Corporal punishment in the 1890s. Picture: Hulton/Getty

 

 

Smacking

“It feels like someone banged you with a hammer.” (five-year-old girl)

“Sometimes if you smack, if it was an adult like my daddy, he can smack very hard … he can smack you like a stone … and you’ll cry.” (seven-year-old boy)

It Hurts You Inside: Children Talking About Smacking by Carolyne Willow and Tina Hyder (copyright National Children’s Bureau and Save the Children.

Pause to Ponder

We have made it illegal to smoke in cars carrying children as we protect them from smoking-related disease – but we have failed to protect them from physical attack by adults.

Where’s the sense in that?

Hitting children doesn’t work, but we are still reticent to talk about abuse and violence in the home.

A hundred years ago, people were allowed to hit their wives, their dogs and their children. It speaks to the values of our society that we are still arguing over whether it’s OK to hit children. In 20 years’ time people, I hope we will look back and say: ‘It’s bizarre this was allowed to happen.

Smacking children was banned in Sweden in 1979, a radical world first. Since then, many more countries have implemented laws against corporal punishment of children but the Law in the UK is unclear and refers to “justifiable assault” but it is illegal for children to be hit on the head, shaken or struck with an implement such as a belt.

So, it is your legal right as a parent to hit your children provided that you don’t leave a tell-tale mark, bruising or blood. Of course, no one is assessing the mental or emotional scars left behind by your actions but you don’t need to fret about that.

The indignity and humiliation of being struck by a larger person – especially someone who should be your protector – can have far reaching consequences. It damages trust between you, it damages your child’s self-esteem, your child may become afraid of you, they learn that making mistakes is not OK, they learn that’s it’s acceptable to hit another person if you are tired, angry, or not getting your own way, they learn that people don’t respect you enough to talk & teach you.

They may become traumatised & suffer long term mental health by being hit, smacked, shaken or tapped hard.

The UK is now one of only three European countries not to have outlawed the practice (Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic.)

Globally, the number of countries which have introduced a ban stands at 52. In 2014, the UN issued a high-profile rebuke to the UK nations for not complying with its Convention on the Rights of the Child.

People seem to think that a ‘little tap’ is OK but if you made a mistake at work and your boss hit you would you still feel the same way?

People use terms like it’s a “loving smack”. It sounds cuddly, cutesy & cosy. All in my child’s best interest. As if it won’t hurt much. But try hit, attack, or assault and that’s a bit more uncomfortable.

I asked Eammon Holmes on ITV ‘This Morning’ once ‘When do you start, when they’re babies? When do you stop? When they are 16 & taller and stronger than you, & say ‘That didn’t hurt?’

As a former Deputy Head and Class Teacher for 25 years if a child hit another child I would intervene and call that aggression and teach them a better way to handle their anger or frustration or temper.

So, what’s the difference with a parent feeling anger or frustration & learning to make better choices?

 

Getting the facts straight

Sweden was the first country to abolish spanking, slapping, smacking, pinching, hair-pulling, whipping, paddling – corporal punishment by any name, or means, and according to Staffan Janson, paediatrician and professor of public health in the Swedish city of Karlstad there is no evidence that the abolition of corporal punishment leads to higher crime rates. And parents are not jailed for a single spanking, just as adults are not imprisoned for slapping another adult once.

Research also shows that serious child abuse decreases when countries abolish corporal punishment.

In Ireland, where smacking is banned, there has been no increase in children going into care either. In fact, social workers have said it has made things easier and has improved relationships with parents because they no longer have to get into a moral debate over what is OK when it comes to hitting a child, they can just say: ‘It’s not acceptable, so let’s look at other strategies.”

‘Small children below the age of five or six lack the mental capacity to comprehend the reasons for a spanking’, Janson says. ‘Nor can they remember that reason from one time to another. In the absence of a ban, then, parents are tempted to use harsher and harsher means, which in a stressful situation may turn into brutal child abuse.’

What is the guidance of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)?

Gives a bad example of how to handle strong emotions

May lead children to hit or bully others

May encourage children to lie or hide feelings to avoid smacking

It can make defiant behaviour worse, so discipline gets even harder

Leads to a resentful and angry child, damages family relationship if it continues for a long time.

It’s in My Child’s Best Interest.

The excuse is usually that parents hit their children out of good intentions, or that it is in their “best interests” but how can that be true?

What message does a child receive when the people that they love, trust & feel are there to protect them, strike them? These people are also bigger, taller & stronger than them.

What must a child feel?

Surely there are SO many other ways to discipline a child than to smack them.

It means that a parent has lost their ability to control themselves & lacks the parenting skills required to discipline a child without having to physically hurt them.

I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve heard the same old chestnut of ‘I was smacked as a child and it didn’t do me any harm’ – but are you sure?

I was struck only once between the legs with a very thin willow branch by my Mum when I was about 6 and I ran out of the house & down the road and was terrified that she’d do it again. I remember going under the sink cupboard to break the stick in half. I was an only child & a good little girl, keen to please and when my Dad came home that night he sat me down with my Mum, and broke the very thin willow branch in half and told me that it would NEVER be used again.

My Mum was the eldest of 7 from Ireland and in those days, that’s probably how my grandad disciplined the kids way back then, that’s the trouble with parenting we tend to repeat what we know, unless we didn’t like it and we choose to do something else.

My Mum, of course, loved me to pieces but I still remember that day.

I believe that there are so many other ways to teach your child self-discipline, self-control, right from wrong and how to learn from mistakes, rather than shaking them, yelling aggressively at them or smacking them.

And yes, I know kids press our buttons, wind us up, get on our nerves and are disobedient.

Smacking doesn’t work.

A study undertaken by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan, and published in the Journal of Family Psychology, analysing 50 years’ worth of research conducted on more than 160,000 children concluded “spanking” – defined as “hitting a child on their buttocks or extremities using an open hand” – was linked to 13 negative outcomes & had a long lasting impact into adulthood, including greater aggression, more antisocial behaviour, more mental health problems, poorer life skills, more negative relationships with parents, lower cognitive ability, and lower self-esteem.

The researchers concluded: “Spanking children to correct misbehaviour is a widespread practice, yet one shrouded in debate about its effectiveness and even its appropriateness. The meta-analyses presented here found no evidence that spanking is associated with improved child behaviour and rather found spanking to be associated with increased risk of 13 developmental outcomes.

Parents who use spanking, practitioners who recommend it, and policymakers who allow it might reconsider doing so given that there is no evidence that spanking does any good for children and all evidence points to the risk of it doing harm.”

Another study of 33 US families with children aged between two and five found that in three-quarters of incidents, children who were spanked misbehaved again within ten minutes.

In 2015, academics commissioned by Scots charities to investigate 74 studies across the world, called for smacking to be outlawed after finding “compelling” evidence it creates a “vicious circle” of conflict and violence that carries on into adulthood.

Despite this, smacking bans continue to provoke controversy in some countries. Earlier this year, the government in France, where 85 per cent of parents are said to administer la fessée – a spanking – expanded the definition of parental authority in the Civil Code to include rejecting “all cruel, degrading and humiliating treatment, including all recourse to corporal violence”.

Research by UNICEF sadly records that around the world 80 per cent of children are subjected to some form of routine hitting or beating as a form of discipline.

The Nanny State

I also meet a lot of people who think the government shouldn’t be dabbling in telling parents how to bring up their kids. (But Governments legislate about public smoking, recycling, poor diet & mental health)

This is not about the Nanny State it’s about good practice and protecting children from harm. I don’t believe we should be punishing parents who are doing their best in difficult circumstances. I believe the aim is to clarify what is and isn’t good parenting, and accelerate a cultural shift away from smacking.

Perhaps a ban would provide plans for additional parental support for those who are struggling to cope & need better ways to discipline their children & to help them to look at other ways of dealing with stressful moments.

A change in the law would make it easier for teachers, police, the public and others to explain to parents that hitting children is wrong and why.

At the moment, bad parenting can be made worse by the knowledge that the law supports it.

It is hard to parent with patience.

Parenting is exhausting, challenging, tiring, frustrating, even boring at times (sitting in the Wacky Warehouse for an hour comes to mind!) But is also one of the MOST IMPORTANT jobs you will EVER do in your entire life. So, why anyone should be resistant to a law protecting our children and making the world a less aggressive place is baffling.

What good can really come from hitting, smacking & slapping your most precious thing – your children ?

Times are changing and it is more and more rare to see an adult slap a child on the street – because I always worry – if they are doing that in public – what are they doing in private? But in the same way that smoking in public has become less acceptable I look forward to a time when smacking is banned and it becomes unacceptable everywhere.