I cannot claim to be an authority on parenting as I am not a parent myself, but I was once a child with parents and school teachers who beat. So I have more than enough authority to speak on corporal punishment, at least from the point of view of a Nigerian child.
I have heard people say that they beat so that children will behave and be better humans when they grow up. Then those children grow up to beat their own children and on and on it goes. We’ve been beating children for millennia, please show me the better humanity.
Many people see beating as the only way to make children learn because that’s how they were brought up. Growing up, I used to think that shouting, threatening, sending on unnecessary errands and being wicked for no good reason were the only ways to relate to people younger than me because that’s the way I was addressed by older people, who were addressed the same way by their own elders.
One day, I sat down and thought about this vicious cycle. I never like it when they shout at me, so why do I do it to others? I can break the cycle, I thought to myself. So, I started learning how to relate to younger ones in a calmer, more patient way – emphasis on the learning, I’m not quite there yet. Likewise, I came to the same conclusion about beating: I can break the cycle.
Children are not animals. In fact, I would never hit or stone an animal, talk less of caning another human. I believe that all children share equal status with adults on the scale of humanity. Children are not any less human than adults. When we are angry with an adult who hurt us and it leads to blows, this is frowned upon. However, when we hit children, it is hailed; although, most of the time, unlike adults, children don’t understand what exactly they did wrong, especially the younger ones.
I see children behaving strangely and trying to communicate something to their parents or nannies, who tend to initially translate this as intentional naughty or annoying behaviour, so the first reaction is to beat which puts the child into even more distress. When things calm down, the adult finds out that the child really needed the loo, or was in pain, or was sad, or had lost something, or was plain bored (even adults get irritated in boredom); but they didn’t know how to express themselves the way an adult would. And they were beaten for it.
I remember five-year-old me waiting up and refusing to go to bed one night because I wanted to see my father who used to come back from work after we had slept. When he came home, I kept trying to get him to carry me but he was probably exhausted and I think my parents saw it as me trying to be naughty, and I got flogged with a belt. Same for the time I forgot my primary four homework book in school. Being the conscientious person I am, I was already inwardly beating myself up. Then later that evening, someone made the mental punishment I was giving myself physical with a rubber slipper.
Growing up, I was told that I would think back to the instances I received corporal punishment and bless them. Honestly, today, I think back and I feel angry. I remember vividly the feelings I had at those times. I really missed my dad and I wanted to spend time with him and I got flogged for it. I already felt like a terrible failure for leaving my homework and the beating drove home the low self-esteem.
Beating doesn’t necessarily correct. When a child keeps trying to climb a table, you beat the child, the child stops trying to climb the table, and you feel satisfied with your accomplishment. The child stopped for fear of the cane, not that they understood that he/she may harm themselves from their exploits. When you’re not around, that child will still climb that table. Now, replace table climbing with smoking or any other thing you would dread as a parent. Beating doesn’t guarantee enlightenment.
Many Nigerians say it is impossible to raise children without hitting them, but I have seen parents that abhor beating and their children turned out perfectly fine and happy. In fact, I am jealous of the level of intimacy between parents and children those families tend to have. I believe that beating prevents children (especially teenagers) from seeing their parents as trustworthy friends that they can confide in. They don’t tell their parents their problems or worries for fear of getting flogged for the things they might say. So they go and put their confidence in someone else.
This doesn’t mean I don’t believe in discipline or correcting children when they do wrong. There are other ways of communicating correction. At least for my case, most of the time, all I needed was for someone to sit down and seriously talk to me about the consequences of my wrong actions, how I could hurt myself or other people. As a parent, take time to really know your children and figure out what works. Don’t be ashamed to research healthy disciplinary methods in books and on the internet.
I think Nigerian couples really need to take time and think through this whole parenting thing before they jump on the bandwagon to have children and lavish first birthday parties. I get that being a parent is hard, tiring and confusing but this is the task you took on when you decided to become pregnant in the first place, so deal with it. Don’t lash out your frustration on your children.