I had just finished having a meal at a small restaurant and was waiting for my change at the counter. Next thing I know someone hits my butt. I turn around and it’s this small boy, about two years old. Without thinking, I grabbed him by the arm and delivered a smack to his bottom.
Now, I am not mad at the kid. I am mad at one of the waitresses (who might be his mother) who was standing nearby and with a disapproving frown said, “Ahn, ahn, o nwa obele now.” He is a small child. I should have smacked her bottom too.
I wrote a piece on nine ways to discipline a Nigerian child some time ago, based on my experience growing with a disciplinarian mum and watching other parents. One of the most important things a child needs is instant correction, no matter what your style is: naughty corner, spanking, a talking-to. I did not feel the least bit guilty about smacking that child, I actually felt I should have smacked him harder, although the message seemed to have been passed across because he just stood there, staring in surprise. Whether it was something he was just trying for the first time (which I doubt) or he was a pro at butt slapping, it must have registered in his brain that it’s not something he should do again.
I met another child, in a 14-seater bus, throwing the tantrum of the year. She was kicking, pinching and hitting her father; crying and screaming at the top of her five year old lungs. Everything failed. Giving her sweets, trying to soothe her, telling her to be quiet and sit down. Finally the dad lost his patience and smacked her. Two slaps to the wrist is not going to cure five years of ‘spoiling’. She carried on like nothing happened. After about an hour she ran out of steam and hiccupped herself to sleep. The tantrum continued after she woke up but that’s another story. All the while I was just grateful I wasn’t the person sitting next to them. Father and daughter would have learnt.
No child is too young to be corrected. You’ll be there singing, ‘she’s just a small child’ and ‘he’s too young to be punished’ and by the time you realize how wrong you are, you have an 18-year-old to whom the word ‘discipline’ means nothing. Then you’ll start invoking the innocent people in the village as the ones winching your child.
The first place a child learns is the home. My mother, God bless her, is loved and respected by all the ‘stubborn’ children in her area. She will flog you, then she’ll feed you and help you with your homework or tell you sorry when you show her a scrap. I remember a little boy crying once because he said ‘Good evening’ to my distracted mother and she forgot to add ‘my darling’ to her response. Still, she’s the one he’s sent to for discipline when he is being naughty.
Being tough is a big part of loving your kids; even when they turn the charm on: big eyes swimming with tears, lips trembling just enough to melt you heart. Just make sure every punishment, every correction, every scolding is coming from a place of love.
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