This post is in response to a recent viral video of a young child being hit with a paddle by his school’s administrators as a form of punishment while his mother looks on. How is this STILL happening to our children?! It needs to stop.
Can we at least stop hitting the children?!
At what point did we get so far off track as a society that we believed terrifying children was a way to make them “learn?” When did we decide that hitting children would ensure the message landed? When did we so misunderstand and contort our power as parents, educators and caregivers to come to believe that we should laud it over children in this horrifying kind of way?
This child’s brain is trying its hardest to grow. And now this brain is going to have to not only try it’s hardest to grow, but will have to overcome this horrible experience in an effort to do this. Children cannot grow optimally when they do not feel safe. And it is very clear that for the child in this video, there is no sense of safety. Only terror.
Here is what we know from the science of child development. When children misbehave it is either because their brain is too underdeveloped and/or too disregulated to consider an alternate route. Our society has long – and mistakenly – gone the route of believing that what a child who has misbehaved needs is punishment.
Why have we mistakenly fallen into the trap of believing this? Because we have looked only at the outside of the child rather than understanding the inside. We have seen that when we hit, when we punish in any way, the behavior subsides. So we have believed that if you fill the child full of fear the behavior will change and thus, you will have done your job as an adult.
But this is wrong.
We now know from science that in fact, this is not where the story ends. There are consequences to believing you have “fixed” a behavior by scaring a child. Rather than creating optimal conditions of emotional and physical safety to allow the child’s brain to develop as nature intended, you have instead played the child’s need for safety against them.
By punishing them you have dangled that need for safety like a carrot in front of them, with the understanding that their utter need for safety will be restored but only if the behavior stops. Neurologically, you have set off a cascade of events that results in the brain and the body becoming more disregulated. This leads to more behavior. This also leads to an altered sense of self and safety in the world. Which in turn, leads to more behaviour. Repeated over the course of a childhood, or even just once in the traumatic and horrifying way seen in this video, what can be created in the child is an escalating vulnerability to a host of mental health, behavioural, social, addictions-related, and other problems.
Don’t you get it? You are trashing a basic human need of a child for safety to secure good behaviour! For a child who’s brain is still growing, who is still trying to figure out the world, we can expect that they will stumble. And often! Because they are NORMAL and still developing. When we respond with empathy and compassion, and then step capably into our roles as adults to teach the child about rules, norms, boundaries and expectations, we gift them BOTH improved brain development AND a sense of how to exist and succeed in this world. So the behaviour of this 5 year old, no matter what it was, is absolutely and very certainly not his “fault” but rather the result of him trying to grow up and hitting a bump in the road.
The behavior of those so-called educators however is reprehensible. At a time WHEN WE KNOW SO MUCH BETTER from science, how is it even possible that there are still administrations and adults who willfully – and even with laughter as is heard at one point in this video – hit a child to “help” them learn. I, along with the rest of the scientifically grounded child development community call foul.
This. Needs. To. Stop.
Even if my pleas to erase all aspects of punishment from how we understand “discipline” for our children, including avoiding the imposition of losses in emotional safety like what is caused by a timeout, take a little longer for the broader culture to understand, can we at least start with an understanding that we need to stop hitting the children?