Parenting Our Children in a New Environment
By Aruna Papp
Preparing children to become good citizens and good parents is a difficult job for most of us. When you think about it there is very little training in this area. Most of us use our parents as role models and hope this works for us. How we raise our children, the words we use, the punishments we hand out and the way we comfort them are things we have also learned from our elders. Our home and the environment in our home are greatly influenced by our culture, our religion and the support systems we have in the new county.
Growing up with my siblings in India, we accepted punishment by our parents, teachers, uncle, aunts and other elders. We asked no questions. We did what we were told. There were times when the wrong child got punished but we soon learned to settle the score among ourselves rather than inform our parent that they had made a mistake. So when I became a parent at a very young age I copied my parents and their child rearing techniques.
When we were children our mother use to threaten us by saying, “I’ll break your legs,” if we were slow in our response to her command. While no legs were broken, we all knew it was not a good idea to test her threats. In Canada with my own children I began to use the same threats quite regularly, until one day I was invited into the principal’s office. When I arrived, my seven year old was already in the office crying. Concerned for her welfare, I knelt beside her and whispered, “Don’t worry; I’ll fix what ever trouble you are in.” She looked at me with tears in her eyes and replied, “I am not the one in trouble, and you are.” Apparently, she had told her teacher about my threats.
Many new Canadians find themselves in similar situations. Unaware of Canadian culture and Canadian laws, they are often shocked and humiliated when confronted by authorities. For many new Canadians it is difficult to understand why they can not discipline their children by spanking them. They are shocked at the ‘Canadian’ way of child rearing. For example, they feel that sending a child to bed without food as punishment is horrible and should be considered child abuse. For others it is difficult to understand why babies are allowed to cry themselves to sleep and why young frightened children are left alone in their bedrooms all night. New Canadians often hear terminology such as ‘corporal punishment’ and may not understand the full meaning. Canadian courts have defined corporal punishment as “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correction or control of the child’s behaviour.” Section 43 of the Criminal Code, which dates back to the late 19th century, allows “reasonable force” in the discipline of children. Canadian government believes that any abuse of children is against the law and when children are abused, agencies such as the Children’s Aid Society become involved. Their job is to give advice to families about raising children, provide counselling, parenting education and when there is evidence of abuse, to protect the children.
There are many reports which show that when a child is badly hurt by a parent or a caregiver, they really did not mean to hurt the child. The parent either lost their temper or it was an accident. Whatever the case, unfortunately, these accidents are happening more often and children are being killed by their caregivers.
It is important to know that most of the time, when you lightly hit a child on their hand or the buttocks with an open hand in order to prevent them from harm, most people will not consider this ‘child abuse.’ Generally, child abuse is divided into four areas.
- Physical abuse is when an adult causes injury to a child by hitting, pulling hair using a stick, a belt or a weapon to hit a child.
- Sexual abuse is when an adult takes advantage of a young child in any sexual way, including touching, inappropriate kissing and fondling.
- Emotional abuse is when a child is threatened, insulted or rejected.
- Neglect is when a child is fed poorly, their clothes are always dirty, their hair is unclean or the child smells bad all the time.
Over the years I have met parents who are finding it difficult to deal with problems with their children. In most cases both the parents have to work. They do not have a lot of time with their children and they feel guilty. They often say that in the ‘old country’ we had our extended family, even the neighbours use to get involved if the children were misbehaving but in Canada we have lost these support systems. Well, it is time to look around and create new support systems. We do have neighbours in Canada; we can make friends who can provide support. We need to stop thinking about ‘what will people say’ and take courage to ask for help. You may have heard a common saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, in Canada this village will look different than what you are use to. However, there are many new Canadians who have built these new support systems. I think it is important to remember that we don’t have to raise our children all alone. Parents are human beings and when they get tired and need help there are number of settlement agencies, community centres such as the YMCA or the YWCA who are able to help.