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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Aug 16, 2008
A "blueprint"...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

Peter, you've addressed such an important issue here about punishment at times being an issue of child abuse, both at the moment it is happening and as a possible forerunner to it. Excessive punishment, punishment lacking foundation, or punishment without a stated reason imposed on a child not only leaves a lifetime emotional scar, the effects are far-reaching well into adulthood. There is little doubt in my mind that the man whose wife left him with the children all those years ago himself was bashed about as a child, and by the time his parent realized what was happening, it was too late. I can only hope that this "blueprint" does not become the footprint of humanity.

Thank you, Peter, for so thoughtfully sharing these two experiences.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Aug 25, 2008
When does Discipline become Abuse?
by: Anonymous

***Comment removed by Darlene Barriere - Webmaster, as this comment thread is reserved for comments associated with the above article.***

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Aug 26, 2008
To Anonymous:
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

In order to free up time for website projects, I have had to suspend my Ask Darlene feature on this site; I cannot permit these individual comment threads to become a back door for queries that would otherwise be submitted through that page. I have therefore removed your original comment. Having said this, you suspect child abuse. Please contact the appropriate child protection services in your area to make a report.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

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