The Difference Between Discipline and Child Abuse

Parents can and should discipline their children. It is a parent's job to teach their children about expectations, rules, morals and values. Children need to be given consistent discipline to be taught right from wrong, to be kept safe and to learn what they can and cannot do. "The goal of discipline is to create an orderly, predictable, stable, and fun world to enjoy and grow healthy," according to Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota's website. Positive discipline helps children to learn and change their behavior. Child abuse can result when discipline or attempts to control a child become excessive and injures the child.

Positive discipline helps children learn and grow (Image: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images)

The Problem With Spanking

There is controversy over whether parents should ever use physical discipline to correct their children. "Spanking plants seeds for later violent behavior" and "Spanking doesn't work," according to However, many parents believe that physical discipline can be an effective part of correcting a child, if done correctly. If parents choose to spank their child, it should not be done in a way that causes injury to the child, violates the child or causes humiliation to the child.

Abuse vs. Discipline

Discipline is a parental response to specific misbehavior. A child can expect that if he fails to meet expectations that he will be corrected. Child abuse is often unpredictable. Children who are abused often don't know what will set their parent off. The rules and consequences are not clear, and children do not know what will result in a physical assault.

The Problem With Unpredictable Anger

All parents get angry and sometimes discipline their children when they are angry. But, most parents have a sincere desire to help and teach their child how he can best meet their expectations. Abusive parents often lash out when they are angry and use physical abuse to assert their power over their child. "The angrier the parent, the more intense the abuse."

Children Should Not Be Fearful

Parents should not use the fear of being hit to coerce their child into behaving. Children should not fear their parent, but instead, should develop a respect for their parent and the rules and expectations of the household.

Emotional and Psychological Abuse

Child abuse can take other forms beyond physical abuse. Parents can be emotionally or psychologically abusive through patterns of rejecting the child, humiliating the child, isolating the child or neglecting the child's basic needs. Some well-meaning parents have used severe forms of psychological abuse that are just as damaging as physical abuse.

Where to Go for Help

To find help for yourself or another, the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at

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