Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Physical Violence is Learned Behavior

The recent altercation involving Rihanna and Chris Brown has once again moved the issue of physical abuse to the forefront of public debate. However, the recent altercation—which was years in the making—began with parents who either consciously or subconsciously taught their children that physical violence is a viable expression of anger and frustration and/or an acceptable way to resolve conflicts. These messages are often taught when parents use physical punishment such as spanking to discipline their children.

More effective forms of discipline include things like communication, deprivation, and isolation.
Communication includes clearly defining a misbehavior, explaining why it is unacceptable, and letting the child know what will happen if the misbehavior occurs. Deprivation includes taking away something that is meaningful to the child when he or she misbehaves. Isolation includes separating the child from whatever is causing the misbehavior or separating the child from the people who are being affected by the misbehavior. All three approaches are effective and none involves physical punishment.

By removing spanking from the list of pragmatic disciplinary options, we remove the possibility of parents striking out at their children in anger and frustration or crossing the line and physically injuring their children. We also send a message that harming someone is not an acceptable way to express feelings or resolve conflict.

Keeping Kids Safe

I know that my six-year-old granddaughter is eventually going to outgrow her tendency to replace the “th” sound at the beginning of some words with an “f” sound, so I’m bound and determined to enjoy the tendency as long as it lasts.

One such occasion happened a couple of days ago when Sekai began telling me about a nightmare she had in which she was being chased by a “feefh.” As cute as she was while telling the story, her terror over the thought of being chased by a thief was anything but funny.

When we dug a little deeper into the nightmare, we discovered that it had been fueled by a recent classroom discussion about kidnapping. While I was thrilled that the teacher realized the importance of alerting children to the dangerous possibility, I was also concerned that the lesson left my granddaughter in a state of fear.

“Listen to me carefully,” I told Sekai as I gently held her face in my hands so that she was looking directly into my eyes, “Being safe is a matter that is completely up to you. As long as you know what to do and you do it, you will be okay. Just think about me. I am 65 years old and I have never been kidnapped!”

That evening, when we got back to my apartment, I located the Fun & Easy Way to Keep Kids Safe kit. I explained to Sekai that while it was aimed at children a bit older than she is, I told her she is “smart enough to handle it.” She beamed with pride as we read the book together and interacted with the other contents of the kit.

On our way home, Sekai clutched the kit tightly to her chest while I told her, “Just remember, Sekai, you are in control of most of what happens to you. And for the most part, you have the ability to keep yourself safe.”

There was a noticeable sense of relief that embraced my granddaughter and somehow I felt assured that there would be no more nightmares about “feefhs”…at least not for a while.