Thursday, 23 October 2014

In Finland they spare the rod without spoiling the child.

"Spare not the rod and spoil the child" is a biblical saying that’s very popular in Trinidad. Corporal punishment in the home is now illegal in forty countries. Trinidad is not one of them. However, this practice is tabu in Finland and has long since been discontinued. In contrast, every now and then some Trini Facebook friend will post a video of some child doing something wrong and will ask if that child shouldn’t be spanked. One video was of a teenager being spanked with a belt for posting semi-nude pictures on FB. Almost all the Trinidadians commenting are usually in favour of spanking. When I argued against spanking I have gotten replies like: "We were spanked and we turned out OK" or "Spanking is the only thing that works". My mother-in-law was horrified when I told her these stories. In fact physical punishment already began to lose favour in Finland in the previous generation. Only one of my friends reports being spanked by his father and he is still angry about it. When I comment on my friends’ posts I cite current research findings explaining that physical punishment actually does the opposite of what parents are trying to achieve and may even lead to mental problems and delinquency. . Still, Trinis will argue that spanking is good for the child.

I have never liked being spanked and already as a child I knew that there must be a better way to teach children to behave. I remember wondering how a spanking would help me to learn anything else other than how not to be caught next time. I don't understand how anyone who has been spanked can do the same to their children. But I do understand that if you have been given no other example to follow you will probably fall back on the same methods your parents used. The fact is, spanking in the moment is easy. But long-term, strategic, non-violent parenting is more difficult and takes more work and patience. When my Finnish friends talk about ways to get their children to behave, it seems that using non-violent methods comes naturally. One of my friends was asked where she came up with all these parenting tricks and she says she doesn't really know. “Probably my parents did the same with me” she replied. But for someone like me who grew up being spanked and hearing things like "children should be seen and not heard", "children don't have feelings", and my all time favorite, "because I said so!" non-physical child rearing methods do not come naturally. That’s why I read countless parenting books. Because of all the research I do on parenting, people probably think that I am a “helicopter parent”. But the truth is 1) the scientist in me has to research every topic of interest and 2) I don't have non-physical disciplining examples from my own childhood. So basically most of my ideas on child rearing have come from books.

What I really like about Finnish child rearing is that parents believe it is possible to teach correct behaviour without spanking. In Trinidad people seem to see child rearing as a power struggle where parents are the master and children are subservient. Here, child rehearing is about building trust and teaching children correct behaviour, not forcing them to do what you say through fear of violence. Finns think the point is to teach the child so that later they can make the right decision on their own when the parent is not around. That way the parent does not always need to be looking over a child’s shoulder with a big stick for them to behave.

Of course one and two year olds are not at the developmental stage to understand and be reasoned with. But there are methods and tricks like distraction etc. which can be used until the age at which you can reason and teach consequences. The point is that there are other methods besides spanking that work. And if you really want to find a non-physical method of child rearing, you can. There are many resources out there, TV (Supper nanny), websites and blogs, and parenting books. I found that many of these methods work and I haven’t needed to spank my child to get her to act appropriately. Of course it’s not easy and children will not always behave like angels even with all your best efforts. But that’s life.

Contrary to popular belief sparing the rod has not made Finnish children spoilt. In fact, at one of our “family birthday parties” where there were eight children of various ages, my Brazilian friend remarked on how well behaved Finnish children were in comparison to Brazilian children. I had to agree that I had not experienced such well behaved children in Trinidad either. Finland also has low rates of delinquency and crime. So maybe there is something to be said for not spanking your child. And maybe children will act better with gentle treatment and positive reinforcement.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Talkative Finns

This week I saw a video of Jimmy Kimmel talking to a couple of his audience members who were from Helsinki, Finland.
In the tradition of great Finnish men like Mika Häkkinen and Kimi Räikkönen these guys were brief and to the point with their one syllable answers.

Finns are not known for the art of small talk like Americans or the English. In fact the idea of speaking uselessly is anathema to them. They really encompass the idea of "If you have nothing useful to say, then say nothing". For instance there is a classic joke about the taciturn Finns which goes like this:

Two Finnish men, Jukka and Pekka, go ice fishing. They fish in silence for a long while and eventually Jukka asks "So how are things?"  Pekka doesn't answer and they continue fishing in silence for some more hours. Then Jukka asks, "So how is the family?" At this Pekka gets angry, stands, up and shouts "Did we come here to talk or to fish?!"

Of course this joke is an exaggeration and there are always exceptions to the rule. But it is true that Finns simply say what they mean and mean what they say. Finnish men especially follow this rule. This also means that Finnish men are not good at "sweet" talk. And many people especially men need a few drinks in order to open up to strangers and talk, or to approach a woman. That's why Latin men are very popular amongst Finnish women and Finnish men hate them. Haha!

For a Trini who likes to talk, in the beginning my interactions with Finns felt awkward at times. For instance, at one of my first work places in Finland we would regularly have lunch together. Quite often there were long silences during our lunch especially near the end. Everyone was content to sit there just staring at each other for long stretches of time which made me uncomfortably try to fill the silence with my chattering. Eventually I grew used to it and also began to be content to just sit there in silence for a few moments with my colleagues.

Trinidadians talk a lot and we are loud. Up until now, I have what is considered a bad and rude habit by Finns, of talking on top of others. This is actually a survival tactic because in Trinidad, especially in my family, you will never get to say your piece if you don't talk over everybody else and louder than them. The last time my husband and I visited Trinidad my family had a gathering. My husband thought it was insane how everyone spoke at once and so loudly. He thinks it is an incredibly inefficient mode of communication. Maybe he is right. Finns will wait patiently for their turn to speak and if you keep interrupting them, like I do, they stop speaking. When they do speak it will be concise and to the point.

 I remember a funny anecdote about a trip to Barcelona my husband and I once took. We stayed with a friend who was a native and she showed us around. The Spaniards are lively, talkative and loud people. I think they may be even more so than Trinis. We went to a house party with my friend. As we entered, the noise level was beyond that of any Finnish house party just from all the chattering. My husband spent quite a while in the hallway just inside the front door before he could acclimatize himself to the noise level and start interacting with these incessantly chattering and gesticulating people. And let me tell you my husband is not the stereotypical quiet Finnish man but, even to him this was too much.

After living here for almost twelve years I must say I have grown accustomed to the "silence is golden"  mantra. I no longer always feel like I have to fill in the silence when I am in a group of Finns. And my brain gets tired when I am with my relatives for long periods of time because of all the noise and endless talking.