How to Rewrite Our Disciplinary Methods

Disciplinary Methods BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of Motherhood in Style.

As we grow older, and with the wisdom that the years bring, we may be presented with the opportunity to educate and, perhaps more importantly, discipline our next generation.

However, before we engage in such a defining moment, we should step back and reflect on what resonated and worked positively for us and discard what may have been a trauma rather than teaching.

Echoes that may be best forgotten

Has it ever happened that you automatically flinch when you see someone’s hand near you or feel a sudden movement in your radius?

Think of the times when an elder has thrown a chancla/object at you, and the way you dealt with it was through humor. And I’m not just referring to that stereotypical “chancla,” but to the various punishments — sometimes bordering on brutality — that are often used so lightly in the Latino community.

Think belts, wires, arm pinching or ear pulling; kneeling on rice, lifting books, cold showers… Sound familiar?

Perhaps e don’t realize that all of these common acts of “discipline” — including spanking — can lead to other problems down the road.

In fact, WebMD has listed spanking potentially resulting in “antisocial behavior, aggression, injury, and mental health problems.” 

Going straight to the source

BELatina News had the pleasure to speak with mental health counselor intern Danet Martinez, who specializes in providing therapy to children and families regarding the revision of generational habits, and tips to positively discipline our children without the need for physical discipline. 

“If we look and listen carefully to conversations within some Latino families, whether it is your own or another person’s family, you will hear the same trend,” Martinez told us. “One of the most common things I have heard is ‘ese niño lo que necesita es una buena pela or paliza’ (‘what that child needs is to get beat up’). Another trend is the famous chancleta (flip flop) that many parents claim works effectively to discipline their children.”

For Martinez, these trends are a generational issue.

“This is something that generations keep on passing down from generation to generation, making it totally normal and acceptable,” she explained. “Parents learned this from their parents; therefore, others believe this is the best way to impart discipline to their children. Currently, we have more information, studies, and statistics that underline the aftermath of corporal punishment. However, since it is still so embedded in our culture, we do not even notice how bad it is. Some laugh, some make jokes about it, and this is simply a way of coping with it because it was the norm for many when they were younger.” 

That’s why we relate to a lot of dark humor because, as a generation, we are using this as a coping mechanism and find comfort when others online agree. We see this through memes, through Tiktoks, through jokes that strike a chord and help us cope with our past traumas by knowing others received the same treatment.  

It’s intense to reevaluate these traditions now. As children experiencing this first hand, we simply don’t comprehend that this is a form of child abuse and could potentially result in years of trauma that is sugarcoated as the complete norm of how Latino discipline their children through generations. “It is what it is,” we’re sometimes told. Well, until it isn’t, though.

The tradition of sin and punishment 

Similarly, in the Latino community, we are also introduced to the Bible’s interpretation of la vara y la corrección. For those, like me, unfamiliar with these practices, the proverb essentially encourages you to use a wooden paleta to correct your children. Once they are hit, it is believed they will understand you better.  

So, now imagine a child who doesn’t understand why they’re getting hit but just keeps taking the punishment? Imagine being punished without an explanation? Without the effort to have them understand what is wrong and how they can make it better?  

“I was actually part of a parent psychoeducational group recently this year, and this was one of the topics we discussed in a session,” Martínez continued. “One of the first things we covered was family rules. It is important to set family rules. Without them, how are children and adolescents supposed to know what they did wrong? However, Once the children become adolescents, it is imperative to revise these rules and include them in the process.”

“Adolescents are at an age where they value independence and friendship more than anything, but they also need nurturing from their parents,” she explained. “To give them that space and make them feel empowered, they should be able to have a say in these rules. Once the rules are clearly established, it is important to remember that the punishment needs to be consistent with the family rules and related to the behavior.”

It’s crucial to make these rules to avoid any mental health troubles in our child’s future. After all, the way we initially educate our children at home affects the rest of their lifetime.  

“I know in our Latino community we learned from a young age that corporal punishment is the acceptable way to discipline youth,” Martínez concluded. “Unfortunately, we forget about the effects corporal punishment can have on children once they become adults. Most children and/or adolescents who were survivors of abuse due to corporal punishment now find themselves having problems in their interpersonal relationships as adults.” 

Several studies have also shown that physical punishment, including hitting and other means of pain-inducing punishments, can lead adolescents to become more aggressive, be angry, and feel resentment later in life. “Another consequence that is on the rise is that they can be diagnosed with mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder in their adulthood,” Martinez adds. 

In closing, yes, it is layers upon layers to unwrap and analyze. Still, while it sounds like a never-ending cycle of repetition, it is comforting to see that we are studying hard facts and recognizing how these old habits and traditions don’t work for us anymore. We realize that we can stop action, learn from our elders, and positively rewrite our next generation’s stories.