Tuesday, April 23, 2024

GET REAL: Communication is the answer

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AFTER A HARD DAY AT WORK, dealing with people you wish you could hit, you come home tired and frustrated. You want peace, quiet and rest. Here comes a child with a seemingly endless reserve of energy and curiosity. You are in no mood to play. They do things that seem deliberately designed to test you. Talking takes energy. And you have to talk to the child over and over again. The easiest, simplest, most straightforward and direct thing to do is to pitch a slap in it.

It is understandable. How much pressure can you take before you blow? Some or all the frustration of the day is taken out on the little person in front of you. He is the perfect target to take it out on as well. He is defenseless, smaller and weaker than you.  You know he will probably still love you after you beat him or bawl him out. Aaaaaand, you can even tell yourself you are doing it for his own good. 

The constant vigilance necessary when dealing with children can be taxing. If you can drive enough fear into them, you can take your eyes off of them and relax a little more.

Once I hit my child.  She opened her eyes wide as if she could not believe it. She watched me dead in my face for about five seconds before she broke down crying. The look was like the one you get on your face when you are watching a thriller and find out the killer is not who you expected. I believe she hurt me with that look worse than I hurt her with the lash. She is not used to lashes. I had only hit her once before. After the first time I swore I would never do it again. I did.

After that second time, I swore I would never do it again. I did. It was not right. I either did not know what else to do, or was too tired, angry, lazy or overwhelmed to do anything else. It’s OK. People have gone through worse and survived. I don’t need to turn my tendencies to aggression into some kind of philosophy to appease my conscience.

There have been many other instances where I had the urge to drop my hand in her but didn’t. Instead I chose to talk and reason. Reasoning is a skill I’ve tried to nurture in my youths from early.

Someone once warned me that all the reasoning and thinking I’m encouraging in my children will come back to haunt me when they get older. For that person, childrearing is about control and domination. There is a fear and insecurity surrounding their position as an authority figure. European slave owners were similarly afraid of enslaved Africans thinking for themselves and tried to prevent it by using fear to box their minds in.

A common old time saying is, “Beat them now so the police don’t beat them later.” We beat our children to protect them from a hostile and dangerous world, where even those in authority present a threat. The lesson is, “Be afraid and be quiet to stay safe.” Under the conditions of chattel slavery this could mean life or death. We are not under the conditions of chattel slavery now, but maybe we are still conditioned by it.

The impulse to lash is lodged deep in me. It is a reflex. It is “we culture.” It is how I was raised. One of the first things that will enter my brain when I see a child misbehaving is, “She want a hard lash!” A hard lash cures anything. For many Barbadians a tamarind rod is a magic wand. All you have to do is wave it across the child’s backside and he will be transformed. It never seems to dawn on us that the magic wears off very quickly. We never asked ourselves, “If beating is so effective, how come I gotta keep beating dis child all de time so?”

My parents didn’t do a lot of beating. They mostly outsourced that job to the school. I get the feeling that many parents lose the taste for beating themselves, but still feel it necessary. They are more comfortable with the schools doing the dirty work. But even in the schools flogging is becoming less tolerated.

Flogging is a major part of our experience of how to raise a child. When a Barbadian says you must discipline your child, he often means you must flog him. We use corporal punishment synonymously with discipline. Here is the dilemma: when you take away flogging from many a Bajan, you are taking away their primary means of training and discipline. The debate on corporal punishment is incomplete if we are not talking about what will replace it.

Flogging is not discipline. If it is not accompanied by communication and understanding, and balanced by love and affection, the main thing you are teaching is how to dominate others using violence. Where do we think bullies learn their art?

If we become as skilled in communication and reasoning as we are with bamboo rods, we will flog less. Flogging may even disappear. The thing is, communication can be more time- consuming, requires a higher degree of skill, and may not have the immediate results of violence and intimidation. It also calls for you to be in a calmer state of mind  But it is better in the long term. Increased effectiveness in communication and reasoning with children will eventually manifest in better policing, governance and business as those children grow and take over from us.

Maybe some children have issues that only respond to physical pain. Or maybe adults are the ones who need discipline. Maybe we need to learn to control our impulses the same way children must learn to control theirs. My readiness to use violence on children can reflect my lack of discipline as much as it does theirs. 

Adrian Green is a Bajan communications specialist. Email: adriangreen14@gmail.com

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