Why Beating Up a Child is a Bad Idea

16. February, 2009

Most people believe that beating a child is bad but they believe this for the wrong reasons. Apart from the obvious (harming their unconditional trust in the parent or, worse, harming them physically for life or even accidentally killing them), there are two reasons against it: First, it doesn’t work and second, it will send the wrong message.

When a parent beats a child, all other means have failed. “The child just won’t listen”. So the idea is to use pain to drive the message home. The first big problem with this approach is this: The child will try to avoid the pain more than the behavior which leads to the pain — if it even makes the connection; the pain comes from you, not from what it did some time ago. From the infants point of view, to avoid the pain, it is more effective to make sure you don’t notice the behavior anymore than to stop the behavior.

If it was the other way around, the child would have stopped the behavior already before the parent felt that violence was the only option left.

So in summary, beating a child will first train it to become a better liar, rather than change its behavior.

The second problem is the message you send by resorting to physical violence. Children are hormonally controlled into believing that anything the parent does is “correct”. That is why they naturally mimic (“copy”) the behavior of the parents — any behavior, even the traits that we don’t like about ourselves. Now, you’ve hit your child, what does it learn?

It has learned that hitting someone else is OK. Because if it wasn’t, then you wouldn’t do it. QED. It has also learned that pain is another way to get what it wants. The more often is is beaten, the lower the barrier will get. For the first beating, it will link the behavior to “last resort”. If it happens regularly, it will adjust accordingly.

So next time, you feel the urge to hit your child, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is that what I want to teach my child?
  • Is it possible that the child is copying my own behavior in this instance?

In the latter case, the message will be even worse: The child just did something you do and it got punished for it. How could it ever resolve a conflict that you, an adult, can’t?

So what can you do?

The most simple solution is to walk away for a few minutes. It will help you cool down, to get a clear head. No one can make good decisions in the heat of the moment and no one can force you to do it. Being a parent hasn’t suddenly turned you into Superman (and even Superman had years of training to become as calm as he is). Also, don’t underestimate the power of ignoring. Just make sure the child understands that you are walking away because it just did something wrong — and that you will be back. Guess what the child will be thinking while you’re away?

After getting some distance, first calm down. Then assess the situation. How bad is it after all? Can you let it slip? If not, decide for a new rule to set up. Consider how you want to implement the new rule.

Complete these thoughts and decisions before you return and explain them to your child. If you feel insecure about them, then don’t bother to even try to set them up because your child will notice that you’re not really behind the new rules. You would be sending the message “this is not that important” and not get the desired result. Be honest to yourself. If you’re not really behind it, then the whole issue probably wasn’t so important after all.

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