Myanmar and us
Effects of Corporal Punishment
I continued my conversation with the hotel receptionist in Yangon. I remarked that I had noticed some cultural differences in the way many of the Rakhine State Muslim fathers I had observed, acted publicly quite powerfully towards the rest of their family compared to the Rakhine Buddhist men. This brought a whole torrent of impassioned opinions from the hotel receptionist.
The receptionist affirmed the fathers did this because if they hit the children, they would be afraid and quiet. I replied, it was true, but when the parents were absent, the children would act without control. Misunderstanding me, she said they learn how to behave. I explained how that method does not teach self-discipline. It does not internalise the reasons for behaviour, as children tend not to understand the meaning behind rules. We should teach children how to behave when family members are not present.
I explained how children resent being hit. It affects them psychologically. Physical and mental abuse are likely to make children resentful and angry. They then act out in antisocial ways when parents are absent. It destroys good communication, which could lead to misunderstanding later on, especially during teenage years when the parents start to lose power and do not know what the youths are thinking, nor can exchange freely opinions to have a dialogue about their child's problems.
The hotel receptionist seemed surprised that corporal punishment could affect children psychologically, even though she admitted she was against it herself (regarding her young son). Newspapers reveal some horrific violence against all types of children of different ethnic and religious backgrounds in the name of discipline across Myanmar (e.g. Myanmar Now, 10 May 2019).
This led to a lively discussion about corporal punishment. She was totally against it and did not hit her 3-year-old son. But her parents had hit her. Her mother thought corporal punishment was good and she could not convince her mother it was not. She added, however much she explained to others it was better to explain things to a child, the people who believed in corporal punishment didn't listen to her.
I responded, what we learn from parents as part of our culture is hard to undo. Physical and mental punishment happens to children because it is a cultural upbringing that dictates how to admonish children. Thus, many adults believe that corporal punishment is the correct way to instil values into a child or deal with transgressions.
She replied that on the third day after her son started school, he came back looking sad. He would not ask to play with his usual toys or talk about what had happened. After a few days when her son's eyes looked red, she found out they had hit him in school.
She confronted the school and teachers, and found out someone had hit her son for wanting to sleep during the day. She was furious and moved him to another school, where she explained to the staff not to hit but talk to her or her son if there were any problems. However, she said he sometimes still seemed a little fearful at times to attend school.
I concurred, saying children internalise negative experiences and corporal punishment can traumatise them. I pointed out that school needs to be a place students enjoy and want to go to learn. Studies have shown that positive feelings result in a modest boost in the processing speed of the brain.
In fact, publicly reprimanding faults, rather than constructive criticism, further reduces student participation if students feel they will be subject to humiliation in front of others. Fear destroys curiosity, the curiosity that is an inherent part of learning. It teaches students the lesson from the role model of the teacher that it justifies using physical punishment to sort out problems if you are stronger or have more power. So does this too when it happens at home.
What is right or wrong does not matter, but power matters. Teachers who hit are unlikely to change their behaviour easily due to lack of monitoring and where there's an acceptance of corporal punishment in society, so she was correct to move her son.
What examples of conflict resolution and appropriate behaviour do children learn from parents who have no self-control, from teachers, from their neighbourhood or the wider society (for example: violent street protests, beating up people with support of your political allies). Children are very good at copying. They are learning the culture we immerse them in.
The hotel receptionist conceded she sometimes shouted at her son even though she didn't want to because she was tired. I said it was quite normal to get angry occasionally for various reasons when stressed. You could afterwards explain to your child you shouted because of anger due to tiredness. You didn't mean to be cross. This honesty would result in him understanding the difference between powerfully asserting oneself and a natural loss of control, which was regrettable.
I explained that parents who shout at children who have accidents such as breaking a glass make them fearful to own up to future accidents and tell the truth. I had seen young children trying to hide the remains of a broken cup when they expected to be angrily shouted at for their blunder.
Children make mistakes, they are learning. Older people have many mishaps, though we accept that. We need to give children respect as well - they have genuine accidents too. Anger by parents only leads children to repress the truth, to lie and not be honest. It actually teaches them to be dishonest. It's another barrier to healthy, truthful communication between parent and child.
However, if you talk quietly to a child, they will copy and speak quietly themselves. The receptionist replied, she always teaches her son to tidy up after he has played. One day he said he was tired and refused to tidy up. She then angrily shouted at him.
I said it was simple. All you needed to have done was to clear away his things, then lock them in a cupboard. When he next wanted the toys, you would quietly say you got too tired tidying his mess and cannot open the cupboard for one day.
The receptionist protested, saying he would then cry. I said let him cry, ignore it. He will learn not to do it again and eventually stop crying if you didn't show any emotion by not reacting to his outburst. He wouldn't cry so much next time if he realised it was ineffective. Being firm is in his best interest. On future occasions he would probably tidy his things away.
There was no need to shout or display any anger. By controlling your emotions, you are teaching your son to regulate his emotions, to be emotionally mature. Being consistent was very important though, which must include the responses from both parents and ideally all significant adults the child is interacting with in the extended family. (Concluded)