These days, it’s common to hear adults argue that smacking (or spanking, depending where you come from) will sort out the problematic children of today, and parents are becoming too soft.
Research and polls continue to show around 85-90% of Australian parents (with similar results overseas) believe smacking is an acceptable punishment for children.
Clearly, smacking is not “sorting kids out” as they believe to be the case.
Contrary to popular belief, there isn't a problem with “kids of today”.
You see, parents complain about kids behaviour exactly the same way they did many years ago.
The following quote was attributed to Socrates (469–399 B.C.), which shows our ancestors of long ago felt the same way about children:
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”
In addition, many pro-spanking parents also refer to the phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child” as being from the Bible. However, the phrase in those words originated from Samuel Butler’s satirical poem, “Hudibras” which was published in 1662. His poem (and novel called ‘The Way of All Flesh’), was written to expose and condemn violence against children. Yet, it has been adopted by some parents as a means to justify corporal punishment and other physical actions against children.
Parenting Is In Crisis
In her brilliant book, 100 Ways To Raise Drug Free Children, Developmental psychologist Aletha Solter writes: “The root cause of most behavioural problems, including substance abuse, is not a lack of discipline but rather a lack of connection.”
The fact is, parenting in is crisis (here are 9 reason why). Many parents of today — and even yesterday — lack the parenting skills they once had. One of the big reasons for this is due to our lifestyles being far from ideal, as far as family goes. Once upon a time, it was a village that helped to raise a child, not just one or two parents.
Parents learned about parenting from a young age, by growing up and observing parenting in their close-knit community. Kids had more freedom to explore, climb, run and burn off pent up energy — rather than fight over Playstation controllers. Parents were much less time poor, and were able to be more present (emotionally and physically) with their children. Community was everything, and there was much less in the way of behavioural problems.
Today, we have a much more detached, disconnected, unsupported and isolated lifestyle. There are behaviours out of control which are not due to a lack of smacking, but due to a myriad of environmental factors. These include diet (an overload of sugar, wheat/grains, preservatives, colours and other additives, which create hyped up and unfocused kids), excessive screen time, parents not knowing how to help their children through emotional storms – choosing to punish them for their feelings instead of talking them through, and parents working crazy hours just to get enough money coming in.
Kids crave regular, quality one on one time with their parents, which is so hard to juggle with modern family life. It's not an optimal environment for children to flourish. There are going to be repercussions, and punishing the symptom — the communication for help — is going to get us nowhere. Blaming today’s children for this is just folly. Forget bandaid fixes, try to understand the root cause.
Discipline Is Not The Same As Punishment
It's important to understand that discipline is NOT punishment.
Parenting expert and IBCLC Pinky McKay says: “There is so much confusion around the issue of discipline. And so much fear. Really, it is simple: the word discipline is derived from Latin, ‘to teach’. Almost certainly, by not responding to a baby’s cries, you will teach him not to cry. Almost certainly, you will also teach him there is no point reaching out to another human being – that he can’t make a difference (to his discomfort/pain/hunger/thirst/loneliness), so what is the use of trying? Consider, how many adults do you know who live their lives believing: ‘what is the use – I can’t make a difference, anyway?’ This is learned helplessness.”
Yet so many parents will tell you…. “I was left to cry/spanked/insert other and I turned out okay!” The thing is, we don’t know how we (or our children) would have turned out had we not been spanked or smacked. We still may have learned about respect or kindness, but would we still have that anxiety of lack of impulse control? Codependency? Who knows. All we do know, is that young children are being treated taught to obey else they will experience physical pain. Some argue that the fact parents think it's okay to smack or spank is a big sign that they didn't “turn out okay”.
Spanking/Smacking Around The World
Spanking children is illegal in 29 countries around the globe, including Sweden (and aren't they a bunch of out of control hooligans?!) who were the very first country to ban spanking in 1979. This means there's a whole generation of non-spanked children.
Australia is not one of the 29 countries, yet if you hit a woman (or man) in Australia, you can be charged with assault or arrested. If you hit an animal, you can be charged with abuse or arrested. In a world where we’re trying to eliminate women, men and animals being hit and abused (yet it sadly seems to be increasing) we still smack our children, all the while, we're teaching them not to hit?
Here are some big reasons why it is emotionally and physically damaging to smack your children as well as some alternative solutions to smacking that do work:
#1: There Is Absolutely No Evidence That Smacking Is Effective
Smacking doesn't work. It may force your child to comply for a short period, but it is not an effective method of preventing the behaviour from being repeated. Long term studies have found that not only does spanking not work, it could actually cause your child to have emotional problems later in life. While there have been plenty of studies into smacking, not one has found any positive associations for smacking.
Aletha Solter writes: “Many books suggest that children need more ‘discipline,’ meaning that parents should punish their children for breaking rules. However, strict authoritarian control often backfires by causing children to rebel.”
#2: It Teaches Violence
Children become what they see, not what they hear, so your actions will become your child’s beliefs about who they need to be and what they need to do. Even if its not noticeable right away while they are little, it forms who they become as a person. Do you want to teach your child that it is acceptable to use physical violence and/or lashing out in anger as a way of controlling another person, or making something fair or right? That is what your child is learning through being smacked.
It is all too often that the child being bullied becomes the bully, due to the abuse of power leaving the child feeling powerless (and often resentful). They can seek an outlet for this bad feeling, or learn to bury it, which is equally unhealthy. Studies have found that children who are spanked are more likely than their peers to develop aggression later on.
In an article from Science Daily (titled ‘Spanking children slows cognitive development and increases risk of criminal behavior, expert says’), Murray Straus, founder and co-director of the Family Research Lab and Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire, says “More than 100 studies have detailed these side effects of spanking, with more than 90 percent agreement among them. There is probably no other aspect of parenting and child behaviour where the results are so consistent,” he says.
#3: It Doesn't Deal With The Root Cause Of The Behaviour
Smacking may stop a behaviour temporarily in its tracks – it may enforce COMPLIANCE in that moment – but does absolutely zero for teaching a child a life lesson on what was wrong and how to appropriately deal with it.
It is important to work out why your child is behaving in a certain way. Is he tired, bored, in need of attention, or is he dealing with emotions he can't yet express or make sense of? Smacking doesn't address the root cause of the problem, and so will not help to meet your child's needs. Instead of jumping to corporal punishment, instead try to work with your child to establish what the unmet need is, and then address the behaviour once that has been met.
#4 Your Child Will Learn To Avoid YOU, Not The Behaviour
Your child is probably going to be more focused on the punishment than the behaviour. Rather than learning not to snatch because it upset his little sister, your child is learning not to snatch in front of you because he might get smacked. Your child will be feeling fear, and not focusing on the message. Talking to your child calmly and setting a good example is a much more effective way to impart wisdom.
#5: It Could Affect Your Relationship With Your Child
Most parents want to be loved and respected by their child, but in order to achieve this, it is important to love and respect your child. Treat your child with empathy, compassion and love. If you dole out corporal punishment, you may find that your child is scared of you at times and is confused why you abuse your size or power in this way. If your friend or partner turned round and hit you one day because you did something they didn’t like, would this have an impact on the way you thought of them? Would you still be in a relationship with them? Would you have your child stay in a friendship or relationship with someone who did this to them?
In an article from Psychology Today titled Research on Spanking: It's Bad For ALL Kids, Darcia Narvaez, a Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame writes: “It destroys trust. Children trust their parents just a little less. They build a self-protective shield around themselves in terms of relationships generally. Children increasingly mistrust the motives of others and become a more threat reactive. It leads to aggressive expectations — they are ready to aggress first before they are aggressed against.”
#6: Just Because It Was Done To You, Does Not Mean It Is Right
One reason that parents often use to justify violence, is that it ‘never did them any harm'. Not only is this not scientific, it is often used to dismiss bad habits and undesirable behaviours. Some would argue that the very fact you have grown into an adult who believes corporal punishment in an acceptable way to interact with your child, would prove that perhaps it did have a lasting effect (and it has caused harm). How do you feel that you cope with anger and frustration in general? Do people or situations annoy you often? Do you have a problem with controlling your anger sometimes – or often? Or are you great at remaining calm and present in most situations?
Pinky McKay says: “Instead of clinging to the justification, ‘I was smacked, and there is nothing wrong with me', (how do you know?), we each need to do an inventory of our parenting toolboxes: we can ask ourselves, what have we learnt and absorbed as we grew up, from our own parents and our culture? What would be useful to keep and use and what will we discard? This will vary for each of us but by being conscious of our parenting choices, perhaps our own children will not have to experience non-violent parenting as a second language.”
#7: It Exploits The Fact That You Are Bigger
Smacking relies upon the fact that you are bigger and stronger than your child. In fact, as you tower above him, even so much as an angry word could be terrifying for your child. By smacking your child, you are taking control of him because you are bigger and therefore physically able to do so. To them, it is not fair because they are helpless to defend themselves, which can build resent and a sense of things not being fair in life.
Remember, your child will grow, and may one day be much bigger, quicker and stronger than you. How are you going to control your child with these learnt behaviours then?
#8: It Takes Control Away From Your Child
Your child should be in control of his own body. It is very important to teach children about consent, healthy relationships and respect. Your child's understanding of these issues starts from day one, and will be greatly affected by your interactions with him. If you hit your child, then you are taking control of his body without his consent, and therefore you teach that consent is not important.
#9: You Could Hurt Your Child
This should probably be the first point on this list. Smacking is designed to hurt, and so it hurts. By smacking your child, you are inflicting pain. Why would someone who loves you, want to physically hurt you? This relationship dynamic can be very confusing for a child and as mentioned above, can damage your relationship with them and cause lack of trust and disconnect.
Who would want their children to grow up and believe that physical pain is a normal, acceptable part of a loving relationship?
#10: You Are Not Modelling A Healthy Way To Deal With Anger
If you hit when you are angry, you are teaching your child that violence is the correct way to deal with negative emotions. You are a role model for your child, whether you like it or not, and your child is learning by observing everything you do. If you hit, your child learns to hit.
“I strongly believe that good discipline is about maintaining our own dignity and our child's dignity, and smacking does neither. I am bewildered by the logic that if an older child lashes out at a younger one, this is bullying or how, at a certain age, hitting another person becomes assault, and we certainly wouldn't condone being slapped by our partners, yet we can accept adults smacking little children.” — Pinky McKay
#11: Where Can You Go From Smacking?
Countless studies have found that smacking is not effective – this is a proven FACT. It may force your child into compliance in the short run, but studies have found the “bad” behaviour could be repeated within just ten minutes. Though many parents claim only to smack as a last resort, studies have found that in fact most parents move to violent punishment pretty quickly, sometimes within less than a minute of the “bad” behaviour beginning. As the punishment proves to be ineffective, you may find the smacks growing harder and more frequent, as you struggle to “control” your child's behaviour.
- Externally compliant, but internally depressed and defeated
- Compliant but internally enraged, build-up of aggressiveness
- Feigned sycophancy in aims to manipulate
- Fear of trying/fear of failure
- Forming “groups” in order to fight back in numbers
- Rebelling/outlashing – especially after long periods of submission
- Withdrawing from parents and social interactions
- Tendency to seek out adult relationships that are controlling (acting as the controlee)
- Increased probability of developing anxiety disorders
- Tendency to forfeit and ignore their own needs
- Self-imposed, impossible attempts at perfection
There are also problems with permissive parenting. Instead, P.E.T. recommends authoritative parenting – where no-one loses.
BellyBelly also highly recommends Brene Brown's The Gifts Of Imperfect Parenting:
What About The Science Behind Spanking?
Doctor Elizabeth Gershoff has been studying spanking for over 14 years. Please take the time to watch this very important clip where she is interviewed on what science says about smacking children.
So What Now?
Parents can often feel at a loss with no ‘tools’ to deal with problematic behaviour. It does get MUCH easier when you’ve learnt some effective but also respectful methods for dealing with conflict. BellyBelly recommends Parent Effectiveness Training which has courses worldwide, and is also available in a book. You can find more information on really helpful books that will help you manage problem behaviour in our recommended reading parenting book list.
BellyBelly highly recommends the following steps for preventing behaviour issues:
- Cutting down screen time and/or have screen free days (ipods/tv/games) which research has repeatedly shown to be detrimental to both physical and mental health. Check out this article and clip.
- Cut sugar, processed foods, preservatives and grains out of your children’s diets where possible. Choose whole foods, good fats for brain development, protein to keep them full for longer and blood sugar levels more stable, and of course, greens and veggies
- Spending more time outdoors and in nature, both as a family as well as usual daily play
- Plan family holidays, outings and adventures to create memories and to have something to look forward to. It doesn’t need to be expensive or far.
- As mentioned above, read GOOD books or articles to understand normal behaviour and development. Children’s brains are still developing, they are not capable of managing the storms in their brains like an adult.
- Do a GOOD course in parenting like Parent Effectiveness Training (P.E.T.). Don’t feel stupid or useless. Your kids will thank you for it and you’ll have a happier home.
- Learn about and practice presence and mindfulness. You can work out many more problems and keep calm when you know how to be present and mindful, rather than a storm in your head. Calm on the inside = calm on the outside.
- Be patient and understanding. Have realistic expectations on your children. Imagine yourself as a baby – how would you have others treat you?
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless”.
― L.R. Knost