Why Shaming is the Worst Way to “Discipline” Any Child? (Part-1)
At the very outset, let us state as adults, that it is not our job to make sure that children are happy at Sahaj. It is not our job to make sure that children never fight or they stop crying. It is not our job to make the child who hits obey rules, it is also not our job to tell children what to do. How do you teach discipline? We once had a 2.5 year old child – let’s name her ABC – who would beat or bite every time she wanted some toy or every time she had to wait for her turn or sometimes even without any reason that an adult could comprehend. We had two challenges in this case: on the one hand we had to keep all children safe and on the other hand we wanted to make sure that this particular child is neither judged nor shamed. Also, we were under tremendous pressure from the child’s family to somehow "discipline" ABC to stop hitting. But, we remained unruffled. When society has so little knowledge of what it means to be a child, all we could do was to listen and accept the family’s fears. Ours can often be a thankless job and here, it was. Our job can also be a highly rewarding one in terms of the love we receive from some families. Irrespective of the response from each family, I humbly believe that it is the duty of every teacher to stick to their resolve of why they chose to be in this profession in the first place.
“Most of the society members including pre-school teachers are unfortunately unaware that children under the age of 5 possess a negligible amount of self-control. They naturally develop more self-control between ages 5 to 7 (7 to 9 for more sensitive children), if brain development is evolving as expected. This means they will BEGIN to be able to make choices rather than simply acting impulsively on their emotions. This natural process of developing self-control continues unfolding until 20-25 years of age,” says parenting coach Blimie Heller. (See her Instagram handle @unconditional parenting). This explains why expecting to stop a toddler from hitting or biting or scratching without our support (preventive measure, stepping in to stop them), is unrealistic. To admonish a 2.5 year old child as “hitting is bad, hitting hurts” is like telling a fish “swimming is problematic; don’t swim”. It does continue to swim. What we need to appreciate is that the child at this stage lacks the cognitive skills to comprehend. The child’s brain is still learning to control emotions and behaviours, which is referred to as impulse control. There are several adults who suffer from impulse control disorder, which sadly goes undiagnosed, in many cases. The child ABC, after all, is still a child.
If we might have stuck to the traditional standpoint of "teaching" or "scolding", child ABC might have eventually succumbed and reluctantly obeyed our rules and stopped hitting in less or more times. But, as per authors of all best selling books on parenting in modern times, shaming a child has huge potential to scar the child permanently. As early years educators, we need to be highly conscious of the impact shaming has on the confidence of a child; it would influence every decision the child would make in adult life. Hence, in my limited worldview, I think pre-school educators should be deeply aware of and skilled enough to never say a word or make any gesture which has the potential to damage the child forever.
Amidst this catch 22 situation, with the family pressure on one side and our core commitment to never shame a child, we were equipped with the scientific evidence that our communication should match our intentions. It was important that we implement the scientific knowledge in practice and not ignore it. This is when RIE communication tools came to our rescue. This is what we did: Every time child ABC would raise her hand in the air signaling that she is about to hit, we would interrupt by physically stopping her hand and say, “I cannot let you hit.” We also started acknowledging the child’s needs, “I understand you are upset because you didn't get the toy you wanted. But, I can’t let you hit.” in a non-authoritative, non-didactic tone. After a few days, we added one more line, “We understand you feel like hitting, there is a pillow right there, you can choose to hit that.” again in a non-authoritative, non-threatening and non-didactic tone. Our intention was always to support ABC without shaming or judging. We would be in close physical proximity to child ABC who had the tendency to hit, so that we are always there to support her by stopping her from hitting in the right time.
On several occasions, adults command to children, “It is your problem. You need to solve it.” However, children (not only toddlers, but also teenagers) sometimes feel so dis-empowered not knowing how to handle conflict situations. In our ignorance of not knowing any better, we sometimes encourage children to take revenge. Doesn't an eye for an eye make the whole world blind? My personal experience has taught me, it does.
Shouldn't the goal of a true kindergarten be to meet the social and emotional needs of children? Socio-emotional development is the runway from where the aeroplane of a child’s life safely takes off, isn't it?
Hence, as adults, we believe that it is our job to welcome all emotions at Sahaj, it is also our job to be available for a crying child and be with them for as long as they want, it is our job to understand the reasons why a child would hit, it is our job to empower a child to self-regulate (and stop hitting), it is our job to empower children to find solutions to their conflicts. At this point, it is important to note that we never implemented RIE tools with an intention to get the “desired results". Our focus was on the process, the end result surely followed. Our commitment is to the process to ensure that child ABC feels safe while ensuring other children don't feel threatened from ABC’s presence. As for child ABC, she self-regulated herself within three months of joining Sahaj and after one month of us shielding her constantly; she one day cried in her mother’s arms, “I feel like hitting, I feel like hitting. But, I cannot hit.” When we witnessed this powerful moment, our jaws gasped in exasperation. This is what self-discipline looks like.
Self-discipline melts away the urge to hit with such simplicity that it almost looks magical and effortless.
After that day, she stopped hitting not only at Sahaj, but, also at home and if anyone would try and hit her, she would firmly say, ”you cannot hit me.” But, she never hit back. She seldom cried if another child hit her. She would warn the other child firmly, yet, nonchalantly. This is how a calm ripple effect looks like, doesn't it?
It is the child’s job to STOP crying, it is a child’s job to experience an entire gamut of emotions, it is a child’s job to talk about all emotions, it is a child’s job to stop snatching, it is a child’s job to find solutions to problems, it is a child’s job to design rules, it is child’s job to self-regulate. It is our job as adults to nurture optimum working conditions where children perform their jobs with ease. My heart goes to every child who is shamed for hitting and biting. It is the society that needs to hang its head in shame for nurturing a defunct system where adults are not encouraged to have a basic understanding to be an adult that children need us to be.