Wednesday, 18 July 2007


It's been the flavour of the month around EB this week so I thought I'd best post about it while I am thinking about it.

Smacking is one of those polarising issues. One of those things that people are usually for or against with the occasional platitude of "each to their own" which completely rubs me up the wrong way. Mostly because many people don't think "each to their own" but are just trying to avoid conflict. Not that avoiding conflict is necessarily a bad thing, but I wish more people would be brave enough to have their views and not apologise for them.

For a while I was very hazy on the issue, and vacillated between wishy washy "each to their own" thoughts and agreeing pretty strongly that it's not a good thing. And now I'm firmly in the "it's not a good thing" camp. I am not here smugly, I am not claiming to be a superior parent, but I can say with nearly 100% assurance that I don't believe that there is ever a situation where an alternative to smacking could not be used just as effectively.

I don't think children who threaten to run across roads or who touch hot irons need a quick smack so that they learn. I believe that parents should not leave hot irons within reach of children and should restrain children near roads. And I understand that sometimes you screw up. God knows I do it constantly - but that is my fault and not my children's.

Corporal punishment does work in my view, for some children. But I cannot believe that it is the *only* thing that works. And I really don't believe that it is the best thing. It is the fastest thing, it's the most immediate thing. But not the best. But when you're tired, stressed, and your children are *deliberately* pressing your buttons, smacking can feel like the only solution that will immediately de-escalate the situation. But that doesn't make it acceptable.

One of the major problems I think is that non-smacking parenting strategies require a lot of thought, a lot of time and a lot of patience. And follow through. All of those things conspire to make even the most fervent anti-smacker frustrated and to give in sometimes (a lot of the time), often meaning that a behaviour is not dealt with and a child is often seen to have no discipline at all. I struggle with this a lot, as does LH. If you don't smack, getting the message through immediately to a 3 year old is hard. Your window of opportunity in their goldfish like brain is so small and you have to have thought strategy BEFORE they mess up, and that requires planning and forethought. So it's hard, it's time consuming, and if you're not 100% it can be ineffective enough so that you end up having that brat that no one wants to be friends with.

So where is the balance? Is smacking occasionally OK? Well I don't think it will cause lasting psychological harm if it's infrequent and it's measured. But I still am of the opinion that it's not ideal. And that it's not really appropriate, and that it should be avoided.

The fervour that the pro-smacking brigade put into dismissing any problems with it really saddens me. Maybe it's because "smack" is a palatable term. I mean it sounds so harmless. But a smack is still striking/a hit/assault. If you did it to anyone else it would be anyway. So I struggle with why it's so accepted aside from it's historical ubiquitousness. The cries of "I was smacked and I'm fiiiine" also really grate. Most studies done into it show that a significant proportion of those who were smacked were affected, and also that it didn't stop a lot of the behaviours that they were smacked for. Children still answered back, did dangerous things, fought with their siblings. It wasn't ever a magic cure all. Children were still naughty 10/20/50 years ago. Some exceptionally naughty. So why defend it so vehemently? Why protest that all the studies are crap and obviously from those despised white coated academics in their mythical ivory towers (separated of course from the "real world"). Is it because we do feel some guilt?

I have smacked the Elfling twice. Both times she was kicking me in the throes of a tantrum. I smacked her because I was frustrated that she wouldn't behave, angry because she hurt me, and also because I was at a loss as to how to break her from her hysteria. You know what happened both times? She looked at me in absolute fear and hot tears scorched both of our eyes. She had no respect for me, she didn't stop her tantrum, she didn't suddenly snap into being a perfect child. Obviously anecdotal experience does not a scientific hypothesis prove, but I cannot imagine a child ever giving a parent respect when they are inflicting pain on them. Fear sure. Compliance yes. But respect, no. And the goal of my parenting is ultimately to have my children respect me, my rules, my authority. Not to bend through fear.

Maybe some of you reading this smack. Maybe you have older children and maybe you think I'm talking out of my a*se. Maybe I will get my comeuppance and my child will be that brat in the play ground who nobody likes. But I still can't reconcile anything in my head that says that smacking is a good thing. And I am trying my damnedest to not do it with my children because I believe in doing what's best for them with the information that I have. If my child becomes a brat it's because I've failed her and not because she needed a good slap.

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