Can parents beat their child?

Interview - Violence in upbringing: Many parents hit out when they are overwhelmed

Violence in upbringing: Many parents hit because of excessive demands

Around half of Swiss parents still use physical violence to punish their children. Even more often, however, children are victims of threats, deprivation of love and devaluations. A campaign aims to help parents keep a cool head.

Levin tried to cook spaghetti. He didn't get far, but the kitchen now looks like an explosion. When his mother discovers the mess, she starts ranting, and when Levin refuses to clean up immediately, she roughly pulls his hair and pushes him away. Mentally and physically injurious punishments as a means of education are a reality in many Swiss families (see study by the University of Friborg). The Swiss Child Protection Foundation has therefore launched an awareness campaign. Parents should be given ideas on how to react in overwhelming situations. «Count to ten, Mommy», «Look at yourself in the mirror, Papi», «Eat a piece of chocolate», the children suggest to their parents in short videos. Markus Wopmann, head physician at the children's clinic at the Baden Cantonal Hospital and has been working in child protection for 30 years, knows how much physical and psychological violence affects children. Nevertheless, he is not entirely convinced of the campaign.

Markus Wopmann, the study by the University of Freiburg provides frightening figures. Around half of the parents have already exercised violence against their own children. How do you explain these numbers?

Violence as a model of upbringing is rare, but excessive demands are a problem for many parents. An argument can build up. The child replies and the mother loses her nerve. The slap is often part of the educational repertoire, as the last measure after several admonitions have been issued.

In their everyday life, however, it is rarely about slapping. What cases do you end up with?

In addition to my work as a pediatrician, I have been active in child protection for around thirty years. We treat 60 to 70 cases in Baden every year. Serious physical abuse has become very rare. What there are often today are children who are psychologically stressed. It is about difficult family relationships in which the children are not mistreated, but have to witness many disputes and outbreaks of violence by the parents.

Does that mean that parents use psychological rather than physical violence more often?

Yes, although narrowing down is difficult. In the gray area, the slap is on the bottom. Provocatively, one could say that this is not violence. Psychological violence in upbringing runs on a spectrum. This includes devaluing the child, treating it with disrespect and disparaging it, verbally threatening it. Many parents intend to hurt their child with words or threaten to give the child away.

You can hurt a child with it just as much as with a blow.

That's so. If you ignore or belittle the child over a long period of time, it is very gross and hurtful. Small children cannot handle it and do not understand why it is happening.

Child protection Switzerland relies on the self-efficacy of children. Have them give their parents tips on how to calm down. What do you think of this idea?

I think that's difficult to do. A dispute is a difficult situation for both parties, and such well-intentioned advice like “Daddy has a glass of water” can get parents wrong. In an argument everything happens very quickly, it is questionable whether children can react. That is very demanding.

How do children react when they experience violence in their upbringing?

There are three general categories. There are children who hit back, bite, scratch. Others avoid conflict situations or their parents and withdraw. Some children also deny what happened to them.

What tips do you give parents who fear losing their temper?

The tip is actually banal, but effective: You should move away from a conflict situation. Spatial separation can already make a big difference: parents and children alike have time to calm down and collect themselves.

In your opinion, are there cases in which corporal punishment is justified in upbringing?

Corporal punishment is not eligible for two reasons. On the one hand, they are prohibited by law. On the other hand, the effect of a penalty wears out very quickly. Corporal punishment is not only wrong for moral reasons, it is simply not “worthwhile”.

What should you do if you suspect a child is being abused?

One should investigate the suspicion and let the child tell. Not all cases are confirmed. Some turn out to be exaggeration or dramatization. Only in the rarest cases are they pure inventions.

The campaign video from Child Protection Switzerland:

Study: Slaps to the bottom are the most common

Corporal punishment is not uncommon in Swiss households: this is the conclusion of a study by the Institute for Family Research and Counseling at the University of Friborg, on which the Child Protection Switzerland campaign is based. 1523 parents from all linguistic regions of Switzerland were asked about their upbringing behavior. The most common form of physical violence is beatings on the buttocks by hand (30.7 percent). Hitting with objects (1.5 percent) or cold showering (4.4 percent) is rarely mentioned. Parents who regularly and frequently use corporal punishment and for whom corporal punishment are part of the educational repertoire are in the clear minority at 11 percent. The most common cause of physical violence was that the child annoyed or provoked the parents. Around 30 percent said they were tired, irritable or nervous.

Psychological violence such as imprisonment is used more often as an educational measure, Threatening, yelling or withdrawing love: 68.6 percent of the parents surveyed have already used it (see graphic). Around a quarter say that they regularly or very frequently punish their children psychologically. (lw)