A few people have asked me recently, out of curiosity, if we physically punish or discipline Joshua. The answer is no, we don’t.
When I went through the school system in Taiwan, physical punishment is as normal and accepted as eating 3 meals a day. If you disobey the teacher, you’re punished. If you didn’t achieve the goals set for you in terms of your grades, you’re punished. If you talked to the kid next to you during a lecture, you’re punished. Each teacher has his/her own choice of instrument. The most common tool is a long, thick, flexible piece of rattan. Because of its flexibility, it requires little effort from the teacher, but generates pretty significant impact on the palms, legs, or backside of a student. First you feel the sting, then you feel the heat that lasts for a long time on the flesh. I came from a family that believes in physical punishment, whether it’s spanking with a ruler or stick, or a lashing with a belt. My brother and I still joke about some of the incidents today.
How could you possibly teach a kid how to behave without a rattan? It’s almost like saying, of course I’ll feed my kid 3 meals a day, and of course I’ll discipline him or her physically. To me, disciplining a child physically is pretty much a “given”…
…until I met Cliff.
A number of years ago, we had a discussion about “if we ever had kids”. One of things I said was that if we ever had kids, of course they will receive a beating when they deserve it. I knew from the way he looked at me he didn’t agree. I said, “What, don’t you think you’ve at times deserved the beating your parents gave you?” Then he told me that his parents have never laid a finger on him his whole life.
I couldn’t believe it. Here’s a grown man who is polite, pleasant, caring, helpful, who has a university degree, and NOT A SERIAL KILLER, and you’re telling me HE HAS NEVER RECEIVED A BEATING? That just seemed so impossible in my mind.
Over time, and through my own counceling work over the years, I’ve slowly come to realize that what I always believed as a “given” maybe is actually questionable. Maybe there’s another way of teaching a child that does not involve physical punishment. This realization is mind blowing for me.
Once Joshua was old enough to start expressing himself, I also realized that he has his own idea of things. He is stubborn, but he got that gene from me. And so what if I punished him to achieve the end result of making him conform to what I wanted? What does that really achieve? I don’t believe punishing him will really change his mind about something. If anything, it just teaches him to do what he wants behind my back, much like what I’ve learned to do to avoid the physical punishment.
Have I been tempted to spank him? Oh yes, I have. I’m not a very patient person, and he has really pushed that limit in me on a number of occasions. Maybe once I experience the terrible twos, I’ll change my mind and start giving him spankings because I’ve been pushed beyond my limit. Or maybe if Joshua beats up his sister one day, I’ll give him a beating to teach him how it feels. Honestly, I don’t know how things will turn out in the long run. I have no idea how to teach a child rules and limits without using physical discipline. So my poor kids are going to be guinea pigs in my experiment of no physical punishment.
Why would I experiment with my kids, when I know the opposite works? I mean, if my mom gave me plenty of physical punishment, the result is that I learned the rules, and I still love and respect my mom, why wouldn’t I follow the same methodology with my kids?
It’s simple. Physical punishment is a very “quick” way to teach someone a set of rules. If the rules are broken, you feel pain. It’s physical, it’s instant, it’s basic. But in the long run, from what I see in my own life, is that it doesn’t teach you to think and reason and process logic. This may not be true for everyone else, and I’m just speaking from my personal experience. Physical punishment programmed me to think “If an authority figure says do this, I do it”, because the alternative is pain (and sometimes very severe pain). So I do things without understanding why I have to, or why it’s important, or the reason for it. Over time, when this type of experience accumulate, it’s natural to stop thinking for myself, and just live my life following orders. This is not what I want for my kids.
And you know what, I’m not writing this to judge you if you choose to use spanking or other physical means to discipline your children. Trust me, if anyone is to believe in physical punishment, it’s ME! I think there are ways to physically discipline children without turning them into robots. I just don’t know what those ways are. Between the two extremes of the pendulum of physical punishment and no physical punishment at all, maybe there is a fine balance somewhere I just haven’t figured out. So I’ve chosen, at the present time, to try out the other extreme I am not familiar with.