Spare the rod and enjoy the child

TO BEAT OR NOT TO BEAT

Spare the rod and enjoy the child

Over the years extensive research have concluded that corporal punishment does more harm than good. Forced compliance through physical punishment can actually make a child either lose his self-esteem or worse, make him violent in due course. Dr Ali Khwaja suggests ways in which teachers can contain a boisterous bunch of school children without taking recourse to the cane

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” said the wise teachers and parents of yesteryears.  There is not a single senior citizen today who does not (fondly, and with a smile) recollect the whacks he received from his parent or teacher.  No malice was intended, nor felt. 

Children knew that their elders have a right to punish them the way they thought right. At times when a student was punished for something he had not done, or for some other classmate’s misdemeanour, he sulked for a while, fantasised about a demon eating up the teacher, and forgot all about it.

Over the years extensive research concluded that corporal punishment does more harm than good. Forced compliance through physical punishment can actually make a child either lose his self-esteem or worse, make him violent in due course. 

One of the most convincing recent studies was by Dr Catherine Taylor at Tulane University, USA, where 2,500 children who were spanked frequently at around age three were found to be much more likely to be aggressive by age five. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not endorse spanking under any circumstance, and recommends ‘time-outs’ as a far more effective method of discipline. Denying the child any interaction for a specified period of time, they suggest, force the child to calm down and think about his emotions rather than acting impulsively.

With this awareness teachers in India too were told to use alternate methods of disciplining children, and many did adapt more constructive techniques. Some succeeded, others found themselves helpless among a bunch of boisterous children who would not come under control.  Over a period of time sporadic incidents of child-beating started coming under the glare of media. There were times when hordes of parents descended menacingly on schools where a stray incident of beating had taken place.

The media today highlights every such incident with immediate reporting, mostly portraying the erring teacher in very poor light.  Even in the very unfortunate incident in Chennai where a school boy stabbed his teacher to death for reprimanding him, a section of the public and media actually questioned the late teacher’s wisdom in scolding the boy!

Today a situation has arisen where innumerable teachers are questioning what and how they should keep control of large classes comprising 40-50 students, without any punishment.  Every incident of suicide of a child sends shivers down many high school teachers who fear the repercussions of using any form of pressure or punishment. 

Reports of a child committing suicide can shake up the entire teacher community, who may fear that any reprimand or scolding may result in a student’s suicide. It is another matter that research and surveys have shown beyond doubt that every individual who commits or attempts suicide, develops suicidal thoughts and feelings over months and years due to pressure from various directions, including in his own mind, and the scolding incident in school is most likely just a trigger to already prevalent suicidal impulses.

With the coming of the RTE, teachers are fearing that the deprived children who may require more of conditioning and discipline cannot be restrained in any way due to stringent laws, and as a student grows up to become aware of his rights, he may become intolerably defiant or deficient in studies.  Some schools have gone to the extent of giving verbal instructions to teachers not to touch any child under any circumstance — not even a loving pat, handshake or hug!

Knowing that one cannot fight against the system, teachers need to strengthen their own position by taking a few precautionary measures at the school level or even by individual initiative:

*At the beginning of each academic year, and then periodically, there should be parent-teacher interactions, not just to review student performance, but to form better bonding, understanding and friendship at the adult level.  If teachers are known, and looked upon positively by parents, it is unlikely that they will react negatively or aggressively if at any time a minor incident does takes place in school.
*Similarly, teachers need to spend time and effort to befriend every child in the class.  Non-academic interaction on a regular basis, personal interest in the life of the child, and periodic positive strokes for small good gestures of the student, can build strong rapport and thus preempt any child complaining against the teacher if he is disciplined firmly.
*Have open house discussions on methods of punishment, what rules should be implemented and how, and what remedy should be sought if either teacher or student have a grouse against each other.
*Be aware of unwanted elements who may try to create a crisis even when none exists.  Every school has a small number of parents who are trouble-makers, and it is better to keep a communication channel open with them, and also counter-balance them by having some cooperative and understanding parents constantly in touch.
*If any teacher finds that despite his best efforts he has lost his temper and has been harsh on a child, it is better to seek the help of a colleague or head of the institution there and then. Get a quick check-up of the child, provide first aid if necessary, and also a brief counseling session wherein the child is made to express his feelings, and he is explained patiently why he was punished.  This may ensure that small incidents are not blown out of proportion.
*Some children are depressed due to sad or oppressive circumstances at home.  If they cannot express themselves to anyone in the family, they may tend to come and take out their anger or frustration at school.  A sensitive teacher or counselor can identify such children, and give them periodic emotional support, and tell the concerned teachers to be a little soft on such a student. Otherwise when one teacher is harsh on a child who is already very angry, lonely and resentful, he may resort to something drastic, and the blame may come on the teacher who interacted with him that particular day.
*Of course, the most useful method of balancing discipline with love for the students is to constantly devise ways and means of making punishment constructive. Never forget the proverb: “punish the act, not the child.” Completely avoid derogatory words, humiliation, shaming a child in front of others, labeling, even raising a hand as if to hit, threatening with a stick or scale, throwing chalk pieces.  On the other hand, when a student is getting very naughty, try out innovating techniques such as “time-out” to sit alone in a corner facing the other way, an activity such as sticking labels on books, making him read out the lesson to everyone, giving him rigorous physical activity during the outdoor period, responsibility of taking care of belongings or money, and a firm “talking-to” in privacy.
*There is no doubt that positive-reinforcers are far more effective than negative-reinforcers.  Hence it is a great boon if schools and teachers identify the restless, naughty, inattentive or disturbing children early, and create opportunities to praise or reward them for small things that they may do well.  When a child feels he can get attention by doing good deeds, the chances of his indulging in unwanted activities reduces. And the importance that he gets boosts his self-esteem, ensuring that if at any time he is pulled down and depressed, he will not harm himself and will be able to bounce back.
*Last but not the least, principals and managements need to firstly observe, identify and weed out any teacher who cannot control his or her temper, who resorts to impulsive actions, or has a questionable behaviour.  After doing this, the management should reinforce its faith in their team of teaching staff, and back them up unconditionally if there is any unpleasant incident.

The twenty first century child is completely different from his elder siblings.  He can be very difficult to handle, and equally interesting, challenging, and fun to be with.  It depends on the attitude that the teacher takes, by going down to become a child again, and continue being a child at heart as he or she tackles smaller children every year.  The worst of children are better than the best of adults, and a teacher is actually paid to spend all his time with children!

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