When the Crisis Point Leads to Physical Child Abuse


At GKI, ocaleb-woods-182648-unsplashur vision is to “protect children and their childhoods, while giving every parent the opportunity to feel confident and competent.” With April kicking off Child Abuse Prevention Month, it seems like the perfect opportunity to focus on the roots of what guides our practices as home visitors. As each of you enter homes and create conversations around the topics laid out in your GGK and GGF curriculum, you are striving to protect children and their childhoods, while empowering parents to feel confident and competent. As home visitors we often hope for a world that is child abuse free. We want to imagine a place where every child feels loved, valued, and safe. Home visitors are working hard every day to provide families with the information and support needed to foster children who grow up with childhoods they cherish as adults. In our blog this month, we will be focusing on the topic of child abuse, punishment and what modules can be used as tools in preventing child maltreatment.

According to the CDC (2016), there are various types of child abuse/neglect, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Though there are multiple forms of child abuse/neglect, in this post we will focus on physical abuse, leading us into our conversation about punishment.

Researchers have found that physical child abuse (PCA) is a serious health problem worldwide. PCA has a high prevalence and is known to increase the risk of physical and mental health problems and harmful social outcomes (Annerbäcka, Sahlqvistb, Svedina, Wingrenc, Gustafssond, 2012; Nillsson, Nordås, Pribe, Svedin, 2017). A history of PCA is linked to the use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco (Annerbäcka et al., 2012). In addition to these behaviors, children who experience PCA may also have concerns with anxiety, depression and low-self-esteem in adulthood (Nilsson et al., 2017).

Sometimes we think of childhood as something that can be forgotten or left in the past. We don’t want to imagine that because children are exposed to physical abuse, their adult life may present extra challenges. Fortunately, home visitors have the opportunity to help prevent PCA by starting conversations with parents about punishment and the negative effects that can arise from physical punishment.

Before we dive into this, let’s first discuss some of the reasons PCA may occur. The CDC (2016) shares that caregivers who use physical punishment may not intend for some of the the consequences that can result. When parents use physical punishment without the intention of injuring a child, but injuries occur, PCA is still the result. You might be asking what you can do as a home visitor to ensure that the families you serve do not experience these situations. An important step in preventing PCA is helping caregivers understand the difference between punishment and discipline.

According to Ginsburg (2016), discipline is about guidance, not punishment. Punishment often happens when a parent reaches their crisis point. For example, a parent may tell a child to clean up their toys, but the child decides not to listen to this command. As a result, the parent begins to threaten the child to clean up their toys, yet the child still does not respond to the threats. This can lead parents to their crisis point where punishment might occur. The concern with parents reaching their crisis point is that the punishment the parent assigns to the child is usually much worse than the “crime” carried out by the child. Daniel Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson, well acclaimed psychiatrists that have extensive knowledge of how a child’s brain is wired, remind us of the purpose of discipline.

According to Siegal and Bryson (2016):

“Effective discipline means that we’re not only stopping a bad behavior or promoting a good one, but also teaching skills and nurturing the connections in our children’s brains that will help them make better decisions and handle themselves well in the future. ” (p.xix)

When we look at this quote in combination with how Ginsburg (2016) defines discipline, we begin to realize that discipline is about guiding a child into good behavior, yet punishment usually occurs from a crisis point. If parents provide a punishment at a time when they are overwhelmed, angry and exhausted then it’s possible that PCA may occur. Remember the CDC (2016) explains that even though a caregiver seeks to use physical punishment, intending not to cause injury in the process, harm may still be done to the child. Many of us have reached our crisis point at one time or another and can probably remember that when we reach this level, we don’t feel like we have much control. As a home visitor who probably works hard to advocate for a world free of child abuse, you might be asking yourself how you can encourage discipline instead of punishment.

Home visitors, there is great news for you! There are discipline modules located throughout your GGF and GGK curriculum. You can even find a module that describes the difference between discipline and punishment. Please see the list below for modules and subsections that can guide you in your journey of creating conversation around safe and effective discipline strategies for parents.


Unit 3 Module 1: Discipline and Punishment: What Is the Difference?

Unit 3 Module 2: Discipline: Strategies for Growing Self-Regulation

Unit 3 Module 3: Discipline: “Dial It Down Time” And Spanking

GGK Birth to 12 Months

10-12 Months Social and Emotional Development: Subsection-Discipline Follow Up

13-24 Months

13 to 15 Months Cues and Communication: Subsection-Yelling: Can Toddlers Listen?


Remember April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Be an advocate for all children. Kids deserve a childhood free of trauma and memories that they can cherish as an adult.



Annerbäcka, E.-M., Sahlqvist, L., Svedina, C. G., Wingrenc, G., & Gustafssond. P. A.

(2012). Child physical abuse and concurrence of other types of child abuse in

Sweden-associations with health and risk behaviors. Child Abuse & Neglect, 36,

585-595. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chiabu.2012.05.006

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, April 5). Child abuse and neglect:

Definitions. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/


Ginsburg, K. R. (2016, January 16). Discipline strategies. Retrieved from:



Nilsson, D., Nordåsa, E., Pribe, G., Svedin. C.G. (2017). Child physical abuse-high school

student’s mental health and parental relations depending on who perpetrated the

abuse. Child abuse and neglect, 70, 28-38. doi: http://dx.doi.org/


Siegal, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2016). No-Drama Discipline. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

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