Disciplining children by physical means is still commonly accepted around the world. What many people still don’t understand is that this practice can serve as a prelude to an escalating pattern of child abuse.
According to the United Nations, eleven percent of the world population lives in extreme poverty –– make less than $1.90 a day––and therefore struggles to fulfill basic needs. Even though fewer people live in extreme poverty these days, almost half of the world’s population —3.4 billion people— still strives to meet their basic needs, the World Bank said in 2018.
Child abuse and neglect can result from the convergence of poverty, high levels of stress, low levels of education, and lack of parenting skills. In households where people are struggling to make ends meet, children’s basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are more often neglected.
Researchers have found that exposure to repeated stressors cause hormonal imbalances and activates an area in the brain called the limbic system. The mental status of the parents, the way they regulate emotions, end up affecting children. We need to be aware that brain development and mental health are the result of our interactions. When caregivers or teachers interact with children, they are impacting their brains. This, in essence, is how love becomes flesh, says author Louis Cozolino in his book “Neuroscience of Human Relations,” (W. W. Norton & Company; Second edition, 2014)
Childhood adversities, including neglect, and physical, verbal or emotional abuse, affect the child’s acquisition of skills, their social competence, and their capacity to respond empathically. And, what is worse is that studies have consistently found that any form of physical punishment is associated with future violence against caregivers, siblings, peers, and partners. However, researchers also found that children’s aggression was reduced by stopping harsh discipline.
When a child is born, he or she is equipped to naturally experience concern for another. But, as researchers have shown, deprived children or children exposed to any form of child abuse or trauma, have problems experiencing empathy or even recognizing emotions different from anger, which is a response typical of the fight-or-flight response to stress (resulting from the activation of the amygdala in the brain).
It’s therefore essential to set up policies in place to address the need for parenting education for all caregivers, as an effective child abuse preventative strategy.