Recently, I was called to comment on a morning TV show about new research on smacking. In a sleepy stupor I agreed to be ready in ten minutes (makeup would have priority over food!). There was no time to discuss the story until I was in the car being driven to the studio. Fortunately I wasn’t driving and I was sitting (restrained by a seatbelt!) when I was told that the research showed that up to ninety percent of Australian mothers believed that smacking was acceptable. Younger mothers were more in favour of smacking than older mothers. I was gob-smacked. I had naively thought that there was more awareness about the effects of smacking: for instance, children learn what they live, so a smacked child is more likely to use aggression against their peers, or that physical punishment is a very short term solution based on children being afraid of us, or that it is all too easy to hit too hard when we are at our wits end = and what do we do as our children grow too big to catch and smack?
For me, not smacking is rather like learning a second language: when my first child started to get into things that were unsafe I was at a loss. I wondered, ‘should I smack him?’ I couldn’t bring myself to smack this beautiful little person who to me seemed to be ‘exploring’ rather than ‘naughty’ but I simply had no other resources in my parenting toolbox, because this is what I had been exposed to as a child. This realisation led me to parenting courses where I learned alternatives like understanding my child’s development so my expectations were more in synch with his abilities and how to implement positive discipline. I also sought out support groups where I saw gentle parenting modelled and I could discuss strategies with other parents.
Despite my efforts to learn this new language of gentle parenting, in times of stress I have reverted to my ‘mother tongue’ and occasionally smacked my kids. In an incident that has become part of our family folk-lore, one of my sons was watching an Olympic boxing match on television. He was getting very carried away – shouting excitedly at the screen. I walked over and switched off the television. My son reached forward and turned it back on (he was sitting eyeball to eyeball with the set). I reacted faster than any champion boxer – with a slap on his arm as I yelled, ‘leave the bloody thing off, I hate violence!’ It took me more than a few seconds to realise why my quick-witted kid sat there laughing at me in a state of near hysteria.
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.
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. Instead, it could be their mother-tongue.
Member Thoughts & Experiences With Smacking
Below are some stories from BellyBelly Members:
“As a child, I was smacked if I had done something wrong. I quite often remember my step-father getting the belt and threatening with that. I never copped the belt but am sure my older brothers did at some stage. I have a vivid memory of being smacked several times across the head as a teenager (12/13), by my mother when I refused to going to school after feeling “sick” again. I did bring this up with my mother a few years ago as we now have a close bond, and she has no recollection of ever doing it.
As a mother now myself, even though I don’t like to publicly admit it cause of the looks I get, I do at times smack my children. It is usually after they have frustrated me to no end and I end up lashing out. I have never smacked them around the head (thanks mum), but they have copped either a smack on their bottoms, back of legs, and occasionally on upper torso. I don’t feel better for smacking my children cause the guilt is instant, and nor do they really learn from it but once they hit that button that is it, and I loose control. I can confidently say that I don’t repeatedly smack they are just smacked the once.”
“I always swore I would never smack my children; as a child I was sometimes smacked with things that left marks on my body. The sadness that it created in me I didn’t want my children to experience. My husband was smacked as a child too, more forcefully that I was it seems. I wouldn’t dare smack my partner if he did something wrong, so why would I smack my children? Why should these little, vulnerable people get the harsher deal, both physically and emotionally?
As it is, I have actually smacked one of my children, despite previously having gone off my tree for the one time I saw my husband smack one of our children – the anger it created in me was huge. I know he did it out of frustration, it had been a very difficult day where our child had been going nuts non-stop for hours and was not listening to anyone – we’d never seen behaviour that bad before. But the time when I did it, I was a mess emotionally, it was just before I went onto anti-depressants and was not coping. I had no patience, no support… so I lost my cool. I had instant guilt for making my child cry, I reget it and I don’t want to ever do it again. It makes me sad thinking about it. I am working hard at taking a deep breath at times when I am feeling that pressure build up so I can deal with my frustration better and give myself time out before trying to deal with it again.”
“I was smacked once, aged about 2 because my brother, aged nearly 6, had messed with the volume control on Dad’s posh new stereo. He didn’t believe that my brother didn’t know which way was “down” when he turned it up and we both got a smack on the bum. I don’t actually remember being smacked, I remember mum finding a red handprint on my behind in the bath (about 15 minutes after) and shouting and shouting at my dad.
From that moment on I was never smacked. The one other time my brother was smacked my mother told my dad she’d already left one violent man and she was happy to do so again. Her first husband had beaten her and their 4 kids, my half siblings and it had turned her completely off violence. I had a lot of respect for my parents, my mother could look at me and I’d behave, my dad’s tone of voice can STILL give me a cold feeling behind my ears. Their approval and love and praise was bountiful when earned and I sought it.
I do not smack my daughter. It would be great if I could raise her to have the respect for me I have for my parents, and I don’t believe it is respectful to hit people. I think it will be easier for me to teach her self worth if i do not smack too as I think violence is dismissive and undermines confidence. Though I intend and hope never to smack, I still find, in moments of high frustration, that I am tempted to hand-smack, and i have to stop myself and walk away.”
“I was smacked occasionally as a child, however being one of the youngest of my siblings I did not have to endure what my elder siblings did. My father had a bamboo cane, and I remember he used to take it out on the eldest especially… she would have red welts over her legs – and this was not even for being very naughty. As time went on something must have changed, or maybe my Mum put her foot down, because he no longer used the cane. On the few instances I was smacked by him, I still remember clearly to this day – nearly 20 years later. My mother occasionally smacked us, or threatened us with a wooden spoon, but it never bothered me as much as my father smacking.
The fact that I remember some of these instances from childhood so clearly, gives me all the more motivation to prevent my children from having the same fearful memories of their parents. I am not perfect however, and in moments of extreme frustration I have given a smack on the hand or a light smack on the bottom – something I felt terrible for afterwards, and do not wish to repeat in the future.”
“I have a memory of my Dad smacking me once. Just once. And the memory of it stays with me and makes we wince, even though it was not a hard smack. It was probably justified…I was about 8 years old and had been incredibly disobedient, and I know that it was at the same time as my Grandpa was very ill, so no doubt my Dad was under a huge amount of strain.
My Mum never smacked any of us, although she did threaten with the wooden spoon occasionally.
When I am at the end of my tether with my 3 little ones, I have nearly smacked. I ended up smacking the bed near my 3 year olds legs, but it really frightened me that I nearly smacked her.
If I feel that melt down oh my god I am so frustrated I am gonna smack her feeling I lock myself in the loo for a few minutes to calm myself down. I hate the feeling. But my husband and I have talked about it, and have chosen to never smack. He was never smacked as a child. So we have talked it over, and we will stick to being a family that doesn’t smack.”
“I was smacked when I was a child and it was always by Mum. If I was disobedient with Dad he would get Mum to smack me later. It was never very hard and we always had to wait until an hour or so had passed before we got smacked. I think the anticipation was usually worse than the smack. To be honest what I really hated about smacking was the humiliation of it rather than the pain (especially since Mum’s special wooden spoon broke after about 10 years use on my older siblings and she could never find a suitable replacement – she was forever lamenting the inferior quality of Australian wooden spoons!).
I always swore that I would never smack my children but to my horror I gave my son’s hand a smack about a month ago after asking him not to touch something (a pile of folded washing) about 100 times. Even though it wasn’t hard enough to make him cry I felt awful afterwards and I hope to never repeat the performance. It was pure frustration and the stupid thing was that my thinking was so clouded by frustration that other solutions just didn’t occur to me. I could have moved him to a different room or put the washing in a different place or put a DVD on but I didn’t do any of those things.
I think that the lesson I should have learnt is that when I’m really frustrated I need to walk away so that I can think clearly and find a better solution. I just hope I remember it next time I get really, really, really, very annoyed.”
“I believe that there is a fair bit of smacking going on out there (even closet smacking) as a result of frustration. It really does take a village to raise a child, yet who has a village these days? Who has support or family closely around them to prevent smacking by offering some form of distraction or reinforcement to the child, in order for the mother to feel backed up and supported? It’s sad, for both children and their parents, that we are forced to parent in a less than optimal society for raising families. Dads are even working longer hours than ever and it’s often poor mum left at home to cope on her own to deal with it all, only to feel like a monster afterwards as she is the one dishing out the discipline. So she thinks she has problems firstly dealing with her anger or frustration, then guilt from getting angry in the first place!
I also think there are people who smack wrongly so, like those that are borderline abusive or are abusive and they need to get help, but there is also much frustration, stress and exhaustion going on that parents are having to work extra hard at preventing themselves from flying off the hook. I think this is important to do, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think smacking out of frustration is the best thing to do and I am not excusing it – but I also think this has become more difficult with modern society. I for one know that it is a tough task as a very busy, over-extended mummy. I think if we were smacked or not as children also plays some part in it, but I also think changing society plays a big part in this too.
Perhaps we should see more courses or advice out there on keeping your cool with kids when they wind you up as well as some techniques on conflict resolution and help building support networks – I think that would be very helpful. It’s probably not going to work as a once-off course or session – families need to keep talking about this honestly with one another to keep themselves in touch with each other and to help vent their frustrations, encourage one another and realise that they are not the only ones out there.”