We Must Stop Hitting Children! Part 2 Definition of Physical Punishment By Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D.

We Must Stop Hitting Children!
Part 2 Definition of Physical Punishment
By Kerby T. Alvy, Ph.D.

(For those of you who are seeing this series of articles for the first time, Part 1, Children Are People Too, can be found here)

Physical punishment is defined as the use of physical force with the intention of causing the child to experience bodily pain or discomfort so as to correct or punish the child’s behavior.

This definition includes light physical force, such as a slap on a child’s hand or a spank on the behind, as well as heavier physical force, including hitting children with hard objects such as a wooden spoon or paddle. Or using a belt or strap.

Young girl terrified od her father's physical punishment with a belt
Young girl terrified of her father’s physical punishment with a belt

However, physical punishment does not refer only to hitting children as a form of discipline; it also includes other practices that involve purposefully causing children to experience physical discomfort in order to punish them.

Physical punishment thus also includes washing a child’s mouth with soap, making a child kneel on sharp or painful objects (e.g., rice, a floor grate), placing hot sauce on a child’s tongue, forcing a child to stand or sit in painful positions for long periods of time, and compelling a child to engage in excessive exercise or physical exertion. 

In the United States, physical punishment is known by a variety of euphemisms:

The term physical punishment is often used interchangeably with the terms corporal punishment or physical discipline.

Physical punishment is distinct from protective physical restraint. Whereas physical punishment involves causing the child to experience pain as a form of punishment, protective physical restraint involves the use of physical force to protect the child or others from physical pain or harm.

Examples of protective physical restraint include holding a child to prevent them from running into a busy street, pulling a child’s hand away from a hot stove, or holding a child who has hurt another child to prevent him/her from doing so again.

Have you ever used physical punishment in raising your children or in your work with children? I have felt like doing so on some occasions but have restrained myself.

I once used protective physical restraint on one of my children when that child lost control.

How about you? Have you ever used physical punishment with your children?

Have you ever had to use protective physical restraint with a child?

We encourage and welcome your written comments at the end of this article.

Helpful Resources:

The NEW Confident Parenting is a book that discusses many of the issues surrounding the use of physical punishment and offers an entire program for raising children without ever having to use physical punishment.

The Effective Black Parenting and Los Ninos Bien Educados parenting programs provide similar guidance from cultural perspectives on hitting children.

NCP Parents Handbook_3895 cropEBP Parents Handbook_3879LNBE_PP_PHandbook-English_4060

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