To smack or not to smack

Okay, I am going to just say it…..I don’t believe in smacking. I know a lot of people are going to disagree with me but after working with children for more than 20 years I just don’t believe that smacking is an effective method of discipline.

Like most kids bought up in the 70’s I was smacked as a child. And my mother did use the wooden spoon on my three siblings and me on more than one or two occasions. My father also hit us, not regularly though, with an open hand and it was, to say the least, a huge shock if nothing else. As a method of discipline I don’t think it really did anything other than cause me to despise that particular parent for the rest of that particular day and devise ways to run away to a utopian world for me and my 12 favourite dolls.

So now as an adult I just really cannot reconcile how hitting a child could possibly teach them the difference between right and wrong. We spend years and years trying to grow our children into functioning, polite, well-rounded little individuals – who don’t hit other children or behave in a way that is not socially acceptable. To them we are role-models, we are the primary adults in their lives, we are their educators and their protectors. They trust us completely and depend solely upon us.  Why then would we inflict such a barbaric form of discipline on a little thing who is so vulnerable. Not only is it plain cruel, it seems bizarre that in a world where we are put in prison for inflicting harm on animals, people still think it is okay to hit a child.

As a form of disciplining a child I believe that smacking is actually a compulsive reaction from parents to a situation that has got out of their control. And this compulsion to smack comes from the fact that they were probably disciplined in this same way as a child. When we are pushed and stressed we fall back on what we learnt and how we were bought up. And for many of us that was by being smacked when we did something wrong.

Is using this compulsive reaction a great way to respond to a situation that really requires some thought? What you say to your child or how you respond to something they have done is the foundation to how they see themselves now and for their future. I think how you discipline your child, like other major milestones in a child’s life, is something parents should discuss together, when the child is young and come up with a strategy that both parents will use when needed. And we all know that you will need a strategy. Children are designed to push us and push boundaries , that is how they learn. So something that is effective, has a long lasting effect and allows a child to understand, as much as they can, what they may have done wrong and why they are being punished.

I have asked many parents over the years about how they felt after they had smacked their child and nine times out of ten they always say that they felt awful, dreadful, guilty and ashamed. They then apologised to the child and spent the rest of the day compensating for that moment they lost control. A great lesson for the child? An effective technique that taught them the consequences of doing something not acceptable? I don’t think so.

There are many ways you can teach a child right from wrong, boundaries and consequences for actions but it doesn’t have to be with violence. And I am sorry but I do think that any form of smacking, be it a little smack on the wrist or a wooden spoon to the buttocks, is a violent and extreme response by an adult to young, innocent child who is finding out about what is means to be a human being in this world.

Dr Justin Coulson from Happy Families has the research to back up my argument. On his blog in the posts “The UGLY truth about smacking our kids” (part 1 and part 2), Justin cites recent research that in the journal, Pediatrics, which indicates that children who are spanked are at a greater likelihood of developing aggressive behaviours themselves.

And another research article found that “smacking kids is positively related to what psychologists refer to as ‘externalising’ behaviour – that is, behaviour related to acting out, being aggressive or oppositional, or even being hyperactive.  The same study showed spanking was associated with increased levels of anxiety, depressive characteristics, and withdrawal.”

And other research has shown that smacking can affect a child’s brain development, in that it actually affects how smart they will be. Is this a good outcome? Is this what we want for our children? Aren’t we really supposed to be giving them the best start possible?


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