To Smack or Not to Smack?

Is smacking children effective?

The debate on smacking is an interesting one in as much as there are not many fence-sitters on this subject: people either have no problem with it at all, saying “I was smacked as a child and it didn’t do me any harm” while others are vehemently against violence of any sort against children. Just using the word “violence” evokes very strong feelings in many who hit their children because they don’t consider smacking a child to be violence. The “no hitting” camp generally believe that we hit our children out of instantaneous anger, frustration, and basically because we don’t know what else to do.

The truth is that our feelings about corporal punishment for children are most likely shaped by our own formative experiences. And, of course, the other question we should be asking is: “Is smacking children effective?”

As a child, my siblings and I were disciplined with corporal punishment. This punishment ranged from slapping to receiving the wrong end of our father’s belt on our bare backside. My own answer to the question of whether smacking is an effective deterrent is a very definitive “no”. Obviously, being hit or belted with a strap was extremely unpleasant, and often very painful, but I can honestly say it never curtailed our exploits. It did, however, make us more careful about being caught!

When I had my own children, I carried on with what I knew – hitting and using a belt on my children, but I was miserable and confused about why I was willingly hurting my children. Fortunately, my husband and I divorced while the children were young and I took over their disciplining. From that moment on, I never hit my children again and now I’m forced to live with the regrets of ever inflicting pain on the people I love most in this world.

A wonderful psychologist explained to me that my father’s physical abuse towards his children was very normal for that period of time, and I was especially surprised to hear that my father was actually fulfilling my mother’s requests. On reflection, I knew this to be true, and after speaking to my father later in life he confirmed that he did what my mother required him to do. Basically, he hit us in order to maintain a peaceful home. My father did believe, though, that children should fear their parents, and the problem I have with that belief is that fear may lead to respect, but fear never leads to love. And isn’t that what we’re trying to do when we create our little families? We’re so happy and excited when our babies are born, and more than anything we want them to love us in return - hopefully for the rest of our lives.

I now firmly believe that hitting children teaches them to be violent, and how do we explain to children that they should never hit others, yet it’s okay for their mother and father to hit them?

The renowned Swiss psychotherapist and childhood researcher Alice Miller, says that corporal punishment may produce obedience, but the long-term results of corporal punishment are rage and violence, the inability to learn, cruelty and bullying, and the inability to feel other people’s pain – especially when it comes to one’s own children. Miller feels that people believe smacks or slaps have no detrimental effect on children, however, this is the message parents received from their own parents, who in turn received it from their parents. In truth, many parents are in denial about how physical punishment has affected them, and this is partly because they don’t want to place blame at the feet of their parents. Alice Miller has worked tirelessly to champion the cause of the wounded child that lies within most of us, and she’s been at the forefront of research into how childhood trauma affects adult behaviour.

It’s now widely believed that emotional humiliation and physical cruelty leave deep scars on our children. It’s important to realize that our childhoods are always with us - we carry them with us throughout our lives, which means we will continue drawing on our childhood experiences.

As a parent of four adult children, I now realize that it was up to me to learn how to discipline and teach my children without using violence. I truly hope that other “smacking” parents out there will do what I failed to do.

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