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The smacking debate – Yes or no?

Smacking – It’s an ongoing debate.

There have been studies over the years for and against smacking, but do we really need research to tell us whether to smack our children or not?

A *study in January by Marjorie Gunnoe, professor of psychology at Calvin College,Michigan, suggests that children who are smacked by their parents may grow up to be happier and more successful than those spared physical discipline.

On the flip side, another *study researchers from American and Canadian universities, found that smacking kids, instead of using non-physical punishments such as time-outs, reduces their emotional intelligence and ‘executive functioning ability’ which allows us to think on the spot and modify our behaviour when necessary.

So – who is right? Do these studies actually mean anything? Is smacking a good thing or should it be banned?

Smacking and the law…

In Britain, ‘mild smacking’ is permitted under a “legal reasonable chastisement” defence against common assault. The 2004 Children’s Act clarified the defence by making any hitting that causes bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches punishable with up to five years in jail. However, the prospect of parents being banned from smacking children in part of the UK has moved a step closer.

Members of the Welsh assembly have approved a call to withdraw the defence of “legal reasonable chastisement” that is currently available to parents, believing it could introduce legislation to outlaw smacking, but has ruled out doing so before 2016.

In Scotland, in 2003 the law was changed to ban hitting on the head, shaking or punishing with an implement.


There’s no need to smack…

I’ve worked in childcare industry for over 20 years and not once have I ever smacked a child. It’s not a simple case of not being the parent of the children I have worked with, it’s a matter of respect. I would never hurt a child, and smacking hurts.

You can glam it up in whichever way you like, but I feel smacking is a lack of control. Children can easily be disciplined with time out and from an early age introducing the word no, using a low, hard voice works wonders if used correctly.

I was in a supermarket with my littlies (1&2 years) the other day where I witnessed a mother smack her child for smacking his sibling!

‘You do not smack your brother!’ she said, laying a big smack on his bottom.

Great parenting? I think not. By smacking him herself, she simply enforced it’s perfectly ok to smack! She obviously smacks him when he’s naughty, so why can’t he smack too?

For me, discipline doesnt need to be aggressive. You don’t have to smack a child to teach them right from wrong.

Hurting children does not make them think why they behaved in a certain way, it just shocks them into thinking if they do it again they will get hurt. So how do they deal with situations in the future?

‘Time out’ gives children time to reflect and think about their actions while missing out on a fun activity. Talking to them after time out and explaining why what they did was wrong, is surely more important and better than handing out smacks? (My two posed for the picture on the left on our ‘time out step’ but B has visited the step on quite a few occasions!)


I’m happy that al the people I’ve worked with, and for, agree with my dislike of smacking children. I have never had to, and nor would I ever, smack a child. Even my own.

What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…






*Reports were published in The Telegraph and Guardian Jan/July 2011.



  • Sarah Goodwin

    I dont think there is any place for smacking. I admit with my daughter I came close as she was much more testing, but I knew it was out of frustration and would be instantly regretted. I think it’s interesting that people often say they are for it but also say they feel bad when they have done it.

    • Fi

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! It’s good to know I’m not alone in my views!

      I think there are lots of parents that smack and don’t admit to it.

      Littlies certainly know how to push the right buttons and it takes lots of patience, but I really feel smacking isn’t the answer.

  • Lou Strachan (@Bobbity666)

    I am proud to say No although I must have the patience of a saint sometimes! I have children aged 19 to 1 years and have always managed to find another way to give rules and boundaries but I know how hard it can be – try a teen!

  • ForestFlower

    I have smacked my little man once after a long day of constant naughtiness on no sleep. I instantly felt awful afterwards, phoned my OH at work and bawled down the phone!! LM was fine. We cuddled and talked about it. I apologised and explained that it was a bad thing for mummy to do. He said he was sorry for being naughty. It has never happened again. It never will.

    It wasn’t good, I am not proud but a punishable offence by law? I very much hope not. I am not pro-smacing by any means but outlawing smacking will not protect the children whose parents/carers are intent on abusing the children in their care.

  • Maxine

    i have never smacked my daughter. I have never felt the need to or wanted to. I think if you start discipline at a very early age they soon know the difference between good and not acceptable behaviour very quickly

    • Fi

      Thanks for sharing your views Maxine. I have to agree, starting at an early age is so important. Leaving it late can cause lots of problems.

  • Amanda

    My son gets a smacked bottom if he is very naughty. It’s up to the parent to decide on the appropriate method of disciplining their child (I actually think a passive aggressive cold sulk can do more psychological damage to a child than a smack). It’s not done in anger and very much as a last resort. That said, I’m not convinced it has any effect on his behaviour, so am going to try other methods – he’s going through a very, very bad case of the terrible twos! Lots of temper tantrums, screaming fits, running away and stealing other kids’ toys. He was good as gold until about 2 months ago, and it might have something to do with a new sister (now 5 months old) and having to share my time and attention with her – although he takes up way more of my time and attention than she does, bless her! I’m going to try the naughty step but if anyone has any advice about good methods of discipline for a child that absolutely hates being told ‘no’ (just like his mum!) then let me know!

    • Fi

      Hi Amanda,

      Thanks so much for your honesty. I think there are lots of parents that smack their children who don’t admit to it.

      I think you are right when you say it is up to the parent to decide how to discipline their child but I feel smacking is not an appropriate method at all. This is my opinion both as a mother and professional.

      In my career over 20 years I’ve worked with lots of children, some of whom had very bad behaviour problems. Not once did I ever feel the need or even think about smacking, even when I was bitten many times and once, punched in the face.

      My methods have always worked well enough to never raise a hand to my own or anyone elses children. I just could not do it. Ever.

      I think when it comes to smacking parents should ask themselves ‘Would I smack an adult family member who had done something wrong?” If not- why not? Because it’s wrong?

      Your comment about a ‘passive aggressive cold sulk’ is interesting. I think that time out (when used properly) is a great technique and a way of discussing behaviour rather than a cold smack. I think the problem with ‘time out’ is that it is used wrongly by so many parents that it doesn’t work. Leaving a child for long periods of time, not explaining why they are there and how long they have to stay there for, not carrying out threats of going to the ‘time out’ place, etc.

      You said you’d be interested in some advice? I run a free parenting advice service if you want to get in touch? I’m more than happy to help.

  • Amanda

    You wouldn’t smack an adult because it’s not your job to regulate their behaviour. That’s your job as a parent, and it’s up to you to decide how best to do that. Obviously there are boundaries, but a normal smacked bottom is just as obviously not child abuse.

    The success of any method of discipline can only be judged by its results – it’s all very well saying ‘I have never smacked’ but it could be the case that all the children in your care have run riot and grown up to be spoilt brats! I’m not saying that IS the case, as obviously I don’t know, but it could be! I disagree that smacking is ‘wrong’ and as there is no compelling evidence to back up your assertation that it is, I think we might just have to agree to disagree!

    • Fi

      I think smacking is wrong, you think it’s right. That’s fine- of course it is! That’s what debates are all about and why I opened the post up for comments and honesty.

      I appreciate your honesty, I really do. However, I do feel you were slightly attacking my career in your previous comment.

      For the record all the children in my care have grown up to be fine young adults. Some are still growing up of course and so I won’t know if they’ll become ‘brats’ as you say. I dont think any children are brats.

      I think children behave in a certain way for a reason, they’re not just ‘spoilt brats’ -if it’s not a health or special need explanation it’s often simple boredom or attention seeking which when rewarded with a smack- of course puts stop to the behaviour for a while, but it doesn’t solve the problem.

      Snacking works because it hurts. If I got a smack from somebody twice my height and size everytime I ate chocolate I’d be frightened enough not to do it again. Bit us that really how we should raise children? Frighten them into being good? I don’t think so.

      I’m talking from experience and through the training and studies while gaining my qualifications.

      Do you think somebody who cares for your children should smack seeing as they are in your absence responsible for ‘Regulating their behaviour?’

      I wish you well and should you ever want or need any advice I’m always happy to help. I help over 150 parents each week and am happy to report every parent has been happy and reported that my techniques work.

  • kelly

    I have 5 children aged 3,5,7 11 and 13. I personally am against smacking, dont get me wrong my children are not angels.We have 2 children who have special needs my 11 year old son has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair and my son aged 5 is also autistic which is very hard at times. His behaviour and temper can be very challenging and can be very agressive. so to me if I smacked my children then what message is that sending out. I want my children to grow knowing its ok to have opinions and character and know whats right from wrong and i do believe you can bring children up well rounded respectful children who are occasionally naughty without ever smacking them. For me the time out step works but not for my autistic son…for him we do time in where i sit with him and calm him down or we put him in his room which he knows is where he calms down. Please dont think that I am a saint there are times my children drive me a bit bonkers but thats when you have to remember you are the adult,and your reactions to your children have a great bearing on them and how they turn out as adults. My husband was hit as a child when i say hit I mean belt and slipper and when we had children I had a few heated debates with the inlaws about smacking!! I’m also not saying that a smack is a parent abusing their child or comparing it to the severe punishment my husband got, I just think that as parents we must all think twice about the disapline we give our children physical or verbal I once heard for every negative response you give a child you must give 4 positive responses to counteract it…Really made me think 🙂

    • Fi

      Thanks Kelly- I really like the points you’ve made.

      Parenting is hard work and challenging but as you quite rightly say, children look to us for guidance. Smacking a child when they are naughty and then telling them it’s wrong to hit is giving a really confusing message!

      I totally agree- I’m not saying smacking is abusing a child (although it does depend on how hard!) however it I am saying I’ve never needed to in over 20 years with a wide range of children, some of who have been really very difficult and aggressive.

      What happens when they smack you back? Smack harder? How long do you smack for?

  • WelshMum @welshmumwales

    An interesting topic! We generally use the naughty step however as little Mr is going through another stage of tantrums at 4 yrs, time out in his bedroom is working better. It does take strength though, the last one took 2½ hours of firm but consistent messages to resolve. Parenting is not easy and whilst I have not chosen to smack my children the worse thing for me is parents who do not discipline at all. This is what is going to cause problems for our society in years to come!!

    • Fi

      Thanks for your comment! I appreciate your input!

      You’re right, at times parenting is so very hard and it takes everything to keep calm sometimes!

      I think it’s great the way you chose a new time out area when one stopped working.

      It’s a tough job being a parent hey? Childcare is fun? Sure is! ;0)

  • Amanda

    I don’t want you to think I was attacking your career or methods – absolutely not, I was just making a point that it’s hard to judge what works and what doesn’t when talking about children (complex creatures at the best of times) in abstract. All children are SO different that what works for one, won’t necessarily work for another. Although, having said that, I personally believe (and you may agree) that boundaries and structure are really important for kids, and make all the difference to the kind of adults they grow into. My son is going through a ‘testing the boundaries’ phase – and boy is it testing sometimes – but we have a brilliant relationship and he’ll grow into a decent adult as I will make darn sure of it!

    With regard to your point about childminders smacking children – aside from the likelihood of them landing up in court on assault charges if they tried any such thing, no, it’s not the childminder’s job to raise the child for the parent, so no, it’s not their place to smack.

    I wouldn’t say I think smacking is ‘right’ either – I just don’t think it’s ‘wrong.’ I think a judicious smack can work for some children and some parents, but there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to childcare so for some kids and parents it would be a total disaster. Only a parent can make that judgement call – and they might get it wrong sometimes but we’re none of us perfect, we all just do the best we can.

    There’s also a danger when debating the issue that those opposed to smacking assume that parents who smack ONLY use smacking as a disciplinary method. I should think most parents only resort to it when it seems like other methods have failed.

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