NO one is born to be bad. The behaviour is learnt, and it can be unlearned.
But we have to get to the root cause, which starts from home - where parents play critical roles, followed by the neighbourhood, and then only the schools, said child therapist Priscilla Ho.
Look at the psychological and emotional needs of students, and try to understand why they behave in an unacceptable manner, she advised.
“I’ve worked with some very difficult teens but they were willing to listen. A group of them had once commented: ‘Adults only know how to cane us. Can’t they speak to us properly?’
“Connection is most effective in ensuring discipline. Don’t stigmatise or shame the child,” Ho, who is also the co-founder of Creativity at Heart, a non-profit child guidance centre for youngsters, said.
Caning, she said, is ineffective as children will just get used to it. Pinching, slapping, and pulling ears, are not only detrimental, but abusive. It’s a crime. To put another person down - what more a child, is a sign of weakness, not strength, she said.
But teachers who behave that way may be stressed, have poor mental health, or were abused victims themselves. So, the vicious cycle of abuse - from parents to their children, teachers to their students, and even from seniors to juniors at work, must end.
The training of teachers, she suggested, should involve more in depth learning of child development and psychosocial development.
“I’ve seen wonderful teachers who listen with their hearts, and are heroes to their students. They help turn lives around. But lately, there have been many cases of teachers abusing students in class. If kids can report abuse by parents, the same should apply to teachers.”
Questioning how the NUTP’s proposed code of ethics would be enforced, she said students shouldn’t be penalised or shamed in class if parents ignored the code. The code, she said, must be respectful of parents.
“You cannot simply define what parents can or cannot do. And, if there’s a code for parents, there should also be a code for how teachers should treat parents and students. There must be mutual respect between all parties. If we are reasonable, many issues can be resolved,” she said, adding that teachers and parents must come together to see how they can best help the child. But, children too, she stressed, must know their boundaries. And, this must be taught at home from a young age.
“When parents post abusive or defamatory comments online, or engage in cyberbullying, to shame the school and teachers, it’s the child who suffers.
“The worst message you can send a child is - ‘my parents are here to fight for me’. Children prefer matters to be settled in a friendly manner because it’s in their nature.”