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The Dolphin Way: Why you cannot “knock sense” into your children!

grey dolphin in a body of water close-up photography

As parents, you cannot “knock some sense” into your children! What you can knock into them is fear. In doing so your children become experts at hiding things away from you because they are afraid of how you will react. In the end your child is exposed to all sorts of danger, and the only thing you have protected is your fragile ego!

A lot of (African) parents do not realise that this is one of the most psychologically damaging things that we do to our children. There are so many highly educated and successful adults walking around broken, because of damage that was inadvertently done in their childhood. Some of us cannot even recognise our childhood traumas because we were raised to think they were normal. So those who get therapy find that before they can even begin the work of healing, they first of all need to identify what they are healing from.

Violence begets violence. The same Bible that tells us “spare the rod, spoil the child,” also informs us that those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. So what if the rod was a metaphor? Shepherds in the Bible used rod to guide their sheep when they went astray. They were not beating them with it! When you hit a child to punish them or make them do what you want, you teach them that violence is a good thing that can get you results. We can’t on the one hand be talking about ending violence against women and girls while corporal punishment is still a prevalent thing.

I have to remind myself of this all the time. I was subjected to corporal punishment as a child several times both at home and in school. It has been an intentional unlearning process for me to not resort to the same every time I am faced with a challenged when disciplining my child. In research used to make a case for anti-spanking legislation in Canada, negative effects of corporal punishment can reach into adulthood and can include mental health issues, criminal behaviours and aggression. It is no surprise that some of these children who witness or experience violence in close relationships go on to perpetuate patterns of abuse and violence in adulthood. Relationship skills and social behaviours are learnt at home.

Respect is what should be the aim and many confuse fear for respect, forgetting that when you fear something you run away from it. Our children should be able to come to us not run away from us. And if they are running away from us, the danger is who they may be running to!

One of the programs we offer the women we support at The Haven is The Dolphin Program. This programme was created to support mothers to strengthen their bonds with their children and learn new skills and encourage healthier relationships after being subjected to domestic abuse. When I looked into why the dolphin of all animals, I was reassured about my approach to parenting.

Are you an authoritative (dolphin) or authoritarian (tiger) parent? Before you discipline a child, do you ever take the time to talk and explain things to them? Or do you just expect them to do as you say, and no questions in search of clarity or enlightenment should be asked? Sometimes the questions we want to avoid are the ones that are crucial to their emotional development. Parenting is hard work. It takes love, consistency, setting boundaries and effort. Lots of effort. Whenever you want to prioritise your ego, please think of your child’s future.

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