……..as it turns out, quite like bottoms: everybody has one. However, I’m in the unusual position of having a different one now to the one I had as a younger man (I may have broken this metaphor). I was smacked as a child. Not often, not inappropriately, and I genuinely don’t think it affected me at all. As an adult without children I was pro-smacking. It seemed a sensible option in extremis. If your child is doing something dangerous, then what is wrong with smacking as an extreme option? Later, when my wife, who works in childcare, and I were discussing starting a family, she told me that she felt it was unnecessary. I found this a pretty surprising attitude. We tend to view what we were brought up with as the norm and, if we’ve turned out ok, we feel that we can do the same thing. I wasn’t convinced she was right until I saw a documentary on the artist Alison Lapper. If you’re not aware of her, she is an extraordinary woman and a mother, who was born without arms and with truncated legs. In this documentary I saw her controlling her child with tone of voice and natural (which is to say earned) authority only. Clearly she had no means of preventing her child doing something dangerous, let alone physically chastising them if they did.
I found this inspiring, and thought that it was something to aim for with my daughter. I’m definitely not as capable as Ms Lapper, but I do
find that I can stop my 4 year old with a tone of voice and a stern look and I have never smacked her. So here’s a question: do I have a 4 year old of natural good disposition that anyone could have brought up to be the (fairly) well behaved child that she is, or have we done an especially good job? Hard for me to say, of course, and thereby hangs the problem with this debate; no one has any empirical evidence either way. The old timers will tell you that everything was better in their day when corporal punishment was commonplace, but there is no proof of this (anecdote is not proof). Smug people like me will tell you that there’s no need to even think about smacking a child, but I’m basing that on a sample size of precisely 1, and that’s just bad science.
We have a new baby (a boy this time), so now would be a REALLY bad time to start claiming I have all the answers. Come back to me in 4 years when my sample size will have doubled, but in the meantime the only advice I would dare to give is this: if someone speaks to you from a position of absolute certainty on this subject, the only smart thing to do is to ignore them and make your own decisions.