No amount of corporal punishment will resolve defiant behaviour in children, if the underlying issues are not identified and addressed appropriately. File photo: Independent Media
The recent Constitutional Court ruling outlawing corporal punishment in the home has raised the ire of many people and has become a highly controversial topic for discussion on the radio and social media.

Unfortunately, people vehemently opposed to the ruling have painted some unrealistic and implausible scenarios that might ensue as a result of this ruling.

The law, now, makes it possible to deal with parents who resort to corporal punishment as the only means of discipline, and to prevent such punishment from causing serious physical and emotional harm to children.

One of the main arguments against corporal punishment is that it incorrectly teaches children to resolve conflict with violence.

The ruling deals with spanking, but there are many other forms of violence that children are subjected to by their parents, who often lack proper parenting skills and who are unwilling to learn these skills.

These other forms of violence are emotional, psychological, financial and total parental neglect.

In my many years of counselling children, I have come across several instances where parents bully their defenceless young children by screaming at them and instilling the worst form of fear into them for the most insignificant and bizarre reasons.

I have had to deal with several children who were subjected to the same type of fear from their teachers, who used rulers on their learners’ fingers, hands and heads because, it seems, this was the only way these teachers could exercise their authority on small, fearful boys and girls.

When corporal punishment was the norm, hundreds of years ago, little was understood about child behaviour and the many causes for erratic and disruptive behaviour in children.

Today, we have learnt so much about early childhood and adolescent behaviours, its causes and treatment, that there is overwhelming evidence that corporal punishment, does more harm than good to children.

Some of the reasons for disruptive behaviour are strongly linked to conditions like attention deficit hyperactive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, separation anxiety, severe depression, learning disorders - dyslexia - malnourishment and other undiagnosed mental conditions.

In my many years of counselling children from as young as 5 years old, I have managed to change the behaviour of many of these children just by listening to them.

What played a big role in bringing about the change was to educate parents as well as teachers, in a subtle way, on how to deal with children who suffer from psychological and emotional trauma.

No amount of corporal punishment will resolve defiant behaviour in children, if the underlying issues are not identified and addressed appropriately.

That does not mean that children must not be disciplined or taught discipline. This can be done most effectively with love and sternness, without resorting to the barbaric cane and belt method.

Finally, to punish is to hurt, to discipline is to teach. Teach our children, don’t beat them.

* Rapiti is a specialist physician and motivational speaker.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.