by: Kayode Owolabi

Parents make and enforce the rules in the home.  It is an obligation parents made when they elected to become parents!  In discharging this obligation, every parent must remember the age-old adage that says, “when there is no law, there is no sin.”  In other words, if ground rules are not laid out clearly, there should be no expectation of behaviors in conformance with some imaginary or assumed rules.  What is the point here?  The point being made is that every parent must establish ground rules in the home.  These rules must be made clear to the children.  Additionally, the rules should be commensurate with the children’s ages.  The rules for crawling babies and toddlers should be different from those for young children.  Different rules should be made separately for older children and adolescents.  For effective parenting, ground rules should be made solely by the parents.  There should be no negotiation with the children.  Contrary to what some experts say, a home is an autocracy, not a democracy; especially during the formative years of a child — that is, between the crawling stages until the mid-teens.  Parents must always remember the age-old injunction: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22: 6) 

Maintaining discipline in the home does not involve just making rules and expecting them to be obeyed.  Parents thinking that way need to give up their children for adoption, go back and take basic parenting classes, and then start the parenting endeavor all over!  Of course, just like every other endeavor in life, rules would be broken!  Kids are more clever than they get credit for.  Children, being very good at studying their parents’ emotional roller-coaster, play a lot of psychological games with their parents’ state of mind; all with the motive of circumventing the house rules.  If all else fails, children would turn to playing their parents against each other.  These games work best where the parents are having a popularity contest with each other in order to be the favorite of their children.  There is no better and faster way for complete breakdown of law and order in a home than when ‘popularity contest’ sets in.  Granted, no two human beings are the same.  Hence, two parents cannot be expected to apply the rules of the house the same way.  However, for a child to be brought up with good discipline, parents must brand together and support each other all the time!  One parent must not give consent to a request by a child until the other parent’s opinion is verified. 

Discipline in children appears to have deteriorated over the years.  Indiscipline in today’s children is so visible and commonplace that it has come into sharper focus in recent times, thus becoming more frequent in conversations among parents and other adults interested in the topic.  There is even a general feeling that the pendulum, on the part of parents, is now swinging in the right direction, that is, in terms of steering children more towards being disciplined and morally upright.  

The role of corporal punishment in disciplining children, while controversial, has its place and cannot be left unmentioned or unrecognized.  The role has its roots in tradition and religion.  It is an age-old universal phenomenon in the upbringing of children.  Even the Bible states: “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.  Supporters of corporal punishment (popularly known as ‘spanking’ in the United States of America) say that when it is properly administered, it can be effective, if followed by an explanation of why the punishment was given.  Even pediatricians who support corporal punishment have said that it could be effective if used in moderation in the context of a nurturing relationship.  It is simple common sense, they say.  It teaches a child that some things are just not acceptable!  But opponents of corporal punishment argue that it can only harm children and that other forms of discipline are more effective.  Such stark opponents go further to state that there is no good way to draw the line between what is abuse and what is not, especially when there is a ‘mark’ or a ‘bruise’.  There is no research, they say, that has shown any beneficial effects of corporal punishment and there are too many disadvantages to it. 

There is no distinct difference between corporal punishment and child abuse.  State laws, in the United States of America, all say something to the effect that parents can use reasonable force but they do not say whether it is slapping on the wrist or slapping on the buttocks.  In the enforcement of these same State laws, police officers in the United States often use the presence of a ‘mark’ or ‘bruise’ to gauge whether the punishment went too far.  While even some proponents of corporal punishment admit that it can cross a line, they also believe that in many cases it can be just what a child needs to stay out of trouble.  Popular media, especially the  television media, have not been helpful in the balanced portrayal of corporal punishment.  On television, a person who applies corporal punishment to an obvious brat is usually portrayed as “raving.”  Proponents of spanking opine that it ought not to be that way.  They say that spanking should come with lots of love.  What it does, they say, is properly train a child, and there is a lot of respect that comes from that, they claim.  

But some recent research has found that spanking is likely to cause long-term behavioral problems, regardless of the amount of loving attention parents give to children.  A study by researchers at the University of New Hampshire in the United States, published in August, 1997 in the medical journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, found that children who get spanked regularly are more likely over time to cheat or lie, to be disobedient at school, to bully others and to have less remorse for what they do wrong.  Other experts on the subject of corporal punishment, who tend to be more sympathetic to spanking, said more research is needed before it can be said that spanking is always detrimental.  On a lighter note, however, they claim that there is also no scientific evidence that spanking is either good or even necessary!     

Now, here is my position on the issue.  I am a firm believer in the use of spanking as a disciplinary measure.  I used it in the upbringing of all of my four children and it helped shape their behavior as they grew up.  But, just like anything else, it must be used moderately, and I did!  The use of spanking must be tempered with love.  An age-old African proverb states: “If one spanks a child with the right hand, one must also cuddle the child with the left hand.”  Now, does it mean each time a child is spanked, the child must be cuddled immediately after?  The answer is an emphatic NO!  Just as spanking should not be used after each misbehavior, a parent ought to apply common-sense to determine when cuddling is appropriate. 

At this point, let us note some words of caution regarding the use of spanking.  A parent MUST avoid spanking a child when the parent is angry.  It does not matter the source of the anger.  The parent may be very angry about the misbehavior of the child, or just angry about something else.  It is when spanking is applied in anger that it may lead to unintended injury or abuse.  This is a guiding principle that I adhered to judiciously.  Let’s face it!  There are many things happening in the life of a parent other than a child’s misbehavior.  The child’s misbehavior may, sometimes, compound the problem.  In such cases, it is not advisable to spank a child immediately.  I have been in such circumstances myself and each time, I always made a conscious effort not to punish the offending child immediately.  It might have been a rough day at work, or I was experiencing some difficulties with my wife, a friend, a relative, and on top of that, a child misbehaves.  What I have done in such circumstances was to tell the child, if corporal punishment was the most appropriate corrective measure, that the punishment for the misbehavior would be one, two, three, ten or twelve strokes of the cane, as the case maybe.  However, that the child would be punished later.  Of course, I made sure the punishment was actually carried out later!

The other cautionary note is that corporal punishment MUST be deliberate and intentional.  That is, it must be applied to a specific part of the body in measured strokes.  Spanking, for instance, implies ‘strokes applied to the buttocks.’  In my days of applying corporal punishment to my children, that was my favorite spot.  Why?  It is very effective and least prone to resulting in any injury to the child.  Corporal punishment can also be applied to the palm of the hand.  It could also be applied to the sole of the feet.  All these parts of the body appear to be the least prone to serious injury. 

Finally, it should be noted that there are other ways of disciplining children other than the use of corporal punishment, and those other ways should also be used at different times.  Some of those ways include, but not limited to, restricting them to their rooms, denying them favorite privileges like watching TV, playing in basketball or soccer leagues, etc..  However, based on my experience as a parent with a strong believe in traditional and religious values, it is my humble opinion that at the early stages of a child’s development, even up to about the age of  ten, corporal punishment is more effective than other forms of punishment, if used judiciously.



This article was excerpted (with permission) from a book titled: Effective Parenting: Strategies That Work And Mistakes To Avoid by Robert O. Owolabi, published by Bob & Bob Publishing in May 1999 and available at or by calling Book Clearing House at 1-800-431-1579.


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