Put the Belt Down, Bud. It’s AbuseLook, I know what you’re going to say. It’s discipline! It’s how your pappy raised you and his pappy raised him and so on and so forth. What better way to instill respect and manners into a child than with fear of physical punishment? After all, it worked on you — you turned out just fine.

I have some news for you. If you think spanking, using a belt, hitting, or otherwise physically harming your child is a-okay, you did not, in fact, turn out just fine. It isn’t your fault; it’s how the cycle of abuse creates a cycle of trauma that turns back into abuse. Generations upon generations of this normalizes it, and soon enough people cannot tell the difference between disciplining your child to teach them, and hurting them to make them afraid to disrespect you. And, whether or not you let that sink in, the law here in Maryland agrees wholeheartedly and will therefore make you pay in more ways than one. Aside from legal consequences (meaning a possible domestic violence conviction — yes, really), the social ramifications of such a charge can pretty much derail the rest of your life. It is just not worth it to avoid learning other ways to parent.

Discipline versus child abuse

Why do parents discipline their children? To teach them, of course. To correct harmful, unhealthy, or inappropriate behavior and guide them to make better choices in the future. We all know this on the surface, but at some point some parents decided they can achieve those goals with whatever method they choose. When they lose their temper (kids will do that to ya), those chosen methods might end up being the belt, the sandal, the stick, the hand. Their children, now terrified and hurt and confused, will probably avoid repeating that same behavior — but that does not mean the discipline WORKED. It means it succeeded in traumatizing the child and teaching them they cannot trust even their own parents not to hurt them on purpose, and that is a very different thing from learning and understanding why a behavior was wrong.

In other words, discipline has a stopping point, and from then on, in the eyes of the law, it’s abuse. It’s not enough to simply have the right intentions, because your kids can’t know that. The science agrees, too. There have been countless studies on the effects of corporal punishment, both long- and short-term. Recent data suggests not only is it completely ineffective as an actual method of discipline, but it is, indeed, harmful. Children who have been spanked or otherwise physically punished are usually more aggressive and violent towards others, likely to experience mental health issues, and may be unable to form healthy relationships in the future. The writer actually stated that she struggled to understand how spanking could possibly NOT be abusive, because her researched involved defining “hitting that’s okay.”

The answer: there isn’t any. Don’t hit children, especially your own. Hey, hey, hey, stop looking away from this page — I am saving your skin, here. Do you want to be hurting your child? Do you want to risk being charged with a life-altering crime that could result in you never seeing them again? Do you really want to hit them that bad? I know kids can be really annoying, and maybe he peed in your humidifier and now everything is just terrible, but you need to be able to draw the line.

This is not a dig: especially if you were a victim of physical abuse yourself, that line can be hard to find. So, here are some signs your discipline is going a bit over the top:

  • Any physical injury occurs, including bruises and welts
  • You find punishments happen out of anger on your part, with the intent to instill fear
  • Your child does not understand why they are not allowed to do certain things, but will not do them or question why
  • Your child acts out aggressively to others, especially the day after an incident at home
  • Your child cannot define “respect” without defining “fear”

Regardless of the legal consequences if someone, especially your spouse, accuses you of domestic violence, changes should be made if you notice any of the above. Talk to your child; apologize to them and mean it. Show them that even mommy and daddy aren’t perfect, and that’s okay as long as you make it right.

How much will it suck to be accused of domestic violence? So much

So, yes, over-the-top discipline counts as child abuse which, in Maryland, is a form of domestic violence — just like abusing a spouse, but usually with harsher punishments. Courts take violent crimes against children incredibly seriously, no matter how minor you personally find the altercation to have been. Not only that, but anyone can call in and report you if they suspect you are abusing your child, which means a kindergarten teacher or a neighbor can be your downfall, whether or not their allegations are even correct.

Domestic violence cases don’t require a lot of evidence for you to be arrested, so even if it was a one-time slip up and you and your child have already hugged and made up, and even if it’s just the most minor of marks, and even if it had nothing to do with you at all and they really did just walk into a doorknob — you could be facing criminal charges. No witnesses needed. Aside from those charges (which could equal thousands in fines and time in prison), if your accuser signs a simple petition, you could also be hit with a protective order that immediately takes your kids away from you and may even kick you out of your home.

Again, no one is trying to make you feel bad, but I AM trying to stress the severity of these charges and urge you to try and avoid them before they happen as much as you can. No one knows the full story, but that doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you with their own version of it. If that happens, no matter the circumstances, you need to hire an Annapolis defense attorney yesterday. We’re not here to judge or accuse you, and we’re not here to make you feel like a bad person or an unloving parent. What we are here to do is help, by building your case, and representing the facts of the story to protect your rights, your freedom, and your family. Even if you did it. Even if you “effed around and found out,” the only way we cannot help is if you never call.

Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, has decades of experience working with the most sensitive, complicated of domestic violence cases. We can safely assure you yours will not be the nut we cannot crack, and we can also safely assure you that you don’t have to try to face this alone and you really, really shouldn’t. If you are in Annapolis, Ellicott City, or anywhere in Maryland call us today at 410-271-1892 or use our contact form before it’s too late.

And remember: Keep calm and call Drew!