Pressured parent can cause pain
Smacking a child is of no use. It causes them pain. It builds distance between the child and the adult, the parent and son. For a tired pressured parent it can be a cathartic experience. Whatever the misdemeanour, that in the eyes of the Mum or Dad, Nan or Grandad, caused such a violent reaction, the smack will trigger shock, tears and wonder. Why has this person I rely on and who loves me hurt me. What is love? Is it violent?
Smacks are an abiding memory
A 50 year old friend still remembers the disciplinary smacks he received from his father. To make him listen, to make him stronger, to be a man. But worse still he remembers that his younger brother received no such form of discipline. His Dad had worked out smacking did not work but could not take back the damage it has already done to his older son.
Smacking creates fear, dislike and damages relationships. It is about negative and abusive power. It teaches little of value.
Don’t defend it
Those who suffered physical abuse at home or at school can say ‘ it didn’t do me any harm’. But I refer here to Rupert Everitt who candidly described his time at residential school as a time which causes young people to calcify their emotions. Prince Charles is reported to have referred to his physically and emotionally abusive school years in negative terms. An outcome of using hand smacking, weapon hitting and so forth as a form of discipline is to stunt emotional development, remove emotional literacy and make an adult defend their survival of it as a good thing. It is not.
What lesson does it teach?
At its worst smacking may be the start of a lifetime of including physical pain as a necessary part of life. At its best it may teach a child never to repeat the action with their children. My mother was a mix. She smacked my recalcitrant brother many times to which he shouted ‘that didn’t hurt’ but never me. Boy v girl bias here too?
If a child is pre lingual…has no words…. Then diverting him or her from the ‘bad behaviour’ to a new activity, or physically removing them seems to work. But adding an explanation of why the finger through the fire grill, or the attempt to open an hot oven are dangerous and not allowed, is still needed. While unable to verbalise a response a baby will be learning through listening to words far earlier than they use them.
We have found with some of the children building anticipation is enough ….’if you do not stop doing x in 5 seconds you’ll be in trouble’’. With the first and second child we never reached 5. With the third it was more of a challenge so a louder stern voice was added to the end if 5 was reached. He hated that.
Time to think
We have also used the ‘thinking step’ applied at the local school. The 2 year old now judges for himself if his behaviour has crossed the line of fun and respect set by the family. He runs straight to the bottom step of the stairs and sits. When asked why he says ‘ I am thinking Nanny’…’what about I ask’, ‘throwing the train at Duncan’ …;’ what do you want to do now?’ ‘say sorry Nanny’… and off we go. Feels a little strange this self managed discipline but so far so good.
Setting clear, enforceable boundaries and being consistent about the rules and expectations all reduce the risk of behaviour spiralling out of control. They should also make a child feel safe.
More legal protection is needed
In England the law on smacking is too thin and our tolerance as a society too great. A parent can still hit a child if it can be shown to be a ‘reasonable punishment’ . Whether punishment is an abuse or a parental right remains a matter of hot debate with such as the NSPCC calling for a complete ban to smacking. I agree.
To be an ‘unreasonable punishment’ the smack would leave a mark on the child, or an implement like a belt or stick would have been used to hit the child.
Even more concerning is that a parent can give another person consent to smack their child, such as a babysitter or grandparent. I do not want that right and thankfully my daughter abhors the idea as well. We are still not a society which respects and cares for our children sufficiently well.
In Scotland a total ban was placed on the physical punishment of children in 2019 and from 2022 there is to be a ban in Wales. In fact 58 nation states have banned physical punishment as well as Wales and Scotland. The first was in 1979. The shadows of ‘the birch’ and a ‘good caning will sort the boy out’ still hang about the air in England.
The ban of smacking does not prevent ‘A parent’s right to carry a child to a time-out area, stop them running into the road or dress them’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-51266509
Parents can be challenged
I once had to stop a Spanish tourist who was repeatedly hitting her 8-9 year old son in the street. She and her husband had two other children and were visiting Parliament Square. There was an abundance of police officers in sight. Clearly her attacks were not reasonable at all. They were aggressive, angry and persistent. I told the mother to stop immediately and beckoned a watching a police officer over. What I had seen was an abuse of this poor child I told him. I wanted him to act. Her husband stepped forward having not intervened at all until now. He defended his wife but not his child. I suspect I had seen the tip of a ‘family iceberg’. The police reprimanded the couple, made Dad promise to ensure it did not happen again! They went on their way.
Calling out what we see in the supermarket, on the street or in our own families matters. Children need a society which cares. Pressured parents need guidance and support.
- NEVER include smacking a child as part of your relationship with your child.
- Talk to others if you feel stuck for new ideas
- Prioritise reinforcing good behaviour and giving time to your child