If parents give a spank to their child, this is considered violence and as such frowned upon - and in some countries simply a crime under the law.

In my observation, parents who don't want to spank often resort to things like grounding, canceling birthday party, sending the child to bed without dinner, shaming him/her in front of his/her friends, holding announced gifts etc. for punishment.

Is it correct to consider the latter as "non-violent" forms of punishment? They certainly amount to psychological violence, and the pain they generate can be greater and more long-lasting than a spank, plus a spank is usually delivered right away after the child's bad behavior, while things like grounding or holding a gift are supposed to "teach the lesson" even long after the child already forgot the link between that and his/her bad behavior so there is the risk that the child will simply feel that the parents are "evil" to him/her for no reason, although not physically violent.

On the other hand a physical punishment doesn't exactly sound like a very thought-through way to go, plus many parents just feel too bad doing that and simply cannot do that.

I'm talking about age 4-5.

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    I'd say non-violent punishment is less of a risk than skipping consequences for negative behavior altogether. – user420 Dec 8 '14 at 11:58
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    100% agreed that skipping consequences altogether is the worst option. In my opinion that's just convenient for the parent and a cheap shortcut to avoid his/her responsibilities and the pain that results from punishing one's child. However my fear is that the so called non-violent punishments might turn out to be even more violent than the physical ones - psychological violence. – SantiBailors Dec 8 '14 at 12:24
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    There are three question marks for this question, making it hard to answer and a poor fit for SE. – DanBeale Dec 8 '14 at 12:42
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    Some of the punishments you described certainly seem very extreme for such a young child. Grounding, cancelling a party -- these are pretty significant punishments that I'd expect to use more with a pre-teen or older child, who's more capable of understanding long-term consequences. – Acire Dec 8 '14 at 12:46
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    You haven't gave any example. The best "punishment" is a natural consequence. You spill milk, you clean it. You bump a kid, you help him get better. – the_lotus Dec 9 '14 at 13:41
up vote 16 down vote accepted

No, punishment is violence. Violence, a fact of life, is a part of nature and their world. The question implicit is what are the tolerable/intolerable externalities of violence and how to manage the potential risks that you fear in accomplishing the desired behavior modification in the child. However, please do reconsider whether you must resort to punishment/violence at all or if you can think of more preemptive ways, prior to the child enacting the behavior, without hurting feelings and wasting energy (which can have long term lasting undesired impacts.)

You must lead by example. And show that it works. And, very importantly, not confuse matters by associating the desired or undesired behavior with interpersonal physical, emotional, or economic return.

If you associate the behavior with physical punishment, the child will associate the behavior with punishment when you are present. It will become a game of cat & mouse in which the child will either try to circumvent punishment or do the behavior when you're not around. OR, worse, the child may compare such behavior as equivalent to other types of behavior from their peers and seek to punish them.

If you associate the behavior with emotional punishment, then the child will hone more subtle & sophisticated ways of circumventing and manipulating your emotions in relation to the behavior. They will then apply those same emotional tricks to other people in life in getting what they want only to fool themselves about interpersonal relations when they've broken enough trust or thought they could change others to "have it all."

If you associate the behavior with compensation, then they will come up with a pricing/blackmailing system in which they behave in certain ways depending on degrees of payment. If you take something away, then they may try to take something away from you, for example, peace and quiet.

If the child gets accustomed to punishment, then they will identify punishment as a normal part of their everyday existence; the cost of just simply living, so to speak. They may even get used to their actions and regular dose of expected punishment and believe that such a plight is a part of their life story. 'I do this because that's just me. So it's okay.' 'I get punished because that's what I'm about.' Then, you have a potential repeat-offending future criminal that you're raising because, through repeated exposure, their sense of risk has been desensitized.

So, WATCH OUT! How you treat them can turn on you. I heard a Native American once say that, in his culture, parents understood that, one day, the small child will be big and the big parent will be small.

Children learn through observation and witnessing the benefit of your example. And, by personal association/identification, they must personalize the values you wish to cultivate inside of them. This does not preclude you from expressing yourself and also demonstrating how to deal with other adults who see the world differently and play by different rules.

But, remember, how they observe you teaches them what are the most effective ways of living through life.

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    There's also the question of the type of "violence" - punishment is "violence" but it's not malicious, unfair or damaging. When delivered fairly, proportionately, correctly and in a way which inconveniences rather than hurts, there's little problem. Your aim isn't to "punish" a child in the sense of retribution, it is simply to inconvenience them enough that next time it's preferable to behave, and in a way that clearly demonstrates which bad behaviour leads to that inconvenience.. – Jon Story Dec 9 '14 at 14:31
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    Punishment doesn't equate to harm, but violence does. By their very definitions they are different, and punishment does not imply nor require violence. In fact, that's a pretty outdated mindset. Punishment-based systems are highly ineffective. Your idea of a blackmail system because of rewards is also antiquated. I suggest anyone who takes to this answer to read up on parenting techniques for discipline as recommended by parenting associations, as well as the book "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us" by Daniel H. Pink. Violence is abuse, proper discipline is not. – Web Head Dec 9 '14 at 16:28
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    @CreationEdge you exemplify a group of people that assumes authority over parenting "best practices" while remaining remarkably detached from the realities of being a parent. We all agree that punishment has extremely situational uses and consequences, and can be easily misplaced - but it's an extremely rare child that can be reared without it, and I think SavedByZero's analysis describes this well. No solution, yours or mine, will be fully appropriate for the same two children, and it's insulting to dismiss the answerer and the OP in favor of your detached, prepackaged methods. – CodeMoose Dec 9 '14 at 21:43
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    Good answer. The idea that violence can be eliminated from society and from child rearing is ridiculous. Teaching children how to deal with it is important. Or, we get, Ferguson... – Jasmine Dec 10 '14 at 16:13
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    If you think about it, in a few years you'll be trying to harden your child against "peer pressure". In effect, you'll be wanting to teach him that mere social consequences don't matter as much as physical ones. How do you think that's going to work out if, up to that point, social consequences have been the only consequences he's had from mistreating other people? I'm no sociologist, but it is an apparent pattern that has caught my attention among the people with whom I interact. – Perkins Jun 4 '15 at 17:21

I want to address a particular issue I see in the comments: the (important) distinction between punishments and consequences. Punishments are distinct from consequences, and work differently. Many theories of parenting rely on consequences solely, and do not rely on punishments at all. Punishments do not inherently contain violence per se, but they do require an authoritarian system - ie, an authority (the parent) imposing the punishment. Many of the criticisms of punishment do not rely on the violence aspect, but on that authoritarian mindset, and on the fact that punishments simply teach aversion to punishment. Having consequences for actions, rather than punishments, will tend to be entirely nonviolent, and does not necessarily rely on authoritarianism.


Below, some additional details not directly necessary but possibly helpful in understanding the distinction.

In general, punishment is either inflicting a negative state or removing a positive state that is not connected to the behavior or action being punished. Hitting a child, yelling at the child, and sending him to his room are punishments; so are the following:

Johnny, you didn't do your homework, so you are grounded for the rest of the week.

Jane, you played video games when you were supposed to be doing your homework, so you can't go to the mall on Saturday with your friends.

So, in fact, is this:

Alan, you were talking on the phone with Jason instead of doing your homework, so I'm cutting off your phone privileges until tomorrow.

All of these are punishments: A did/did not happen, so now I am imposing B. Punishments are inherently authoritarian - they are imposed by the parent based on their authority - and are reactive; something happened in the past, so (punishment). They are often inherently unpredictable (not necessarily that a punishment might occur, but the specific punishment) and tend to teach the child to avoid punishment rather than any specific lesson.

This is different from consequences: consequences logically follow from the action. They may or may not be imposed from above; when they are, they are clearly explained and still logically follow from the action.

Johnny, you didn't finish your homework in time to watch TV, so you don't have time to watch TV tonight.

Jane, your video games obviously are distracting you from doing your homework, so you'll need to finish that before you play any more.

Alan, if you keep talking on the phone with Jason instead of doing your homework, you'll need to check your phone into the charging dock until you finish.

Those aren't really all that difference from the first set, but they are directly, logically consequent from the choices the children made earlier: Johnny knows he must finish his homework before he watches TV, so he can't watch TV if he doesn't finish his homework before his show is on. Jane's parents observe that video games are distracting Jane from finishing her homework, and so apply a similar constraint; the same basic idea applies in Alan's case.

All of these are still fundamentally authoritarian, of course; but I think it's not on topic for this question to go into that aspect here. Suffice to say consequences like the above are not violent in any way: the child knows the direct consequence of his action, which is logically associated with his choice. (Of course, there is a more obvious consequence for all three of these actions: failing a grade in school, which many children would well understand to be a consequence of their action in any event.)

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    If I'm interpreting your answer correctly, the only difference between "consequence" and "punishment" is what you say before you execute it – Paul Dec 8 '14 at 23:06
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    Well a punishment is a consequence of something. And a consequence is a punishment if it's unpleasant. But a consequence can be good - behaved well at the doctor's, got an ice. – RedSonja Dec 9 '14 at 8:18
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    I see a potential issue with "consequences" wording here. They might promote bad work, as the goal is to finish homework, but it doesn't say anything about doing a good job. But that might be another issue. – domen Dec 9 '14 at 12:57
  • @Paul: First off, wording is important. You need to be consistent and logical, and the child needs to be able to clearly see the tie between the behavior and the consequence. Second, the big difference is that a punishment is not directly related to the behavior - it's a generic negative applied to it. A consequence directly arises from the behavior. I may not have picked great examples, but search around; there's a lot of literature on the difference. – Joe Dec 9 '14 at 15:08
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    @domen: Actually, that's sort-of-intentional here. What is the consequence of doing homework poorly? Poor grades. You can of course have a reward system, a punishment system, or preferably logical consequences tied to that result - but that's entirely separate from the consequences discussed here, which arise from the expectation that homework must be finished before watching TV. – Joe Dec 9 '14 at 15:12

For us, psychological abuse is a serious issue. I've seen children who've never been hit more traumatised than ones who've been seriously physically hurt through "discipline".

I know that consequences have to happen in a controlled environment at an early age, since if the child does not learn that early, then they will have great difficulties related to their lives and safety later.

But it is about how those consequences are played out. If it is with anger and fear etc then that is at least as damaging as a smack. If it is with calm and smiles and explanation then the child has the consequence, no emotional or physical blows, no rejection, no hurt but the disappointment at the fact that the consequence has happened. Mum and Dad still love them.

I think part of life is learning to understand, recognise and deal with consequences, so having that brought into life from an appropriate age but in a controlled and safe environment is highly helpful.

  • Absolutely 100% agreed. Especially the point about delivering the consequences in a bout of anger; that's what can make even a small spank a very harmful act of violence. – SantiBailors Dec 9 '14 at 11:06
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    In many respects, using non-physical consequences can be more risky than corporal ones. The average person is a pretty good instinctive judge of how much they just hurt whoever they smacked. Not a perfect judge, of course, but far, far better at it than trying to assess the emotional pain caused by a cutting word or public humiliation. The key to not causing emotional damage with punishments of any type is predictability. Don't punish someone for doing something they couldn't know they weren't supposed to. Be consistent. Be proportional. And above all: When the incident is over, it's over. – Perkins May 31 at 7:54

The time-out system is designed to be non-punishment. It is about teaching a child who is out of control to settle himself. When the child misbehaves, he is put in his room for a few minutes (longer as he gets older), until he has regained his composure. It is an application of consequences - if you misbehave, other people don't want to be around you.

When a child is in time-out, he is isolated and contained in a space (usually his own room), where he may play or have a tantrum or do whatever it takes to calm himself back down. We used the 1-2-3 Magic system and found that a child returning from timeout felt calm, relieved, and back in control.

Sometimes there are other natural consequences that need to be enforced as well. If a teen is irresponsible with the car, she doesn't get to drive it for a while. If a child is failing a class, his social life is curtailed to create study time. If a child hurts someone, an apology may be in order. None of this is punitive or violent.

  • I agree that those should always be the first options to try. But in most cases one can't successfully sustain a non-punishment system for long. The need to decide whether to punish or not often arises anyway. That happens at the next step, which in your examples would be if the child refuses to go to his room after being told to do so, or if the teen refuses to lose the car for a while (BTW maybe she will start hanging out with people she wouldn't before, because they have a car), or if the child refuses to study harder after failing a class or refuses to apologize after having hurt someone. – SantiBailors Dec 9 '14 at 14:34
  • When my kid doesn't go to her room when I ask her to I pick her up and carry her there. If she gets out I do it again. I've done that about 3 times max the entire time she is going insane crying and screaming. The car thing is easy as you could take the keys away. Studying is interesting because I think it comes down to the parent having to sit with their kid to help them do the work or make sure they are doing the work, which might be hard for the parent to do the older their child gets, but the key for all this stuff I think is getting the ideas down early in life to avoid this place. – user441521 Dec 9 '14 at 22:24
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    Early in life - absolutely! – MJ6 Dec 10 '14 at 1:58
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    The earliness is key here as you're cultivating their moral foundation. By the time the kid is old enough to have keys taken away; a parent must be able to expect their consequence to be both understood, and accepted by the kid. Otherwise, you must worry about the kid going behind your back to have things the way they want. What you want is agreement about the way things should be. This requires proactive collaboration around the expectations and potentialities. – Matt Mar 30 '15 at 18:18

To answer your question, I would like to break down your question:

If parents give a spank to their child, this is considered violence and as such frown upon - and in some countries simply a crime under the law.

Spanking is not universally considered violence, or abuse. There are many countries that outlaw all corporal punishment, which spanking happens to fall under.

See here:

The World Health Organization defines violence as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation"

So, by this definition, a spanking is not necessarily violent. Yes, it uses physical force on a child as punishment, but it does not necessarily lead to injury, maldevelopment of body or psyche. (This point is debatable, to many. Some would say even the lightest of spankings cause psychological harm. I don't agree, but I also don't spank.)

See A E's answer, also, for good guidelines.

Then you state:

In my observation, parents who don't want to spank often resort to things like grounding, canceling birthday party, sending the child to bed without dinner, shaming him/her in front of his/her friends, holding announced gifts etc. for punishment.

Is it correct to consider the latter as "non-violent" forms of punishment ? They certainly amount to psychological violence, and the pain they generate can be greater and more long-lasting than a spank

I would say that the reason for the lack of clarity that you express is because you lumped together quite a wide array of different types of punishment.

  • I struggle to see any form of violence in grounding. The point of grounding is usually to keep you child away from people/activities that interfere with their focus, reflection on behavior, or health.

  • Cancelling a birthday party could possibly be an excessive punishment. That depends on the situation, how developed the birthday plans were, and how "visible" the punishment is. If the entire point of it is to uninvite guests so that they all know your child misbehaved, then that's public shaming (which I'll address next). Barring that, I don't know which system could define it as violent. A poor decision? Probably. Violent? Unlikely.

  • Sending the child to bed without dinner is also circumstantial. If you know the child is hungry, and this punishment is meant to make them feel hunger, then yes, that's violent. If the child isn't hungry, and the punishment is meant to deprive them of family time or special food, then I would not say that's violent. There are many intermediate situations which may or may not be violent, but I think can be summed up as: If you intentionally deprive your child of sustenance when they're hungry, for more than a reasonable time, then that is violence. (Making your child wait until dinner is ready is not unreasonable).

  • Public shaming solely intends to elicit negative emotions in a child and encourage public derision and possibly bullying of a child. I would say this is definitely psychological abuse.

  • I don't understand the gift thing, so I can't address it.

The reason I wanted to go through each of those points is to show that there's a pattern when trying to reason out whether your punishments constitute violence (or abuse). Do they intend to use your power to cause harm, or knowingly create a situation that is likely to cause harm? That is the question you need to ask yourself.

You add:

plus a spank is usually delivered right away after the child's bad behavior, while things like grounding or holding a gift are supposed to "teach the lesson" even long after the child already forgot the link between that and his/her bad behavior so there is the risk that the child will simply feel that the parents are "evil" to him/her for no reason, although not physically violent.

Which shows that you recognize that many punishments can be unreasonable, and possibly be detrimental rather than beneficial, based on the degree they're used. As you say, the extent of the punishment can be severe enough that the child will lose sight of the link between their behavior and the punishment. Grounding a child for a week for a small offense will likely feel totalitarian, rather than structured.

What this means for parents is that we should always be analyzing our punishments to make sure they objectively match the severity of the offending behavior, while also taking into account the age and personality of the child. This suggests that it's a good idea to not give reactive punishments (doing the first thing that comes to mind), but to take a moment to properly assess the situation first.

You should also be asking yourself why you chose that particular punishment. Is it truly to deter them from that behavior, or is it to make them pay for violating your directives? If it's primarily the latter, than we're looking at retribution, which is easily construed as violent.

On the other hand a physical punishment doesn't exactly sound like a very thought-through way to go, plus many parents just feel too bad doing that and simply cannot do that.

Physical (corporal) punishment lends itself to rashness, but I'm sure there are plenty of parents who think it through. Some parents who may not normally spank, for example, may agree that there are instances where the behavior of a young child is severe enough to warrant a spank.

While you provide a good list of "gray area" forms of punishment, it was far from an all-inclusive list of punishments that parents have at their disposal. Here's some more examples that may help you continue to analyze punishments:

  • Taking a toy away from a child for the rest of the day because they threw it.

  • Decreasing a child's allotted TV-watching time because they didn't complete a chore/homework on time.

  • Giving a child a time out/sending them to their room for [whatever reason].

  • Not allowing your child dessert because they misbehaved during the meal.

  • Taking away a luxury item (like an electronic device) for a time for [whatever reason]

  • Making your child write lines (think Bart Simpson on the chalkboard) for [whatever reason]

Lastly, I would add that just because a child does not like (or gets upset about) something does not mean it's psychologically harmful. The nature of punishment means that the offender won't like it. Indeed, part of parenting is teaching your children how to constructively cope with these negative emotions.

Properly armed with the knowledge of what violence, psychological abuse, and domestic violence are, you can see that psychological punishment and discipline are not violent in and of themselves.

           (Consequences)
            |            \
        (Natural)       (Punishment)
        /      \         |          \
(Positive) (Negative) (Disciplinary) (Violent)

If restraining your child in any way counts as violence, then maybe. If your child is having a screaming fit you might have to pick it up against its will and tuck it under your arm and carry it off, in a way this is violence in a small way, but better than actual beating.

I always tried to turn restraint (for example, carrying the screaming child out to the car) from punishment "you are leaving because you are misbehaving" to respect for others "we have to leave because these other people want to eat in peace". After a while in the car I could ask "have you finished screaming now?" and mostly we were able to go back inside.

I never confiscated toys as a punishment, because little kids have such short term memory. But if a room wasn't cleared up after asking I would push all the stuff in a box and put it in the cellar till someone asked where the stuff had gone. Then I would say, "oh, it wasn't cleared and I had to move it so I could clean". And then they would have to go in the cellar and get it themselves.

  • The ifs in your first paragraph are spot-on re my doubts. Is physical restraint of an enraged child really less violent than a spank ? I say no and I say it's utterly unreasonable to expect that a parent never has to restrain the child, so while I of course advocate outlawing "violence" on children I think that not including in the rule a limit beyond which it becomes a crime is too extreme and unreasonable. – SantiBailors Dec 9 '14 at 10:50
  • maybe you don't have children...? Physical restraint is less violent than smacking. Believe me. I got beaten a lot as a child, and I would have preferred to be held tight instead, honestly, every time. Enraged children sometimes need to be restrained, to stop them, for example, from running out into a busy road after a balloon (personal anecdote). I think it is within the duty of a parent to know how far to go in every situation, and not to refer beforehand to some panel of psychologists (whose advice, in my experience, has more to do with ideology than reality). – RedSonja Dec 9 '14 at 11:41
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    I do have kids, but in their late teens, so this post of mine is not about them. :) IMO restraining is not necessarily less violent than a spank, it depends on the level of the restraining and of the spank. Beating a child is certainly wrong, my point was that I don't think it's reasonable to blindly equate a spank to a beating, so IMO laws that consider a spank as much of a felony as a beating are unreasonable. – SantiBailors Dec 9 '14 at 11:56
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    @SantiBailors, the court will usually assess the degree of harm, and sentence accordingly. E.g. here is a pretty light (non-custodial) sentence: "R v S [2009] 1 Cr.App.R.(S.) 40 Appellant cohabited with the mother of girl aged five. Harsh discipline, sent to her room for long periods, put masking tape over her mouth, no other violence. Bewildered man with inadequate parenting skills and mitigating features. Guilty pleas. Sentence reduced to a community order with supervision and a good parenting course." – A E Dec 9 '14 at 12:40
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    @SantiBailors, here in the UK physical punishment by parents is legal so long as: a) it doesn't leave a lasting mark, and b) it's not done with an object but only with a hand. Of course 'felony' isn't a relevant term here, but it's not true to say that a "small spank" is illegal. Obviously this will differ across countries. But it sounds like you're under the impression that physical punishment is always illegal and psychological punishment is always legal, and actually neither of those two things is true. With both physical and psychological punishment, legality depends on severity. – A E Dec 10 '14 at 23:20

Santi, thanks for asking such an interesting and important question.

Can behaviour which isn't physically violent be abusive?

I think most people would agree that emotional abuse can exist without physical abuse; in other words, it's accepted wisdom that one does not have to hit a child in order for one's behaviour toward that child to be abusive.

The NSPCC defines 'emotional abuse' like this:

Emotional abuse is the ongoing emotional maltreatment or emotional neglect of a child. It’s sometimes called psychological abuse and can seriously damage a child’s emotional health and development.

Emotional abuse can involve deliberately trying to scare or humiliate a child or isolating or ignoring them.

Children who are emotionally abused are usually suffering another type of abuse or neglect at the same time – but this isn’t always the case.

Emotional abuse: At a glance, NSPCC

Here an adult recounts the emotional abuse that she suffered as a child: "Bawling at me, backing me into the corner until I was whimpering and crying, he would just laugh at me and walk away, satisfied by my distress." (NSPCC: Fiona's Story).

The European Union's Istanbul Convention defines psychological violence as "the intentional conduct of seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats" (Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Article 33 'Psychological violence').

For the purpose of this answer, I'm going to treat the terms 'emotional abuse' and 'psychological violence' as synonymous.

'Punishment' versus 'consequences'

A lot of people (me included) would say that if their child behaves badly then the parent should enforce the consequences of the child's action (e.g. if you break your toy then you have to live with a broken toy, rather than having it replaced) and would differentiate 'consequences' from 'punishment'.

And while I think that's a distinction worth making, I would rather (in this answer) look at actual parental behaviours, rather than get too badly distracted by an issue which could devolve into semantics.

For anyone who wants to find out more about 'consequences' as an alternative to 'punishment', I recommend the Dr Sears website and books (e.g. "The Good Behaviour Book").

So can punishment/consequences exist without psychological violence?

Clearly one parent's 'punishment' could be another parent's 'consequence'. So what (if anything) is the difference between a non-abusive consequence on the one hand, and emotional abuse on the other?

Let's look at a more detailed definition of emotional abuse - this is the British government's definition:

The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development.

It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person.

It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate.

It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction.

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another.

It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Working Together to Safeguard Children: A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, HM [British] Government, March 2013

So I think the answer to your question is that if the punishment (or consequence, or whatever the parent chooses to call it) has the features listed above, then it is abusive.

And if it doesn't then it isn't. :)

Obviously this is only one definition of emotional abuse / psychological violence, OP if you had a particular definition in mind or if anyone knows of a better one, then please let me know in the comments and I'll try to incorporate it into this answer.

Clearly many of these things are a matter of judgement - for example, in defining what degree of protectiveness constitutes 'overprotection'. Where that's the case, I'd suggest looking at the effect of the behaviour on the child. If the parent's behaviour is causing "severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development" then it is abusive.

If you know a child who you think might be being abused then you should contact the authorities and let them make the judgement. That's not a judgement that you and I (as non-experts) should be making. If you're think it might be abuse then report it. The NSPCC says:

Don't wait until you're certain if you are worried about a child.

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    @SantiBailors, I think it's a matter of degree. To me a 2-minute 'time out' doesn't seem to be "emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects". But a 2-year 'time out' (lock the child in their bedroom for 2 years) would clearly be abusive. Even a 1-day imprisonment like that would be abusive, IMO. So as far as "equally serious" is concerned, it depends what you're comparing. Bear in mind that (except in cases of serious physical abuse) the downside of violent punishment is generally reckoned to be psychological (e.g teaching the child that ... – A E Dec 9 '14 at 12:03
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    "corruption of children" that is dangerous language, a catch-all that I would only expect to see on a .gov.uk site. – Gusdor Dec 9 '14 at 12:06
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    @Gusdor, it is very strong language, unfortunately sometimes adults do things to children which are so bad that strong language is merited. I'm fairly sure that 'corruption' refers to forcing or inducing a child to engage in prostitution, as in this recent case for example: "The court heard that on one occasion the girl was locked in a room and forced to have sex with seven men in one night. When she refused Spencer punched her, giving her a black eye." But I certainly agree that that part of the definition could be clearer,... – A E Dec 9 '14 at 12:08
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    I was referring to its use as a conservative tool. I consider the language relatively light but dangerous in scope. Clauses like this will shut down the internet. Child prostitution is already covered by law. – Gusdor Dec 9 '14 at 12:16
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    Here's a high-profile recent example (more), another, another, another, another. It would (IMO) be a mistake to think that terms like this are being used to punish parenting which the government merely disagrees with. We're talking child rape. – A E Dec 9 '14 at 12:17

From birth we've always talked to our child and explained everything to her, especially why its important that she does something if we ask her to.

There's never any need for violence, spanking, shouting or punishments, if you are doing it properly / calmly & in control of yourself and the situation.

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    Well, if in your case there was never any need for punishments you must have been so lucky as to having one of those very rare children who never do things like repeatedly throwing stuff on the ground right after you told them not to and then give you a challenging look, or any of these things most children do instinctively to find out where the line is - which require you to unequivocally show them that through consequences. Children who never do those things do exist and I know one, but they are by far the exception, so I'm afraid your approach cannot be recommended in general. – SantiBailors Dec 9 '14 at 9:58
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    I do that, and in reply she's also calm and in control of herself, and explains to us that she still wants to do X because she thinks it's fun, and she's going to ignore what we say (5 years old). At some point, you do need to set consequences of not doing what you say... – Remco Dec 9 '14 at 11:05
  • @SantiBailors Of course that happens, and we explain why that's wrong and maintain our calm authoritative stance. Ultimately, she either picks it up, or we pick it up with her. Either way, she picks it up, we remain calm and in control, she knows who is in charge and why she must do what we tell her. – Phill Healey Dec 9 '14 at 19:33

First of all, violence is by definition physical or abusive. Pop-psychology notwithstanding, failing to be unconditionally loved with 100% forgiveness and infinite patience is not equal to having violence done to you.

In my family, we had something that was neither violent, nor punishment, nor consequences per se: We had disappointment. The shame of disappointing your parents. Some people might call it "guilt" although that often implies a religious component which didn't exist for us.

Say my brother and I were acting inappropriately in a restaurant. This was very rare by the ages of 3 and 5 - they were taking us to nice restaurants, where initially horrified patrons at the next table were quickly soothed by the fact that we were very, very quiet and well-behaved. But if we did get out of line, my dad would tell us calmly to quiet down and behave like adults. We almost always would. If not, he would repeat the same thing, with clenched teeth, looking around at the other tables.

God forbid we made another sound. If we did, he'd get up and leave us with our mother. He'd disappear, take a taxi home or something. She was in on this racket. When we got home with mom, he might or might not be there. If he was, or when he got back, he'd say nothing. Not a single word. If you talked to him, he'd just act like you weren't there. This would continue for as long as it took for each of us to formulate a complete apology. When we did, he'd say, "what did you do wrong?" And we would have to explain it to his satisfaction.

Once that was done, the forgiveness was immediate, although the admonition was clear: We would never do something like that again.

There was no violence, and I wouldn't call it "abuse", any more than it's "abuse" to turn your back on an obnoxious or drunk person in public. Is it "abuse" for society to scorn you for acting like a jerk when you're an adult? No, that's the nature of being a member of society. In fact, scorn and disapproval of bad behavior are the only things that really keep civilization glued together. The fact that we don't apply them in any significant way anymore is what's lead to the deterioration of our values into a race to the bottom, with all the bad behavior and shock value attention seeking we see on TV, that kids try to imitate.

If a toy was involved, my father wouldn't normally take the toy away. He'd say, "you don't use this before your homework is done." At some point you realized that it wasn't worth what you'd have to go through if you got caught.

There was one incident, when my brother was 5 and I was 7, where my mom cut her thumb making breakfast while we were watching TV in the kitchen. I ran to get towels to stop her bleeding. My little brother kept watching Sesame Street. When my dad heard that my brother had done nothing, he took all the TVs out of the house except the one in my their bedroom. In my opinion that was the best parenting decision of all time.

From the time we were 3 years old, my father (who had four sons), spoke to all of us like adults, and expected us to act like adults. And it worked.

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    Well, psychological violence isn't just 'pop psychology'. For example, in France psychological violence is a criminal offence in law, it is included in the UN's 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (Article 2, "Physical, sexual and psychological violence"), and the Istanbul Convention - which is now in force throughout Europe - defines psychological violence as "the intentional conduct of seriously impairing a person’s psychological integrity through coercion or threats". – A E Dec 8 '14 at 20:06
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    @A E Great comment, that's actually the focus of my question. The countries which I know outlaw f.ex. a spank to a 15 years old don't outlaw f.ex. holding a gift from a 5 years old or shaming him/her in front of his/her friends etc., and I'm trying to figure out if that makes sense. I'm not sure it's OK to convict a parent for a spank but if France outlaws both types of "violence" at least it's not hypocritical, while I'm starting to think that legal systems that outlaw only one type of violence are hypocritical, just focused on saving face and their approach shouldn't be used as a guideline. – SantiBailors Dec 9 '14 at 10:28
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    @A E I agree with your comment, fortunately laws in those countries definitely and thankfully do address psychological violence too, but my perplexity is that punishments like withdrawing gifts, confiscating toys or shaming the child IMO can easily be more serious than a small spank and yet they are never considered a felony not even remotely while the small spank can certainly land the parent in jail (and "for the child's good"). – SantiBailors Dec 9 '14 at 12:48
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    @SantiBailors Corporal punishment techniques have measurable effects. They are directly observable, may leave visible injuries or temporary markings, and the forces necessary to leave temporary or longterm markings/injuries are experimentally measurable (meaning, we can tell how hard a child was hit based on the implement and marks). All these things mean it's easy to quantify corporal punishment, and thus regulate it. Psychological abuse, on the other hand, does not produce sufficient, consistent indicators. So, the law might not prevent it, because we can't quantify it yet. – Web Head Dec 9 '14 at 22:07
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    @SantiBailors I don't think any semantic gymnastics could extend the definition of "violence" to the confiscation of a toy. And to the question of criminalizing confiscation, wouldn't that by extension also criminalize not buying the child any toy she wants in the first place? There's a sharp line between privileges and rights. A child has a right not to be hit. Perhaps a right not to be "belittled" although that's fuzzy. But having a toy is a privilege which can be taken away. Just as an adult's car can be taken away for bad behavior. It's vital that kids learn that privileges are not rights. – joshstrike Dec 11 '14 at 10:27

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