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When Discipline Becomes Child Abuse

Child discipline can be a gray area for some folks but based on the Child Maltreatment Act, the line between discipline and abuse is very clear.

“This is a very touchy subject because I mean, now you’re telling parents, or they feel that you’re telling them, how to discipline their children or what’s okay and what’s not okay,” said Natalie Tibbs, a sexual assault nurse examiner and the Assistant Director at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Benton County.

She says there is a fine line between discipline and abuse.

“Anything leaving behind a transient mark, so meaning a mark that doesn’t just go away quickly, would be considered physical abuse.”

According to the Child Maltreatment Act, actions like throwing, kicking, burning, biting or cutting are all considered abuse, as well as shaking a child, hitting them with a closed fist or striking them on their face or head.

“If you’re leaving marks on your child that lasts for hours into days, you know, large bruises, that’s where the line is getting crossed.”

When it comes to spanking with something like a belt, Tibbs says parents need to make sure things do not get out of hand.

“The biggest factor in physical abuse is that you’re disciplining while you are angry so you are more apt to cross that line because you are so caught in that moment and the emotion.”

According to Tibbs, cultural factors can play a big role as well as how people were punished when they were children.

“It may not even be that they are intentionally trying to cause harm, but it’s all that they know.”

She recommends parents take themselves away from a stressful situation, cool down and then decide what the most appropriate way to discipline their child is, before doing something drastic that could cause harm.

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