Posts Tagged anger

Deborah Morris-Travers comments on the Sunday show’s portrayal of her childhood and the smacking issue

August 12, 2009

Some months ago Sunday reporter Simon Mercep interviewed Jimmy Mason, the Christchurch father convicted for punching his son in the face. Following the show Sunday received a lot of correspondence and decided to interview more people about their experiences of physical punishment.

The Sunday programme for 9 August carried interviews with my family, and also with Simon Barnett.

In the telling of my story, as a child growing up in the 1970s, I related the strict and, at times, harsh physical punishment we received as a child. My parents talked about an era in which there was little information or support available for parents and they did what they thought was right at the time.

In my interview with Sunday, I noted that my older sister, in particular, had experienced a lot of physical punishment and that this had undermined her self-esteem, her confidence and sense of place in the family.

On one particular occasion I rang 111 and spoke to the operator about needing the Police to help my sister. The beating that was taking place ended so I told the operator I no longer needed help. I tried hanging up but discovered the operator was still there asking if everything was okay!

As a 9 year old this wasn’t something I could tell my parents about. It wasn’t until recently that we discussed it. My mother remembers the incident of physical punishment that prompted my call to the Police even though she hadn’t know that I had taken that action.

It is my belief that the anger my sister experienced contributed to her alienation from the family in her early teens, leading her to put herself in risky situations and then leave home at age 15. She later became a parent at 17 and had another child at 20. She went on to use physical punishment with her children.

Throughout her life it was clear that she carried with her anxiety and depression. Central to the story my family sought to tell was the important message that while the circumstances leading to her death were complex, being hit did not help build the resilience, confidence or resourcefulness she would need in adulthood. It undermined her sense of well-being.

As I have reflected on her childhood and teen years I have been struck by the similarity of her experience with the international evidence about the harms of physical punishment, including the potential for:

  • Aggression and delinquency
  • Poor mental health and poor self esteem
  • Learning difficulties
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Criminal and antisocial behaviour
  • Risk of victimisation of more serious abuse

When I have spoken with my parents about all of this they have been clear that as time went on they did start learning new ways to discipline us. This is why, as the middle child, I received less physical punishment than my sister – who was 5 years older than me.

For me, physical punishment put a great deal of pressure on my relationship with my parents. It made me angry and resentful. I didn’t trust them or respect them. Nevertheless, I was lucky to be a lot more resilient than my sister.

In recent years, partly due to the work I’m doing, we’ve had the opportunity to talk these things through as a family. My parents have related the role of the evangelical Church in promoting the physical punishment of children, they have apologised and we’ve moved on.

My parents have spoken with me about having learned that they could actually reason with us as children. The great thing is that now, as Grandparents, they understand the power of positive parenting and the numerous, non-violent, strategies they can use with children in their care.

And, as a parent now myself I am adamant that hitting children is unnecessary and unacceptable. I am convinced that families can change and we can break the cycle!

On this, it was interesting watching the show on Sunday night, hearing Simon Barnett’s assertion that he didn’t smack in anger, but one of his daughters saying her Dad was angry. It is common for parents to downplay their level of anger when they resort to physical punishment.

It was also worth noting that Simon admitted that hitting his youngest daughter didn’t work. This is what many New Zealand parents are discovering and it is hopefully what Simon’s older daughters will realise when they become parents themselves.

Of course, during the course of filming the Sunday show we had lengthy interviews with Simon Mercep about all of the issues involved, about the positive parenting strategies we employ with my 4 year old daughter, about the law and children’s right to have the same legal protection as all other citizens, and about the need for a YES vote in the referendum. I was disappointed that there wasn’t more discussion on the show about the techniques we use instead of hitting.

The nature of TV shows such as this is that time constraints mean the editing is heavy and viewers get just a snippet of information – and of course it’s the most sensational bits!

We have received dozens of supportive emails in recent days, many of which have referred to the lasting anxiety and depression caused by childhood punishment experiences.

Thanks to everyone for their support. Reflecting on what was supposedly an ‘average 1970s childhood’ wasn’t all that easy. I’m pleased to be parenting in a new era of awareness about how to do things differently!

Parenting Tip: Nip anger in the bud

May 29, 2009

Take steps to control your own rage:

  • Don’t stew over things, distract yourself if you’re feeling mad
  • Practise self-control
  • Learn how to connect with people in a safe and respectful way
  • Find positive male and female role models
  • Care for yourself by connecting to things that are meaningful to you like nature, meditation or art

Thanks to Cynthia Morton of the Emotional Fitness Foundatation for today’s tip (and HT to Stuff)

Do you have a tip you’d like to share? Please let us know below.

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Rabbi Johanna Hershenson: Our legacy is the example we set for our children

May 18, 2009

Like many other religions rooted in nationhood, Judaism is not simply a treasure trove of ritual holidays and life cycle events. Judaism is a way of life. Our sacred texts inform our way of being in the world, not only our gestalt (world view) but also our daily conduct. The relationship between parent and child is no exception.

The Talmud, our largest compendium of case law, instructs (Kiddushin 29a):

What are a parent’s obligations regarding a child?

They must bring them into the faith community, teach them values and appropriate conduct, lead them to learn a trade and start families of their own. And there are those who say parents are also required to teach their children to swim in the river.

It is not all that difficult for us to accept this set of parenting guidelines. It is indeed the role of parents in our society to prepare our kids to be self-reliant and accountable for their choices in life. The challenges arise when our children present their own developmentally appropriate obstacles to our parenting…

Some Torah (first five books of the Hebrew Bible) commentators suggest that the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden illustrates human development from childhood into adulthood. At first we are happy that the garden (our home of origin) provides what we seem to need when we need it. When we’re hungry, there’s something in the pantry. When we’re tired, there’s a bed or a cushion to ease our rest. Despite having what we need, moments arise in which we want more or we want something different. And so, Eve tastes from the forbidden fruit of the tree in the centre of the Garden of Eden. Challenging authority is part of our process of development into fully functioning capable adults. Breaking free from the spoon that feeds is essential, albeit often disruptive and even painful.

The Talmud tells a story about one particular sage’s challenging teen son (Kiddushin 32a):

Rav Hunah considered tearing up his son’s favourite silk shirt in that son’s presence saying: “He does not honour his father and mother, therefore I will go and see if he flies into a temper or not.” The other sages counsel him: “But perhaps you will cause him to fly into a temper. If he does, you will have violated the precept – You shall not place a stumbling block before the blind.”

While we are responsible for our children’s welfare and self-sufficiency in adulthood, we are also warned by Jewish literary tradition not to exploit developmental blindspots. Using force because we can justify it in our role as the ones in charge is simply not acceptable. Provoking our children in a way that teaches abuse of power is akin to placing a stumbling block before the blind.

Part of growing up is learning how to manage anger and rage. Anger and rage help us differentiate from our caregivers and make strides out on our own. At the same time, when we are children we don’t know how to cope with the power of that anger and rage. Parents have the responsibility of “teaching their children how to swim in the river.” Swimming in the river of life requires skill, self-control, and instinctual knowing of when to fight and when to redirect our activities. Everything we do matters because our kids are watching, listening, and learning.

As our children transition into adolescence and adulthood we celebrate a ceremony in which grandparents and parents pass a Torah scroll down through the generations to the child who is ready to accept it. It is important for us to remember each time we engage in that “passing down” that our children learn from our conduct moreso than our words that are not reflected in the manner we behave. The real Torah, or legacy, we hand our children is the example of how we are with them in the daily to and fro of life.

Johanna Hershenson is the Rabbi at the Wellington Progressive Jewish Congregation – Temple Sinai.

This article is one in a series on Religious Attitudes to Child Discipline, which includes perspectives from Anjum Rahman (Islamic), Margaret Mayman (Presbyterian), and Richard Randerson (Anglican).

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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