Is Hitting a Child Abusive?

There are several reasons hitting a child or adult can be considered abuse and is not tolerated in today’s culture.  In an article by Dr. Paul Hilinger in Psychology Today he states:

“Spanking is a euphemism for hitting. One is not permitted to hit one’s spouse or a stranger; these actions are considered domestic violence and/or assault. Nor should one be permitted to hit a smaller and even more vulnerable child. Hitting a child elicits precisely the feelings one does not want to generate in a child: distress, angerfearshame, and disgust. Studies show that children who are hit will “identify with the aggressor,” and they are more likely to become hitters themselves, i.e., bullies and future abusers of their children and spouses. They tend to learn to use violent behavior as a way to deal with disputes.”

One is not permitted to hit one’s spouse or a stranger”… Unless of course as a form a self-defense.  Let me offer another perspective or concern I see in today’s culture.   There are impeding dangers and the environment has levels of violence that many of us are not prepared for, nor are our children.

I contend, that although not a doctor, that over 40 years of working with children and adults through teaching self-defense that I may have a slightly differing concern.   I would like to add a little more context that Dr. Hilinger’s article did not address. Of course I recognize he is focusing on a single perspective and his views were void of any  recognition of intent. Unless he is assuming that there is an expression of distress, anger, fear, etc.  by the aggressor as the child would “identify with the aggressor.”   However I contend that extremely important in today’s environment that there IS a need to introduce both children and adults to hitting.   More importantly that in order to be psychologically prepared for violence one must experience it.   If experienced under “controlled conditions” that it can actually be beneficial.


While working with some children recently I was asking them to execute their actions with true commitment.  It was obvious that they didn’t appreciate any reason or purpose for committing to their actions.  I shared with them an experience that I had with my training as an early novice in the Martial Arts.   I was working a series of moves in unison with my classmates also that “in those days” it was fully acceptable behavior.   I turned to execute a move representing blocking a kick.   Apparently I “lost focus” and my instructor struck me in the ribs.  My core muscle group was not engaged in my actions.  In other words I wasn’t “solid.”  He struck me again, this time really knocking the wind out of me.  As I bent over in pain, he hammered on my back driving me to the ground.

Undoubtedly as I struggled to my feet to get back into position I got a harsh reprimand from my instructor about being focused and being fully engaged in my actions.  At the time I was highly confused but afterwards I grew to understand. The important thing was, I was in a “controlled” environment and the intent of the instructor was not to “abuse” me but to give me an experience.  One that was hugely beneficial and of course never forgotten.  In fact it “saved” me more times than I can count.

After the discussion I lined each participant up and explained I was going to “hit” them in the stomach.   It would be something that would challenge them but if they breathed properly and tightened correctly that although it may hurt-  they would survive.  Each took their turn with differing levels of “enthusiasm.”  I got to one young man who was without a doubt very afraid.   I went over with him several times what to expect and how to prepare for the event.  He took the hit and realized it was not as difficult as he expected.  He asked for another example.   So I hit him again with a little more force.  Again, he “survived.”  He ended up excitedly asking me to strike him several times, in fact he wanted it with harder and harder force.   The “fear” had been eliminated and now he was ready to contend with other aspects necessary for self-defense.  As were the others in the class.   The lack of experience of dealing with any true physical encounter and the inexperience of ever being physically hit, these children are unprepared for true potential violence.  Unprepared to commit to protecting themselves and primarily because of their fear of “being hit.”

Violence is the symptom of the “evil” that exists in our environment.   It involves and is expressed through aggressive behavior, verbal insult, physical abuse, etc.   Part of the advantage that this “evil” has over the innocent is that the innocent are not prepared.  The “evil” uses physical violence to gain control over its “victims.”   If the “victims” are unafraid and in fact prepared for the physical aspect of the violence they can then focus more on the intent of the evil and combat the causes of the evil rather than the symptoms.


I contend that in order for our younger generation to overcome today’s “evil.”   That we need more physical interactions – of course these interactions need to be supported with context.  I am not supporting striking out in anger.   However, if all aspects of development for our youth is without physical “consequences”- If we exchange physical games and sports with video games and if we allow our youth to “play” karate where we don’t “hit” our children are we not allowing for an environment where “evil” and violence can and will thrive?

by Lawrence Robinson- Instructor at Attitude First Martial Arts Academy.

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