Nothing gave Steven Mashami and his siblings more chills than the sound of the family car at the home gate. It was a signal that their father was home from wherever. The 27-year-old grew up fearing his dad more than anything in his life; and anything that presented the presence of his father was like a heart attack alert.
“Hearing our dad’s voice was almost nightmarish when we were kids. We would immediately hide, switch off the TV and organise the living room. Basically when we heard our father coming, our day was done. No more fun and no more TV,” he says.
Mashami and his siblings grew to pray for their father’s absence just to have a good time at home. However, this was not the issue with their mother as she was a lot more pleasant to be around.
“Life was just hard with our dad at home. He was home mostly on the weekends and we hated them so much. He would complain about the most absurd of things and shout at us for absolutely no reason. He would force us to do chores even when the maid was already doing them and also force us to read and give us homework on top of the school work we already had. That man was a problem,” he says.
Twenty-year-old Vanessa Queen Uwarayeneza says the fear that she had for her father is still with her to this day and this has made her terrified of other people too.
“At night when we sat in the sitting room with our parents, silence is all there was unless the TV was on. If someone passed by, they would think it was an empty house. When my dad went to sleep around 10pm, conversation would flow and we would laugh with our mother and share all our experiences of the day,” Uwarayeneza says.
Uwarayeneza also recalls a day when her dad found her fighting for a shirt with her sister and he made them wear it at the same time.
“We were lucky it was a big shirt. That memory is still with me. Our dad was a very harsh man. Today, I feel like my teachers are the same. I am scared to approach them because I think they will shout at me. This went on throughout high school and now I’m in university still facing the same problem,” Uwarayeneza says.
Jean Gatete says his parents used punishment and disciplining to instill fear in them.
“My father was hardly around; my mother was so bitter and beat us for the strangest reasons. It was a weird way to grow up. When my little brother was born, my parents were already old and didn’t treat him the way they treated us, so he would look at the way we feared them and he also started fearing them and running from them for no reason,” says Gatete.
Gatete adds that his young brother wanted to get close to their dad but was afraid to do so.
“I remember we would always send him to check if our parents were leaving so that we could celebrate having the home to ourselves. It was a great feeling when he would come and tell us that they were dressing up to go,” Gatete says.
Hellen Kwitonda, a mother and hotel manager who swears that children afraid of their parents isn’t the case at her home, says that children are to blame.
“The main reason why children run from parents is because they are wrong doers. They do so many wrong things that when their parents are around, they aren’t comfortable and hide away,” she says.
Asked about children who feel free around their mothers but are uncomfortable around their fathers, Kwitonda says it is true sometimes fathers are really hard on their children and they end up breaking the bond between them.
“Children make mistakes, they break things here and there and the role of parents is to correct them, not to shout or beat them for everything they do. That is when children choose which parent to talk to,” Kwitonda says.
Kwitonda also advises parents to always bridge the gap between them and their children because children who aren’t close to their parents are vulnerable.
Mathematics teacher, Charlotte Uwera, says fear in students is the reason many of them don’t pass exams.
“A student will not understand something and will not follow the teacher to ask after the class is done. And with me, it’s even worse because my subject is quite tricky. I have to find out who didn’t understand the lesson from tests and exams. It makes it hard to teach these students,” Uwera says.
She adds that students that are free with their parents usually find it easy to approach teachers. These students are also associated with great behaviour because they are open and are close to teachers and ask everything they need to know.
Much as the vice is hard to get out of students, Cathy Bishop, a lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda, has been able to establish a great relationship with her students and says it is the nature of students all over the world, but with good teaching techniques it can be broken.
“I have certain techniques that I use to try to encourage students to ask questions. For me the main one is to make it clear that it’s okay to ask questions, so I encourage them and try to make sure that they will learn to feel free to ask me about different things. Normally, I create a dialogue to encourage back and forth conversation,” Bishop says.
Bishop also says she is very careful not to make fun of students. If they ask a question, she answers it and she believes in the American saying that goes, “there are no stupid questions”.
She also says the relationship between her and her students isn’t only academic but also a bit personal. She calls her students colleagues and she says for her to pass on the knowledge that she has to her students, they have to work together and having students who are engaged in their own learning works.
There is a fine line between fear and respect. Punishments should be harsh enough to be feared and the parents should be consistent enough to be respected. Sometimes it just takes time to realise wheat you can use as leverage as some children know when to call a parent’s bluff. However, we must remember that it is better to establish an open relationship with a child with the hope that this will give them courage to come forth with any problem. After all, it is better than letting them handle their own problems because they are too afraid to talk about them.
Tough love or spare the rod and spoil the child?
It is good to let your child know that there is a time to play and time to be serious. By setting these grounds it will not only help them excel but also understand the meaning of management. When there is someone in charge, then and only then can there be work done. Without discipline a child won’t know the value of time or even be proud of their success. This is the time to develop values in children, praise when you need to, and scold when you have to. The parents should be the best people to teach that “Charity begins at home”.
Clarisse Umutoni, Administrator
No, being tough on children can be traumatising to them at a young age. The child will try their hardest to impress their parents or attempt to reach the high goals their parents set for them and some will inevitably fail. This leads to low self-esteem, shame and disappointment. In this case, some may give up, some may be mentally affected and some may rebel. Giving up may lead the child to lead an adequate or even under-average, unsatisfying one, disappointing the parent further and severing any bonds between them. This will result into rebellion on the side of the child.
Rogers Gakumba, Student
The saying “spare the rod and spoil the child” is absolutely right and without strict parents I don’t think many people would be who they are now. Tough love has worked when disciplining a child unlike the western world that believes in a child being liberal. How do you expect a child of 10 years to make sensible decisions or let him/her have her way with anything? That’s why children in Europe or USA don’t respect their parents. Parents should punish with intent show the child that he did something wrong.
Mathew James Kamuzinzi, Website designer
It is important for children to know the ground rules and boundaries. Parents can’t be strict about a matter one day but relaxed on the same matter a different day; the child will be confused and not know how to react. They will never know what is and is not fine. Children need to have ground rules so that they can use them throughout their life.
Epiphanie Murerwa, Parent
While children are capable of achieving high goals, they won’t necessarily do so on their own. They are equally capable of becoming easily frustrated and feeling something isn’t worth the bother, especially if they don’t enjoy it. Many things aren’t enjoyable if you’re bad at them but are enjoyable if you’re good at them. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.
Rubuliika Augustine, Parent