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Last week, an incident happened in one of our girls' secondary schools in Thika Town that left us pondering if how we as adults handle our children's mistakes has some direct relationship with how they treat others in real life. 

The school's principal made the girls to pick used sanitary pads with bare hands just because one careless student disposed hers in the wrong section of their washrooms. It was some minutes towards lunch, so you can imagine how it affected the girls' appetite that day.

I believe that no wrong should ever go unpunished. Equally, I too believe that punishments should never be communal, ie punishing everyone irrespective of their innocence. Further still, the punishment should be humane and corrective.

In fact, there is a distinct difference between punishing and disciplining a child.

Punishment refers to any action that is geared towards reducing the frequency of unwanted and inappropriate behaviours by suppressing them. It simply teaches children that if they break rules they will suffer negative consequences. Punishments do not teach them to be responsible or to take into account the thoughts, needs or experiences of others. These children do not necessarily come to understand why their behaviour was wrong, or how their behaviour negatively impacted others. 

Punishments do not teach children anything other than that it is alright to hurt others. 
Teachers sometimes find punishment to be effective because it tends to rapidly stop problem behaviours. On the surface, punishment may appear to be a powerful and attractive behaviour management strategy. But this power can come at a significant cost. 

Punishments sometimes are accompanied by significant negative side effects. Students who are regularly the object of punishment may over time show a drop in positive attitudes toward school (resulting in poor attendance and work performance), have a more negative perception of teachers, and adopt a more punitive manner in interacting with peers and adults. 

Discipline, on the other hand, always carries a lesson which helps children to understand what appropriate behaviours are and why they have become accepted in our society. Thus, disciplining is a means of teaching children how to better themselves. It often increases the sense of responsibility, self-confidence and the ability to distinguish appropriate from inappropriate behaviours.

Parents and teachers who try to make their kids behave by subjecting them to humiliating punishments or those that make a child feel degraded or diminished are taking the wrong approach to discipline. 

Humiliating punishments disconnect parents/teachers from their children, making kids less likely to want to behave and do what their seniors say. Each time we embarrass children with a punishment, we pay a price. We drive them away from us, and we lose our ability to be a role model for them. When you disconnect from a child, he no longer wants to please you, he no longer wants to be like you. You have lost your power of influence over him.

Any punishment that shames or embarrasses a child is not an effective way to discipline youngsters and may cause long-term psychological damage. Such punishments can lead to all kinds of problems in the future, including increased anxiety, depression and aggression.

Teachers should therefore understand the pros and cons about using punishment as schools frequently build punishing, or aversive, consequences into plans designed to help manage student behaviours.

They should strive to discipline the children in order to help them better themselves and their situations. Properly disciplined children will grow to be happy, healthy and productive members of not just the family, but society as well.

Teachers should use other discipline strategies, such as setting clear rules for kids and taking away privileges. They should aim to create a supporting environment for their child. Positive things have a much more powerful effect on shaping behaviour than any punishment.

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