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August 20, 2018 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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Is a parent supposed to do this?

Question:

My husband physically punishes my child. How should I handle this?

45-year-old woman

Answer:

My dear, there is very little information here to base a response on, so I can only go on generalities.

I assume your husband is not the child's father. The general rule then is that discipline is the parent's task, and the step-parent should only have a secondary role as the parent's advisor.

Second, is the child's natural father in the picture? Are there access arrangements?

Third, how old is the child?

All of these influence what action you should take. But the emotion behind your question is correct: no one should beat a child. Not only that: no one should use words or actions with a child that makes the young person feel damaged, inferior, powerless, abused.

I assume your husband's motives are good. He was probably beaten when he misbehaved as a child, and considers this to be the way to raise kids: do not spare the rod, force them to stay on the straight and narrow. He may well feel he would be neglectful if he didn't do this.

Or he may be quick to anger, and unfairly takes out his frustrations on a convenient target. That is completely wrong. You can show him my reply to you, and ask his reasons for acting this way.

Children learn by example far more than from instruction. They do what they see people do, not what they are told. Physical punishment teaches these lessons:

  • "The more powerful has the right to impose his will on weaker people." This can lead the child to become a bully, and even a criminal.
  • "When I can, it's OK for me to do whatever I want, without regard for the feelings of others." Instead, children need training in empathy - basing their actions on how they would feel in the other person's situation.
  • "He hates me, that's why he bashes me. When I'm big enough, I'll beat him up." Even with the best of motives, your husband may be making an enemy for himself. Instead, he could train the child to become his best friend and support in the future.

If your husband doesn't care about the child's welfare and is merely using him as a way to relieve his frustrations, then there is nothing much you can do, except to threaten to end the marriage. Demand that he stop having anything to do with controlling the child's behavior.

If, as is more likely, he thinks he is doing the right thing, I suggest the two of you find a local organization that runs classes on child raising. Enter "child raising courses" and your city/state in a search engine, and you'll get several leads. If approached in the right way, this major problem in your marriage could end up as the thing that draws the three of you closer together.

Good luck!

Bob

This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.

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