Healthy discipline alternatives to spanking children

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It is illegal to spank your own child in South Africa. The high court judgment made on 19 October 2017 outlawing corporal punishment in private homes has been upheld.

The ruling was appealed by civil society group Freedom of Religion South Africa (For SA) which believed the judgment would make criminals of well-meaning parents. However, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng upheld the 2017 high court ruling on 18 September 2019.

Read more on the appeal and ruling here.

Although smacking a child (your own or someone else’s) in the home environment has always been classified as an assault, there was previously a loophole where the parent could plead the special defence of “reasonable chastisement” in the event of being taken to court on the matter. This common law defence was revoked by the South Gauteng High Court’s ruling in 2017, which has rendered this plea inadmissible and not in keeping with the Constitution. This was once again reiterated in the ruling on 18 September 2019.

Corporal punishment in schools was also been banned for 21 years, as well as psychological abuse.

So what does this mean for parents who spank their kids from time to time at home? You’ll need to find alternative methods to discipline your child.

ALSO SEE: 5 steps to positively discipline your toddler

Response to judgement

“This judgement is a significant statement to parents to rethink their disciplinary procedures and to ask themselves whether the current measures in place for discipline are resulting in the desired outcomes,” says Supervisor Jenna White of the Star Academy, which specialises in behaviour intervention programmes.

“As a behaviourist, I am in agreement with the court’s decision,” says Jenna, who advises that when dealing with a problem behaviour, the first step is to determine why it is occurring. Often, communication difficulties are at the root of problem behaviour. Teaching and reinforcing communication skills such as asking for something or expressing an emotion, allows the child the opportunity to have their needs met in an appropriate and pro-social way, so that they no longer need to engage in challenging behaviour.

We asked you whether you agree with this ruling, or if you think parents should be allowed to spank their kids. Here’s what you said:

  • “I don’t agree. I will continue spanking my kids. I know what’s best for my kids. I can’t hurt them. My kids, my decision on how to discipline them. My kids, my rules on how to raise them – after all I’m their mom. I love them so much. I care, protect, provide and pray for them, unless government thinks that they can manage to do all I mentioned above.” Esther Thibela
  • “I agree. There are better ways to ‘teach’ a child manners and discipline than by hitting them. If one adult hits another adult, it is called assault. If one child hits another child, it is called bullying.
    If an adult/child hits an animal it is called animal abuse. Yet it has always been OK for an adult to use their strength on a child who is weak and can’t defend themselves. In my personal opinion, this is good news. It will hopefully motivate parents to look into alternative methods of discipline. I use reward and repercussions and my four-year-old is pretty decent, thank you. Hidings instill fear. So while your kid may listen, they haven’t necessarily learnt anything.” – Sarisha Riona Singh
  • “The government should focus on a way to stop child murders and rape and not tell us how to parent. If they want to tell us how to raise our kids then they might as well collect all children after birth at the hospital and raise them. Let’s see if they can give them more love, attention, clothes, food, money etc, than the parent.” – Elize Petersen
  • “There is a difference between assault and disciplining. If you cannot discipline your children without respecting their humanity then you should be in jail. Relationship is key to effective discipline. You cannot have one without the other.” – Zalisa Mkentane

Head over to our Facebook page here to read more comments from parents.

Alternative discipline methods you can try

“Behaviour can be improved by increasing the relevant skills, and managing the difficult behaviour when it does occur. Smacking is just dealing with a problem behaviour after it occurs, and not in the most effective way,” says Jenna.   Rather use a behaviour intervention plan, which is not only reactive in response to the behaviour, but is also proactive – empowering children with alternatives and skills so they don’t engage in problem behaviour.

ALSO SEE: Four no’s for toddler discipline

One of the most effective alternatives in dealing with challenging behaviour and enforcing discipline is by using the principles of Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA):

 Applied Behavioural Analysis focuses on three elements using the acronym ABC as follows:  

1.) Antecedent (what happens before the behaviour)

2.) Behaviour

3.) Consequence (what happens after the behaviour).

Jenna explains that when looking at a particular challenging behaviour, if we change what happens at A or what happens at point C, it is possible to change the challenging behaviour.  “This mindset could assist parents in using the techniques of Applied Behavioural Analysis when considering disciplinary procedures,” she adds.

ALSO SEE: What is gentle discipline and how does it work?

An example of using antecedent intervention:  

If you know your child always complains about having to go and bath, you could implement antecedent modification by preparing your child in advance by explaining that bath time will be at a certain time instead of just calling the child away from a desired activity to go and bath. This antecedent modification allows the child time to transition to the idea that bath time is coming up soon.

An example where consequence intervention can decrease inappropriate behaviour:  

If your child is throwing a tantrum because he can’t get a sweet or toy, wait until he is calm before explaining to him that he can use appropriate language to communicate his desire for a lollipop or toy by asking for one instead of screaming. The child learns that when they scream, they don’t get what they want, but when they ask nicely, they do.

“Of course each child is different and that is why it is essential to create a tailor-made programme, which deals with the needs of each particular child,” says Jenna. She adds that rules and healthy discipline are important for children to understand boundaries. It makes them feel safe.

“Healthy discipline teaches kids to find different avenues rather than exhibiting challenging behaviour in order to get their needs met.  In this environment, children learn that there are appropriate consequences for their actions. In this context, discipline is a learning experience, providing kids the opportunity to learn from their mistakes in a safe and loving environment,” concludes Jenna.

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