A brief guide to the line where physical child discipline becomes illegal.
Sometimes I get asked where the line is in terms of physical discipline of children (hitting, spanking, etc.).
In the State of Washington, physical child abuse is not its own crime, but is instead encompassed by the crime of "assault." Assault is broadly defined as any harmful or offensive touching done without the consent/permission of the other person.
However, there is a defense to this allegation if the person accused of assault is a parent or the discipline and the alleged victim is a child. Force is authorized if it is approved in advance by the child's legal parent or guardian for the purposes of restraining or correcting the child.
Any force used must be reasonable and moderate. Also, the law in question, RCW 9A.16.100, presumes that certain forms of discipline are unreasonable (illegal). Those actions are: throwing, kicking, burning, or cutting a child; striking a child with a closed fist; shaking a child under 3; interfering with a child's breathing; threatening a child with a deadly weapon; or any other act that either causes or is likely to cause harm greater than transient pain or temporary marks.
So, physical discipline is acceptable to a degree. It is important to now come close to the line as it could end up in criminal court (and CPS court).
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