Spare the rod and spoil the child

In the olden days, it was a widely accepted fact that the only way to discipline a child was to mete out some harsh punishment to him, usually physical. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is an adage apt to those times. It says that whenever a child shows any signs of bad behaviour, it should be curbed through physical punishment. Sparing the rod would only amount to indulgence and acceptance of mischief on the parents’ part.


Whipping or beating up a child for even a minor offence was not uncommon in the days gone by. Corporal punishment was an accepted evil in schools. In fact, it was regarded a necessity to rein in the little boys and keep them from mischief. Brutal physical torture often had a negative impact on the young minds, giving rise to a morbid fear of adults and schoolmasters.


William Blake, in his poem ‘ The school boy’ describes perfectly the predicament of a boy who hates going to school, for fear of having to face his stern teacher, who gives him nightmares.


Physical punishment has adverse psychological effects, for children live in constant terror of the adults around them. This may have an impact on their social lives as well. Problem of juvenile delinquency arise when young people look towards evil habits to give them solace from their fright.


Sometimes, a child may not realize that his parents, despite their stern exterior, do love him. Katherine Mansfield exemplifies this in her story ‘ The little girl’, where the child, Kezia, is always scared of her father, and wishes he was like other fathers, demonstrative and caring. When her father beats her for tearing up his speech, he appears to her in her dream in the form of a butcher. It is only another incident later on that makes her aware of her father’s concern for her.


Parents need to realize that it is not physical punishment that succeeds, but strict yet affectionate guidance. A young person can be disciplined through a firm explanation of his flaws, and what is expected of him.


Silence can also be a means of expressing disapproval. ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ might literally apply to a very few extreme cases, but in view of the damage caused by corporal punishment to a child’s self esteem and psychology, the “rod” should be modified to firm yet kind discipline.

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