience: parents abuse their children in order to make them obey and often times, the child submits only because they have been threatened to do so.

e) Correction tool: Most parents think that by beating a child, they are ‘correcting’ the child hence physical abuse has become a norm and even legalized form of discipline in Nigeria.

f) Regret: this is when a parents gives birth to a child through unwanted pregancies and blames the child for their mistakes. Sometimes it is due to the parent’s difficult marriage, health complications, or unpleasant past.

g) Depression: when some parents get depressed, pained or frustrated about their failures or life in general, they take it out on the children without any fault or cause.

h) Absence: Some parents are not present in their children’s lives. Divorce, Busy job schedules, intentional absence are some reasons why children experience sexual abuse or neglect.

i) Love: Twisted as it may be, ‘love’ is what some abusive parents claim to have for their children.

Whether they neglect, toture, harshly criticize, lay curses or sexually abuse their children, they actually don’t think is out of anything but love.

Signs of Child Abuse

Child abuse might not seem obvious at first and some parents might not know that their behavior is abusive towards their children but these are few obvious signs to observe when a child is being abused.

a) Withdrawal from activities or people.

b) Avoiding parents and responsibilities.

c) Lack of trust in parentsd) Display of rebellion.

e) Exhibition of fear around the parent or guardian.

f) Timidity or low self esteem.

Effects of child abuse

a) Psychological effect: child abuse conveys a long lasting negative impression in the mind of a child. It makes the child feel flawed, unloved, unwanted, and even endangered. Sometimes even withholding communication from a child, exploitating, destroying personal belongings or humiliating a child can affect the child’s mental well being.

b) Trauma/depression: Sucidal thoughts and tendencies, depression, trauma and frustrations are borne due to excessive abuse on a child. When the child is traumatised, they face the pain of living in costant fear and rejection.

c) Physical injuries/pain: Child abuse does not only cause needless physical pain but can lead to unwanted injuries such as fractures and even death.

d) Self esteem: when a child is repeatedly abused, the integrity and dignity of that child becomes totally damaged.

The child feels devalued, worthless and looses self confidence which may lead to identity crises in the future.

e) Health complications: sexual abuse can cause health complications like HIV, STDs, and other health related dangers.

f) Revictimization: most times children who have been abuse are prone to be victims of another abuse. Research has shown that maltreated children have a high tendency of becoming maltreating adults.  

g) Anger/Resentment: Child abuse builds resentment, anger and hatred in the heart of a child towards their parent. 
What is the proper way to discipline? First, understand your child, know that they are children and are bound to make mistakes. Therefore make room for mistakes. When you don’t understand them, abuse is inevitable. 

Second, correct in love. A guide is never harsh and anytime a medium for teaching is harsh, the message becomes lost. 

Third, always try to distinguish between discipline and punishment. Punishment is hurting a child for their mistakes while discipline is pointing a child to their mistakes in order to prevent future reoccurence.Punishment is a consequence of a wrong action while discipline prepares a child to act better and arm the child with knowledge to deal with mistakes better.Punishment blames a child for their mistakes while discipline comes from the word discipling.

To disciple is to teach. Fourth, use wisdom. know when to leave the child alone or when to say you’re sorry. It dosen’t hurt to apologize to your child.Fifth, Don’t force your opinion or impose your ideas on a child no matter how much you think you know what is best for that child. What may seem right for you may not seem right for the child. You can seek your child’s permission before making decisions that concerns them. Let them make their choices because your personal preferences may not be the same with theirs.Sixth.

Control your emotions. A child may learn whatever lesson you’re trying to teach them immediately, after a while, or never. No need to feel bad. You cannot control everything that happens to the child so enlighten your child and not threaten them negatively or exaggerate postivity just to force obedience.

Seven. Share their pain, judge less and don’t condemn them for their actions. Always listen, and try to talk with them instead of talking to them. 

Hinderances to proper discipline

a) Origin: In times past, flogging was used to punish our forefathers who were slaves and unfortunately,  this is what we grew into. We haven’t been exposed to any other way and have passed it down to our children as a norm.

b) Myths: there are certain myths, misconceptions and stereotypes that has promoted child abuse in Nigeria. Children are perceived as ‘brainless minors’ that can be easily subjugated while adults are viewed as ‘wise and all knowing’ people who can rightfully abuse a child.

c) Mental block: Some parents have created mental blocks in their minds and already have their predefined views towards child discipline.

Religion, cultural beliefs, babaric ways, misguided view are some factors that contributes to this factor.

d) Ignorance: some parents don’t think they are abusing their children or don’t see child abuse as a problem even when they can visibly see the effects on their children.

e) Laws: there are no active laws that  penalizes people who abuse children especially when it comes to physical abuse like flogging that causes physical harm to the child.

f) Lack of sensitisation: many people in both rural and urban areas have not been sensitized about proper methods of discipline. 

Benefits of proper discipline

a) You have better chances of commanding more respect from your child.

b) You get to build a solid foundational relationship with your child that wil last you for years. 

c) Your child will trust and confide in you the more.

d) There is no communication barriers between you and your child.d) Your child retains the values you have taught them.

e) You create a safe environment for your children to learn, play and build.f) You automatically become your child’s role model.

Tips to standout as a successful parentAs broad as parenting may be, it is the little things that matter. Understanding the critical years in a child’s development life can help you to be better prepared in grooming your child.Ages 0-5 – child observes more because of their inability to express their viewsAges 5-12 – Child learns by discipline and correction that is taking close watch of parents actions as templates to emulate.Ages 13-17 – the child put to test all they have learnt over the years and compare it with their experiences with their peer. This is also known as the rebellion age. Ages 17 onwards – the Child has reached adulthood and mastered all they learnt in child development.

As a parent:

a) Go the extra mile: Children look up to their parents but how do you teach what you don’t know? Equip yourself with knowlege, Improve your methods and try a better approach if your method is not productive.

b) Encourage your child: Give them moral support and materials that they need to succeed.

c) Be open: be honest and do not lie to your children. Tell them about yourself and let them also know that you’re human.

When you lie to your child, he or she will not trust you with certain information about themselves and they will still find their answers elsewhere. Even if you don’t have answers, promise to find out. They will know you’re making genuine efforts instead of giving them a convenient lie.

d) Don’t compare: stop comparing your child with other children, every childis unique and differs in capacity, IQ or development.

e) Appreciate your child: compliment and reward them for any job well done.

It dosen’t hurt to hug, kiss or express how much you love them once in a while.

f) Respect their choice: value their decision and do not undermine them. Don’t think for them or try to decide their future.

g) Be Present: The school teachers, religious leaders or maids should not take your place as a parent in your child’s life. Pay attention to tell tell signs and be urgent in times of  emergencies or health challenges. Always defend and protect them in times of danger.

h) Provide for your child: take care of their financial, physical and emotional needs. Do not burden them with responsibilities. Try to minimize expectations from them.

I) Build relationship: Be your child’s friend and not just a parent. Play with them, take them out and crack jokes together. Get to know their friends and don’t discrimate even when you don’t like their friends.

j) Listen to your child: this is key. Listen, don’t just hear but listen. Sometimes all you need to do is to just listen to your child. The benefits of listening to your child makes the whole difference most times.

In conclusion: it is never too late to be the parent you never had. The growth of a nation depends on the growth of a healthy minded child, and only sound children can positively contribute to the betterment of the society.

Mark writes from Abuja via 08134591835