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Punishment Gone Wrong: A Precursor to Child Abuse?

by Peter H. Schmedding
(Canberra, Australia)

It was a sale in a hall normally used for sporting events. When I arrived to find some bargains, only a handful of people were present. At one of the counters a woman appeared interested in pairs of socks. One by one she lifted them up, examining them carefully. Her boy, between three and four years old, watched her with interest. He finally decided to do the same. Carefully he took a pair into his hand, lifted them up and looked at them. As soon as his mother noticed, she threw her socks on the counter, turned around and hit him, four or five times on the bottom, hard. Without offering even a single word of explanation, in a 'no big deal' manner, she then continued looking at more socks.

Although this happened tens of years ago, in my mental eye I can still see the kid, standing next to a fire extinguisher, screaming.

During those years I was a telephone counsellor at a voluntary service for distressed people. Within a week or two of me watching the event in the sports hall, a man called the service: "I've gone mad. I have been smashing my furniture and throwing some out of the window... my wife has gone. She took the kids and her belongings. I came home to an empty house."

Some time later in the call we were able to talk sensibly. He admitted: "Yes, I hit them - sometimes. I know it's wrong. But by the time I realise what's been happening it's too late. I have done it."

All this occurred some 30 years ago, and I am now wondering if someone in our society who would now be in his mid thirties bashes his children and/or his wife. After all, when he was a little boy the method of just hitting without even one word of explanation would have been so deeply embedded in his memory that it now would be a blueprint for behaviour, forcing him, I expect, to act while by the time he realises what's been happening it's too late.

More information about this author can be found at Who is Peter Schmedding?

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