Child Abuse Prevention Month - When Discipline Becomes Physical Abuse

By Bernadette Peace | Family Advocacy | April 13, 2018


The most common questions I receive from parents are; “Can I spank? What should I do for discipline? What am I “allowed” to do?”


Let’s start by reviewing some definitions:

My favorite definition of discipline comes from Merriam Webster: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character. Discipline is the work of developing a child’s abilities to make safe decisions and develop morality. We want our children to be able to make these decisions whether they are at home, school or on the playground. Nothing gives me more joy than to see my nearly grown children be responsible and people of character. That is the end goal of discipline.


There are two techniques used in discipline: praise and punishment. Both must be used in order to mold behavior.  Praise should be specific to the good accomplishment and match the level of achievement. So if your child colors a pretty picture, tell them but don’t tell them they are the future Picasso unless you really believe that to be true! Praise can be as powerful, if not a more powerful tool as punishment. Think about yourself: if a boss praises your work, how motivated are you to continue to do a good job? Children are the same. They seek our approval and thrive when they get it. This causes a desire to want to repeat that behavior.


Punishment is also a necessary technique. Punishment should be used to extinguish bad behaviors. It means the introduction of a negative consequence to produce some positive change. Punishment can include things like time outs, grounding or taking away things, and restrictions. Some parents will choose to use physical discipline such as spanking. It is important to note that discipline does not always mean a physical punishment and many parents choose other methods of discipline as a means of correcting behavior.


Whichever you choose, you should be aware of what constitutes physical abuse. The DoD defines it as injury to, maltreatment of, or neglect of a child so that the child’s welfare is harmed or threatened. Physical abuse is the use of physical discipline that leaves injury, causes harm or death. This can be as minor as a bruise or a scratch to as major as life-ending injuries. If a parent leaves a mark on a child as a result of physical discipline, even if it was not their intention to leave a mark, that parent may be found to have been physically abusive. Excessive exercise can lead to muscle or joint injury and can be seen to be abusive. The use of objects to spank increases the chances of causing injury to a child. The use of physical discipline is at a parent’s discretion, however, one must be aware of the risks that accompany this sort of discipline.


Parenting is a tough job but may be the most rewarding one you will ever hold. Support for our military members and their dependents is free at Family Advocacy.

We have a couple of exciting events coming up to support you!


April 28th:  Kids On Wheels Parade from 1000-1100 at FCN.  Have your child decorate their bikes, scooters, wagons, or strollers in shades of blue to help us bring awareness to Child Abuse Prevention. 

May 7-10, 1330-1630:  Love and Logic Parenting Class. If you are a parent of a child under the age of 9, this class is for you! If you are interested in exploring more, please contact our office to find out what options may be available.