Across many cultures, countries and communities of the world, disciplining a child often employs harsh measures such as corporal punishment and psychological or verbal abuse. If you are confused about whether your disciplinary measures towards your child border on abusive behavior, you might find this article useful in judging your actions.

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Across many cultures, countries and communities of the world, disciplining a child often employs harsh measures such as corporal punishment and psychological or verbal abuse. If you are confused about whether your disciplinary measures towards your child border on abusive behavior, you might find this article useful in judging your actions.

“When a child hits a child, we call it aggression.When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility.When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault.When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.”Haim G. Ginott (teacher, child psychologist and psychotherapist)

If we think of child abuse as a perception depending on cultural or religious influences, perhaps we might find a way to justify the cruelest punishments meted out to children. Spanking or bruising a child are considered severe forms of abuse in most western cultures, however, it is perfectly normal parental behavior in most Asian countries. With the advent of globalization and large number of people leaving their countries and cultures for foreign shores, immigrant families often find themselves at the crossroads with the culture shock of being unable to “properly” discipline children. So where should parents draw the line between employing disciplinary techniques and indulging in child abuse. Let us attempt to explore some dynamics of child care and see how not to abuse your child misunderstanding it as discipline. Later, we will look at how to differentiate between discipline and punishment.

Child Discipline Vs. Child Abuse – How are They DifferentIrrespective of our cultural roots, we must begin to grasp the reality that’s playing out in the innumerable crime corridors of the world; violence begets violence. Each time you raise your hand or raise your voice to reprimand your child, no matter how noble your intentions, no matter how deep your love for your child, the little mind understands that at some point it will become his/her right too. While the child may display “compliance” temporarily, somewhere in his/her mind you have sown the seeds of violent behavior. Now all the child needs to do as he/she grows up, is to find a justification for the act. It could be a religious justification, a cultural interpretation or as in the case of sociopaths and psychopaths (majority of whom have experienced some form of child abuse), perhaps no justification and no remorse. Most children indulging in violent behavior have been under the care (or lack thereof) of people with poor parenting skills or victims of drug abuse and/or alcohol abuse. It is more than likely that they will end up either as bullies, out to get even with their parents using others (mostly their own spouse and children, co-workers, etc.), or as individuals with an extremely low self-esteem and perhaps even as social misfits. Any form of discipline that infringes the basic rights of a child, whether physical or psychological denotes child abuse.

Most disciplinary techniques or punishments are focused on instilling a sense of right and wrong in a child. Obviously, you cannot hope to curb unacceptable behavior by meting out a harsh punishment that is more likely to seem unreasonable and unacceptable to the child. Another aspect to parental punishments is the justification to oneself that, “my strict parents often used these punishments on me and that is why I turned out fine, therefore, this has to be the correct punishment”. The authoritarian style of parenting is thus passed down through several generations across cultures. Not that there is a total lack of mutual love and respect between authoritarian parents and their children, but there’s a strong possibility of the bond between parents and children falling apart in due course. Children who may have conceded in response to punishment temporarily, and appeared to have been “set right” by parents demanding obedience, find that adolescence and early adulthood bring back those memories triggering rebellious behavior or feelings of strong resentment against the “perpetrators”.

The easiest thing to do is to single out cultures and religions where the cane is still used as the preferred tool of discipline and declare them abusive or hostile. However, the fact that the intention of such actions is not to perpetrate abuse, is reason enough not to sit in judgment. While leaving the choice of whether to follow methods prescribed by religious and cultural doctrines to you, let us understand some positive and constructive ways to instill discipline in children. Remember that every unhealthy or disruptive behavior is not necessarily traceable to bad parenting.

Traits of Child Discipline without Child Abuse

Establish and Explain the Rules:Let your child know what your expectations are and explain why the rules exist. Don’t simply impose with a “because-I-say-so” attitude. Explain what the consequences of following the rules will be. For example, let the child know that if he/she throws his/her little gadgets and toys around they are bound to get wrecked. Make the child understand in a matter-of-fact way that he/she won’t be able to play with it anymore because it has been ruined. Convey to the child clearly that it’s a consequence of his/her own actions. This way, you can spare the child your “lecture” (again mostly an ineffective disciplinary technique) and he/she gradually understands that the only way to keep toys and gadgets safe is by being careful with them. Remind the rules from time to time until the child learns them. Remember that you can explain the rules in an assertive manner with a dash of affection too. You don’t have to sound stern and authoritative.Appreciate Good Behavior:What does it feel like when you are at home day after day, doing a fairly good job and your family hardly notices? It’s only when something goes wrong that you’re getting people’s attention. Even in the workplace, meeting expectations is no big deal but make one small mistake and it will be remembered for quite some time. We manage to deal with being taken for granted in the adult world. But it is not so with a child. An important part of discipline is rewarding your child for following the rules. It might seem redundant to you, but for the child who is going way out of its comfort zone, appreciation means a lot. In addition, it is the easiest way to positively reinforce good behavior. The child relates good behavior with reward and recognition. You need to be careful that the reward is equal to good behavior. For example, taking the child out for a small treat if he/she puts the toys back in place continuously for a week is alright, but showering more and more expensive toys will only turn the child into a spoiled brat. Strike a balance between rewarding and fulfilling your child’s every wish.Time-outs:If your child is emotionally attached to you and dreads being away from you for a long time, time-outs can be an effective technique for discipline. In this technique, you essentially make the child take a break from you as a disciplinarian and the situation that initiated bad behavior. Remove the child from the situation and place him/her alone in a quiet, even a boring place without toys or television. The time-out period should not last for more than five minutes, just enough to deprive the child of your presence but not so much that he/she feels abandoned or neglected. The aim is to indicate displeasure at the child’s behavior, not the child.Grounding: This technique of discipline involves restricting your child’s movement and activities as punishment for breaking more serious rules like not getting back home within a reasonable time at night, etc. Let the child know that he/she cannot leave his/her room or visit friends or go to that Saturday night event as certain rules have been violated. Again the time period for grounding must be just enough for realization and not endless remorse.

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Taking Away Privileges: Anything that is valued by a child such as watching a specific television show or playing with a particular friend or staying over at a friend’s place, etc., can be deemed privileges. The child must be explained that these privileges come with responsibilities. If the responsibility is unfulfilled, the privilege must be withheld until appropriate behavior has been established again. Again, this technique must not be used very frequently and everything must not become a privilege. For example, do not let lunch or supper be a privilege and do not deny food when the child is hungry because he/she indulged in inappropriate behavior. That would clearly be abuse.