Lawyers: Never use excessive force

Disciplining your child is no easy task.

And should you turn to physical punishments, make sure they are never excessive and that you are in control, experts told The New Paper.

"Many parents physically discipline their children, but the threshold is crossed when there's an injury," said lawyer Rajan Supramaniam.

Lawyer Gloria James-Civetta said physical punishments turn into abuse when parents put their child in great pain.

"While there are no parental guidelines on how to discipline your child, the force used should never be excessive that it leaves the child in great pain," she explained.

Dr Carol Balhetchet, clinical psychologist and senior director for youth services at the Singapore Children's Society, said she does not advocate physical punishments.

First, there is a likelihood of causing serious physical injury to the child, she said.


More importantly, it could leave the child emotionally or mentally scarred from the experience.

"Repeated physical punishment or abuse will build fear, shame and anxiety in the child and cause him to lose confidence and become an empty shell," said Dr Balhetchet.

"Furthermore, you can't see the emotional scars until later on, when they go for psychiatric assessments."

She added that for physical punishments to be effective, they have to be administered in increasing doses each time - which may then cross the boundary and become child abuse.

All the experts TNP spoke to said there are better methods in disciplining children.

Madam Tracy Tan, part-time childcare teacher and mother of two children in their 20s, said communication is key in shaping a child's behaviour, not caning or shaming them.

"Children today are very intelligent. If your child did something wrong, talk to him, communicate and educate him," she added.

"Get him to learn what he did wrong - that's most effective."

Dr Ken Ung, senior consultant child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with Adam Road Medical Centre, said parents could punish their child via other methods such as removing the child's television or computer privileges, or grounding the child.

"Very importantly, the punishment should be a form of training and send a message," he explained.

"When you use physical punishments, the means could be so extreme that the child becomes confused to what's the message.

"In that case, the purpose of the punishment is lost."

But in the event that parents still wish to turn to physical punishment, Dr Ung said it should be used only as a last resort.

"Even so, make sure you use the minimum amount necessary and that you stay in control," he added.

"The unwritten rule of physical punishments is that they should never leave an injury or a permanent mark on the child."