Psychologies: What kind of punishment turns into violence? How to understand where the line lies between correct, useful punishment and dangerous, traumatic?
Irina Mlodik: There are two types of punishment. The first is when the child actually committed some tangible offense. In this case, it is important to take responsibility. It’s like adults. After all, if you and I break the law, we will also be punished. And the child must understand: he will have to answer for the fact that he caused damage to someone, to fix what he destroyed, smashed. This is normal.
But often the parents punish the child for only one reason – their own impotence. After all, if the mother and father have authority, they can say to the child, “stop, don’t do this anymore,” which will not have to be punished. In my opinion, punishment is rarely needed. Children themselves understand when they have done a bad deed and must answer for it. And often they themselves say: “Forgive me.”
It happens that parents do not beat a child out of a feeling of powerlessness – this is their way to maintain order in the house, to demonstrate their power.
Most likely, they were also beaten in childhood. And they transfer the parenting model to their own children. They may think this is a way to show love and care.
If it is customary in the family to punish with a belt and this rule is known to the child, can spanking be considered violence?
What is the difference between parenting and abuse? The fact that the child can challenge the parental decision. He may burst into tears. And the parent will accept his feelings.
And where the child is denied fear, pain, experience, and violence appears. One of its manifestations is the humiliation of a child. Unfortunately, what many parents do is not even considered violence in our country. But what is humiliation? This is “I deny you dignity, I humiliate you, and at this moment you cease to be a man.”
A typical example: at a train station or in a supermarket, a child begins to be capricious, and the mother publicly explains to him how bad he is.
Yes. This causes a tremendous shame in the child, often much greater than his wrongdoing. And the mother does this most often from impotence. Because she could not normally set a boundary for the child, resolutely refuse him, she does not have enough authority for him to obey her. Her screaming, spanking and slaps are a sign that the parent is not up to the task.
Several years ago, at the request of Psychologies magazine, the Levada Center conducted a large-scale survey on this topic. Most parents (87%) believe that it is worth punishing their children from time to time, and 75% of parents still resort to corporal punishment. Why are they dangerous?
Such statistics terrifies me. Other figures are also known: 14,000 women and 2,500 children died as a result of domestic violence in 2014 alone. This is, in fact, the number of Soviet soldiers killed during the 10 years of the Afghan war. We no longer take those who are hospitalized, who survived.
In fact, the numbers say: we have a cultural norm – to beat each other. In a fit of rage, we may not stop and kill our wife, child, someone else. It’s amazing.
Why is parental abuse so dangerous? Because home is where we want to feel as safe as possible. Parents are people we want to trust as much as possible. Children are creatures that are as defenseless as possible. And when we hit a child, we destroy his sense of support in life, the very idea of security. We seem to say to him: “Proximity is where you can be hit and humiliated. That’s what intimacy is. “
And then, in adulthood, he reproduces this style of behavior in relations with his partners. He involuntarily uses one of two strategies: either to be afraid or to beat the other. And he becomes either a victim or a rapist. Many children who have been abused by their parents later become regular visitors to psychologists.
There is research that corporal punishment not only increases aggression in these children, but also slows down their intellectual development.
Sure. And I can even tell you why. For a child who is beaten or humiliated, fear grows into an affect. And when we are in passion, we begin to think badly. All physiology is about running or hiding, not about thinking. I say this especially for parents who care about the intellectual development of their children.
There are also less obvious types of violence. I’m not talking now about a situation where a father or mother can spank a child in the heat of the moment, and then cool off and apologize – this is exactly what parents are able to notice and analyze.
This, by the way, will not be violence, because the parent apologizes to the child: you really made me angry, but I chose the wrong shape, I shouldn’t have spanked you. I got excited. At this moment, dignity returns to the child, and he can somehow cope with the situation. It is clear that it would be better not to spank at all. But if he has already spanked and apologized, it is much more humane than to think that it is necessary to beat him so that he can grow up, for prevention.
What about ignoring? Some parents who cannot afford physical aggression consider boycotts to be an effective punishment. Which can last from several hours to several weeks. They stop noticing the child, showing him how much he disappointed them. Do you consider this to be violence?
This is a very harmful way to react to a child’s behavior. Formally, it probably cannot be called violence. Because the boundaries of the child are not violated at this moment.
But let’s understand what ignorance is. It also broadcasts to the child: if you do not obey me, then I break the connection with you. You don’t exist for me. Everything, you are left alone, I leave you. And if the child is three or five years old, it is absolutely impossible to bear. Children immediately come running and say: “Mommy, forgive me.” They cannot stand this severed connection, the feeling that they have been annulled, destroyed.
The difficulty is that the mother at this moment considers herself to be right, she is such a fine fellow. Because he does not yell, does not hysteria, does not commit obvious violence. And she doesn’t even realize what the consequences are in the child’s soul. She causes him tremendous anxiety and fear that a significant person for him will suddenly leave him.
There is another form of punishment, the effectiveness of which is under debate. I mean time-out, when parents leave the child alone. For example, in a separate room. And give him the opportunity to reflect on what he did. Some psychologists recommend doing this. Is this also ignoring or is it another, harmless method?
There is no single answer here. It seems to me that parents need time-out more. If something happens, first of all, it is the parent who becomes affected by what happened.
That is, this is a way to protect the child from his anger.
And the best way is to say: “You know, I’m very angry with you right now, I just can’t see you. Now let’s go to your room for 15 minutes so that I can calm down, and then we’ll talk to you. ” This does not mean that the connection has been severed. The parent explains that he needs to cope with his feelings, designates a specific time, promises to talk. Sometimes it helps.
When a child is hysterical, then you cannot leave him alone for a long time. Young children already have poor self-regulation. They need an adult who will embrace and comfort them. Therefore, parents who need to recover should take the shortest possible time-out. And clearly identify it.
When can a child start resisting abuse? Can you teach him this?
First of all, we must treat the child with respect. And then, if someone else humiliates his dignity, the child will at least be amazed. He will tell us what the teacher did or said something bad. And then we will explain: “Nobody has the right to spank, call names and humiliate you. I’ll talk to her tomorrow. “
If one of the family members behaves this way, then we, mothers, can also comfort the child, calm him down. We can say that dad is right in essence, but in form he had no right to say so. And then we go to my husband and talk about how to set boundaries for the child without crossing the line.
A special story if the father regularly hits, insults and does not feel remorse. Here it is difficult for a woman to explain over and over again that this is impossible. In such a family, they bring up not a person with dignity, but a victim or an aggressor who will repeat this behavior in the future.
How should a casual witness of child abuse react? Intervene or pass by?
That’s a very difficult question. If we see an adult beating a child, we have the right to come up and say: “Listen, we don’t have violence against children. According to article 65 of the Family Code, parents have no right to harm the physical and mental health of children. You are breaking the law, stop or I call a police officer. ” Perhaps it will stop someone.
But if a parent shouts at a child in passion, it is difficult to intervene, we have not seen the background of the scandal. We’ll make a comment and move away. And the parent from the shame that he was found in an unsightly state, perhaps, will attack the child even more. But in any case, you need to be information-savvy and refer to the law that prohibits violence.
Does psychotherapy help to deal with the negative impact that abuse has on a child throughout his adult life?
This is possible in therapy. More and more often parents come to me and say: “I was beaten, and now I am beating my child. Help me to free myself from this pattern of behavior, I want to stop. ” This does not happen quickly. In order to free himself from this connection, an adult has to live his childhood story once again, to rethink it. After that, it is easier for him to withstand both his own affects and the affects of his child. And he stops passing on this terrible baton from generation to generation.
About the expert
Irina Mlodik – existential psychologist, child psychotherapist, gestalt therapist, author of books.
The interview was recorded for the joint project of Psychologies magazine and radio “Culture” “Status: in a relationship.”
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