When we were little we learned that violence begets violence. April observances of SpankOut Day USA and Child Abuse Prevention Month remind us that violence against children is an ugly fact in our country. Our most vulnerable citizens continue to be abused at high rates despite billions of dollars spent on child abuse legal actions, prevention and treatment.
It’s time to stop wringing our hands about physical abuse of children and start doing something about it. Ending physical punishment of children would be a good place to start. In 2007, there were 794,000 confirmed child abuse and neglect victims (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). About 20 percent of these victims suffered physical abuse.
Physical abuse of children almost always takes place in families and begins as "discipline." Children who are regularly and forcefully hit are at risk for physical abuse and a number of negative outcomes including hitting their spouses and children as adults. Violence continues into the next generation for some children.
Is hitting children legal? All states have statutes or court decisions that permit parents to use physical punishment as long as it involves reasonable force that it is necessary to maintain discipline or promote the child’s welfare. Hitting usually rises to a level of abuse when visible marks like bruising or scars result. Twenty nine states ban school corporal punishment. A majority of states ban physical punishment in family day care, child care centers, foster care and institutions and, internationally, more than 100 countries ban physical punishment in schools and 24 countries ban it entirely, even in homes.
On SpankOut Day USA April 30th, EPOCH-USA praises parents who are raising their children with non-violent discipline and asks parents who still use physical punishment to discuss, read, and seek out information from local agencies on positive discipline of children. Positive discipline is neither punitive nor permissive. It involves teaching children the behavior we want to see.
Some examples of positive discipline include:
Think of misbehavior as a mistake rather than something done on purpose. It helps you to stay calm and think of ways to teach better behavior.
Teach children the behavior you want to see. Provide firm, age appropriate limits.
Correct misbehavior quickly. A few words may be all that is necessary.
Infants and toddlers should not be hit or shaken. They need to be removed from problem situations or distracted.
Praise children and listen to their concerns.
Encourage children to think about what they have done, how they have harmed others and how to make amends.
We can stop the cycle of physical violence against children. It's time to stop hitting children and to learn and practice positive discipline. Since the inception of SpankOut Day in 1998, EPOCH-USA and the Center for Effective Discipline have provided hundreds of grants to nonprofit organizations to provide informational programs on positive discipline.
“Discipline begins in the mind. If we want children to become caring and responsible adults, we need to think of discipline as teaching, not punishment,” says Nadine Block, SpankOut Day USA Chair.
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