These days, it’s common to hear adults argue that smacking (or spanking, depending on 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 parents in Australia (similar to overseas results) believe smacking children is an acceptable punishment.
Clearly, physical punishment does not ‘sort kids out’ as they believe it does.
And, contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a particular problem with ‘children of today’.
In fact, parents complain about kids’ behavior in exactly the same way they did many years ago.
The following quotation, attributed to Socrates (469–399 B.C.), shows our ancestors 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’.
Many pro-spanking parents also refer to the phrase ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ as a quotation from the Bible. The phrase is, in fact, from Samuel Butler’s satirical poem, ‘Hudibras’, published in 1662. His poem, and his novel called The Way of All Flesh, were written to expose and condemn violence against children. Even so, it has been adopted by some parents as a means of justifying corporal punishment of 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 behavioral and mental health problems, including substance abuse, is not a lack of discipline but rather a lack of connection’.
The fact is, parenting in is crisis.
For more information, read our article 9 Big Reasons Why Parenting Is In Crisis.
Many parents of today — and even yesterday — lack the parenting skills they once had. One of the reasons for this is our lifestyle, which is far from ideal, as far as family goes. Once upon a time, a whole village helped to raise a kid – 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) for their children. Community was everything and good behavior the norm.
Today, we have a much more disconnected, unsupported, and isolated lifestyle. There are out-of-control behaviors that are not due to a lack of smacking, but to a myriad environmental factors.
These include: diet, which is overloaded with sugar, wheat and grains, preservatives, colors, and other additives and which creates hyped up and unfocused kids; excessive screen time; parents who don’t know how to help their children through emotional storms, and choosing to punish them for their feelings instead of talking them through; and parents who work crazy hours just to earn enough money.
Kids crave regular, quality one-on-one time with their parents; this is hard to achieve in modern family life. It’s not an optimal environment for children to flourish. There will be repercussions, sometimes in the form of bad behavior, but punishing the symptom — the cry for help — will get us nowhere. Blaming today’s children for this is folly. Forget bandaid fixes; try to understand the root causes.
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’.
Smacking a child on the hand, mouth, or bottom
Some parents think that hitting children in different body parts will have specific outcomes. Research has shown that detrimental outcomes occurred irrespective of the part of the body that was hit. Smacking children is wrong. There’s an increased risk of it interfering with a correct child development and can create mental health issues, not only in adulthood but also in school age children.
Spanking/smacking around the world
Spanking children is illegal in many countries – in 29, in fact. Sweden was the very first to ban spanking, in 1979. This means there’s a whole generation of non-spanked children in that country.
Here are some reasons why it is emotionally and physically damaging to smack your children; there are also some alternative solutions that work:
Not smacking reason #1: There is absolutely no evidence that smacking is effective
Smacking doesn’t work. It might force your kid to comply for a short period, but it is not an effective method of preventing the behavior 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. Although 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’.
Not smacking reason #2: It teaches violence
Children become what they see, not what they hear; therefore, your actions will become your child’s beliefs about who they need to be and what they need to do. Even if isn’t noticeable while they are little, it forms who they later become. Do you want to teach your kids that it is acceptable to use physical violence or lash out in anger as a way of controlling another person, or making something fair or right? That is what your children learn through being smacked.
There’s a definitive link that shows kids who are bullied become the bullies. This is because the abuse of power leaves them feeling powerless and often resentful. They can seek an outlet for this bad feeling or learn to bury it, which is equally unhealthy.
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 behavior where the results are so consistent’.
Not smacking reason #3: It doesn’t deal with the root cause of the behavior
Smacking might stop a behavior temporarily in its tracks and it might enforce compliance in that moment but it does absolutely zero in terms of teaching a life lesson about what was wrong and how to deal with it appropriately.
It is important to work out why your kid is behaving in a certain way. Is he tired, bored, and 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 meet your child’s needs. Instead of resorting to corporal punishment, try to work with your child instead. Establish what the unmet need is and address the behavior once the need has been met.
Not smacking reason #4 Your child will learn to avoid you, not the behavior
Your kid will probably be more focused on the punishment than the behavior. Rather than learning not to snatch because it upsets 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, instead of focusing on the message. Talking to your child calmly and setting a good example is a much more effective way to impart wisdom.
Not smacking reason #5: It could affect your relationship with your child
Most parents want their child to love and respect them, but in order to achieve this, it is important parents love and respect their child.
Treat your child with empathy, compassion, and love. If you dole out corporal punishment, you might find your child is scared of you at times and is confused about why you abuse your size or power in this way. If your partner or your friends turned around and hit you one day because you did something they didn’t like, would this have an impact on the way you think of them? Would you still be in a relationship with them? Would you have your children 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 more threat reactive. It leads to aggressive expectations — they are ready to aggress first before they are aggressed against’.
Not smacking reason #6: Just because it was done to you, doesn’t make it right
One reason 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 behaviors. Some would argue that the very fact you have grown into an adult who believes corporal punishment is an acceptable way to interact with your child proves that perhaps it did have a lasting effect and it has caused harm.
How do you feel you cope with anger and frustration in general? Do people or situations often annoy you ? 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 learned 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’.
Not smacking reason #7: It exploits the fact you are bigger
Smacking relies on 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. This is not fair to children because they are helpless to defend themselves, and it can build resentment and a sense of things not being fair in life.
Remember, your child will grow and, one day, be much bigger, quicker, and stronger than you. How are you then going to control a child who has learned these behaviors?
Not smacking reason #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, self regulation, 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 teaching him that consent is not important.
Not smacking reason #9: You could hurt your child
This should probably be the first point on this list. Smacking is designed to hurt and it does hurt. When parents smack their child, they’re inflicting pain. A physically punished child would think, ‘Why would someone who loves me, want to physically hurt me?’ This relationship dynamic can be very confusing for children and, as mentioned above, can damage your relationship and connection with them and lead to a lack of trust.
Who would want their children to grow up believing that physical pain is a normal, acceptable part of a loving relationship?
Not smacking reason #10: You are not modeling a healthy way to deal with anger
If you hit out 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 learns 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.
Not smacking reason #11: Where can you go from smacking?
There is a much more rewarding way of disciplining children and correcting their behavior without resorting to physical punishment. During childhood, children have heightened cognitive abilities. Children’s attention is increased if they are treated kindly and if positive reinforcement is used. Children learn very quickly, so don’t think that stopping smacking your child will have negative effects on your relationship; the opposite is true.
Validating your child’s emotions is the basis of attachment parenting. Verbalizing what your child feels – even if you don’t allow her behavior – will show her she’s in a safe place with her parents or caregivers.
You can read more in Smacking: Smack Or Not To Smack?
Parent Effectiveness Training (PET), created by award-winning psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon in 1962, is a good start to gaining social competence and shows effective forms of parenting without the use of physical punishment.
There are also problems with permissive parenting. Instead, PET recommends authoritative parenting, a method in which no one loses.
BellyBelly also highly recommends Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts Of Imperfect Parenting:
So what now?
Parents can often feel at a loss with no ‘tools’ to deal with problematic behavior. It gets much easier when you’ve learned some effective but also respectful methods for dealing with conflict.
Here is BellyBelly’s recommended reading list: Best Parenting Books For New Parents | 12 Top Books.
BellyBelly also highly recommends the following steps for preventing behavioral issues:
- Cut down screen time (iPads, TV, and games) and/or have screen free days; research has repeatedly shown excessive screen time to be detrimental to both physical and mental health
- Cut sugar, processed foods, and preservatives out of your children’s diets. Choose whole foods, good fats for brain development, protein to keep them full for longer and their blood sugar levels more stable, and, of course, greens and veggies
- Spend more time outdoors and in nature, as a family, and as part of 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 away
- Do a good course in parenting. 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 stay calm when you know how to be present and mindful, rather than have a storm in your head. Calm on the inside = calm on the outside.
- Be patient and understanding. Have realistic expectations of 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.