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Spare the rod, spoil the child

A Clinical Mental Health Counseling student from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Washington, D.C. Campus shares insight from her own childhood about how to advise parents of color on the impact of corporal punishment.

In any given community of color, the title of this blog sounds very familiar. Spanking, or formally known as corporal punishment, is a very common disciplinary action. Culturally and historically, it is considered quite normal and rather accepting for discipline to be handed out through some form of physical action like spanking, hitting with a belt, slapping etc.

It was nothing when I was growing up for one of my friends to get into trouble, and their mom would tell them to go get a “switch” off the tree for their “whooping”. And it’s no doubt that corporal punishment is subjective; one parent might find that hitting a child with a belt is mild, and another parent may perceive it to be severe or “when all else fails”.

As a future counselor, I know that corporal punishment can lead to outcomes of children exhibiting aggressive behavior, and as a now, mandated reporter, it’s my ethical duty to report child abuse without bias.

The issue with this is: alongside an already existing stigma of counseling services in colored communities, reporting possible child abuse when a parent perceives what they did to be culturally normal and effective, seems like it would aid to the stigma of “not letting outsiders know your business.”


Counseling Through Cultural Boundaries

As a person of color, I began to question whether what we do culturally should remain the same. Of course, a lot of us would say “I was raised like that and I turned out just fine.”

But, if for a second, we acknowledge that every child is an individual and all need distinct individual needs, then what if corporal punishment shouldn’t necessarily be our “go-to” when it comes to discipline? What if, by using corporal punishment, we aren’t teaching our youth of today how to verbally express their feelings and we’re leaving them ill-equipped to cope?

Working with kids at my practicum site through my Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology has really ingrained in me just how much children act out their feelings rather than verbally express them. I began to really think about the repercussions of just how ineffective corporal punishment could be, in the long run, with how children grow up to express their emotions. In addition, constant corporal punishment has been proven to be ineffective, in which, many parents find themselves having to “up the ante”.

This is a hard subject for me because, as a future counselor, I’m being trained to recognize warning signs and help advocate for my clients. However, as a person of color, I understand the cultural implications and normalizing of corporal punishment.

As the counseling field continues to strive for cultural sensitivity and diversity, I can continue to learn and educate to help bridge the gap between the stigmas of counseling and helping those of different nationalities, cultures, and/or religions.

I also have to keep in mind that because I’ve read the research, that I can’t discipline my children in the future using corporal punishment because it is imperative that I teach my future children how to verbally express their emotions and effective ways to cope.

Who knows though, my children might not be so appreciating of the fact that their mom will be a counselor.


This blog post originally appeared on The American Counseling Association’s website. It was republished with permission.

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Poonam Ethakotu

Poonam Ethakotu is a counselor-in-training at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and is working on an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree, specializing in marriage and family counseling, along with sex therapy.


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