I have an eleven-year-old daughter, and I am eight months pregnant. Tired of the fact that my daughter has been lying to me about her homework and tests for the entire year, I had a talk with her and told her that she has to do better. But two days ago I got fed up and punished her, pulling her hair and hitting her on her head, her shoulders, and her backside. I didn’t even recognize myself, not ever having lashed out at her like that before, and I went into another room and cried.

A little while later, I went to my daughter, spoke to her, hugged her, and asked for her forgiveness. She said, “There’s nothing to forgive you for. I deserve it. What hurt was not the blows, but seeing you cry. I love you very much!” That made me feel even worse…. I didn’t stop crying all that day or night.

Dear Friend,

Pregnancy can cause an imbalance in hormones, with the potential of resulting in heightened emotional responses. However, while your pregnancy may have contributed to the fact that you overreacted, being pregnant is no excuse for the physical abuse of a child. And though we are happy that your daughter wasn’t physically hurt, that does not excuse you for what you did either.

You say that you punished your daughter by pulling her hair and hitting her on the head and shoulders. That was not appropriate punishment. It was an angry act of violence. Punishment that is appropriate in disciplining a child is very different from what you have described. It is never accompanied by rage. And it is never administered with a loud voice and a lack of self-control.

Once children are old enough to reason, usually around seven or eight, it is no longer effective or desirable to use even the mildest form of physical punishment on them, such as swatting them on the backside in private. Now that they are old enough to remember for days or weeks what they did wrong, the most effective consequences for such children are to remove certain privileges and restrict them from social interactions with their friends. Parents who resort to hitting them generally lack the self-discipline to be consistent with more appropriate punishments.

Talking, screaming, and threatening are not appropriate forms of punishment, and yet they are the only attempts that some parents make. They talk longer, scream louder, and threaten more harsh consequences, and when those actions don’t get the desired response, they resort to physical violence. And once they have punished in anger, using violence, the chances are high that it will happen again.

You need to find someone to whom you can be accountable. If you cannot get a professional counselor, then speak to a friend or relative who is a good listener and whom you respect. Ask that person to check up on you every few days to make sure that you have not resorted to further violence and abuse. When you know that the person will be holding you accountable, you will have stronger motivation to prevent that from recurring. We also recommend that you read the Bible, beginning with the book of Proverbs, to learn about self-control, and that you pray daily and ask God for His help.

We wish you well,