Smacking a Child – is it Really That Bad as a Method of Disciplining?

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When our child behaves in a way unacceptable to us and we want to set it right in the most appropriate way to make him/ her learn and behave, is smacking one of the acceptable ways? It is the question before us.

There is an ancient, oft-quoted formula available in Hindu philosophy which is actually meant for kings/ administrators. When a king/ administrator comes across confrontational behavior from his subjects, how should he react and treat them? The suggestion is known as “sama-dhana-bedha-dhanda” in Sanskrit language. Each word denotes an approach; they have to be practiced in the given order.

The same formula can be rightly and successfully applied on the erring children too.

Now let us understand what these words denote:

Sama 

It means a patient and soft advice, which is the first step. Explain to the child softly as to what is wrong in his behavior and why you can’t accept it.

Dhana

It means a gift. When the child refuses to heed to the soft advice, bait him with an offer of gift. While you are shopping in a mall, you child gets attracted by a very costly toy and he/ she throws tantrums demanding you to procure the item. When your soft counseling fails, you make an offer to buy him/ her a (cheaper but a) cute looking T-shirt containing a Micky-mouse picture at the front. Some children do amicably settle for the alternative.

Bedha

it means, diversionary tactics. It also means threatening: “or else”; This is the third step when the previous ones fail. An adamant child throws tantrum at the toy shop asking for a specific, costly toy that parents can’t afford to. The parents, after sama and dhana fail, say in a manacing voice, “You keep standing and crying here; the rest of us will leave you here all alone and go back home; You can stay here and keep playing with all the toys; At night, the shop owner will come and hand you over to the police!”

Dhanda

It means the quintessential “rod”. We all know it already: “Spare the rod and spoil the child”. Yes! It is the last resort,  when every one of the previous steps fails.

For the most obnoxious child, the rod does help.

Children start developing stubbornness and the art of throwing up tantrums in a willful manner some time above two and a half years of age. Even below this age, they do it, but not too willfully — it has its charm of its own and the parents do get some amusement out of it. At that tender age, it is quite entertaining and even joyful to see children indulging in such acts. It is also much easier to divert the child’s mind from such a behavior.

But once the children start doing it in a willful manner, their intention is to test waters — to gage as to what extent they can negotiate and maneuver their ways with their parents. Each child has its own “moral quotient” or a personality trait even at the tender age. Some children back-track their faux pas upon counseling; some upon getting a gift; some upon hearing the threat and some only after getting the smack!

Some people argue that smacking is violent and no violence is permissible on the tender children who have no power to defend themselves. Perhaps they are not quite adept in understanding children psychology. When a child knows for sure that parental affection is the reason behind smacking (and children do possess this capacity of judgment very well developed in them), they do not develop hatred on parents. The word “affection” is to be stressed here.

On the contrary, if an alcoholic father hits his children for no fault of them but only as a mode to ventilate his frustration against his wife or a if a mother hits her children for a petty cause just to release her pent up tensions of her office, these are obvious cases of abusing children; these are not acts based on affection. Children will not take such beatings lightly until the parents express some form of regret, not necessarily in the form of verbal apology, but in some way the children can perceive. Children do not carry vindictiveness as grown-ups do.

I have seen several times that my children behave rightly after receiving a smack or two at the appropriate stage and they never carry a grudge on account of it. In fact, during dinner time get-togethers with my (presently) grown up  children, we use to joyfully recall the skirmishes they did in their childhood and the beating they received and have a hearty laugh about them!

Another important point to bear in mind is the age up to which we can use smacking as the last disciplining weapon on children. I would safely say that we can do it until the children reach puberty. Around that age, children develop a complex mindset which detests being treated as little children. Smacking the children beyond this age generally starts producing negative results even if the parent is fully justified in their act. At this stage, the formula should rather stop at Sama-dhana-bedha. No more dhanda.

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