Is It Wrong to Slap a Child’s Hand If She Tries to Touch the Stove?

The long and the short of it is, I belong to the camp that does not support hitting children, or anyone else for that matter, period. Now I know some of you might want to take the stance that lightly slapping a toddler’s or a preschooler’s hand if they try to touch the stove shouldn’t be classified as “hitting.” To this, I say it’s all hitting. I don’t care if it’s a tap, a pat, or a light-handed slap. No matter how you slice it, it’s still striking a person and striking, regardless of the velocity of the swing, is not OK in my book. And even if I could be convinced that patting a child’s hand is OK, who’s to say that granting permission to strike a toddler or preschooler’s hand won’t possibly lead to other punitive treatment in other forms? The fact is that it does in some families.

In most cases, a parent who strikes a child’s hand doesn’t really know what else to do in that moment. I have spent years working with parents to help them find more effective discipline solutions to replace the strike. Once they better understand their child’s behavior and practice alternative methods, there is no longer a need to hit. Then there are those parents who strongly believe that striking a child’s hand to stop them from touching the stove is justified and these parents are not interested in finding alternative methods for hitting. For these parents, I say that striking a child to change a behavior is an act that is coming from a position of fear and not love. Let me explain.

I subscribe to the theory that every action taken or every word spoken by a human being either comes from a place of feeling love or from a place of feeling fearful. It is my belief that when an adult strikes a child’s body, regardless of what area or at what velocity of the swing (whether it be very light or hard), that adult is doing it as a result of feeling fearful in one or more ways. Some examples might be, “I’m afraid my child will get burned,” “I’m afraid my child will not listen to me so I have to make it memorable,” “I’m afraid my child doesn’t respect my authority,” “I have to force my child to stop now because I remember the fear of getting burned myself,” “I remember the fear my parent instilled in me when I didn’t listen to him and I have to recreate that for my child,” and many others. But when a parent is taught to manage his emotions and instead, come from a position of love before he acts or speaks, he is not likely to strike the child, punish her, or yell. A parent who takes actions and uses words that come from a position of love is more likely to respond with calm understanding and reasoning by looking at the situation from the child’s perspective. If after explaining to the child, she continues to move toward the stove, then this parent is likely to place a physical barrier between the child and the heater because the motivation of the child at this moment to touch the stove is stronger than her ability to understand the reasoning from the parent’s explanation. It could also be that the child is not at the appropriate development level to understand the parent’s explanation. After the barrier is set up to keep the child safe, a parent coming from the position of love is very likely to step back and ask himself, “What need is my child revealing to me right now that keeps her moving toward the stove?” That parent is likely to take the time to identify the core human need; to play, to discover, to learn, to explore, or others. Taking the actions I described here from a position of love takes time and patience, and also requires that the parent have an adequate level of emotional intelligence to see the situation from the child’s perspective. Taking the action to strike the child is coming from a position of fear is much quicker, takes less time, and requires a very low level of emotional intelligence on the part of the parent.

Now here is the long term outcome between the two. While both parents may be successful in getting the child to not touch the stove, the parent using methods that come from a position of fear is very likely to instill fear in the child. When fear is fostered within the human soul, it is my belief that more fear is generated and quite possibly, that child will also take actions and use words as she matures that are based on fear. Fear breeds emotions such as guilt, aggression, resentment, jealousy, hatred, and other nonproductive emotions. But if the primary caretaker of the child uses a style of parenting that involves taking actions and using words that come from a position of love, it is very likely that love will grow stronger within the child and she too will see the world from that perspective. It is my belief that this child is much more likely (than the child raised with fear based principles) to live a richer and fuller life. It is this child that may more likely build stronger, more loving relationship and make smarter decisions in her life because instead of being filled with the negative emotions that fear creates, she instead will be filled with more emotions such as trust, kindness, joy, happiness, encouragement, and compassion. And the final difference in this child? She may be more likely (than the child raised with fear-based tactics) to find her true purpose in life and leave behind a legacy that will change the lives of others!