Why You Shouldn’t Smack Your Kids

NB: I was initially commissioned to write under this title for Petite Bebe blog a few years ago so my children’s ages have changed but the sentiment remains the same.

I think we’ve all seen that meme that says something along the lines of “I was smacked and I have something called respect for others!” and after seeing it for the umpteenth time I decided to take a breath and really reflect on how I think smacking DID affect me.

I try to practice Peaceful/Gentle/Positive Parenting and I have found in a lot of different forums that people have often been led to this way of parenting after having endured abuse as children.

This is not the case with me. In fact, my Mother was a very natural “Attachment Parent” (although she hates labels) and I really think it is that aspect of my upbringing that naturally led me down this path but despite her promising herself she would never smack her children, both my parents found themselves “driven to it”.

I don’t hold it against them and there are so many amazing experiences that lead me to reflect on my childhood happily. We had a wonderful life and we were brought up beautifully and we have all become pretty awesome human beings (in my humble opinion) but in direct response to that meme, I created my own and it reads like this “I was smacked and I have SOME respect for others, suspicion and disdain towards authority and a tendency towards violent outbursts!”.

The first and most obvious reason to me not to smack my children was always the conflicting message. We teach our children that violence is not the answer; not to hurt and to talk through anger/frustration so how do we justify modelling the exact opposite? What happens when the day care call to say your child just hit another child and when you ask them why they say “They said that word you smacked me for yesterday!”. Modelling is one of the most powerful and successful parenting strategies and this seems to be a terribly confusing message for a kid.

My next issue is that parents (like my own) find themselves “driven” to this response (which if you ask me is probably linked to our own experiences such as I’ve expressed in my meme) which lends itself to the idea that smacking is quite often as a result of a loss of control. Once you’ve lost control then it is hard to manage your own strength and whilst I personally think any form of smacking is abuse, it would be very easy to head into the legally defined territory of abuse which outlines certain areas of the body are not to be smacked and no marks or bruises are to be left.

Children under 3 have little to no impulse control and I actually find this knowledge quite freeing because a lot of parenting woes come from expectations.

I know to expect impulsive behaviour from my toddler and that I can educate him in the moment and put certain measures in place to lessen occurrences but the fact is, my little throwing machine WILL break more items by gleefully slinging them across the room.. this doesn’t mean he will one day be a ruthless vandal (but it may mean he’ll be a pretty good cricketer)! Children under 5 obey instruction around 40% of the time so it is NORMAL for them to do “the wrong thing” 60% of the time.

That’s not to say it’s not frustrating. No one likes to feel like they are not being heard, or that they are being disrespected, or that they have no control in their own household but smacking is not the answer. In fact, punishment of any sort has been shown to have a detrimental effect on childhood development and smacking specifically can alter the grey matter in the brain and lead to long-term emotional issues.

Now, that’s not to say you should be a permissive parent. Permissive parenting can be as detrimental as Authoritarian parenting. Children need boundaries and guidance but the word “Discipline” means “to teach” and the best way in which to teach our children is through modelling, empathy and setting Loving Limits.

Most behaviour that we consider “undesirable” comes from a desire for more connection. Now, when I first started looking into “Peaceful Parenting” I had a defensive reaction to the idea my child wasn’t getting enough connection… thinking it suggested I was in some way neglecting my child when I had, in fact, centred my world around my daughter at that time.

I now know that children are bottomless pits when it comes to connection and often, the more you give, the more they need. It’s not to say you aren’t spending enough time with them, playing with them enough or telling/showing them how much you love them enough. They crave one-on-one attention with no distractions whatsoever and one great way to fill their cup is to engage in Special Time* (even 3-5 times a week for 10 minutes can make a huge difference but the more the better) where you are completely present and do whatever they want to do for that specified period.

It’s also helpful to try and assess where the emotion is coming from, has there been an issue at school? Are they fearing something in particular? Playful Parenting (based on a book by Dr Lawrence Cohen) is a great way to address these types of issues.

Or is it you? It’s important to make sure that you’re not running on empty (I know that’s when I’m not my best parenting self). I think the number one piece of advice for parents is NEVER say “no” to help. Especially if you’re on your own (my hat goes off to solo parents). Reach out to family and friends or join/create a support network in order to make sure you have opportunities to unwind and do whatever helps you to be your best self. Build a village!

We all make mistakes and nobody is perfect but on top of that, these beautiful beings we have created/adopted can push us to places we didn’t even know existed. The only thing you can do is vow to do better next time and apologise when you are not your best self (which is also good modelling).

The following resources are great follow-up reading in regards to this vast topic and in techniques that can help you and your children better manage emotions and actions:

The research on smacking can be found here and here.

How To Handle Your Own Anger here and here.

As always, if you need help Just Ask!