Njundu Drammeh: Child “discipline”, A Misconstrued Term?

Njundu Drammeh

We don’t teach or inculcate “discipline” by subjecting children to physical and humiliating punishments.

We teach them violence; we teach them that “might is right”. We teach them hate/hatred. And in many instances, through constant “humiliating and degrading punishments”, romantically call “discipline”, we destroy their self esteem, self worth and dignity. If the physical or humiliating punishments occur in school, by teachers, they often come to hate the teacher and the subject. If in the home, some can grow up to hate the parent. In fact the hatred for parent/guardian can be intense if the child feels that he or she is always scapegoated, picked on or the punishment is always disproportionate to offence committed.

“Discipline” is not “punishment”. Punishment is inflicting of pain and only provides a temporary relief to the “punisher”, a feeling that the child disobeyed and got what is deserved. Some children may never redo the action for which they were beaten or humiliated, but majority do when the instrument of fear is absent or when they know can do without being caught. In that instance the “intention” for punishing is lost and the child grows up with the undesirable action.

“Discipline”, on the hand, helps a child develop internal codes of conducts which guide his relationships with himself/herself and with others. He’s taught honesty and what it means to be dishonesty and its implications. She’s taught values of truthfulness, kindness, respect, hardwork, equality, trustworthiness, table manners, expectations when guests visit, and all the other family values. Every day the head of the family takes one value and discusses it with the family. There is a family code and rules. Everyone lives by this code or rules, including the head of the family. It’s “no one is above the law”.

Everyone understands that if these rules are obeyed or broken or violated there are consequences. These could entail positive reinforcements such as praises which, when genuinely made, can tremendously boost a child’s esteem; logical consequences (a child understands that if he or she destroys something in the house he or she pays, through, for instances deduction of the pocket money, to replace the broken item); appreciation of the child’s efforts; helping mum in household chores which won’t affect the health or education; etc.

The purpose of discipline is for the child to be inculcated good manners, through mirroring the character of the parents. No discipline would work for any child when the parents aren’t themselves exemplary in their words and actions. Children learn what they see.

Imagine a parent who beats a child for lying but when the “behchek” comes to get his money, the parent instructs the child “tell him am not around”. Same goes for back biting, hypocrisy, dishonesty, etc.

Imagine also that a child steals a morsel of meat from the pot or doesn’t do an errand because of playfulness and when confronted he or she confesses to the offence. Then the child gets beaten for being honesty. Certainly such a child would never confess to an offence in the future because “there is a price to pay for being honest”. He learns lying and may be grow up with it.

I have seen, in my working life, harrowing “discipline” meted on children, from insertion of red hot spoon in the private part of a child, to putting pepper in the eyes of a child for peeping, to burning the hand of a child for stealing D5, to asking a child to walk on burning coal for being a truant, to tying a child to a bed post for 2 days for stealing food.

Recently, we saw the video of a women who was beating a child with a pestle. All of these parents would tell you one thing “I was disciplining the child”. And they were because society has made all of us to believe that “discipline” is beating, hurting, injuring, etc. For these parents their intention is “good”, it’s to discipline. Well, if these forms of punishment are “disciplin”, woe betide that society.

People have told me “Njundu, you have been beaten that’s why you are good”. That is a myth. A lot factors contribute to making good or bad. Many of us, our parents stopped beating us by age 12. Who disciplines us from that age? I have met countless other people who have told me their parents never lay a hand on them and yet they are extremely disciplined.

Surveys by both CPA and UNICEF have showed a very high prevalence of physical and psychological violence against children, perpetrated by parents or carers. If we superimpose this on the general society and against the level of “indiscipline”, may be it is high time we had national discourse on what “discipline” we expect from our children. I bet the armed robber, sexual harasser, corrupt official, road rage driver, drug dealer, guy who jumps the queue, the abusive partner and many others would show you marks on their bodies to show the “discipline” they had in their childhood. But alas, the discipline they got in their childhood hasn’t to any benefit in their adulthood.

Don’t get me wrong: am for disciplined children, disciplined adults, disciplined society. I admire children who exhibit the highest decorum. I admire adults who have a value system against which their lives revolves. I admire discipline when it is shown on our roads and and by service providers to their clients, customers or clients. I aspire to be like them. What I think we ought to look at is our perception of discipline, especially for children and how we do it. How has it helped the society? The child is the father or mother of the man or woman.

Discipline we must inculcate in our children and children must understand their are prices to pay for an infraction. What should that be? How should that be? What should be the long term aim intention? Would we achieve that through physical and humiliating punishment? Well…

My most favourite teachers remain the ones who brought out the best in me, were friendly, took me like their own child, spent their little on me, served as counsellor and social worker, taught me mores and never beat. Am sure you have one you always give maximum priority when he or she visits your institution for service.

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