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Smacking and Children

By: Beth Morrisey MLIS - Updated: 15 Dec 2018 | comments*Discuss
Smacking spanking smacking Children

“Smacking” is a commonly accepted term for the (light) hitting of children in the name of discipline. Many parents smack their children with the belief that it will deter them from bad behaviour and that they themselves were smacked as children and are no worse for wear. Other parents view smacking as child abuse and refuse to engage in the practice. Today smacking remains a legal (in some cases) but highly controversial method of discipline.

Smacking and the Law in the United Kingdom
Prior to 1998, British parents were afforded the right to use “reasonable chastisement” to discipline their children but the subjective term “reasonable” was never well explained. In September of that year, the European Court of Human Rights decided that this law did not adequately protect children’s rights and so the Children’s Act of 2004 sought to clarify the laws surrounding smacking. Under Section 58 of the Act, smacking remains legal as long as it does not cause visible bruises, grazes, scratches, swelling or cuts. As of June 2007, these conditions provoked a Ministerial review of Section 58 of the Children’s Act with some Ministers again calling for an outright ban on smacking children. Scotland operates some smacking bans, and strict definitions of “reasonable” punishments. The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People is seeking a full and outright ban on smacking children.

Smacking as Discipline
Parents who smack children usually do so by swatting a child on the bottom, causing many to argue that smacking a child wearing a nappy does not harm a child’s body. These parents believe that they are conditioning children to associate negative behaviours with negative consequences. This may be true, but opponents of smacking argue that this does not teach children anything – the key difference between simply punishing children and disciplining children in an instructive manner. These parents often recommend discipline techniques that require thought and reflection on inappropriate behaviour instead of smacking. Some of these techniques include:
  • Time Out – removing a child from a situation instigating inappropriate behaviour for a set number of minutes. Often an explanation and/or apology are required before a Time Out can end.

  • The Naughty Step – requiring a child to sit on a particular step (or rug, or mat, etc.) while they reflect on their inappropriate behaviour. Again, an explanation and/or apology are often required before the child is allowed off of the Naughty Step.

  • Grounding – prohibiting a child from attending particular social events or from engaging in particular activities. This technique may also incorporate particular tasks or chores which must be carried out instead and are designed to teach children appropriate behaviour.

  • Taking Away Privileges – prohibiting a child from taking advantage of certain privileges (usually those that they have earlier abused with inappropriate behaviour). Privileges are usually restored when a child can prove, through his/her behaviour, that (s)he understands and appreciates them.
Smacking, or the light hitting of a child, remains legal within certain guidelines throughout the United Kingdom. Political opponents of smacking are now calling for outright bans on the practice while parental opponents of smacking are waging informational campaigns to educate smacking parents about the alternatives. Though it remains legal, smacking is highly controversial in the UK and could become illegal in the near future.

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We have just been accused of abusing our children by the school. We have 4 children, 3 boys and a girl, have always disciplined our children in the same way (a smack on the arm or hand if we are pushed over the edge. In fact the 2 older boys are spoken to as they are old enough to speak with, but our daughter knows how to push us over the edge with her erratic and disruptive behaviour). Our youngest is only 2 and at that age we never feel it is necessary to use a smack to warn them that repeated bad behaviour will result in a smack. No warning by the school, the 3 who attend were interviewed by staff and the following day my wife was taken in, interviewed by Redbridge Social services and the police. We feel completely criminalised and awful at being told we are being monitored and don't even know what the triggers have been. As overly loving parents, from that moment we now feel we have to disconnect, disengage and be tolerant of bad behaviour for fear of what is actually acceptable. Our trust and authority has been completely diminished. We have been reduced from loving parents to simply having children in our care and it is going to take so much to rebuild our family back.
Soods - 23-Nov-18 @ 4:23 AM
Small children cannot be reasoned with I would rather see a child receive a smack rather than loose that child when it repeatedly goes to the electric plug or tried to reach pots on the stove or run into the road a quick short slap will stop them in their tracks. I don't think children should be hammered or abused but small children cannot be reasoned with they cannot understand as older people do.
Me - 18-Nov-18 @ 2:25 AM
Gods got nothing to say on it has he? because he can’t talk so why even bother to say it. Make your own decisions in life and treat each other well.
HeIsIAndIAmHim - 2-Nov-18 @ 8:34 PM
god does not condone this ban it
godly owner of gods - 11-Oct-18 @ 10:15 AM
I am now 53 years old and am suffering from mental health issues.My father physically beat me with leather belt when mother was away,my mother hit me in head with poker when father was at work,had to promise 'not to tell'. I was no angel but didnt see this treatment as reason to stop,i was v young n now i know better.All i know is violence is NEVER an answer,it only leaves victims
pumpkin - 4-Sep-18 @ 9:59 PM
Mmm. I wonder what God has to say about this? Surely He has a say too?
Godly parent - 8-Sep-17 @ 12:04 PM
I was hit by my parents and the pain that i suffered is still there. I lost my childhood in that home, I had to learn to be the perfect daughter, someone who never did anything wrong.
HelpMe. - 2-Feb-17 @ 5:28 PM
Hi my 4 year old daughter has been very bad the last cople of months just last week she tried jumping up on my balcony so i smacked her hand few days later i get a call from social services saying they had a call anonymously saying i screamed at her told her get in the effing house and smacked her i have never swore at my child what the person said i said was actually my neighbour shouting at her daughter my girl is in the process of being assessed for adhd
Re - 28-Aug-16 @ 7:21 PM
Jas - Your Question:
I'm a parent of 5 and all my children apart from one of my sons are well behaved. I can't understand for the life of me why!!!! I've treated them all the same and brought them up in the same way with the same methods, my son has a low patience tolerance he screams yells and also makes sure all the attention is on him if he doesn't get what he wants. On occasion he runs into the streets screaming don't hit me and I've never hit any of my children can anyone help me I don't know what to do.iv tried books videos etc to help me with solving this naughty issue but no rules or consequences work

Our Response:
How old is your son? Is he well behaved at school/nursery etc?
KidsBehaviour - 12-Jul-16 @ 10:23 AM
i am a parent to 3 kids and 2 ARE BAD BEHAVERD
lyynnssmtihhh - 11-Jul-16 @ 12:54 PM
I'm a parent of 5 and all my children apart from one of my sons are well behaved.... I can't understand for the life of me why!!!! I've treated them all the same and brought them up in the same way with the same methods, my son has a low patience tolerance he screams yells and also makes sure all the attention is on him if he doesn't get what he wants.... On occasion he runs into the streets screaming don't hit me and I've never hit any of my children can anyone help me I don't know what to do....iv tried books videos etc to help me with solving this naughty issue but no rules or consequences work
Jas - 9-Jul-16 @ 8:13 PM
I have never been hit my whole life but I watched as my dad hit my older sister, she was the only one in the family that got hit. She now has PTSD and gets very anxious when around our parents. That is what happens when parents hit their children and it should be banned but sadly it probably won't.
Billy - 2-Apr-16 @ 2:26 PM
my friend has been arrested due to her 13 year old daughter calling the police due to her desire to join her mates in a care home, they have made the care home sound great with freedom, money and no rules. Because she refused to sign a form to say she won't smack her daughter she is now charged with abuse, she has tried all the above ways but they haven't worked. What is left for her to do other than let her daughter enter the care system and get swallowed up by the scum waiting for her in there, and then pick up the pieces when she finds out that it's not all money and parties.
Two4One - 25-Mar-16 @ 8:37 AM
No no no why would anyone want to cause a little one pain ? I do not believe any person has any right to smack children. I did never ever smack my children. My mum never evef smacked me. So nope, i dont agree
Carol - 19-Mar-16 @ 4:13 PM
I dont personally smack my children but i was smacked as a child and i turned out okay sometimes as a last resort i dont see the problem of a child getting a smacked bottom or hand to teach them right from wrong i my self as a child was smacked with a belt on numerous occassions by my father and yes it hurt at the time but it taught me never to do what i done again and no i dont agree with belts and other things but dont disagree with a smack on the bottom or hand to teach some kids right from wrong
shazza - 19-Mar-16 @ 1:37 AM
I am a 16 year old that has been 'punished' way too much when I was little. It was always on my bottom or legs, but it was never ever soft. I now have complex PTSD,and hitting your child is likely to result in this or another form of paranoia or anxiety. Hitting your children is more likely to make them rebellious when they get older. There are many other obvious methods of disciplining children as it clearly states in this article.
Anonymous - 8-Jan-16 @ 7:34 AM
It's a tough call but often the only one when all of the alternatives repeatedly fail. There is a world of difference between a child who is unloved, abused and physically hurt and a child who knows they are treasured and loved but will get a wee smack if they take it way too far. The legislative concerns relate to the worry that a liberal stance on smacking leads to too much grey area that may allow abuse cases to slip through.
Bobboid - 18-Jun-15 @ 10:16 PM
I can not understand why other people put their noses into a families discilpine, I and my wife use smacking, as a very last resort, we have children now as teenagers drinking, smoking on drugs getting pregnant at a very early age! Why? A serious lack of discilpine in the home from an early age! I talk to fellow parents who are at a loss of what to do with their children, the try grounding, the children walk out the door! They try restrictions, they go to their friends houses were they dont have any, they give them choures the children refuse! This is the time were a reasonable smack may come in but you can not do this as everybody and their neighbour put their noses in andeven the children are threatening to ring social services! So, let me ask all those people who are totally against reasonable smaking, when all else fails what do you do? Do you realise that your trying to take away a parents power to govern their children? What next will be child abuse, teaching morals, God, etc?
sammey - 13-Feb-15 @ 9:51 PM
hi my sister smacking the kids heaps of time beacuse they are not listen iam sick of itwhat i do next if she do it again
bambam - 17-Jul-12 @ 10:54 AM
This is a really good read for me, Must admit that you are one of the best bloggers I have read.
Rakesh Gupta - 11-Jun-12 @ 1:49 PM
In my country smacking has been banned since the 1970. It is highly immoral to hit a child and we do find it shocking when we hear about parents smacking their children. My MIL has been talking smacking. I am so confused because it sounds like she enjoys talking about how she smacked her sons it as if it gives her pleasure somehow. I wonder what the law says if she would smack my child without my content. Could I take her to court? To me smacking is child abuse. But threatening and talking about is abusive to. Is this why people enjoy S/M so much in UK because they got smacked as children and are somehow emotionally disconnected? However I don't want my son to hear any talk about how someone would enjoy smacking him. It is immoral and destructive. Very close to sexual abuse.
Minime - 22-May-12 @ 9:31 PM
I don't know what to do with my 9 year old daughter who has been repeatedly caught lying and stealing. Her dad simply takes away her toys for days or weeks, then she lies and steals again. I tried to smack her but he won't let me, stating that it is child abuse. I hope that someday society will not judge me a bad parent for condoning her lies and stealing. This was not how my brothers and I were raised. When my youngest brother was caught stealing car hood ornaments, my mother took him straight to the nearest police station and made the cops put him in a cell for a few hours. He never stole again after that episode. It is unfortunate that I can't do the same for my own child as my mother had done. My daughter has been lying and stealing from the age of 2, and will keep doing it for the rest of her life. I've tried everything that's legal, and nothing has worked. She has hardly any friends, who would want to play with her knowing that she might steal from them? It's not like she's wanting for anything.
HandsRTied - 13-Nov-11 @ 11:51 AM
I agree with both of the sentiments offered by Kat and Andy. I am attempting to raise five lively, spirited individuals to hopefully be empathetic, loving and law abiding adults without breaking their spirits in the process. I do smack my children when I feel the situation requires it, whilst also applying the other methods of naughty step, relevant consequences linked to the negative behaviour, confiscation, etc when these are more suited. However, I also offer what I believe to be a balance of love and affection to my children. My aim is to show how society ostracizes and punishes individuals who do not act for the general good. It however encourages socially exceptable behaviour. As adults, the majority of us know whether what we are asking or expecting of our children is obtainable. We also know whether we are being fair in our dealings with them. A good yard stick for me is to see if I can comfortably stand up in front of our own peers/parents and church to guiltlessly explain my parenting measures. I also hope my children are proof that I am not unduly harsh. They are still lively, spirited individuals who offer me love back and from those who have dealings with themit is frequently said they are truely lovely, well behaved, loving and mannerly.
Mum - 18-Jul-11 @ 9:34 PM
I think adults should NOT be able to hit their kids. I think slapping children should be legal in some cases but not if they get really hurt x
chazzer boi - 18-May-11 @ 10:38 AM
I would like to know what on earth parents are supposed to do when all of the above methods of discipline have repeatedly failed, and when everything your child is doing is totally unacceptable or dangerous? For e.g. your 4 year old son keeps biting people so hard that he is actually causing damage! The older generation will advise that you bite them back, to teach them how awful it is, but this contravenes section 58 of the Children Act 2004. We have a generation of youth that respect no laws, let alone other people due to parental fear of having your child taken from you, and put into institutional care because you gave them a smack for going too far. It is very often a parents reflex and instinct to smack (not beat) a child that is behaving totally unacceptably and heeding no warning. Our instincts are very often right, that coupled with the construct of society and rules, is how we have done so well as a species. As adults we know that if you push someones boundaries too far and cause them to lose their temper without heeding any warning, there may well be physical consequences. Why should children also not learn about these boundaries? How are we doing our best to teach them about living in this world, if we send them out the door as young adults thinking that if they are abusive to other people they will have to sit on a step for 5 minutes? The naughty step works very well for mild to moderate bad behaviour (drawing on the walls, pulling hair, etc.) but does not demonstrate to a child the severity of a serious incident. You cannot physically hurt someone repeatedly, or conduct dangerous life threatening behaviour (like running off into the road) without expecting repercussions. Law makers need to seriously consider the long term consequences of children with no knowledge of fear, and crossing someone elses boundaries repeatedly. You only have to walk through your local town centre at 6 pm on a saturday evening to realise that some (some NOT all) teenagers have no respect at all and know very well that there is NOTHING that you, their parents, or even the police can do to them to curb their antics without resorting to incarceration! Is that how is to be? Smacking them contravenes their rights, but not adequately preparing them for respectable adult life and them ending up being incarcerated, and having their liberty taken away from them, resulting in no hope of a happy fulfilled life, is okay? How does that not contravene their rights?
Kat - 9-May-11 @ 11:51 AM
This is not exactly a neutrally written article! Thankfully, the prediction that smacking "could become illegal in the near future" has not happened and the latest evidence shows that those who were smacked in youth do better at school and gain higher exam grades."Spare the rod and spoil the child"!
Andy in Hawick - 5-May-11 @ 3:47 PM
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