Of course the whole debate raises wider questions about whether a child should ever be smacked, which I touched on in my last blog post. I'm not alone in believing that there really isn't ever a place for hitting your child: this view is backed by the NSPCC, Save the Children, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and UNESCO, to name just a few. Research has shown that smacking a child does not improve children's behaviour: rather it can lead to more anti-social behaviour, more hitting of peers and siblings, and more hitting of spouses as adults. Smacking can also be damaging to children's psychological well-being, to their emotional and verbal intelligence, and their executive functioning ability. Overall most experts and leading children's advocates feel that children should be afforded the same protection from physical assault as adults by law.
I'm always struck by the duplicity inherent in hitting a child whilst simultaneously claiming the moral highground, but never more so than this week, when I watched Michael Pearl, one of the authors of To Train Up A Child, a book I am trying to get Amazon to refuse to stock, being interviewed on CNN. He was asked what he would suggest as a punishment for a seven year old boy who had hit his sister:
The seven year old would get ten or fifteen licks, and it would be a formal thing, in other words; you maintain your patient air, you explain to him that what he's done is violent, and that that's not acceptable in society, and that's not acceptable in our home, and I would take him somewhere, like into his bedroom, and I would tell him that I'm going to give him ten or fifteen licks (with)...a belt...I might use a wooden spoon, or a piece of plumbing supply line a quarter inch in diameter.Of course this description is extreme (and abhorrent), but we must be honest, there are plenty of children in the UK today who got 'smacked bottoms' for hitting their sisters. The severity of the treatment is different, but the hypocricy remains the same: we cannot teach our children to be kind, loving, and gentle, by being the opposite ourselves.
Many of us realise this, and many of us want to do things differently - but this is not always as straightforward as we might wish. Lots of us were smacked ourselves as children, and this makes things complicated for us, both emotionally and practically. Often we love our own parents, and to criticise a parenting approach that they took can make us feel guilty and confused. And often too, we find that when we are on the parenting front line, we fall back on the ways we learnt as children and cannot easily find methods to replace them.
In the brilliant NSPCC document, Hitting Children is Wrong and the Law Should Say So, they tell of how smacking was banned in Sweden in 1979, and how this was extremely successful, partly due to an excellent programme of re-education initiated by the Swedish Government. They issued a sixteen page colour booklet offering advice to parents on alternative ways of disciplining and raising their children. I can't match this I'm afraid, but I did wonder whether readers of this blog would like to add their own advice in the comments section below. The internet offers us a great chance to collaborate and share information, so, rather than styling myself as a parenting expert and telling you all what to do, I invite you to write down anything that you find helpful in facilitating you to parent gently, kindly, lovingly, and without threats, aggression, smacking, or any form of corporal punishment. Together we can create a document that might be read widely by parents everywhere looking for alternative ideas to use in those moments when, thirty, fifty or a hundred years ago, (or maybe even yesterday) they would have simply smacked.
I've added a suggestion below to start the ball rolling. I look forward to hearing yours. If we want to stop the corporal punishment of children, we need to help each other find creative alternatives.