Sunday, June 11, 2006

Physical Violence Towards Children OK In The Frum Community of Baltimore?

Physical Violence Toward Children is NEVER OK -- Not even if you call it a "potch"The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Spare The Rod
© By Rabbi Dovid Hochberg, LCSW-C

Where What When - June, 2006

Some things you see are hard to forget.

Twelve years ago, I was standing in a supermarket, when I overheard a father and mother yelling at their whining child in the next aisle. Suddenly, there was a loud crack, followed by stunned silence. I walked around to the next aisle and saw a little girl, perhaps four or five years old, with an expression of shock and pain all over her face. Her eyes were wide open, and she was staring at her parents. The entire left side of her small face was bright red except for the vivid, white impression of a large, adult handprint in the center of the red. Her two parents were glaring at her angrily.

I was asked to write an article about whether or not hitting children is ever considered an appropriate punishment.

Obviously, we are not referring to incidents like the one mentioned above. That is completely unacceptable and wrong. However, the question of whether or not a parent should ever hit a child is not a new question. And to complicate the issue further, the question of whether or not the times have changed is a fair one to ask. Is today’s day and age different from 200 years ago? From a thousand years ago?

Even if we assume that some parenting approaches that were acceptable in the past may no longer be acceptable today, the issue remains murky. I personally have heard gedolim say that it is okay to “potch.” I have also heard gedolim emphasize that one should absolutely not hit their children. And if you believe that it is okay to hit sometimes, how do you decide what deserves a potch as a punishment? Running in the street? Being disrespectful? How about not doing homework?

So, I decided to take a different approach to this entire issue. I am not going to discuss whether or not you should hit your kids or when and if it is appropriate. You’ll need to consult your rav, mentor, therapist, or whomever you turn to for guidance on that one. Instead, I want to explore the question of why parents hit their children.

There are two reasons why parents use hitting as a disciplinary tool. One, they are trying to make a very powerful statement to their child that what he or she just did was dangerous, illegal, cruel, improper, etc. Let’s be frank: Hitting sends a strong message, and the parent is hoping that the message will be strong enough that the child won’t do it again. Hitting your toddler on the hand when she runs in the street is an example that comes to mind. Your goal is to impress upon the child that what she did was dangerous in such a compelling manner that hopefully she won’t run in the street again.

Hitting for this reason is what I was referring to when I suggested that you consult with whomever you turn to for guidance to determine if it is appropriate.

There is another reason why parents hit their children, and it is this reason that we will be addressing in this article: Parents hit because they lose control. People are only human. When your kids have been at each other’s throats all day, and your toddler just dropped your checkbook into his soggy bowl of cereal, your tolerance for, well, almost anything, is very low. Your self-control is balancing right on the edge, and it doesn’t take a lot to send you over.

Finally, it just happens; you “see red” and you hit. And then there are the raw, awful emotional feelings that follow – the guilt, the frustration at losing control, the regret.

In fact, that’s an easy way for you to know why you potched your child: If you feel guilty and remorseful (or any kind of strong emotional upheaval) after you hit her, you lost control. If you feel calm and justified, then your goal in hitting was to send a strong message.

Losing control is scary for you and your children. You love your kids. The last thing in the world you want to do is hurt them.

Here are some practical concepts that may be helpful:

1) It is very rare that people go from “zero to sixty” – from calm to furious – in their mood shifts. There are always triggers along the way, little interactions or events that take you further and further down the slippery path of losing control. They may include a headache, a depressing phone call from a friend, being hungry, a particularly frustrating issue at work, or a difficult time with your little ones. Each step takes you further away from where you want to be and makes it harder to maintain control.

2) Here’s a suggestion: As you recognize the direction you are headed in, try to relax your expectations of yourself and those around you. For example, if you are having a day with a lot of triggers, then perhaps you can let the house be a little messier or accept that the evening schedules won’t be choreographed perfectly. Maybe your kids won’t take a bath that night or you won’t clean your desk today. The point is that you set yourself up so you will be in a better position to maintain control of your emotions.

3) Practice being flexible before you have to be flexible. Experiment a little. What happens if things don’t go the way you planned? Practice doing things differently and pay attention to the outcome. For example, what happens if you don’t clean up from supper right away or if you let your kids play before homework? How about letting your kids make a big mess in the kitchen while they are “helping” you bake? The most obvious thing you will notice is that although it may throw everyone a little bit, everyone survives. The sky doesn’t fall. Practicing flexibility before you need it is a great way to ensure it will be helpful and effective when you do need it.

4) Imagine a speedometer with three sections: green, yellow and red. Green means that everything is fine. Yellow means that you are getting near the danger zone but can still do something about it. Red means you lost it. Here is how you use it. At any given moment, check in with yourself to see what section you are in. You don’t have to act when you are green, and by the time you are in red, it is too late. The trick is to identify when you are in yellow (keeping in mind that everyone has a different range for how wide the yellow section is) and then taking steps to stop yourself from sliding into red. Sometimes, simply removing yourself from the situation for five minutes can be helpful.

5) Slow your life down overall. Examine all the responsibilities on your plate and see if there are any you can delegate to others, transfer completely to someone else, or take care of in a less pressured way. Remember, the more triggers you have, the quicker you go down the path of losing control. Try to get rid of some of the triggers.

6) Please seek help if you find yourself frequently losing control. It is simply not worth the emotional (and perhaps physical) toll it takes on you and your family.

Important Disclaimer: This is not an article about child abuse, and the purpose is not to condone or condemn potching children. Abuse of a child is very serious and is defined under Maryland law as physical injury, not necessarily visible, or mental injury of a child under circumstances that indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or is at substantial risk of being harmed by a parent, caretaker, or household or family member. Any issue of child abuse needs to be taken seriously.

Rabbi Dovid Hochberg, LCSW-C, is the Director of Maryland Counseling Network, LLC, and a licensed psychotherapist in private practice. He can be reached at 410-764-2029 or


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Physical Violence Towards Children OK in the Frum Community of Baltimore?"
Are you trying to imply that the author of the article takes a permissive position for spanking? or is against spanking?

June 12, 2006 8:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are silly. Just because the article is written by someone from Baltimore is no reason make the statement, even as a question, regarding the entire community.

June 12, 2006 12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's funny, how much clout Hochberg has in Baltimore. To have something published in the where what when, basically means you have clearance from Hopfer and Heinemann.

This article skirts around the issue of physical violence without saying anything meaningful. I guess that's typical of the community leaderss when they have a serious problem and don't want anyone outside the ravs to know it. Could you imagine what would happen if outsiders knew that Baltimore is similar to the rest of the world, and that in some families physical violence towards children occurs?

Do those who have anger management problems know the difference between a "potch" and abuse.

Baltimore's Ner Israel community definitely needs a wake up call. I guess this the way Hochberg was admitting that there might be a problem. I'm tired of the BS.

June 12, 2006 5:34 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home