Let’s be kind to our children

Since the widely circulated video of a mother repeatedly hitting her child with a machete, the conversation about the abuse of children has intensified. More recently, UNICEF reports show that Jamaica is a violent place for children. Just last week, State Minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information – Floyd Green announced that the Government of Jamaica intends to ban beating in all schools – principals and teachers will no longer be ‘allowed’ to hit children. Yesterday (November 7, 2017), Prime Minister Andrew Holness asserted in Parliament that it was time for Jamaica to have a full ban on beating children, not just in schools, but in homes. In his assertion, he noted that there was no consensus on the issue across, and within party lines. I find that to be rather unfortunate.

It is unfortunate that all our political leaders do not recognize that adults hitting children is not something to be tolerated in homes, in schools, in communities and in the society.

I often tell people that when an adult hits a child, it is simply about that adult lacking the capacity to control their rage only in respect of children. Many adults (including teachers) who hit children would never dare raise a hand or belt or whip or machete at their employer if the employer disappointed them, or treated them unfairly. It means therefore that these same adults know fully well how to control and manage their rage if they deem it important and self serving to do so.

But with children, they perhaps believe they are the power holders, so they disregard the full humanity of our children and sometimes forget that children are citizens with rights.  After all, Jamaica is a very unkind place for some our children to live.  Between 2011 and 2015 thousands of children have been raped and otherwise sexually assaulted. This year alone (up to October) 47 children were murdered. And the brutal crimes being committed against our children are perpetrated largely by adults.  It is clear that some of us have little regard for our children; we don’t engage our children as if they have a right to a life with dignity.

In the great debate about the ‘right’ of adults to hit children, one of the first questions folks like to ask is, how do you discipline a child who has done something ‘wrong’? It is almost as if the default thinking is: hitting children is the only and primary method of creating an environment where children avoid doing ‘wrong’ or misbehaving or disappointing adults. And in that debate, when some people propose ‘alternatives’ to hitting children as a form of ‘discipline’, it often sounds like emotional and psychological abuse – the isolation, denying them access to the things they enjoy, temporarily banning all play, preventing them from engaging their peers, etc.

But all we need to do is have conversations with our children.

We have to do a better job at conflict resolution.

When we get in an angry fit because a child disappoint us, and we feel the (disappointing) urge to hit them, have a conversation with them instead. You do not need to hit them. And if you are so angered that you can’t have that conversation, I am suggesting that you take a time out – go outside, look to the Lord in the heavens and scream as loud as you can, for as many times as you need. If after that you still feel like you want to hit the child, whatever instrument you would have used to hit that child, find that same instrument and hit yourself repeatedly until you are tired, absolutely tired. In your tired state, you should then drink some water; that should cool you down too. After the rage has passed or at least subsided, you can then attempt to have a conversation with the child.

We do not need to hit children for them to know that we are disappointed in an action they took or an utterance they made. We do not need to hit children for them to know that they have done or said something ‘wrong’, which should not be repeated. Many of our children are smarter than we were when we were at their age; we can reason wid dem.

I have a 7-year-old nephew. If he does something I find to be disappointing, I have what usually turns out to be long conversations with him about a better course of action he could take or a better way to voice his discontent so that it doesn’t cause physical or emotional harm to his peers, teachers, parents and other family members.

I often use many analogies and ask questions about what would be the outcome of applying his behaviour to the circumstances I present in each analogy. Sometimes it’s time consuming, but I stay the course because I want him to learn the importance of dialogue in conflict resolution and behaviour change. After our long conversations, he usually recognizes the error/s he made and the harm he caused. He would then sincerely apologise and commit to doing something kind to make up for the harm he may have caused and the disappointment I felt. Outside of him talking excessively in class (because in my opinion he’s not being cognitively stimulated at school) he has never repeatedly committed the same ‘offence’.

Our children are citizens of this country. We need to be more considerate of their welfare. I do hope that we will have that national ban on hitting children. I also hope that a part of that process will be the (re)socialization and conscientization of our people, to ensure that we all have the tools we need to be better caregivers and duty bearers for our children.

One thought on “Let’s be kind to our children

  1. A few things come to mind when I read this article. One is that conflict resolution is a skill that is learned, not innate. This kind of massive cultural shift in the way we as Jamaicans approach problem-solving and conflicts is desperately needed but also a little idealistic. Much easier to start with our own small circles of family and friends in a way much like you described: setting an example for the little ones.

    Another thing that comes up is the age of the child in question and whether that child is capable of cognitive reasoning. It isn’t right to abuse a child in any way (physically, verbally, emotionally, mentally etc) so some other method of instilling discipline must be sought when addressing a child who is too young to be “reasoned with”. I know that children mature at different ages, so one four year old might be totally open to conflict resolution conversations while another may just stare blankly and run off to play. My question for you is how to instill good values and correct unacceptable behaviour before the child is old enough to understand the abstract consequences of their actions (as opposed to the concrete consequences of being punished).

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