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Updated: January 11, 2010 18:57 IST

The balancing act

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Does sparing the child from a smacking, save him or spoil him? File Photo: V. Sudershan
The Hindu
Does sparing the child from a smacking, save him or spoil him? File Photo: V. Sudershan

Would sparing the rod mean saving or spoiling your child?

Recently when I was waiting my turn at the billing counter in a mall, I noticed a three year old throw a particularly noisy, disruptive tantrum — he was standing on top of the counter, yelling and kicking his mom, screeching loudly enough for everyone within a mile to stop and notice. Seeing his mom seemingly embarrassed and still molly-coddling and sweet talking him I wanted to intervene (the child was anyways going the right way for a smacked bottom) and put an end to the spectacle but stopped short. While it was easy to judge the parent as a ‘spoiler' and the child as spoilt, I wondered what I would have done if it were my little fellow…

We've heard too many adages (and modified versions) when it comes to disciplining or punishing children. If we've heard of “spare the rod and spoil the child” we've also heard of “spare the rod and save the child”. Is corporal punishment such as smacking, whacking, kneeling or beating a way of making children understand right from wrong? Or should we only patiently reason with children in the hope that will learn from their mistakes? Should we as parents tolerate ego, anger, violence, temper and tantrums in our tots?

Says T. Zacharias, father of four-year-old Aadarsh and one-year-old Aatmika, “Like everything else in life it's all about striking the right balance. The intent should always be to get the message across in whichever way the child understands best. The chances of gen next being spoilt if the rod is spared are that much more because of their over-exposure to media that propagates violence, consumerism, materialism, sleaze and dilution of moral standards. Quite obviously the other extreme, which is an over-dose of punishments, will automatically result in children losing connect with you and doing things on the sly for fear of being punished,” he adds.

Agrees Supriya Ajay, mother of Ashwin and Maria: “I have always believed in a mid-path when it comes to disciplining children. So when either of the children throw a fit of temper or is unnecessarily stubborn even after I have explained reasons, I have a plastic ruler which I ‘threaten' them with”, she winks. “Thank God I've never used it till date, but the fear is enough most of the time!” she laughs.

Temper control

“There are also several times when we get very annoyed when children do things out of carelessness like maybe spilling milk on the floor or drawing on the walls, despite several warnings. In such cases I bite down my temper and give them ‘punishments' such as taking away a favourite toy or no television and cartoons for a day; that seems to work very well,” she adds

“In my experience, my wife and me play the role of wielding the ‘stick' and ‘carrot', respectively. The ‘carrot' part is quite convenient for me,” laughs Anand Natarajan, adding, “If we encourage and push children in their interest areas, you will be amazed at their physical and mental strengths and abilities. And that positive energy keeps them well out of trouble for the most part!”

Says Rani Mathew, grandmother of four: “I grew up in a household where every mistake culminated in varying degrees of smacks and whacks!” she recalls laughing. “Of course we need to appreciate and adapt to the changes that come with each passing generation — nuclear families with one or two children are common these days while I was the 13th child in my family! My experience seems to prove the effectiveness of the rod and I feel that children best understand the importance of avoiding something wrong only when there is pain, in sufficient measure, acting as a deterrent. Of course extremely painful beatings and hurtful angry words are a strict no for parents, because that leaves kids bitter and wanting to get back”

Of course at the end we all know that no two children come from the same backgrounds, whether economic, social or educational.

And no two parents are the same, in character, personality traits or parenting styles. Quite obviously, your unique style is what works best for your child, with or without the rod.

After all, one of the greatest gifts we can leave behind in this world is a future generation which has imbibed good values and lives responsibly in society.

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