Real Talk

Abuse vs. Discipline: What are the Differences?

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There’s a fine line between abuse and discipline. Here’s what makes them different from one another.

How does one decide that the consequence is abuse or discipline? Definitely not via social media! Different cultures have different takes. Americans will look aghast at Filipino parents screaming at their kids. But Filipinos will act scandalized when Americans throw their kids out at 18. However, what’s the difference between abuse and discipline? Here are the updated criteria for deciding consequences for kids.

1. Abuse is an overkill response to a small mistake. Discipline is equivalent.

Should one scream and name-call their kid for spilling milk? It sounds silly but some parents still do this. While it’s easy to say it’s a reaction, the damage is still there. Abuse is when the punishment or the means to correct are so exaggerated that it’s hurting the child without any intention to correct it. Making them clean it up themselves, however, is seen as a form of discipline since it teaches them, “This is what you do when you spill it. If you don’t like doing this, be careful where you put your glass next time.”

2. Abuse doesn’t correct. It degrades.

Threats and name-calling are common in Filipino-style discipline, ranging from “bobo“, “tanga“, “stupid” and many others. But the name-calling does not mop up the milk nor fix a dented car bumper. It doesn’t make the failing grade become barely passing either. Starving is one of the more extreme ones as it can create several behaviors: a bad relationship with food, and severe workaholism and perfectionism.

3. Grounding can be discipline so long as the item taken away is DIRECTLY involved with the issue.

Common discipline for parents is grounding especially when grades go bad. But it’s hard to find an appropriate form of grounding. However, some forms of grounding can include requiring them to attend more tutorial classes if they’re neglecting their studies in favor of partying. Or for gaming, taking away the device. But this isn’t a permanent method as some kids can figure out where parents hide their gadgets.

4. Ignoring or starting a cold war is abuse.

Ignoring a child’s pleas or calls also commonly known as a “Cold War” is a form of emotional abuse. While one thinks it’s better not to respond when tempers are flaring, it’s better to communicate the process of calming down. It sends two messages to the child: 1. the parent isn’t pleased with what the child did, and 2. there’s a better way to learn from one’s mistakes.

5. Physical punishments are abuse and NEVER a form of discipline.

It’s easy to laugh now about how the parents from before used to beat the parent of today with a belt, slipper, hanger, and anything within arm’s reach. However, studies have shown that physical punishments teach nothing but aggressive responses to mistakes. It slows down a child’s attempt to understand what they did wrong. In other words, they’re not learning from their mistakes and they’re more prone to doing it again because they didn’t learn why they can’t do it. They just learned that doing that means getting a beating.

6. Abuse = Power Play while Discipline = Learning and Teaching

Abuse is often constant where there’s a need to constantly display their power, unlike discipline. Abusers often construct an environment where they are allowed to throw their power around. Those who discipline are willing to let go of the power and floor to negotiate and reason.

Abuse and Discipline is a hard balance and it does take a lot of thinking!

Nobody said disciplining is easy. It takes a bit of creativity and calm thinking to find ways to teach and learn, rather than control and power trip. There’s a fine line that differentiates abuse from discipline that can be a bit hard to find. But understanding the lesson one is trying to impart is the best way to start.

More about discipline and parenting:

Filipino Threats Parents Should Stop Using To Discipline Their Kids
How To Not To Get Triggered by Kids’ Misbehaviors
Mom of Roberta Tamondong Encourages Parents To Support Their Children’s Dreams