Dear Editor,
Given the recent incident in Canje, Berbice, where a young child was brutally beaten by her mother, I thought it necessary to shed some light on the harmful effects of corporal punishment (eg, beating with a belt or a stick, hand slapping to the body, throbbing and dragging children, pinching, hair pulling, ear twitching) on ​​child welfare and early learning skills.
Corporal punishment is used as a common method of disciplining children worldwide. In the Caribbean, parents approve and use physical punishment at unacceptably high rates. Over the past decade, my colleagues and I have conducted several studies on the effects of physical punishment and psychological aggression on childhood development across the Caribbean and other countries. Let me share some of what we know about corporal punishment among families in high and low and middle income Caribbean countries. The physical harm that parents can inflict on children by physical punishment is well documented, and in some cases they are child abuse. The aim here is to focus on the effects of physical punishment on different aspects of childhood development.
While a fair number of adults in Guyana confirm that physical punishment at home and at school is guiding them toward a good path in life, research findings indicate that physical toughness is quite detrimental to child development. Here’s what we know about the effects of physical punishment. From an analysis of 88 studies conducted in high-income countries, physical punishment was associated with:
Childhood aggression
• Anti-social behavior and social adjustment difficulties
• Offense
• Lower vocabulary, literacy and cognitive stimulus scores (intellectual functioning)
• Internalize lower moral standards
• Poor mental health outcomes overall
Our studies on corporal punishment in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, and those by other social scientists in Jamaica, also show similar adverse effects of corporal punishment on childhood development. In a national study of 1,500 families from African Caribbean, Indo-Caribbean and Mixed-Ethnic Caribbean backgrounds across Trinidad and Tobago, physical punishment was directly related to behavioral problems in children. Similarly, the severity of corporal punishment was directly associated with prosocial behaviors of preschool-aged children (e.g. helping, cooperating, and sharing) in Indo-Guyanese families in the Corentyne area. That is, the greater the physical punishment, the less likely that children would engage in sharing, helping, and cooperating with others, behaviors considered essential for the development of social skills and behavior modification. In a subsequent study, physical punishment had a negative effect on early literacy skills, such as word reading, counting / naming, and symbol recognition in Guyanese children from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
In related work, we assessed the impact of physical punishment and psychological aggression in 25 African countries. Across countries, physical punishment and psychological aggression were associated with increased behavioral difficulties, such as biting, hitting, and kicking children and other adults. At the same time, parents’ use of explanations and redirection were positively associated with children’s early literacy skills.
The worldwide consensus is that physical punishment is detrimental to children’s psychological well-being and cognitive functioning. Avoid using it! Use explanations and reasoning, redirect the child to some other activity, or model appropriate behavior for the child. Incidentally, psychological aggression, which includes beating / humiliating, humiliating, and name-calling (eg, silly, stubborn), has similar adverse effects as physical punishment on children’s psychological well-being and cognitive functioning.
I strongly recommend that physical punishment be banned at home and school in Guyana. There is good evidence that in countries that have banned the use of physical punishment at home and school, there is less aggression in schools compared to those that have not. As I noted in a recent blog ( for Cambridge University, it is quite difficult to teach children appropriate social behaviors and show moral concern for others when we hit and humiliate them.

Jaipaul L Roopnarine

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