Harsh and violent discipline can have harmful effects on child outcomes, a research conducted by Sharon Wolf and Noelle Suntheimer of the Graduate School of Education University of Pennsylvania has said.
The research was on the topic: “Predictors of Parental Disciplinary Practices and Associations with Child Outcomes among Ghanaian Pre-schoolers” and examined three forms of disciplinary practices – physical, psychological aggression, and non-violent -among caregivers of pre-schoolers in Ghana.
The findings shared with the Ghana News Agency show that harsh and violent discipline can negatively affect child outcomes, including aggression and behaviour problems.
It established a connection between higher use of psychological aggression and household size, female caregivers, endorsement of physical discipline and having a female child.
Added to that is the association of higher caregiver education and having no male in the household with non-violent punishment practices.
Understanding how the disciplinary practices children experienced at home affected the development of such school readiness skills, it noted was an under-studied topic.
“Little research to date has considered these issues for preschool-aged children. As young children transition to formal schooling, they draw on a multitude of skills including social, emotional, behavioural, and academic competencies.
“These skills develop rapidly during the developmentally sensitive period of early childhood” it said.
Mothers have been found to use physical punishment more frequently than fathers, possibly because mothers spend more time with children and thus have more opportunities to see and respond to misbehaviour
In recent years, the Government of Ghana has left nobody in doubt about its commitment to prohibit physical punishment of children across all settings, including the home.
This notwithstanding this should not be expected to completely stop in our homes, alternative care settings, day care centres, and schools anytime soon.
In 2004, the government adopted the National Early Childhood Care and Development Policy which highlighted access to quality early education as central to improving early childhood development and learning as well as the reduction of inequalities in learning outcomes
A visit to some public schools around Madina in the Greater Accra Region by this reporter showed that some teachers are still using canes on school children – corporal punishment.
Canes could be seen on their desks or beside them in the classrooms.
According to the Ghana Statistical Service (2011 Survey), many Ghanaian caregivers believe that physical punishment is necessary for proper child rearing.
The vast majority of children aged 2 to 14 years, had experienced physical and/ or verbally violent discipline with 73 per cent having experienced mild physical punishment and 14 per cent severe physical punishment.
The study by Wolf and Suntheimer examined predictors of disciplinary practices, and the association of these practices with pre-school children’s academic, social, emotional, and behavioural outcomes, sampling children from the Greater Accra Region.
Children in the sample area were in their first two years of basic education, providing an interesting transitional period to examine the role of parental punishment on both academic and social-behavioural outcomes.
The study noted the nexus between physical discipline and poor child outcomes.
Another recent study examined rates of physical punishment among two to four-year olds across 49 low and middle income countries and concluded that over 220 and over 230 million children were exposed to aggressive physical and psychological discipline, respectively (Cuartas et al 2019).
Family economic hardship has also been shown to predict parents’ use of physical punishment.
Physical punishment can vary in intensity and administration. UNICEF guidelines (UNICEF, 2010) consider two primary forms: mild physical punishment and severe physical punishment.
Psychological aggression refers to psychological violence such as shouting, yelling or screaming, as well as calling the child offensive names (UNICEF, 2010). Psychological and verbal aggression by parents negatively affects children’s development.
This study is literally calling for the banning of canning not just in schools but at home. Is Ghana ready for this?
A GNA Feature by Hannah Awadzi