Kronzek Firm Attorneys

Spanking: Points to Consider When Disciplining a Child in Michigan

Girl hiding from parent under a bed

Is spanking abuse or discipline? Michigan law is clear on the difference.

Spanking is a topic that we have discussed on numerous occasions in the past. Why? Because it is a controversial subject that many people don’t agree on. Add to that the fact that the law isn’t as cut and dried as we may like, and the whole topic can get pretty complicated. So in that light, we would like to provide a few quick pointers for parents and caregivers to consider when deciding how to go about disciplining a child.

Some months ago we did a two part series on whether or not spanking is the right choice for parents. We looked at the pros and cons of corporal punishment, and even talked about what mental health professionals recommend. If you would like to read that in depth breakdown of spanking and it’s possible consequences, read this. Here, however, we would just like to provide a few points to think about for parents who have already decided that spanking is the right form of discipline for their children.

Michigan law defines child abuse as “harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare that occurs through non accidental physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, or maltreatment.” Spanking however, is legal in Michigan, and is considered to be the exception to this rule. That doesn’t mean, however, that a parent may indiscriminately hit a child and claim that it was nothing more than discipline.

Spanking a child for a poor choice or for bad behavior is still relatively common among parents, although most parents choose to spank their children only when the behavior is dangerous or severe. In these cases the use of physical force is often justified as necessary because fear of pain is the only way a child will learn not to jeopardize their own life, or make potentially disastrous choices.

The difficulty comes in when the parent’s frustration causes excessive use of force that could be interpreted as violence or abuse. Or when a child mentions that they have been hit to a teacher or other mandated reporter, who then calls CPS because they are uncertain of whether or not abuse has taken place. All of this leaves parents confused about what is best, and also what is safest, both for themselves, and for their children.

The truth is that, when it comes to spanking, the ultimate decision lies with you. While the law doesn’t provide a clear answer for when an attempt at discipline spills over into child abuse, logic would suggest that if you choose to use corporal punishment as a method of discipline, remember these few guidelines:

Guidelines for parents who choose corporal punishment:

  • Never hit a child in anger. If you need to take some time to calm down first before disciplining them, then do so. You will be glad of it later, as anger often causes one to lose perspective and make poor choices in the moment.
  • If you are going to spank a child, only ever hit them with your open hand. Never use an object, and never use your closed fist.
  • Never strike a child anywhere on their head or neck. In fact, it is best if you confine any spankings to their bottom. It is also best if you keep their bottom clothed at the time of the spanking.
  • Make sure the punishment fits the crime. For those who choose to use spanking as a method of discipline, we recommend not using it for every infraction. Rather, because it tends to be more harsh than time outs and confiscation of toys or privileges, employ it only when the action is serious and merits a more severe punishment.

Brandy Thomas, one of the Firm’s most experienced CPS defense attorneys says that although there is a lot of grey area when it comes to spanking, there is one hard and fast rule: “Never spank hard enough to leave a mark of any sort. The presence of a mark is considered crossing the line from discipline to abuse. At that point there is a tangible “injury” to the child. Any mark, even slight, can be used as evidence of child abuse.”

We hope this quick overview has been helpful, and has given you some things to think about when making disciplinary decisions in future. If however, you are still unsure of what your rights are as a parent, or are fearful that you have violated the law, please feel free to contact us. We have years of experience helping parents who have been falsely accused of child abuse, or simply have questions about the law. Call us today at 866-346-5879. We are here to help.

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