Parents, don’t punish your child into fear and depression

Sad child

African tradition dictates that a child does not belong to their parents but to the whole community. It was a norm that when one spots a child making a mistake, they punish the child and later on inform the parent who in turn has to punish the child again.

While parents have been advised numerously to avoid resorting to harsh ways of punishing their children, cases of hostile home punishments have been on the rise.

Just recently a six-year-old boy took his own life. He was afraid of punishment after stealing his sister’s money The story has shocked many and raised the question: how do parents punish their children?

We have seen stories of mothers who burn their children or cut off their body parts as punishment. What drives a parent to such a point? Are there other ways to punish children that are more welcoming?

Tamara* was one of the children who were completely afraid of their mothers.

“I was honestly afraid of my mother when I was a child because I used to be punished a lot. Don’t get me wrong, she is an amazing mother but when I did something wrong I would never get away with it,” she says.

As a staunch Christan Tamara’s mother was all for Spare the rod, spoil the child philosophy, just as the Bible prescribed.

“My fear of punishment was so bad that I did not tell my mother that I was almost raped by our family friends and neighbours on three different occasions. I know she would have protected me and sued them, but I was just a child. In my mind, I knew that everything I did or said only results in a good beating,” she adds.

Tamara now insists that parents must find better ways to punish their children and avoid the old traditional ways that only instil fear in a child and cause depression and mental problems for the child.

“I personally had a tough time relating to my mother compared to my father when I was younger. Consequently, I am closer to my dad than to mom. Mothers play a key role in every child’s life, and being close to and being friends with your mother while young, especially for girls, is very very important,” says Tamara

Before you Punish your child

Before punishing a child, one should take a minute and think of the best punishment that fits the mistake. It saves you from doing something you cannot take back.

Instead of physically punishing a child and inflicting harm, you can use more friendly ways like, talking to the child about what they have done and making them understand the consequences of their actions. You can also withdraw things the child likes for a while or have them carry out some chores like cleaning their rooms or cleaning dishes.

Mercy, a mother of two says that even though she was brought up the traditional way where getting a good beating was part and parcel of the package, she does not punish her children the same way.

“There are many other ways of punishing kids. I normally withdraw what my children like the most if they misbehave. Whether it’s a video game or going for a play date or going to the park. There are rules in my house, there is a system that has to be followed and they both know that if any rule is broken, there are consequences. I believe that this has helped to maintain discipline and organisation. Instead of instilling fear in them, it makes them honest and open with you as a parent because anytime they do something wrong they will always come to you and confess.” she says.

Legal Standpoint

In Kenya, the Children’s Act (2001)and Article 29 of the Constitution of Kenya (2010) protect the child against any form of violation including corporal punishment and cruel punishment.

According to lawyer, Austin Arnold, any parent who inflicts harm on their child has committed assault.

“When a parent harms their child that is seen as assault and if guilty one can be put behind bars for a maximum of 12 years but the exact period depends on the judge meting out the sentence,'” he says.

Arnold further stated that in the case of the six-year-old boy, no offence has been carried out by the parents.

“Since there is nothing like involuntary manslaughter in our laws, the argument for that is a stretch. However, one can choose to argue tortuous liability on the part of the parent for mistreatment or negligence,” he concludes.

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