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Hitting Children – Physical Assault Or Discipline?

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April 29, 2013 by admin

Hitting Children – Physical Assault Or Discipline?

By Ralph Evers

Discipline versus spanking. First we need to understand what we mean by the word “discipline”. The root of the word is “disciple”, meaning “a learner”. Hence, to discipline means to teach and/or train a learner. Most spanking occurs when children are about 2 years old. We have to ask what are we trying to teach 2 year olds? Eventually we want our children to be self-disciplined which implies self control, an understanding of what is appropriate behavior, and a desire to do good. There are huge debates over banning corporal punishment nationally. Europe has banned corporal punishment, and studies of the effects of corporal punishment are mixed in outcomes in later years.

Regardless of the studies and debates I think that there are few things we need to be aware of in our interactions with our children.

First, we MUST behave in the manner we want them to behave. We should be good role models. When we are frustrated by our friends, our spouses, our colleagues, do we hit them until they do what we want them to do. Or do we use alternatives to persuade them to our point of view or desired behavior?

Second, does the child, regardless of age, clearly understand why we are hitting them? Often we find that what we want to teach is not what our children are learning. They may simply be learning that you are bigger, more powerful, and they can not defend themselves. They may become impressed with physical power over others and use what you have taught them to bully others.

Third, no other relationship of any worth would allow such behavior as hitting. Hitting children is the only area where physical assault is legal.

A must have in any healthy relationship is mutual respect. As adults we expect to free from any physical threats in our relationships with others. We non-verbally demand respect from others in all facets of our lives and endeavor to behave respectfully in return. One of the most important relationships we will ever have is with our children. Being disrespectful has immeasurable consequences in the future. Physically hitting our children, or more, is very disrespectful and does not show any concern for their well being…we are more interested in having our way.

Certainly it is important to take action while teaching children, especially when it involves potential or immediate danger/safety to them or others. That action could simply be using a louder voice to get their attention quickly (this only works if you don’t do a lot of yelling and screaming at home). Many parents respond to the idea of not spanking children by saying “so, you’re saying we should just let our kids do what ever they want?”. I see this response as one that comes from parents that have been taught to believe the only way to teach children is through physical means. There seems to be a real lack of creativity among adults in dealing with discipline issues. Often they are derisive of suggestion like using “time out”. “Time Out” does work if it is not the only consequence used. Rather, parents need to have many more options at their disposal including being creative. An excellent resource is an organized parenting class. Parents not only learn more ways to deal with behavior problems they also benefit by being able to discuss their frustrations with parenting and ideas they have developed with one another. Check your yellow pages under Psychotherapist, Social Service Agencies.

A quick tip: Take a deep breath, go splash water on your face! This won’t solve your problem but it is a good step towards getting control of your self before you try to get control of your children.

Dr. Ralph Evers


Dr. Evers is a psychotherapist in private practice. He specializes in working with families, teenagers, and children. For twenty years he has worked with juvenile delinquents whom the State of Georgia had taken custody. Currently he lives in Switzerland and continues his practice with his wife and they enjoy the company of their twin toddlers, a boy and a girl. Dr. Evers is licensed as a psychotherapist both in Switzerland and Georgia.

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