I grew up in a time when corporal punishment for children was acceptable in schools. I can remember the training shoe that one of my primary school teachers used to keep in a cupboard behind his desk for unruly children. And another teacher would hurl the wooden blackboard rubber across the room at a child who wasn’t listening. Her aim was pretty good but if you were in the line of trajectory you quickly learned to duck just in case. As I share these memories it seems unbelievable that teachers were allowed to act in such a way and that children were sent to school each day knowing that their teachers could hit them if they did anything wrong.
The conversation about physical punishment in schools is over but now it has shifted to your right as a parent to smack your child. Twenty years ago my contribution to such a conversation would be to say ” Well my parents were able to smack me and it didn’t do me any harm” I genuinely believed for many years that smacking was being connected to child abuse by those who were being politically correct and it had all gotten out of hand.
However, in the past 20 years in my work as both a teacher and a mentor, I have studied relationships and child development and have had an insatiable thirst to find out why children behave the way they do. I have looked at my own childhood and remembered how I actually felt when I was hit. I can remember those feelings clearly but I cannot remember the reason why.
Now my thoughts have changed. I want to make it clear that I am not judging anyone who has smacked their child but I want to share some reasons why I now think it is not a successful way to correct a child’s behaviour.
Reasons why smacking is harmful to your children
First of all it is very confusing to children. When you choose to correct your child by smacking the message that the child gets is that if someone does something wrong it is perfectly acceptable to hit them. So, if a sibling or a school friend upsets them that is what they do. It is then very confusing for the child when they get told off for behaviour that they have copied from their parent and understandably so. Children learn so much more from watching you rather than listening to what you say.
I know that not every child that was smacked grows up to be a violent adult but, in recent years, it seems that every year there is another report connecting smacking to aggression and anti-social behaviour. It has also been connected to mental health issues, lower self esteem , a lack of self control, cognitive difficulties and academic problems. Only last month the Association of Educational Psychologists called 0n our government to “acknowledge that physical punishment can have negative long term effects on a child’s development” . Every Parent wants the best for their child. No parent would choose to deliberately do something that would have negative long term effects on the well being of their child. But the evidence against smacking really is growing.
What would you do if you were having a disagreement with your partner or a friend and they smacked you?
How would you feel?
What would you think about that person?
I would feel shocked that someone I cared about would do this to me and horrified that they invaded my personal space. I would find a way to forgive them because I believe in forgiveness but it would take time. My trust in that person would have gone and so I would be literally keeping my distance from them in the future. At no point would I be thinking this person did this to me because they love me and care about me.
We would never expect to be smacked by another adult. We would see it as an act of violence and like many of you I have been brought up to believe that violence is not a way to solve a disagreement. Why then, when the disagreement is with a child, should that logic change. If we personally would not like to be smacked why is it ever ok to smack a child?
If you do choose to smack your child here are a few questions to consider…
How do you think your child feels when you smack them?
Do they learn why their behaviour was wrong or do they stop doing it through fear?
How does smacking your child effect….
(i)your relationship with them?
(iii)their mental health?
If you knew that smacking had a negative long term effects on your children would you stop?
Smacking has been illegal in Sweden since 1979. Since then 52 other countries have joined the Swedes and banned smacking. There are plenty of discussions in the UK but as yet no ban. As a parent you still have a choice to do what you feel is best for your child. My plea would be that you make it an informed choice and not simply a repetition of how your parents disciplined you.