The founding father of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi, once said and I quote “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”
It is important to control our children’s behaviours, and bring them up accustomed to morality and self restraint. The Bible says in the book of Proverbs chapter 13 verse 24, that “he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”
In the traditional African perspective, it was uncommon for an elder to witness a child in the wrong and turn a blind eye. Some form of correction would be undertaken either through verbal condemnation or physical punishment.
Whatever forms of punishment though would be parental not to inflict lasting physical or psychological injury to the child in question, but to send a signal that what the child just did was against accepted norms.
However, as the institution of the family fragmented, some parents and caregivers lost their sense of humor, some started administering severe corporal punishments, inflicting injury to children while others opted not to risk punish children for fear of the law.
Subsequently, nowadays, everyone is for themselves and God for us all. Under the pretext of minding about children’s rights, even children’s biological parents are cautioned against punishing their own lest they face the wrath of the law.
On one hand, this has helped prevent administration of harmful punishments by some careless caregivers; however, to a large extent, it is a catalyst for the alarming moral degeneration and juvenile delinquency.
Research undertaken by the Harvard University Centre for Child Development reveals that “just as a weak foundation compromises the quality and strength of a house, so does indiscipline impair a child’s brain architecture, with negative effects lasting into their adulthood.
Children are born innocent and do always aspire to do everything possible for as long as their conscience convinces them to. The onus is on us, therefore, to aid them to tell right from wrong and to develop a culture of self discipline.
The founding President of USA, George Washington, in one of his briefings to the US forces once asserted and I quote “Nothing can be more hurtful to the service than neglect of discipline; for that discipline, more than numbers, gives one army superiority over another.”
If we, therefore, want our children to live winners and evolve into a superior and competitive human race, we need to ensure that humility and discipline become their trademark characters.
Disciplining a child makes them appreciate that they are not above reproach and are accountable for their actions and inactions. They learn to be patient, assertive but not hostile and can even tolerate discomfort so as to live in harmony with others.
Whatever a child is accustomed to will determine their ability to stand “frustration” from doing what is opposite of what their conscience drives them to do. Research, for example, indicates that an infant should be accustomed to a schedule around feeding, sleeping and playing to instill early discipline. Infants should not be over stimulated, but rather be equipped with tolerance to frustration and ability to self-soothe.
Let’s remember that actions speak louder than words. Parents should lead lives that are a mirror image of what they tell their children to be. Because children consider us their role models, the philosophy of “do as I say, but not as I do” will be unreservedly fruitless.
The writer is a policy advisor on gender and family promotion, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion.