To smack or not to smack...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Corporal (from the Latin corpus for body) Punishment is the administration of physical punishment in order to correct undesirable behaviour.  Although banned in Scotland whilst the Welsh assembly try to ban it in Wales  it is perfectly legal in England to essentially hit your child, all in the name of discipline so long as the parent uses what can be deemed as 'reasonable force'.  So what exactly is reasonable force?  Until 1986, when it became outlawed, schools and prisons viewed corporal punishment as 'character building' and the act of administering it is possibly as old as human history itself, however what does it really teach?  Does it teach repentance?  Does it teach empathy?  Can you really make someone feel sorry?  Or is it merely used to inspire fear and to assert your own dominance and control?  Ever heard the phrase 'to beat someone into submission'? Basically agree with me or I will beat you until you are unable to disagree.  Physical discipline doesn't merely hurt the body it also breaks the spirit.

Surely if you can't be in control without reverting to physical punishment then you'll never be in control whilst administering it?  If you can't inspire authority without resorting to inflicting pain then surely you need to question whether you're genuinely an authority to be looked up to?

So what does the law really say?  Well, article 19 of the 1989 Convention On The Rights Of A Child states"Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation." 

Yet in England it still remains legal to physically discipline a child with reasonable force within the home so long as it doesn't contravene the 2004 Children Act which  makes it illegal to hit a child 'if it causes bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches' (which is punishable by up to five years in prison) unlike the rest of Europe where it is commonly not allowed, even in the home, to smack your child.  Even  Article 12 of the UN Convention on the rights of children (and potentially the Human Rights Act itself)  implies that it is illegal to smack children.

It doesn't matter how you word it, smacking, hitting, slapping it's all much of the same thing which is inflicting pain as punishment. Maybe it's a tap on the hand, a slap on the cheek, a quick slap of the bum or back of the legs....regardless it's all equal to inflicting pain.  If you dropped litter in the street and someone came up to you and smacked you, what would you think?  Would it not be assault?

There is always that old chestnut that is paraded out as anecdotal evidence where scientific evidence is lacking 'well I was smacked as a child and it didn't do me any harm'  On that basis, if you run a red light and no accident occurred does it make it the right thing to do?

Many parents are appalled if they have reports that their child has hurt another, yet if you punish your child by smacking them you're essentially teaching them that it is okay to hit someone, especially if they do something you don't like or won't do something you want them to do.  I've heard many stories over the years of parents teaching toddlers not to bite through biting them back.  Think about it for just a moment, you're telling your child it is wrong to do something, whilst doing that exact same thing to them.  Talk about mixed messages!  It's sheer hypocrisy

I was smacked as a child, I wasn't a particularly naughty child in the slightest, however I was the youngest of three with a Father who worked away a lot so it was my Mothers way of asserting her authority and control, shouting and a quick smack....or several.  I particularly remember one time, I must have been around seven years of age.  What it was I allegedly had or hadn't done escapes me yet I do remember being slapped across the legs continually whilst being backed into the downstairs loo until my legs were that red I wasn't allowed to go out and play until the redness disappeared.  I remember the punishment yet not what I had supposedly done wrong. Through asserting control one can lose control.  As an adult I can clearly see it was my Mothers own exasperation and frustration being poured into my punishment so what was supposed to be my punishment was perhaps more a reflection of my mums own struggles.  Did being smacked make us behave any better?  No.  It just made us work harder to not be caught.  Did it enforce and create respect for her?  No.  It made me at times utterly despise her.  Did it ensure I was submissive?  Hardly.  I distinctly remember as a teenager, my mum stating mid argument that I apparently wasn't too old to get a smack.  My response? 'Try it.  I'm bigger than you now.  Hit me and I'll hit you back' I became emboldened and we'd have venomous verbal cat fights that reverberated around the house.  I was equal now.  I wasn't frightened anymore.  Was my Mum a bad Mother?  Far from it.  I adore my mother, she was very isolated and dealt with three children without support in the only way she knew how.

It didn't make it right though.

I have a ferocious temper, like a lit fire cracker. However, I have never laid a finger on anyone midst disagreement.  Ever.  I avoid physical conflict like the plague.  The only person since childhood that I have allowed to inflict pain in the form of punishment upon my person is myself, in the form of self harm.  Is it co-incidence that that too was an attempt to assert some element of control over self and life?  

As parents, The Husband and I are categorically none smackers.  Don't get us wrong we are a million miles away from perfect, we're shouters.  Big shouters.  Think a banshee on the blob type screeching occasionally.  I openly admit this too is wrong, yet we never physically punish.  We use reasoning, logic, reflection, empathy and removal of privileges to help them understand what they did and why it was wrong and what they could/should have done instead.  We also made it clear from day one to The Grandparents that no physical discipline is to ever be used, something that they have respected when looking after The Spawn.  Despite not smacking we have three impeccably behaved children, in public and in school.  Not for fear of consequence but rather through understanding and respecting authority, boundaries  manners and basic right from wrong.  They have never hit or bitten another child.  They're no angels, we have our fair share of confrontations with Thing One and The Toddler at home, yet surely the fact they can behave outside of the home yet let go slightly at home is testament to the effort they expend behaving elsewhere and the fact they feel safe and secure enough at home to challenge things.  You may not I didn't mention Thing Two, she's the anomaly and is rarely ever remotely misbehaved, ever.  She must be adopted.  

Have I ever been tempted to hit? Of course.  I'm human.  The important thing is that I recognise with every human fibre and every maternal instinct that it would be the wrong thing to do.

I've lost count of the number of times I've seen young toddlers dragged in the streets for being too slow or too curious.  If you don't have the time to indulge in the wonder that is the world to your toddler or you're in a hurry...put them in a sling or buggy.  Don't destroy their wonder and curiosity because of your own bad planning.  They're little, they have little legs.

remember being in a supermarket once and hearing a mother or grandmother chastise a child and then slap them so hard, I could hear it three aisles away.  This isn't only ineffective parenting, it's lazy parenting.  It's not instinctive it's reactive.  Another time on a bus, an infant in it's buggy was constantly removing it's shoes, the mother tapped it's foot, hard. The child becomes immune to the effects, I can guarantee that was neither the first nor the last time that child was slapped that day.  I also assume that the adult didn't know that as it was outside the home, the act of physical discipline was actually dancing on a very thin line of being illegal.

Respect is earned, it cannot be beaten into somebody.

If you smack a child, yet they repeat the so-called offence, what then? smack harder? what about the time after?  Where does it stop? It then becomes a battle of wills, where do you go now? hit until they physically can't do it again?  what about if you were in a bad mood before the smack-worthy incident happened, how do you prevent your own frustration and exasperation from powering your physical punishment of your child?

There is no safe level or threshold of how many times or how hard you can physically punish a child.

So what exactly does spanking achieve?

* It teaches children to hide the behaviour from their parents rather than stop the behaviour.
* Builds up fear and resentment towards those they should trust most.
* it teaches them that violence solves problems.
* Teaches them that it's okay to hurt somebody and they may model this behaviour on others.
* You lose respect and devalue yourself as a parent and figure of authority.  True authority is gained through trust and fairness not fear and pain.
* Eventually the child will come to accept and expect it, it will lose it's initial shock factor and power.
* Some children may find it difficult to accept love from the hand that hits.
* It fails to present an alternative more acceptable behaviour.
* Increases chance of mental health disorders in later life and social problems.
* You run the risk of breaking something precious between parent and child.
* You devalue your child.  Their self image, value and worth start with you, the parents.  Even if you apologise and cuddle after the punishment your child still see's themselves as bad, because you did.  If you drop a glass and break it yet say sorry, is the glass still broken? yes.

"Studies shows physical punishment has a range of health and social consequences and is not an effective form of discipline. Some of the specific findings include:

What can you do instead?

* Count to ten, if you still feel angry enough to hit walk away until you are calm ensuring the child is in a safe place.
* Talk about it.  Explain what they did wrong, why it is wrong, what they could have done instead.
* Issue consequences and always follow through.
* Distract your child and steer them towards a more acceptable behavior or activity.
* Remove either the child from the situation of confiscate the item that is being misused.
* If your child is doing something purely to gain a reaction from you, ignore the behaviour.
* Pick your battles, sometimes you have to ask yourself in the grand scheme of things, is it really worth it?  Sometimes you just have to let go.
* Always remember to mention when they're doing something right as opposed to always focusing on what they do wrong.


  1. Thank you for this post it's very useful. As someone with a quick temper I have been known to give a few smacked bottoms but as soon as I have done it I reflect on that and feel very guilty because I am reacting and losing control when actually I am perfectly capable of dealing with situations. A very good post I shall come back to in those fraught moments no doubt! I'd also like to thank you for your wording in this post, lots have touched upon this subject before but with far more ranting and judgment than is necessary x

  2. I Never want to smack Ethan - To be honest I wish I didn't have to shout but there are times when the only way I can make him listen is my 'loud voice' as he calls it and he doesn't like me doing it so I explain that I don't like it either but sometimes it's important that I get his attention (when he's doing something dangerous eg) (though I do admit to using my loud voice just because he won't listen, even outside of dangerous situations)

    I do know some people who have only smacked once or twice and that's when their child was about to run in to traffic, or even started to and had to be grabbed - It's been explained to me that in that situation they wanted to shock the child into realising how dangerous the consequences are. I understand the logic, I understand why people might do that and wouldn't be against them for it as we do very rash things when our children are in danger.

    I'd still try not to do it, though, I'd shout and I'd grab him to stop him running in to traffic but rather than smacking I'd try to talk to him about how dangerous it is and be very serious and as honest as is possible with a three year old.

    I know why people do it, and understand it - I chose not to, though, because I like to stop and talk to Ethan because I want him to understand not just be punished.

  3. Hannah> Thankyou for reading and or commenting. Was hoping it would make people pause for thought rather than come across ranty and aggressive so glad it seems I achieved that :)

    Laura> It's one thing to grab a child to get them out of traffics way but imo smacking them, even in all that adrenalin soaked situation though I can understand why a person would go verbally mental in that situation.

    Thanks for reading :)


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