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Discipline and cultura

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It has happened to us all before: you are out at a public place (maybe a restaurant or a grocery store) and a child begins to act bratty. Maybe they talk back to their parents. Maybe they just will not listen. And in these situations, how do parents discipline their children? How do you or would you discipline yours?

A recent article spoke about the differences between American, Hispanic and French styles of discipline. According to the writer, in France, parents are the ones in charge, not giving their children choices.

Does culture influence the way people discipline their children?

“I grew up with the chancla, belt, and smack methods,” Karina B. said. “When I got hit with the chancla, I was fine and dandy a few minutes later. With my kids, I’ve evolved into the confiscating method: they hand over controls for the TV and games, handheld devices and I’ve even changed the internet password. It seems to be working really well.”

“Growing up in a Chamorro home (part Spanish and Pacific Island influence), anyone in our immediate family would have permission to discipline us,” Nelle T. remembered. “Some methods were branches (that we had to pick ourselves), phone cords, hangers, basically anything one could get their hands on that would do the job. It was horrible.”

Nelle always witnessed Japanese methods while working at an airport, saying their tactics were “more brutal…they would head-butt crying babies to shut them up, slap toddlers in their face to get them to behave. We didn’t get involved because we know their customs.”

Having grown up with and having witnessed stricter discipline methods has helped Nelle be more lenient with her children. “I like a more close and open relationship with my kids. However, I will take the belt to them when the situation calls for it.”

“I am fair, firm, and consistent,” Jose T. said. “I will spank my child on the butt or slap his hand, never his head or face. And I always talk to him after. I ask him if he knows what he did wrong and nine times out of ten, he knows exactly what he did to get spanked.”

Not everyone agrees with the spanking method, though.

Cathy L. said that she and her husband try not to hit the kids. “Now that they are older, we don’t want them to get the idea that it’s okay to hit anyone, ever. I don’t associate any specific culture with physical discipline, but think of it more like old school vs. new school.  My grandparents, and even my parents were disciplined physically, although I didn’t get spanked after I was about 6 years old.”

It seems that there is no one perfect way to discipline children. Children are people, too: they need things explained to them about what is right and what is wrong and they need their parents to help them to understand these things.


 by Being Latino contributor Christina Ortega Phillips

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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