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When does disipline become child abuse?

At what point does disipline become child abuse?

This is a question that doesnt seem to have been answered anywhere on the internet and no one seems to have decided. This makes it very hard for people to know whether their parents are strict or abusive.

Is there a way to tell?


Ask Sam


Hi there,

Thank you for writing to me and asking me about this. It’s a really important question and one that I’m sure a lot of people will wonder about.

All parents can have very different ways of disciplining their child. This could include getting yelled/shouted at, being put on a naughty step if they are younger or sent to their rooms if they are older, being grounded, pocket money being taken away or not being allowed to do something they were looking forward to like an outing or a club.

While they all sound really difficult, it can be a parent’s way of showing their child that what they did is really not okay and that there are consequences for your actions. That is a very important lesson to learn and it’s part of how parents teach their children right from wrong, something that they have to do. If that is combined with a loving, caring and nurturing place to live most of the time, these can be okay ways for parents to discipline their children.

When children and young people are being hit, punched, kicked or hurt in a way that leaves them with injuries, marks or bruises then that is not okay and can be described as physical abuse. Physical abuse usually goes hand in hand with emotional abuse where a child or young person is made to feel bad about themselves. Physical abuse is a crime.

Think about it this way. If a stranger punched or kicked you, that would be assault and you could go to the police and report it. It’s no different if the person who hurt you is someone in your family. Hitting or hurting another person is not okay. There are laws to protect all of us from this kind of abuse and most people would never want to hurt another person in this way.

It’s very important to know, however, that ‘smacking’ is not considered a crime in the UK. Childline and the NSPCC don’t believe a child should ever be hurt in any way but the law is a little different. Smacking could cover when an adult in the home, school or religious institution uses ‘mild force’ if they can show that this was ‘reasonable’. That is where things can get very confusing, so if you are unsure it’s really important to talk about it.

All punishments would make a person feel bad, but they should make you think about what you did, not feel bad about who you are. Even when you have done something really bad, no one ever has the right to hurt you or make you feel like you are worthless. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone does silly things sometimes or is forgetful or clumsy and that’s okay. As long as you can try to make it right and learn from your experiences it’s part of living life and growing up into the kind of person you want to be.

If you are ever unsure about something that is happening you should talk to someone about it. This could be a trusted adult or you can always ask a Childline counsellor by calling Childline on 0800 1111 (calls are free) or logging on for a 1-2-1 chat.

Take care,


Need help straight away?

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