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Well, not really, but it is plausible. That’s because child abuse takes many forms. When we think about child abuse, what comes to mind is articles in the newspapers about adults physically abusing children through scalding water, hot irons, knives or similar gruesome techniques.

However a more common of child abuse walks a fine line between legality and humanitarianism. I am talking about mental abuse in its most innocent form - child discipline.

I asked Ms. Seah Kheng Yeow, Head of Family Development and Senior Social Worker at PAVe - Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence, to show us a closer look at the abusive situations our children may face – without us being aware of it.

LWB: What is child abuse? Why does it happen?

SKY: Common forms of abuse reported are:

Physical abuse – excessive corporal punishment through forceful shaking, burning, tying up the child, slapping, attempted suffocation.

Sexual abuse – having sex with the child, fondling of child’s private parts, exposing child to forms of sexual acts or pornographic materials.

Neglect – denial of child’s basic needs, failure to provide for adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical needs, care and supervision.

Emotional/psychological – significant impairment to a child’s social, emotional, cognitive and intellectual development. Eg., telling the child that he is useless/worthless, rejecting the child physically and emotionally, verbally abusing and threatening the child.

Often, we see that child abuse stems from the reason that the parents are disciplining their children. The parents are either very strict or authoritarian in their parenting style. They have high demands and expectations from their child, require that they do well academically and hence behave in accordance with their standards.

When the children fall below par, they will be either disciplined verbally (through scoldings, insults or put-downs) or physically (caning, shoving, shaking).

Another category is a group of children who may generally be more difficult to bring up, that is, they have some behavioural problems or deficits like ADHD, the inclination to steal, lie or some other non-conformity. These parents have difficulties managing them and would try different methods. They discover that physical discipline works best in stopping the negative behaviour immediately, but not for the long term.

Then there is yet another category of parents who do not love the children because they could be born out of wedlock, be unplanned for or born at a time of a family tragedy, causing the parents to feel that they brought bad luck into the family. These children are therefore rejected and not loved from young. Having siblings who get preferential treatment will further demoralise and estrange the child.

LWB: What are the cases currently in your experience which are not criminal but still cause significant damage to the child?

SKY: These range from

  • Hurling insults and vulgarities at the child, eg.”bastard, idiot, f*ck”
  • Banging pots on the table suddenly when they are eating
  • Throwing property like hangers, remote controls, food, etc
  • Shouting and screaming at kids,
  • Threatening to chase them out of the house

This list is not exhaustive but a sample of what goes on in Singapore.

LWB: What may be the causes of these reactions from parents towards their child?

SKY: The parents could have felt that they did not have a fair chance in life before and in which to maximise the child’s potential, or they could be merely venting their stress taken from abusive spouses or own parents.

There are however cases where parents are abusive because they grew up in an abusive family. They have modeled themselves after their parents what they think are effective, or some have told themselves that they would not be like their parents but paradoxically, they become what they fear most.

But shouldn’t laziness be disciplined?

At this point it occurred to me that the children could be truly just lazy. What then? What should our perspective be towards a child’s reaction to extra classes, homework, etc? How do we tell if they’re lazy or if they’re really stressed?
Kheng Yeow says, “it is the value system of parents in Singapore. To some parents, producing a high achiever academically is their number one priority and therefore putting them to a lot of classes equate to doing well and having success in the future. To others, building a good character and giving their child a good childhood is important, so academic results become secondary.”

“That does not mean that studies are not important but the emphasis on that will not be as heavy. It is important to have a balance.”

So the question of why you are sending your child for classes must be answered. Is it to help her cope better, or she is already fine, but to coach more so that she can do even better? Or is it because she likes a particular subject and wants to learn more?

Keen observation and good communication with your child is key to understanding if we as parents are going overboard. The children are more than willing to show it and say it, only if we listen. LWB

Spare the rod and save the child | Father time | How to be a fantastic father | Que Sera, Sera | Rich dad, poor dad

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