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In Focus: Impact of Corporal Punishments on a Child’s Personality Development

Submitted by on January 12, 2016 – 10:49 PM

6a00d83454f2ec69e201a73de83707970d-320wiHadi (2014) describes corporal punishment (CP) as the physical force applied on children by parents, guardians, teachers to control and discipline the child. CP includes methods such as hitting, slapping, pinching, by  using items such as belts, sticks, pins etc. Children are also made to remain in painful body postures or prohibited to eliminate urine or stool (Greydanus, 2015) or pencils are placed between student’s fingers and pressed to create pain. Still today, it is a common method of disciplining children around the globe and there is a very delicate line between physical abuse and disciplining a child (Zolotor, 2014).


Voices have been raised for diminishing domestic violence and mental illness stigma but still the issue of CP of children has been poorly tackled, especially in Pakistan (Rimal & Pokharel, 2014). Therefore, this paper will focus on the issue of CP, its causes internationally and in the context of Pakistan, its effects on a child’s personality and our role as a health professional in dealing with CP affected children in hospital and its prevention.


CP in Pakistani Context

Pakistan is signatory to United Nations Convention on the child rights, which states that  “States shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures to ensure the legislation for protection of children and protect them from any harm” (Mubarak, 2014).  However, Pakistani children face CP in schools and madrassas. They face different forms of neglects, physical, emotional and sometimes sexual abuse in their homes and workplaces (Solberg, 2009).  More than 70% teachers, in both private and government schools in Pakistan, consider CP to be beneficial for disciplining the children.


One of the government school teachers stated that: “Children in government schools do not study without a stick” (Khan, 2014). In my opinion, CP is rooted in Pakistani society and is passing to generations. Approximately 35,000 students in Pakistan leave their education every year due to CP. In addition, four out of five children are vulnerable to CP from parents, elders and teachers (Hadi, 2014).


A bill to protect children from CP is passed in all four provincial assemblies and yet needs to be passed at the National Assembly that may protect the children under the age of 18. The bill refers the institutions such as orphanages, schools and madrassas to stop CP (A bill to prohibit CP against children, 2014). Despite of legal initiatives CP is still prevalent in Pakistani society. Moreover, there is under reporting of CP in Pakistan (Hadi, 2014).


Causes of CP

I believe that the most common reason behind CP is the intention to discipline the child. Some studies show that mothers use higher level of punishment for boys than girls, whereas other studies suggest that there is no relation of gender and punishment. Furthermore, parents going through stressors such as financial issues, extended family issues and lack of social support punish their children more (Clement & Chamberland, 2008). I believe that parental stress and frustration can also contribute to CP.


Study conducted by Khoury-Kassabri, Attar-Schwartz, Zur (2014) found that the mothers who lacked self-confidence and did not believe in their self-efficacy to discipline their child used high level of CP. Whereas parents who shared child care, disciplinary, and household responsibilities of children, and mothers who had a sense of support from husbands used less CP for their children. CP was more prevalent in nuclear families (38%), followed by single parent’s families (28%), and then in extended families (26%) higher number of children with young husband led to higher level of CP (Gonzalez, Trujillo, & Pereda, 2014). Literature suggests that parents not aware of possible outcomes of CP may punish their children more (Hasanvand, Khaledian & Merati, 2015).


I would like to point out that CP can be experienced by any child. Youssef, Attia, & Kamel (2008), identified that CP was experienced more by children who smoked, or children with physical health problems, birth defects and handicapped children. Moreover, parents’ education level can highly influence the choice of CP. For example, fathers with lack of education and occupations such as skilled/unskilled workers, laborers used more CP than professional or semiprofessional fathers.


Rural mothers used more punishment (60%) then urban mothers. Moreover, recent parental death, divorce and living in separate apartment were highly related to CP than sharing apartment with other families (Alyahri & Goodman, 2008). Literature suggests that parents who were physically punished as children are more likely to punish their children. Large family size and poverty is also associated with increased CP (Simons & Wurtele, 2010).


Impact of CP on child’s personality development

According to Rollins (2012), CP can cause physical injuries such as abrasions, bruising, and other medical complications. However, CP has long lasting negative impact on a child’s personality by affecting their cognitive, emotional, psychological, social, and language development. American Academy of Pediatrics points out that CP may adversely affect the students’ self-image and school achievements (Rollins, 2012).


I have observed that if teachers choose punishment to control students’ behavior, then students either don’t pay attention or start avoiding classes. Literature suggest that frequent use of CP increase the chance of antisocial behavior such as theft,  school absenteeism, running away and school behavior problems lying, cheating, bullying, aggression, adolescent delinquency and violent acts inside and outside the school (Naz et al. 2014). Children may develop negative personality traits such as hatred for the punishing person, or fear, anxiety, learning difficulties, social isolation and aggression. Consequently, they could also end up with committing suicide.


Moreover, they may replicate the methods of punishment used by their parents and teachers on their siblings and other children (Naz et al. 2014). Moreover, the students who are punished physically do not perform well in their education (Hasanvand, Khaledian & Merati, 2015). A study determined misconduct and depression in adolescents of age 14-16, who were physically punished at age of 12-14 (Wang & Kenny, 2014). CP contributes to the loss of interest of students in education. According to a research conducted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa- Pakistan, there is an inverse relationship of CP with students’ motivation and classroom learning (Ahmad, Said & Khan. 2013).


Naz et al. (2011) reported that children who received coercive discipline had lost confidence and assertiveness. They felt humiliated and helpless. Moreover a study found that CP and verbal abuse affect males and females differently; low self-control in males, and anger and frustration was found in females (Evans, Simons & Simons, 2012). A study by Laub & Sampson, (1995), suggested a relationship between punitive parental style and lawbreaking in children in the later ages.


They observed that harsh parenting led to the arrest of boys at the ages 17-45. Another study done by Baer & Corrado, (1974) reported that CP was more experienced by drug addicts in their child hood (as cited in Naz et al., 2011). Children are sensitive, and if they are frequently punished they may create and face problems in future and show defiance to the disciplinary practices of adults at school or at home (Kaur, 2005 as cited in Naz et al., 2011). In terms of language development, there is no strong literature available to describe the impact of CP on child’s communication. However, in my experience children verbally abused by their parents use inappropriate language with their peers and siblings.


Impact of CP on child’s personality through Erikson’s eyes

According to Erikson’s psychosocial theory (Coon & Mitterer, 2013), a child experiences characteristic dilemmas at different stages of life if their psycho-social needs are neglected, withheld, or they are treated with disrespect like punishment.


In stage one (Birth to 1 year), the attitudes of trust or mistrust are developed. If the baby is neglected, rejected or punished, in the later life, he would be an insecure and suspicious individual and will face difficulty in maintaining relationships with people. In the second stage (1-3 years), child will develop a sense of either autonomy or shame/doubt. Punishing children may decrease a child’s curiosity to learn and he might doubt his inner potentials and will not be self-confident.


In third stage (3-5 years), child develops courage to take initiative or suffers from guilt. Initiative is developed when a child participates in recreational activities through which he learns planning and management. But if the child is demotivated, punished, or criticized, he will develop a sense of guilt and will refrain from taking initiative in the later life. In stage four (6-12 years) of industry v/s inferiority.


If a child is appreciated on his positive and productive activities, such as painting, reading, and playing, he develops a sense of industry. On the contrary, criticism or punishment for not completing parent’s expectations can lead to sense of inferiority. In fifth stage (12-19), the dilemma of identity vs role confusion occurs in adolescents. A person tries to identify and build his own identity, which is associated with his abilities, and principles. Child suffering from CP may have role confusion.



Health professionals and policy makers should advocate the child rights given by Child Right Convention. Health professionals need to create community awareness on effects of CP, effective parenting styles, and non-CP disciplinary techniques that help to avoid CP and ensure proper personality development. Moreover, cooperative and expressive family environment is essential for child development, as after school family has remarkable effects on emotional, personal and social development of children. So it should be emphasized (Ahmad, Said & Khan, 2013). Studies support the importance of prevention programs that would reduce stress and increase parental empathy through parental training (Clement & Chamberland, 2008).


Parents should be taught age specific disciplinary techniques. For young children, such as infants can be disciplined with a negative voice, strict eye contact, and time out strategy. School age children are capable of reasoning and comprehension. They should be explained about their right and wrong behavior instead of punishing them (Whaley & Wong, 1991).


In addition, parents must communicate their expectations clearly to their children (Pritchard, 2015). Moreover, at school age and teenage, parents, guardians, and teachers should assist child to focus on his acceptable behaviors, rather than unacceptable ones (Whaley & Wong, 1991).  In schools teacher education programs are highly recommended to support Millennium Development Goal two of achieving universal education by preventing school dropouts due to CP. Moreover, teachers may look for positive alternatives and create supportive learning environment such as student engagement in learning by field work and project based activities (Ahmad, Said & Khan, 2013).


Government, law enforcement and child protection agencies should make sure that the law against CP is implemented. Training of hospital staff to identify symptoms of abuse can help to protect children from further damage (Solberg, 2009). Psychological therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, are effective for the children suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder which might develop after CP (Gillies, Taylor, Gray, O’Brien & D’Abrew, 2013).


CP is not a disciplinary method. In fact, it creates long term and negative effects on a child’s personality development by affecting their cognitive, emotional, psychological, social, and language development. As Nolte (1972) has well said:

“If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and others.”


Parents, guardians and teachers using CP should be taught to differentiate between disciplining a child and punishing them.  Discipline helps a child to develop into a responsible and helpful citizen, whereas CP demolishes every principle of discipline. Children must be respected by elders and guided appropriately by parents and teachers rather than punishment.



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About the Author: Azaina Aijaz, is a BScN Year IV student from Aga Khan University, School of Nursing and Midwifery, Pakistan. She is a recipient of merit scholarship for two consecutive years. Azaina is also a member of Sigma Theta Tau International- Honor Society of Nursing, Indianapolis, USA. Her major areas of interest are nursing research,cardiology, mental health and writing about public health issues. She can be reached at[email protected] or [email protected]

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