How to know if you’re mistaking child abuse with discipline

When it comes to parenting, disciplining children is an integral part of the journey.
Parents take it upon themselves to raise well-behaved, well-mannered kids who are loved and respected by all.
Therefore, in a bid to teach appropriate behaviors to children, parents resort to different measures, some of which prove effective, while others go on to do more harm than good.

Having said that, parents must be able to identify the thin line that exists between discipline and child abuse.

To do that, you must first understand what abuse is and the different types that can harm your child.

What is child abuse?

The Mayo Clinic defines child abuse as any intentional harm or mistreatment to a child under 18 years old. Furthermore, the healthy shares that child abuse can take several forms, which can often occur at the same time.

Types of child abuse to know about

Physical abuse: Physical abuse occurs when a child experiences physical injuries inflicted intentionally to harm.

Sexual abuse: Child sexual abuse can be direct or indirect. Direct sexual abuse involves intentional sexual touching, oral-genital contact or intercourse. Indirect sexual abuse involves exposing a child to sexual activity or pornography; observing or filming a child in a sexual manner; sexual harassment of a child; or prostitution of a child, as per Mayo Clinic.

Emotional abuse: Emotional abuse refers to any harm caused to a child’s self-esteem.

Medical abuse: Medical abuse occurs when someone gives false information about a child’s illness that requires medical attention.

Neglect: Child neglect is also a form of abuse where a parent fails to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs.

What makes discipline different from abuse?

Discipline is not something that can be achieved through harsh words, punishment or spanking. While it may provide you with short term results, in the long run, it may take on a form of abuse, affecting a child’s physical and mental health. Discipline, therefore, is all about teaching rules and regulations to kids and following up on the consequences. Abuse on the other hand is when you cross limits to get your way, hurt someone so much that it leads to severe physical, psychological or emotional damage.

What to do instead?

Rather than losing your patience and adhering to negative parenting strategies, take time out to sit back and reflect. Children are innocent and have no intention to hurt. All they want is someone to listen to them and their problems.

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As parents, it is important to understand ‘why’ your child is misbehaving or displaying unruly behavior. Without identifying the triggers, you cannot resolve the issues. This will only cause more frustrations, while distancing you from your child.

Effective discipline strategies to adopt

There are many effective strategies that do not involve any punishments, hitting or spanking. These include:

Positive discipline focuses on building mutual respect between the parent and the child. It does not involve abandoning the child in times of need, rather showing kindness and helping them resolve their issues.

Gentle discipline involves using humor and distraction to help prevent kids from misbehaving. This way the parent avoids yelling and punishing the child.

Boundary-based discipline is all about setting and establishing clear rules and boundaries.

Behavior modification believes in conditioning the child to behave by measures such as praising and rewarding good behavior.

Emotion coaching is a strategy that helps parents stay connected with their children. It necessitates that parents show empathy and support to the children, while teaching them to express their feelings and needs.

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