Punishment does not educate

Friday, 15 April

Physical punishment inhibits a child’s development

The mentality that physical punishment of children is a tolerable practice is unacceptably widespread in Estonia, and people do not take into account that such practices have long-term effect on the behaviour of children and their later life.

In today’s world one should rather strive towards the understanding that a parent has to consider the best interests and the rights of a child, to be caring, approving and, above all, refrain from psychological or physical punishment of the child. This promotes the feeling of trust and wellbeing in the child and offers the child an opportunity to grow in a positive and secure atmosphere. Absence of such relationships considerably increases the risk of behaviour and emotional problems in children.

Punishment does not solve a problem

Psychological or corporate punishment undermines the child’s self-esteem, thereby impairing the ability of the child to cope in life later. This also impairs the development of communication skills, causing the child to express themselves through aggression and behave towards others in the way that mirrors the behaviour experienced by the child at home. In order to avoid this dead end, ever more attention is being paid to the problem of physical punishment both around the world as well as in Estonia, where as of 1 January 2016 physical punishment of children is prohibited under the Child Protection Act. The term ‘physical punishment’ also covers, inter alia, such methods as hair-pulling, slapping, shaking or pushing.

According to the family therapist Meelike Saarna it is essential for parents to understand that punishing produces results opposite to those expected. The actual background of the child’s behaviour and more profound needs are left devoid of attention, and the child cannot learn appropriate behavioural models for conflict resolution. Therefore it is important to settle situations that require setting of boundaries without punishing, by moving towards peaceful solutions and allowing both the child as well as the parent to preserve their dignity.

Importance of staying calm

Meelike Saarna points out that the first duty of an adult in a conflict situation is to help the child to calm down so as to help them to think about the situation, listen and understand what is being said. It could also be helpful to point the child’s attention elsewhere and return to the problem later, when the mood has calmed down. By moving towards the solution through soothing, understanding and listening, the parent provides the child a good model for handling similar situations in future.

It is also advisable for the parent to calm down in a tense situation, because in a heated state it is difficult to think rationally and control one’s behaviour. There are many methods to do this – to breathe deeply in and out, to list shapes or colours in one’s head, because rational tasks keep a reflective brain active; to run a bath or take a shower, because the splatter of running water has a calming effect. Stretching and relaxing the body could also be helpful.

Often, however, parents lack necessary knowledge and skills for tackling the situation appropriately. In such cases it is possible to turn to specialists, for instance to family therapists, or to participate in trainings arranged for parents, or ask help and advice from a child protection worker of the local government. Matters concerning raising of children and relationship problems could also be addressed to the Child Helpline Service 116111, which provides round-the-clock advice in Estonian and in Russian, with no charges applied.

Physical punishment

Physical punishment of one of the most widespread forms of abuse against children, and this topic is being addressed ever more widely across the world, as well as in Estonia. As of 1 January 2016, physical punishment is prohibited under the Child Protection Act. The term ‘physical punishment’ also covers, inter alia, such methods as hair-pulling, slapping, shaking or pushing.

Published 15.04.2016

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