It is impossible for parents to not get angry with some of the things their children do. Sometimes, the mistakes made by children are so grave that parents feel overwhelmed. During such situations, quite a few parents lose control and resort to hitting their children. Also, some parents inadvertently get into the habit of hitting their child on the slightest pretext. While hitting hurts the child, both emotionally and physically, it affects parents as well.
Let’s look at how hitting is harmful by focussing on the issue from multiple perspectives.
Why parents resort to hitting
Some of the reasons why parents resort to hitting are:
- exposure to parental abuse as a child
- to temporarily halt bad behaviours like aggression or tantrum
- to instil discipline
- failure on the part of the child to comply or heed to warnings
- inability of the child to fulfil expectations
- being worried about the impact of the child’s actions on the people and situations around
- to make the child associate the wrong action with the pain caused by hitting and, therefore, refrain from repeating the action
- giving vent to their feelings of disappointment in case of underperforming children
How it affects parents
Parents who start with hitting once in a while, come to rely on it more and more over time. As the habit takes deeper roots, they start hitting their children even for the slightest breach of rules. Such parents find it difficult to break the cycle, giving rise to the likelihood of turning into abusers. Also, after hitting their children, most parents start feeling guilty and stressed, and find it difficult to reconcile and connect with their children. All these lead to a decreased quality of parenting.
No parent will hit their child for pleasure. Only when the parent is unable to manage the child, or if the child has committed a seemingly unpardonable mistake would a parent resort to physical punishment. But, after inflicting physical punishment, most parents are overwhelmed by feelings of regret and remorse, as they love their child a lot. However, if parents are under stress, then their tolerance levels toward their child’s slip-ups and flaws can be low. As a result, they may frequently resort to physical punishment for want of a better way of disciplining the child. —* Dr Ravi Samuel
How it affects children
Children indulge in behavioural indiscretions owing to many reasons. Lack of vocabulary to express themselves, acting out of impulse, experiencing anxiety, stress or hunger, and suffering from mental health issues are some of the common reasons that cause children to act out.
While hitting causes the child to refrain from indulging in behaviours or acts that may beget punishment, it does nothing to modify her behaviour. In fact, in children, hitting:
- gives rise to the perception of being wronged, and treated in an unjust and unfair manner
- gives rise to feelings of anger, humiliation, aggression and fear
- causes mental health issues like mood and anxiety disorders or even substance addiction
- hinders exploratory behaviour and causes a dip in academic performance
- increases the chances of engaging in violent behaviour
- increases the chances of engaging in criminal acts later on in life
In fact, the adverse effects of corporal punishment go even beyond these. A study by Tomoda et al titled, ‘Reduced Prefrontal Cortical Gray Matter Volume in Young Adults Exposed to Harsh Corporal Punishment’, was published on NeuroImage (2009). It outlined the effects of harsh corporal punishment (HCP) on the brain. According to them, “HCP may be an aversive and stressful event for human beings that potentially alters the developmental trajectory of some brain regions in which abnormalities have been associated with major forms of psychopathology.”
What happens to the parent–child relationship
- Children look at parents as role-models and rely on them for almost everything. They expect parents to love and protect them, treat them with respect, support them during times of distress, guide them when they feel lost, and help them when they are in trouble. Parents who resort to hitting their children deprive them of all the love and care they expect.
- This, in turn, causes children to refuse to respect them, accept their authority and resent them.
- The habit of hitting gradually leads to disintegration of the parent–child relationship by causing a breakdown in respectful communication, creating a hostile environment at home, increasing confrontations between the parent and child, and giving rise to conflicts, which mostly remain unresolved.
Being humans, parents also suffer from frailties of human nature, with losing their cool being one of them. While parents should always strive to not lose control and hit their child, they should also know what to do once they have transgressed the line. While feeling guilty is normal, it should not stop parents from connecting with their child and modelling behaviour that they expect their child to grow up with. Also, parents should try to learn more effective ways of disciplining their child.
*Dr Ravi Samuel is one of Chennai's eminent psychotherapists who offers mental health therapy through URClinic.
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