Is it wrong to hit your kids?

Upbringing with a list

In this gallery: 3 pictures

It was a bad day for the Pampers company. It was actually a pretty bad day, this Monday in November 2016. Someone from the communications department had uploaded a text to the German website of the diaper manufacturer that caused a storm of indignation within a few hours - in parent forums and on social media. The reason for this was the title and tenor of the text.

Under the headline "Punishing children properly: time-outs" Pampers wanted to give readers tips on how to deal with small children in conflict situations. In reality there was nothing less than a guide to humiliation. Sentences like: "During the break, there is no communication between the parent or the supervisor and the child" entwined with product information and photos of pretty babies. Or: "The time-out is to be understood as a weakened form of isolation. In doing so, you express: 'If you do that, you are not one of them.'"

Interruption of communication, isolation, threatening the child with exclusion: the text presented punishment and deprivation of love as educational state of the art. Further down in the article, parents were advised to put a chair in the corner of a room for "time out" - out of sight of the Child. It should sit on this chair when "a conflict situation" arises. So that it can really feel the isolation. "When the child gets up, just sit them back in the chair and reset the timer. Don't say anything and don't give in."

Tips for the dog

In the days that followed, outraged readers shared the text hundreds of times, and education experts spoke up. “That in 2016?” Asked the German pediatrician and non-fiction author Herbert Renz-Polster. "From a company that is particularly well-known among young families? They now approach the parents to give them parenting tips that they can also use for the family dog."

Here, "the child is treated as an object that, if you please, has to function," wrote Renz-Polster. "That may be the standard of education in the United States, the motherland of Pampers. We are currently seeing where this treatment is going."

In fact, parents in the US are not even prohibited from beating their children. It is also not particularly socially ostracized. "In the USA, the image of the child is still very much shaped by the evangelical idea of ​​the 'little sinner'", explains Nora Imlau, German author of several successful parenting guides. "According to this picture, the task of the parents is to bring the child on the right path by means of strict but fair discipline."

Imlau also reacted indignantly to the controversial Pampers text. But she also pointed out that it is an excerpt from a longer article that had first appeared in the USA and should be seen in this context: Where it is customary to hit children, the method of "time out" can be used as a Progress apply. Because it at least prevents parents from trying to resolve conflicts with the child by means of physical violence. "In the USA, the text seems almost provocatively progressive to many parents," said Imlau. "In this country, the phrase 'really punish' sounds completely weird and outrageous."

Mutual influence

As recently as 2005, a US study for two large states found that 45 percent of US parents punished their children with blows on the buttocks; almost 25 percent of those surveyed admitted that they regularly hit their children with an object. The situation is similar in Great Britain, where violence in upbringing is also not forbidden by law: When several children's rights organizations called for a total ban on violence against children in 2006, the Tony Blair government rejected the proposal. The then Prime Minister himself admitted in an interview that he occasionally beat his children.

The socially widespread attitude towards violence against children and the legal situation related to it - they influence each other.

Ban on violence in Austria

Austria was the fourth country in the world to introduce a ban on violence against children - that was in 1989. In 2011, the ban was raised to constitutional status as the right to a non-violent upbringing. Since then, the Federal Constitutional Law on the Rights of Children has stated: "Corporal punishment, the infliction of emotional distress, sexual abuse and other forms of abuse are prohibited." The Austrian law explicitly includes mental suffering in the prohibition of violence.

Nora Imlau believes that the Pampers article has attracted so much attention in German-speaking countries is a good sign: it shows how the social climate has changed for the better with regard to education. That punishment and humiliation are no longer options for many people when dealing with their children.

Silence can be violence

In fact, in Austria too, the awareness that violence causes children lasting suffering has grown in recent decades, says the psychologist Hedwig Wölfl, managing director and technical director of the Möwe child protection association. This is also shown by a survey that the Gallup Institute recently carried out for Austria. 95 percent of the respondents stated that "a beating" (as the survey wording) clearly falls under violence for them.

Just a few decades ago, beatings were the order of the day in many families in this country. The child laid over his knee who is punished with blows by the punishing father: this is undoubtedly a picture of days gone by. It looks different with slaps in the face, especially in its "light" version, often belittled as "healthy wading" in Austrians.

Even today, only 34 percent of those questioned see violence in it. Interesting detail: If children are slapped by their own parents, this is seen more as a legitimate "contribution to upbringing". However, if the child receives a slap in the face from a teacher or a neighbor, almost all respondents recognize it as violence.

Bruises on the soul

In general, Austrians see physical abuse primarily as violence against children, as the Gallup survey shows. Apparently less people are aware that children can experience it as violent when parents keep silent, yell at them, expose them in front of others or punish them with temporary deprivation of love. Möwe boss Wölfl confirms this: "Only 26 percent judge the scenario that parents do not speak to their eight-year-old child for a longer period of time as punishment, clearly as violence." The negative effects of a refusal to communicate on the child would be massively underestimated.

With drastic consequences, as the Viennese psychologist, child and adolescent psychotherapist Astrid Görtz explains: "Emotional or psychological violence can even be worse for children than physical violence." Görtz teaches and researches at the University of Vienna and the Sigmund Freud Private University and knows countless cases from her therapeutic practice. "Psychological violence is worse when parents consciously and intentionally harm or intimidate their child - to punish, humiliate or simply to demonstrate their parental power."

The role that context plays in the perception of physical access can be illustrated most strikingly by the example in which a father forcibly pulls his child back by the arm while walking on the busy street. Hardly anyone would judge paternal action as violence; not even if it bruises the child's arm. Because the father acts in a spontaneous desire to ensure the child's well-being and not to humiliate or punish him.

"Even small children recognize the context," explains Astrid Görtz. "You can read the parents' feelings - and they notice when the father or mother is tense or stressed and acts out of this feeling." It therefore makes a huge difference whether a slap "happens" to the parents due to excessive demands or whether they strike out of conviction, yell at the child or keep silent and ignore it.

Sustainably negative self-image

That is also the crucial point of the "time-out" method: "To put children in a corner or to lock them up - that does the same thing to them as punches." Children would know very well that parents are people with faults. And they recognize the difference whether parents say punitive words in an affect or whether they are deliberately made expressions with an authoritarian-educational intention. "Threats like 'If you do that, I don't love you anymore' should never be told to a child," advises Görtz. "That weighs heavily on a small child."

Slipping hands due to excessive demands: The wording always sounds a bit like the perpetrators exonerating themselves. Astrid Görtz does not want to belittle slaps in the face, hitting children is always problematic. "Because on the relationship level, children always experience beating as a humiliation with which the adult demonstrates his superiority and authority."

When repeated, what does this feeling do in children? "They get the message from the person they love unconditionally: 'You are not valuable and not okay the way you are.' This can create a lasting negative self-image in children. They feel disliked and not okay as a person. " That is why blows always go deep into the child's self-confidence, no matter how "light" it may be.

Role models for conflict resolution

And what causes emotional neglect or punitive silence in children? Hedwig Wölfl: "If children do not learn how to resolve conflicts constructively and non-violently, if they do not find out in everyday life that listening and explaining to one another helps, it will later become more and more difficult for them to deal with interpersonal conflicts with respect."

These children lack role models for non-violent conflict management and communication. If they regularly experience the feeling of isolation, this signals to them: You must not express your feelings if you want to be loved.

The impotence of the victims

This connection could also explain why adults who have been victims of physical or psychological violence themselves (in Austria at least 26 and 14 percent respectively) often pass it on to their own children. "When I became a victim, I feel powerless," explains Astrid Görtz. "Then I run the risk of making myself the perpetrator of the weaker person, that is to say the child, so that I no longer have to suffer fainting feelings."

Not only do people with stable self-esteem become less violent towards their children; They also find it easier to apologize to the child when it happens. "If the adult manages to apologize, he creates an important level of common ground with the child," says Görtz. In this way, the child realizes: My parents are not perfect, but rather people with faults, to whom they admit. There are no better role models for accepting one's own flawedness.

Incidentally, the controversial text on the Pampers site has now disappeared again. Pampers apologized grudgingly and "specifically for the irritation". (Lisa Mayr, December 31, 2016)