The New Old-Fashioned Parent: On Smacking

21/12/2014 22:40 | Updated 22 May 2015

The New Old-fashioned Parent: Smacking

So far in these columns I've talked fairly favourably about our own parents' parenting ways, and how we can bring back the best of these and adapt them to modern life. But there's one aspect of old-fashioned parenting that I don't recall fondly and no amount of adapting will ever make it something I'll do in my family or recommend in my work: smacking.


When I'm chatting with my son about life when I was a child, the thing that really, truly surprises him is not being confined to just three TV channels or to phones with clunky dials and plugged in wires that you couldn't even walk around the house with, let alone the street. It's actually that so many of my generation used to get smacked by their parents.


What astounds him further is that teachers used to apply hand (or ruler, slipper or cane) to hind legs as well; corporal punishment was only banned in state schools in 1986 and in the independent sector remained until a mere 15 years ago.

My own school was employing the slipper and cane well into the 1980s. If teachers were giving misbehaving kids a whack, it's no surprise that many parents would employ this as their own behaviour management method too.

Now some traditionalists would, I imagine, argue that at least it kept the 'little brats' in order but at what cost? I remember being half terrified of getting walloped as a child and that fear was not a pleasant feeling. What's more, I'm pretty sure it didn't do anything much to teach us right from wrong.

Indeed it surely gave young children the message that a physical reaction is the way to respond to anything you don't like. And that's certainly what I learned. If another child did something I wasn't keen on in my early school years, I'd often thump them one. Yet this was not allowed, whereas grown-ups striking out at me was. Confusing to a grown-up looking back on it all now, never mind to a little kid.

I even remember a teacher's punishment on one occasion for my hitting another child was, wait for it, hitting me, which to my five- or six-year-old self didn't seem a tremendously clever response.

Contrary to popular belief, smacking is still legal for parents (what's not is inflicting any injury that leaves a mark beyond a temporary reddening of the skin) but it does, thankfully, seem much less common nowadays.

Cynics may think we've gone too far with giving children rights and worrying about their happiness above all else, at the cost of discipline but this is one old-fashioned method I'm happy is not. There are smarter but still firm ways to help children behave without them having to live in fear of a grown-up's hand.

Do you approve of smacking children? Do you think it's better to use other methods of discipline and if so, what works for your family?

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