Should You Spare The Cane?

There are consequences for bad behaviour and you need to communicate that to your kids, says Kamala Velautham, mother of five-year-old Dharshana and three-year-old Jaiyeshwarr Sivaneshwaran.


Banking research analyst Monina Mahmood has never laid a hand on her four-year-old son, Ashman Ehsan, not even when the boy throws a tantrum in public and causes much embarrassment.

“Once, he kicked up a fuss about not wanting to leave the mall. He started screaming when we picked him up. We just held onto him and headed to the car. After he calmed down for a bit, we spoke to him and got him to understand that his behaviour wasn’t at all acceptable,” says Monina, 32.

For mother-of-two Kamala Velautham, harsh parenting is also simply out of the question. Like Monina, Kamala has never spanked her child. She equates spanking to child abuse, and strongly advises parents against it as a “shortcut” to hush a naughty one.

“I passionately believe in nonviolent solutions for everything – we shouldn’t discipline by instilling fear. Even severe scolding isn’t all that good for children. I’m against any method that makes a child so fearful that he stops doing something just because he is scared and not because he understands why,” says the 41-year-old IT project manager.

Monina Mahmood and her husband, Mohamed Azizan Rashid, prefer talking over spanking to get their four-year-old son, Ashman Ehsan, to behave well.

Monina and Kamala’s approach to disciplining their children is typical of parents these days. But just a generation or two ago, parents wouldn’t think twice about spanking or caning their children.

It was the accepted way of keeping children in check, and disobedience was punished with physical pain. These days, parents are more inclined to raise their eyebrow, then persuade their children to behave by reasoning with them.

Smart parenting

Kamala moulds her children’s behaviour buy teaching them about cause and effect. “There are consequences to every action – you need to communicate that to your kids,” she says.

For this very purpose, Kamala created a “thinking chair” for her two children, five-year-old Dharshana and three-year-old Jaiyeshwarr Sivaneshwaran.

“It’s basically a chair we set up in a corner of the house. Whenever the kids are naughty, we’ll send them to the chair. They have to think over what they did wrong and sincerely apologise before we’d allow them to leave the chair,” she explains.

They started using the chair when Dharshana was a year old. It took awhile for the children to understand what the thinking chair was for.

“She kept trying to get up and I kept putting her back. It was heartwrenching for me to see her cry but I’m glad I persisted. The thinking chair is all we’ve ever used to instil discipline, and it has been good enough so far,” Kamala observes.

According to clinical psychologist Jessie Foo, 29, most parents today view corporal punishment in the home as a “last resort”. It means parents are actually becoming smarter, not softer, she stresses.

“Research has shown that severe disciplinary methods like spanking will only reduce a child’s self-esteem and at the same time, increase his anger and anxiety levels,” explains Foo, who facilitates group therapy sessions and psycho-educational workshops for parents and children at the Shine Guidance Centre in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Parents who use corporal punishment may affect their child’s developmental growth, says clinical psychologist Jessie Foo (posing with a model).

Unfortunately, these negative feelings are often carried through to adulthood. Foo warns that children aren’t very good at managing their own emotions. “They may end up channelling their anger through rebelliousness. Or they may internalise their sadness and become withdrawn. In the long run, this barrier in communication makes it hard for a child to confide in his parents.”

No pain, no gain

Still, there are those who feel sparing the rod means spoiling the child. Mother-of-one Michelle Woo, 39, firmly believes that every child is different – for some, spanking is deemed necessary, if only to help them distinguish right from the wrong. The piano and drama teacher has no qualms about using the cane on her son, Caleb Chin, ever since the boy was two.

“When he was younger, Caleb refused to listen to reason but he would do as he was told when we gave him a small smack on the hand. After awhile, that stopped working. That’s when we introduced the cane,” recalls Woo who grew up with pysical punishment.

“My mother did all the caning. We used to be caned on our hands and legs. I think we understood why we were being punished, but we were too playful to know any better.”

Michelle Woo will always explain to her son Caleb why he is being punished. They always reconcile with a hug.

Woo has no regrets following in her parents’ footsteps. But she also made sure she explained to Caleb why he was being punished, and they usually reconciled with a hug after that.

However, she is quick to admit that spanking loses its effect over time.

“The last time Caleb was caned was right before Chinese New Year. He was punished for not doing his homework.

“He listened at first, but started slipping back into his old ways. That’s when we realised that we needed another method to help him learn,” Woo says.

Woo and her husband, physics tutor Christopher Chin, 42, are now using references from the Bible to encourage Caleb to rethink his wilful ways.

“We do a lot more talking and sharing – we let him think about what he’s done and relate it to stories he has read from the Bible.

“Basically, we’re just getting him to arrive at his own conclusions about what’s considered appropriate behaviour.

“Reasoning seems to be working much better at his age now,” Woo reveals.

Foo also concurs with Woo on physical punishment losing its effectiveness.

“At first, the child will stop misbehaving when he is punished. Later, he may come to expect the punishment. Parents will notice that they have to repeat the punishment more often and hit their children even harder to get through to them.”

If a c hild continues to misbehave, parents should look into why he or she is repeating the behaviour despite being punished for it. “Your child may have some needs that have yet to be fulfilled. For example, if he is always throwing tantrums to get your attention, then you have to re-evaluate how you can provide him with the attention he wants without letting him resort to tantrums to reach out to you.”

Reasoning and reinforcement

Foo advises parents to give the heavy-handed approach a miss and instead, practise using “reinforcements” to get their young ones to listen.

“Most parents are ‘immune’ to good behaviour. When a child is behaving, parents have this mindset that that’s supposed to be happening. But in actual fact, kids need to be made aware that they are doing well. Sometimes, a simple nod or a smile or just saying ‘good job’ is enough to positively reinforce the behaviour.”

Negative reinforcement would be about removing privileges such as no TV, no iPad or no fun trip to the aquarium. A child will learn that he has to behave in order to keep these privileges. Monina has found this to be particularly effective in getting little Ashman to behave. Her take on it, however, is a little different.

“My son likes having my attention. So when he misbehaves, I ignore him. Once, I asked him to put away his toys to get ready for a bath but he refused. I tried asking again but all he said was no. So I just left him and went to my room. Before long, he came and apologised.”

While that has worked for Monina so far, Foo feels that children find it harder to understand the values behind negative reinforcement.

“It’s always a challenge to point out someone’s faults and to expect them to change. For really young children, it’s easier to tell them what they’re doing right.”

Regardless of which parenting stance you take, being consistent is key, Foo asserts. “Children learn behaviour through the consequences of their actions; the consequences will only leave an impression if they’re consistent.”

Age-appropriate approaches

Children’s reasoning skills develop gradually, thus parents need to convey their messages appropriately, says clinical psychologist Jessie Foo.

0-4 years old
Limited moral reasoning skills. Children want things their way, but begin to learn about reward and punishment. “Parents need to provide immediate feedback when they see inappropriate behaviour (for example, saying “No” firmly) and guide the child in the appropriate behaviour,” says Foo.

5-6 years old
Rules are fixed and absolute to preschool children. They believe they should do what they’re told to stay out of trouble. “Parents who help their children learn the consequences of behaviour will be able to associate certain behaviour with rewards and misbehaviour with punishment,” says Foo.

7-10 years old
Children follow rules or behave depending on the consequences. They’ll judge that things are fair and rules should be followed if they serve a self-interest.

11-15 years old
Children make judgments about rules and behaviour according to the expectations of people who are important to them. They behave so that others will think well of them.

For children of all ages, parents need to be patient with them and allow time and opportunity for them to learn from their mistakes. “It’s important to stay calm when parents are trying to reason with their children. Keep the explanations or reasoning short and simple, so that the children can easily follow what you saying,” says Foo.

Taken from ParenThots, thestar online,