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sad daughter hugging his motherThe struggle between compassion and retribution is a familiar one. Many find it difficult to abandon the Old Testament adage about “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Getting even or making someone pay for real or imagined offenses justifies a broad range of behaviors that include corporal punishment of children and harsh imprisonment of those who break the law.

In sharp contrast to this perception of justice are restorative practices employed by the Association Modeste et Innocent (AMI), a non-profit organization working in Rwanda to repair relationships between the Hutus and Tutsis. Two decades after the conflict between these tribes killed nearly a million people, counselors work with perpetrators and survivors to forge new bonds of forgiveness and community.

Closer to home, the organization Parenting Beyond Punishment encourages caregivers to take a restorative approach to child rearing. Information provided through its Stop the Spanking Challenge helps readers move beyond corporal punishment to new ways of helping children regulate their feelings and behavior.

The recommended strategies are relationship based, with gentle reminders of the role adults play in helping children learn to tolerate strong emotions. Some emphasize the need for collaborative partnerships with children. Others stress the need for self-care and what one author calls a “detached willingness”- to stay connected, to confidently address troublesome behaviors, and move beyond the need to seek retribution.

Caregivers are encouraged to foster a healthy curiosity about why children behave in ways that harm themselves or others. This enables them to work with youngsters to repair any damage caused by their misbehavior, and to prevent similar problems in the future.

Harsh, punitive disciplinary techniques jeopardize children’s ability to achieve academic and social competence. Replacing them with more compassionate, conciliatory methods is not about benevolence. It’s about survival.

  • Learn more about the Stop the Spanking Challenge at http://stopspanking.org/3434-2/
  • View Pieter Hugo’s photographs of participants in the AMI project in the NYT Magazine, April 6, 2014


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