COULD I POSSIBLY BE AN ABUSIVE PARENT?
The concept of child abuse has been little considered throughout much of history. In fact, the first known child-abuse conviction, in 1874, was prosecuted under animal protection laws because no one could find a law that specifically forbade parents to beat children until they bled.
Well into the twentieth century, disciplining children with “razor straps” was taken for granted. And though psychologists by the 1970s were questioning the effectiveness of any form of spanking, it was several more years before anyone denounced physical punishment as immoral or criminal—an opinion still far from universally accepted. And now, cases of verbal and emotional abuse, where parents “beat” their children with ugly words, are gaining increased attention.
So just how guilty should you, the well-intentioned but confused twenty-first-century parent, feel about yelling at your kids or sending them to bed without supper? Are you obligated to turn yourself in to the authorities because you impulsively slapped a fresh mouth?
Not exactly. If you have enough conscience to question your actions, the first person to talk to is a family counselor or therapist. Which you should do if:
- You’ve ever struck your child hard enough to leave a visible injury.
- You have symptoms of alcohol or drug addiction.
- You catch yourself spitting personal insults at your children or blaming them for your mistakes.
- You get irrationally angry when your children “act their age” or fail to do everything perfectly.
And no, you shouldn’t expect yourself to do everything perfectly either. Including disciplining your children. The basics of discipline without abuse are:
Leave Room to Trust Your Own Judgment
Don’t automatically accept everyone else’s opinion of the best way to discipline children in general. You’re in the best position to know what your kids respond to.
When in Doubt, Don’t Spank
It’s generally agreed that physical punishment, if used at all, is best administered in extreme circumstances and with objective judgment (not in the heat of anger). If your motive is to “show him who’s boss,” the main lesson your child will learn is that might makes right.
Let Children Learn Their Own Lessons
- If they do something foolish but not dangerous, let them find out by direct experience what happens. The lesson will stick better than if you cut them off and try to teach it verbally.
- Ask their input when establishing house rules, and make sure everyone understands those rules. It’s frustrating on both ends when you crack down arbitrarily or expect your kids to automatically “know better.”
- If someone is heading into serious trouble, do take action to stop them, but don’t limit your explanation to “because I said so.” Even if they don’t always agree with your reasons, they shouldn’t base their lives on “just following orders.”
Manage Stress in Everyone’s Life
- Don’t overload schedules.
- Let everyone get enough sleep.
- Keep expectations reasonable.
- Make time to give each other your full attention.
Stressed-out people are more likely to behave rebelliously and abusively. Make staying calm part of your family’s regular routine, don’t tense up trying to be a “perfect” parent, and life will be much more pleasant for everyone!