A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Ask Auntie Chambu: To Spank or not to Spank?
By Christina Nana

Dear Auntie Chambu:

My husband and I are proud parents of a two year old boy. Our son is our first child and our pride and joy. We love him so much and would never harm him in any manner. So we were surprised the other day when our close neighbors told us they saw us "beating" our little boy in the backyard. We only tapped him on the hand when he was trying to touch the hot grill! What are we to do as new parents when our son does not listen and risks hurting himself?


Dear Mathilda:

Child discipline is controversial and can cause quite a heated debate between those who believe in "spanking" and those who are against it. Yet disciplining your child is a necessary part of child rearing. Parents in the US, Africa and the world round struggle with the conflicting emotions of punishing their kids.

Disciplining your offspring is a necessary part of nurturing and protecting them. In Africa many parents use corporeal punishment to handle behavioral problems. I remember how my father used to line us- me and my siblings- up for spankings, especially when we were harvesting immature fruits like mangoes, guavas or pears. Fruits which could make us ill if we ate them. I was one of twenty- six children, from five wives, and my disciplinarian father ran his household with military strictness. I realize now that it must have been a struggle to keep so many children safe and well. Still I can count the number of times I spanked my own four kids on one hand. Instead my husband and I utilized other disciplinary methods like "time-out" and "grounding."

In many jurisdictions in the United States corporeal punishment is against the law. Practitioners can be subject to charges of child abuse from multiple agencies like the Department of Family and Children's Services or Social Services. It only takes one call from an anxious neighbor- like yours- for you to be investigated for child abuse.

Children must be disciplined of course: to learn right from wrong, to learn how to respect the rights of others, to teach them what behaviors are acceptable and which are not, to develop confidence, security, impulse control and self discipline. So we need to find ways to discipline our children - as a parent you must teach your children right from wrong at an early age or when they grow up society- the court system or the prison system- will punish them for you, got me?

Here are some tips on disciplining your child without crossing the line:

Stay calm: When your child misbehaves don't react in anger. Count down from five to give yourself a moment to reflect before you react.

Avoid criticisms: Make sure your child understands you are unhappy with the behaviour but still love him or her. Give positive reinforcement- rewards and/or praise- for good behaviour.

Be consistent: When your child misbehaves let them know the consequences/punishment for their actions and follow through so they know you mean business.

Good luck to you.

Auntie Chambu, 52, was born and raised in the grasslands of Cameroon. This sheltered nineteen year old, boarding school girl came to a rebellious 60's United States to pursue a college degree and her dreams. She garnered degrees in social work and counseling, got married, and had four kids who constantly put her education and home spun wisdom to the test. After over twenty years of living on the two continents, her advice has a great mixture of traditional African insights with a spirited American independent thinker streak.

Need answers to a problem? Send your question to Auntie Chambu at askauntie@africanmag.com. Only letters selected for publication will be answered.