A new study in Singapore reveals that nearly 45% of parents used physical discipline like spanking their kids in the past year. One mother shares her story of why she is parenting her son differently.
My mother was known to pinch us. She raised my older cousins too, and we’d talk about how her pinching was so skilled that it was sharp and painful at the site and the pain lingered, but it never ever left a mark. She had a rotan too (a stick sold in Singapore and designed to hit children) – and it was used on my brother and me in dire circumstances. My dad was rarely the person who inflicted physical discipline on us but when he did, it would mean that he was really enraged.
As a mother to a boisterous five-year-old boy, I have spent a lot of time in the last half a decade or so trying to be a better parent. I live firmly by Maya Angelou’s, ‘do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better’. Parenting is already hard as it is — it’s even harder when you’re trying not to impose your generational trauma whilst trying not to react to a child’s big feelings and diffuse the situation to both your liking.
“This is what happens when you don’t physically discipline your kids.”
A few weeks ago, after a particularly trying morning we were at my mother’s place and I was lamenting about the many joys of parenting, seeking empathy from my mother. Instead, she leapt faster than a gazelle to a conclusion which she happily announced to me, “This is what happens when you don’t physically discipline your kids.”
Let me preface this by saying that my mother and I get along perfectly fine. We don’t always see eye-to-eye (evidently) but she knows I would walk through fire for her. And even though I have endured a lot of pinchings and rotan lashings, I have never suffered from aggression or been in abusive relationships, some of the adverse effects research has linked to being hit as a child. In fact, I don’t actually remember the reasons or the specific incidents.
What I did remember was how terrified I was to tell my parents, and I grew to become a teenager who didn’t have an open form of communication with my parents, something evident in most Singaporean households. Parents don’t talk about feelings, dads grunt to acknowledge your existence and mums would cut you fruits. But here’s the thing — I knew my parents loved me, and they did the best they could.
But now that I know better, I want to do better.
The Singapore Children’s Society and Yale-NUS College conducted a study for the first time in Singapore to understand the prevalence of physical discipline in Singapore, and the experiences of parents and young adults.
New study shows 40.6% of parents with pre-schoolers used physical discipline in SG
The study found that 44.8% of respondents reported using at least one type of physical discipline in the past year, of which 29.9% used physical discipline frequently. It’s particularly alarming that it’s parents with pre-schoolers who have used physical discipline most frequently (40.6%), followed by those with infants (30.8%) and those with primary schoolers (29%).
When my mum made the remark earlier, she quickly justified herself with, “I’m not telling you to maim him…” And neither does any parent who is probably so infuriated with their kid that they resorted to hitting.
The irony is physical discipline did not necessarily yield the objectives the parents wanted to achieve. While it may have elicited immediate compliance and attention when it was meted out, young adults who had experienced physical discipline in their childhood years reported not learning any moral lessons. As someone who walks the talk, I can attest that we just got better at hiding our f**k ups.
Corporal punishment was also inflicted upon us in school. I don’t know about yours, but I distinctly remember a primary school form teacher making us stand in the corridor of the school hallway — because obviously shaming was important in disciplining 9-year-olds — and smacking our bums with a long wooden ruler. Simply because we were talking too much in class. It didn’t stop there — I remember public canings during assembly, or a teacher smacking your hand so hard with a long ruler because you messed up.
Physical discipline is ineffective and may contribute to long-lasting negative impacts
While parental discipline in Singapore has deep roots in culture and tradition, it’s clear that physical and psychological discipline methods are ineffective and it may contribute to long-lasting negative impacts on the individual. How then, do we amalgamate our iconic rotan into our new ways of parenting? How do we successfully adapt our aged parents who still remain key figures in our kids?
As for me, I’m grateful my mother is my village and she respects my parenting boundaries when she is with her grandchild, but that’s not going to stop me from passive-aggressively sending her articles about physical discipline via Whatsapp and correcting her politely in front of my son when she tries to inflict some psychological discipline methods. The rotan? It’s just going to be used to swipe things that get lost behind the cupboard. Maybe one day it’ll get lost in there too, and for the rotan, getting lost in Narnia wouldn’t be so bad.
More details of Singapore Children’s Society and Yale-NUS College study can be found here.