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When Parenting Crosses A Line: Physical Abuse

Children need discipline. That will never be disputed. However, discipline should never be done out of anger or when angry with the child, because let's face it, when we're angry, we don't think as clearly as we should… and for some, that turns into something deplorable… child abuse. Making disciplinary decisions are best made when adults are not angry or in the heat of the moment. Sometimes walking away and cooling off does wonders for the parents and child.

What is discipline, you ask? Well, according to the Vocabulary.com website, it is “to develop behavior by instruction and practice; especially to teach self-control”It should always be done with self-control and never done out of anger. When you discipline children, you are teaching them by correcting them, and the key word is 'teaching'. If the child learns nothing, then it is not discipline, it's punishment.

I do not, before this goes further, think that spanking alone is abuse… or that raising your voice is abuse. Not at all. But sometimes, parents snap and go far over the line, and yes, that is abuse. There are many kinds of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual, but I won't get into sexual abuse here… because that's not a parenting problem, that's something else entirely.

Physical Abuse 

There are many kinds of physical abuse. A slap to the face, a punch in the arm, pulling hair, pushing into a wall… these are all forms of physical abuse. And it's only lately that we're seeing people actually notice that physical abuse is not a good form of discipline. Even using a belt or switch is physical abuse. Hot sauce or soap in the mouth? Also considered physical abuse.

It does not take much for someone to slip past a spanking into abuse, and it may not be done on purpose. Losing your temper and 'going off' while spanking your child, spanking over and over and over… those are examples of a situation slipping into abuse. There are cases of parents not realizing what they are doing is abuse, where a child is being spanked and it just crosses the line… sometimes a child mouths off, or does something severely dangerous, or breaks something expensive, and a parent snaps.

According to the National Society for the Prevention of Childhood Cruelty (NSPCC), there are many signs of physical abuse, including:

10 Bite Marks

“A bite is when one uses the teeth in order to inflict injury on" 

- Includes visible wounds and bruising from each individual tooth

- Often oval or circular in shape, and large enough to have come from an adult (remember, children do bite one another)

9 Bruises

“A bruise is an injury appearing as an area of discolored skin on the body, caused by a blow or impact rupturing underlying blood vessels.”

- Defensive wounds are often on the arms, back of the legs, and butt

- They're often on the head, but can also be on other soft areas such as the back, butt, and abdomen

- Bruised scalp or swollen eyes from hair being pulled

- Includes bruises that have dots of blood showing under the skin

- Can include groupings of bruises on the upper arm, thigh, or body

- Bruises in the shape of a hand or other blunt object 

8 Fractures or Broken Bones

“Broken Bones of any size are called a fracture. If the broken bone punctures the skin, it is called an open fracture (compound fracture). 

A stress fracture is a hairline crack in the bone that develops because of repeated or prolonged forces against the bone.”

- Also includes multiple fractures and breaks, all at different stages of the healing process 

- In babies, this includes fractures to the ribs or legs, especially since they have not been doing anything to injure those bones themselves most of the time 

7 Burns

"A burn is an injury caused by exposure to heat or flame."

- This can be caused by hot liquid or objects, flames, chemicals, and even electricity

- Having multiple burns and scalds 

- There's often a clear edge to the burn or scald

- Can be on the hands, back, shoulders and butt; scalding may be on lower limbs, arms, and legs

- It's sometimes in the shape of an object, such as a cigarette burn

6 Health Problems

"There are sometimes signs of other injuries that do not fall into one of those particular categories… such as"

- Respiratory problems from drowning, suffocation or poisoning

- Effects of poisoning such as vomiting, drowsiness or seizures

- Scarring

Also, according to the NSPCC,you can often notice if a child is being abused. You can spot some of the emotional and behavioral signs of abuse in a child, because a child will behave poorly, withdraw from others, be anxious or scared, have problems with depression, sleeping problems and eating disorders, may regress into bed wetting, may possibly miss school, take more risks, change their eating habits, take drugs, cut or self-harm in other ways, and may even consider suicide. Suicide in children does happen, so any child that is self-harming or having suicidal thoughts, and comes forward about that, needs to be given help. 

5 Head Injuries

If you suspect a baby has a head injury, which can be, but is not always from, abuse, then there are signs you need to know about to determine if medical help is needed. Also, according to the NSPCC, some signs of head injuries can include:

- Seizures in a child who has not had seizures before and has no medical history indicating seizures.

- Breathing issues in a child who has previously had no problems.

- Nausea and vomiting when the child is otherwise not sick and shows no other sign of illness. -Coma. The child is in a coma and unresponsive.-Other unusual responses, such as being over tired, fussy, and otherwise having unusual problems they usually do not have.

4 Shaken Baby Syndrome

One thing that has been all over the news lately, is Shaken Baby Syndrome, and for good reason. Far too often, we hear of a caregiver losing their temper on an innocent baby, and shaking them. When babies and very young children are shaken violently, their brains bounce in their little skulls, and get damaged, causing brain bleeds, concussions, and even death. It can take hours for Shaken Baby Syndrome to get to a point where it's distinguishable, and sadly, it leads to too many cases of infant death every single year. 

Also, according to the NSPCC, babies that are shaken or thrown can suffer serious head injuries that are no accident. Shaking a baby can cause internal injuries, long-term disabilities, fractures, and can even lead to death. The most serious potential consequence of a head injury like these is brain injury that can lead to: 

- The child having learning delays and problems in school or daycare 

- The child developing hearing and speech problems and impairments 

- The child developing seizures

- Behavioral problems and changes in the child's personality that are hard to reverse

- The child developing long-term disabilities, including being unable to care for themselves 

- Death of the child 

- Severe brain damage in the child

3 Long-Term Effects

Sadly, children can suffer from long term effects of physical abuse a long time after the initial injuries heal. Also, according to the NSPCC , being shaken or hit as a child can lead to bad mental and physical health later on in life, including depressive behaviors and anxiety, eating disorders, childhood behavioral disorders, drug use, suicide attempts, obesity both in childhood and adulthood, and sexually transmitted Infections due to promiscuity.

Some other long-term effects include:

- The child not doing well in school

- The child partaking in drugs and alcohol abuse

- The child engaging in risk-taking behaviors

2 Red Flags

Also, according to the NSPCC , children who are being abused may feel guilty, ashamed, and even confused. The child may be afraid to speak up and tell someone about the abuse since the abuser may be a parent, relative, or a friend of the family. The child may also show a frightened reaction towards parents or those who are abusing them. This is why it's so important to know what the various red flags are, such as:

- Changes in the child's behavior, including aggression, anger, and hyperactivity, or changes in their school performance

- The child withdrawing from social activities and friends

- The child becoming depressed, anxious, or losing self-confidence

- Child misses a lot of school or does not want to ride the bus 

- What seems to be a lack of supervision for the child. 

- Suicide attempts made by the child

- A reluctance to leave school activities, like the child doesn't want to go home

- The child becomes rebellious and/or tries to run away

1 Hotlines

The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Serving the United States, its territories, and Canada, the hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in over 200 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are confidential. If you suspect a child is being abused, call the Childhelp National Hotline, and make a report. You can be the first link in saving a child's life.

For UK readers, there is the NSPCC helpline at the number 0808 800 5000 . There is also a helpline for reporting and advice for those under age 18 at 0800 1111

In Australia, there is the Department for Child Protection and Family Support Crisis Care Helpline, at the number (08) 9223 1111 or 1800 199 008 (country free call)

Information for this article is cited from the National Society for the Prevention of Childhood Cruelty, and can be found here.

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