The better way
Physical punishment is essentially a lazy form of discipline as you are simply trying to silence the child with pain and fear, said Dr Lim.
If parents want to use corporal punishment to discipline the child, they should agree with him beforehand the circumstances in which caning will be used and the number of strokes, and provide him with the rationale before the punishment, he said.
Using the cane repeatedly – even lightly – is not an effective way to teach values as it attempts to do so by shaming the child, said Dr Lim.
This may lead to the child developing excessive guilt and low self- esteem, he said. “It would be better for the parents to spend more time explaining to the child the difference between right and wrong.”
To discipline means to develop a child’s maturity but not to hurt him, said Dr Kiing. Hurting a child ends in pain and guilt for everyone.
Positive parenting, where communication lines are kept open while parent and child think through issues together, is more constructive. It has been shown to be effective and leads to improved parent-child trust.
The key is to parent the child in a nurturing and non-hurtful way, said Dr Kiing. Parents need to find out why their child is behaving in a certain way. Children who are hyperactive or want to test the limits all the time should be evaluated, rather than caned.
But parents also have to be consistent in applying the positive parenting approach, especially in the Asian context, where there may be different caregivers for a child in a multi-generational household.
Parents must invest time to learn the best way to raise a child.
Dr Kiing added: “When you discipline a child, you can’t do it in anger as it has the risk of becoming abuse.”
If your child refuses to do his homework
Children who are caned over schoolwork will associate fear with the cane, said Dr Jennifer Kiing, a senior consultant at the National University Hospital’s child development unit.
“They will think, ‘Oh my gosh, if I am not going to do this, I will be caned’,” she said.
What parents can do
Dr Kiing pointed out that all children want to succeed. She said: “If they are not succeeding, we have to understand the reason. What you don’t want to do is to discipline in anger. Keep yourself apart from your child when you are really angry.”
She added: “If a child is dyslexic, for instance, no amount of caning is going to help.”
Ms Ong Li Min, the principal clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health‘s department of child and adolescent psychiatry, said: “Parents should try to find out if the homework is too difficult or too much. If the child is overwhelmed by the amount of homework, let him do half of it before lunch and the rest after lunch.”
If a young child is distracted by what is showing on television, she said, the parents should get him to do his homework in another room or let him watch TV during his rest time.
If a teenager wants to spend time on his mobile phone instead of doing his schoolwork, the parents can talk to him and share their concerns. They should also listen to their child’s concerns, she said.
“Parents need to dig deeper. Why didn’t he do his homework? Is someone bullying him? Does he have learning difficulties?” said Ms Ong.
“Discipline is more than punishment. You are training a child and you need to know what’s your goal.”
– Triple P way to good parenting
– A positive parenting programme in 149 primary and secondary schools here – the Triple P – has been shown in an evaluation study to lead to greater competence and lower stress for parents.
It also leads to fewer behavioural problems in children, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Social and Family Development.
Created in Australia, the programme is offered to parents of children in Primary 3 and 4, and Secondary 1 and 2. It will be expanded to 175 schools next year.
The programme is designed to help parents of children with behavioural or emotional problems, said Mr Francis Lee, an accredited Triple P trainer.
A primary school pupil may have difficulty waking up for school or refuse to tidy a messy room. For such problems, group training is offered.
A one-to-one approach is used for more challenging behaviour, such as young children telling lies, he said.
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