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.