The Silence That Speaks Volumes: Rethinking Discipline in Sri Lanka

Jun 11 2024.

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Imagine a world where a child's punishment isn't measured in screams, but in a chilling silence. A recent video, a stark reminder etched in pixels, showed a father brutally beating his four-year-old daughter. The absence of tears, more deafening than any cry, speaks volumes about the learned helplessness that can grip a child under the constant threat of violence. This incident isn't just a heartbreaking anomaly; it's a symptom of a society grappling with its approach to discipline.

The video served as a catalyst, forcing Sri Lanka to confront the lingering shadow of corporal punishment. This practice, defined by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as "any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light," encompasses hitting, kicking, shaking, pinching, or forcing a child to stay in uncomfortable positions. 

Sri Lanka, like many nations, stands at a crossroads. A landmark decision in January 2024 banned corporal punishment in most situations. However, legal loopholes remain, demanding further action. But the fight for reform extends beyond legislation. It's about a societal shift in attitudes, a move away from the ingrained belief that a beating is a badge of good parenting. 

A Generational Divide
Younger generations are embracing positive alternatives, and understanding this evolving perspective is crucial. Shekinah, a young mother, reflects on this shift, "Growing up, getting hit was just a normal part of being a kid. But as an adult, I realised how much it affected me. It was so hard to unlearn that anger and negativity! Now, with my own children, I'm trying a different approach. Open communication feels so much better for all of us."

Father of 13-year-old twins Janith agrees. “As a boy, the beatings I got were much more severe than that of my sisters. And when I cried, I was told “little boys don’t cry, only little girls do”. To this day my mother tells me that there’s nothing a slap won’t solve. But I beg to differ. I won’t lie - Parenting isn’t easy. No manual or well-intentioned advice helps because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to any problem. But with loads of love and even more patience, my wife and I have been able to handle the tantrums and the fights and everything in between. I love the relationship we have with our boys.” 

Charuka, a mother of a teen, has a front-row seat to the generational divide, "Growing up, corporal punishment was the norm. My parents and in-laws genuinely believed it was the best way to discipline. So, when I became a mother, I did what I thought was right. But it wasn't right. I felt myself losing my child. She became withdrawn, secretive, and rebellious. It was heartbreaking."

Then, a glimmer of hope emerged. Scrolling through social media, Charuka encountered a different approach to discipline. Hesitantly, she began incorporating the strategies. It wasn't an overnight transformation. There were frustrating moments, setbacks, and moments of doubt. Yet, slowly, a change blossomed. "One day, completely out of the blue, my daughter came to my room, wanting to talk," Charuka recalls. "She wanted to tell me about a boy she liked. A few years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Now, she comes to me with everything, big or small. We talk things through, and I listen without judgment. Our bond is stronger than ever. It's a constant reminder that there's a better way, a way built on love and understanding."

A Teacher's Perspective
The movement for positive discipline extends beyond homes. Dewmini, a passionate primary school teacher, witnessed the lingering effects of corporal punishment firsthand. "Seeing colleagues resort to hitting or yelling was disheartening," she confesses. "Being a teacher is about setting an example. I knew there had to be a better way."
Dewmini's dedication went beyond her classroom walls. She actively pursued courses in child psychology, equipping herself with the tools to understand and address student behaviour effectively. "It's about recognising that emotions, even negative ones, are valid," she explains. "A child acting out might be struggling at home, feeling overwhelmed, or simply seeking attention. Understanding the root cause allows us to address the issue constructively."

Dewmini's approach has transformed her classroom. Instead of punishment, she focuses on open communication, helping students express their feelings and develop positive coping mechanisms. "There's immense satisfaction in seeing a child who was once labelled a 'problem' flourish after we work through their challenges together," she beams. "It's a daily reminder that positive discipline is a powerful tool for nurturing responsible, well-adjusted young minds."


The Lasting Wounds
The scars of corporal punishment run far deeper than the fleeting sting of a hit. It's a violation of a child's trust, a betrayal of their sense of safety, and an experience that can leave lasting emotional wounds. Studies paint a disturbing picture: increased aggression, anxiety, depression, and a crippling blow to self-esteem. Learning itself becomes a stressful battleground, where the fear of punishment hinders a child's ability to focus, explore, and thrive. This fosters a vicious cycle – children who are hit may grow up to become perpetrators themselves, perpetuating a legacy of violence across generations.

There is, however, a brighter path. Positive reinforcement, where good behaviour is rewarded, encourages positive choices. Allowing children to experience the natural consequences of their actions fosters responsibility, a powerful lesson learned through experience. Time-outs offer a cooling-off period, a chance for emotions to settle and reason to take hold. Open communication, a cornerstone of healthy relationships, allows children to understand their mistakes and learn from them. Gentle parenting, which prioritises empathy and respect, takes this a step further by helping children identify their emotions and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Gentle Parenting: Building Responsibility and Emotional Intelligence
There's a misconception that gentle parenting, a philosophy that prioritises empathy and respect, means letting children run wild without consequence. This couldn't be further from the truth. Gentle parenting focuses on fostering emotional intelligence in children by having open conversations about their actions and the impact they have.
Imagine a scenario: a child throws a toy in frustration. A gentle parenting approach wouldn't involve yelling or hitting. Instead, the parent would calmly talk to the child, helping them identify their emotions and offering alternative ways to express them. This conversation might involve discussing why throwing the toy was upsetting and exploring solutions like using words to express their feelings.

This fosters accountability – the child understands the consequences of their actions and learns to make better choices in the future. By prioritizing communication and emotional intelligence, gentle parenting empowers children to navigate their world in a healthy, responsible way.

The Power of Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is a cornerstone of effective discipline. It focuses on rewarding good behaviour, encouraging children to repeat positive choices. Imagine a child picks up their toys after playing. A parent could offer a warm smile, a "thank you," or a small sticker chart to track their progress. This simple recognition reinforces the desired behaviour and motivates the child to continue making good choices.

Positive reinforcement goes beyond simple rewards. It can also involve celebrating effort and progress. For instance, a child struggling to learn a new skill could be praised for their perseverance, even if they haven't mastered it yet. This encouragement builds confidence and reinforces the idea that hard work is valued.

Looking ahead
Sri Lanka's legal reforms and growing awareness are positive steps. But the journey doesn't end there. Equipping parents and teachers with these alternative methods is key. Education is the weapon that will break the cycle, building a future where children can thrive, not in fear, but in the embrace of understanding and positive guidance. This is a future Sri Lanka must work to create.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rihaab Mowlana

Rihaab Mowlana is the Deputy Features Editor of Life Plus and a journalist with a passion for crafting captivating narratives. Her expertise lies in feature writing, where she brings a commitment to authenticity and a keen eye for unique perspectives. Follow Rihaab on Twitter & Instagram: @rihaabmowlana


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