A few years ago there seemed to a lot of discussion around smacking and whether it belonged in any parents’ reservoir of disciplinary tools. Beating a child is wrong. Everyone can agree on that, as well as the old days of belts and paddles belonging in the past.
Now the Welsh government is launching a consultation on whether it should ban smacking outright. (I appeared on Sky News to debate the issue.)
Smacking – a personal parenting choice?
I’ve always felt personally that a light smack — done not in anger or frustration but used sparingly to make a very strong point — can be effective. I realise this is controversial. It also doesn’t have a place with babies and toddlers. But I think it does have its place.
When my daughter was younger, she once started to run into the road. She was old enough to know better and was doing it to be “naughty” and disobedient, laughing as I raised my voice sternly. “Come back here right now!” I said, reaching for her. She giggled, evaded my grasp and made for the road. I grabbed her arm, pulled her back onto the pavement and gave her what my mother would have called a “swat” on the behind. You could hear it more than it could be felt.
In that moment her eyes opened wide and her laughter evaporated. This was serious. “Do not ever run into the street like that! That is silly and dangerous!” I told her, looking eye to eye. She nodded soberly. Then we joined hands and continued our walk down to the high street for our afternoon outing.
In that moment it felt appropriate and effective.
Not all smacking is equal
There are two kinds of smacking of course. There is that used as discipline and that used because the parent is frustrated, angry, out of control. We’ve probably all seen parents out in public who “lose it” and it is a sorry sight to see. I get angry at these parents but I also can see they are at the end of their rope.
The problem with a ban on smacking is who is it really helping?
Do people who are injuring their children with severe beatings stop because it’s again the law? No, because it is already against the law to abuse and neglect your child.
Will people who employ it regularly stop? Some may, especially if they feel they are resorting it to when they’re not patient or clear-headed enough to discipline some other way. Some may not.
For occasional “smackers” like I was, I can’t see it having any effect, since it is employed so infrequently on a situational basis anyway.
‘There are better ways to parent’
One of the frequent statements by those for a smacking ban is that it is a bad parenting decision. There are other ways to punish your child, such as taking away a toy or electronic device, giving them a time out, cancelling an outing.
Let’s face it, with parenting, there is always another choice, another way to do things. In recent years there has been too much of this judgment about what other parents are doing. It feels that voices in the media or politics are always talking about parents doing too much of the wrong thing and not enough of the right thing. With “wrong” and “right” decided by the arbiter, guru, researcher or expert of the day.
The real result of a smacking ban
A smacking ban plays to this idea. It doesn’t get to the fear behind smacking — that children may be being abused or hurt by their parents and that parents are going mental with frustration, anger or fear of their own.
We’re better off going directly to parents who are at the end of their rope and finding valuable and realistic ways of supporting or, if necessary, containing them. A smacking ban will just extend the bureaucracy, become another item on the long list of good parent/bad parent and not help those families who really need it.