Opinions on smacking are…….

……..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.

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3 comments for “Opinions on smacking are…….

  1. Sarah
    29/02/2012 at 5:29 pm

    Spot on I’d say, I always thought before I had kids that a quick tap to the hand if they are doing something wrong wouldn’t hurt, then I had kids and got into the situation where I thought it was the only thing I could do, tapped my child’s hand and quickly realised how wrong it was and started looking at alternative meathods, how can we teach our kids it’s wrong to hurt others when we do it to them? You wouldn’t strike someone in work that disagreed with you on a subject because you respect them (and it’s kind of against the rules) so we should respect our children in the same way and they will (hopefully) respect us as well :)

  2. Leander Peppercorn
    29/02/2012 at 5:30 pm

    In response to your post, I too was smacked (with a spatula as my mum used to tell me she wasn’t going to hurt her own hand for something that I had done wrong :) ) I was not effected by it at all, me and my mum now laugh about how I used to scurry down the hallway whenever I used to hear the cutlery drawer rattle and have a very close bond.

    I too work in childcare (currently on mat leave with a cheeky 6 month old) and I agree with your wife there is no need to smack, I personally am not anti smacking or pro smacking, guess I’m middle of the road. I used to control a good 14 toddlers with tone of voice and I’d rather use that approach than giving a smack (well tap on the hand or whatever persons choice is) I do have to say I do cringe when out in public and you see the mum of an unruly toddler loosing patience and then smacking them in the middle of the aisle. Lets face it kids are not stupid and will happily press mum or dads buttons to get a reaction.

    Everyone have their own personal view on this subject and it will always cause an uproar and divide the masses.

  3. Laura Tenison
    05/03/2012 at 9:27 pm

    This is a very emotive subject for a lot of parents today. Of course many of us (older parents) were smacked as children since it was the norm and some of us dont think it did us any harm. However, I really think it does do harm and I remember the injustice I felt as a child who was forbidden from hitting those in authority yet often being smacked or to be blunt beaten. It is virtually impossible to smack without emotion. I have seen close relatives smacking their children as pushishment and I was sure the action was more out of uncontrolled anger from the adult than to ensure the child learn what was right or wrong. I stand up to those relatives and tell them they are wrong. I think we should be brave about speaking out.

    As someone who was smacked regularly both at home and in school (with a ruler) and who in turn felt the urge to smack my first child when exhausted and when he was an out of control toddler but made a policy against it, I feel there is nothing good in corporal punishment. I admit it is sometimes hard to resist the temptation, but it is better to walk out of the room for a few minutes when a toddler is out of control, than resort to smacking. It is possble to rise above the urge to smack and I would advise every worn out parent to try very hard. I still feel the guilt of the odd occation that I smacked my first child and I’m glad I was able to cure myself before he were old enough to remember as I do. I made a decision not to smack quite early on. When they were driving me mad I just walked away for a few minutes. I told them that I needed time out, would leave the room and stand outside the door (sometimes almost hitting myself in frustration). The children were not in danger and I had time to calm down. I have never smacked again.

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