Smacking: Part of parenting or child abuse?

Word discipline on chalkboard 610

 

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. 

 

 

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About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at Jenography.net, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.

6 Responses to Smacking: Part of parenting or child abuse?

  1. Nadine Hill 10 January 2018 at 09:57 #

    Interesting post Jen. It is certainly a divisive subject, for example, you make the point that ‘the problem with a ban on smacking is who is it really helping?’, it made me think that ‘who is smacking really helping?’
    I can totally see your point of view and you make a valid point – those who are abusing their children won’t stop because as you say – it is already against the law to do that. However a smack as a form of discipline may help in the moment – to get the gravity of the situation across to the child, but how does that play out in the long term? What are we teaching them by giving a smack? That it’s ok to hit another person as long as we have a good reason? That goes against what we also teach them in the soft play areas as toddlers – it is not ok to hit another child. So how do we maintain our authority and be respected by the child if we say one thing and do another? My personal situation is that I would prefer to discipline my child in another way – a stern talking to or removal of privileges for a time. However I have to admit that in a situation where I was at the end of my rope with sheer exhaustion, frustration and fear, I did smack my child. It worked at the time for stopping the behaviour I wanted to stop, but I felt like a failure and cried afterwards. It was a loss of control rather than an intended method of discipline, and I hated myself for it. Would a smacking ban have stopped this from happening? I really don’t know – because it wasn’t a thought out and pre-planned ‘punishment’ – it was a heat of the moment one.
    There may be families out there that are smacking regularly because they have no idea of other ways to control behaviour or relate to their children when the sea is choppy. These families need extra support – to penalise them or criminalise them would I suspect, intensify the negative cycle they are in and make things worse.
    There is too much judgement these days of what parents are doing and whilst vulnerable children must of course be protected, I don’t agree with too much Government intervention on family relationships – the nanny state. In an ideal world, parents would be empowered to run their homes as they see fit. Ultimately I believe that we are all doing the best we can and what we want is to raise children who become happy adults and good contributors to society – the next solid generation. My wish is that as our society continues to evolve, we all find more enlightened ways to instil discipline. We have come a long way from the cavemen era.

    • Toni Hargis 10 January 2018 at 21:40 #

      If smacking were banned it would allow members of the public to intervene more readily if we saw obviously abusive behaviour. Most of us now rarely say anything.

      • Jennifer Howze 15 January 2018 at 15:33 #

        Toni, interesting point. Do we think it would help children…and those parents who are out of control?

    • Jennifer Howze 15 January 2018 at 15:26 #

      Great points, Nadine. I accept that my view is one that many folks will disagree with. I think I smacked my daughter a total of two times in her life. But I do think there is a difference between accepted adult behaviour and accepted behaviour for kids. After all, many adults smoke but it’s something we would keep our children from doing.

      Thanks for your thoughtful response!

  2. Homeschool mum 14 January 2018 at 11:51 #

    I had a child who times outs, star charts and praise didn’t work, and these things don’t work for many kids I was told I was a bad parent. No parenting classes take a child’s past, personality or background into account. The only way I found was to take advice about children with a little known condition called Pathalogical Demand Avoidence.
    I was at the end of my rope especially with all the court cases about school attendance.In the end my son was diagnosed with mild ASD. Detentions and praise didn’t work at school either. I did some things I regret because of pressure of work and threats from the L.A.

    I can see how if nothing else works a smack may seem like the answe. More help is needed for parents and we need a proper look at kids who the insurctions will never work.

    • Jennifer Howze 15 January 2018 at 15:29 #

      Thanks so much for your comments. Something it seems we all agree on is that some parents really do need more support and that not every discipline approach suits every child or every family.

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