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Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The impact of smacking

Up until the 1980’s smacking was only in debate by a few. Prior to this, many as a ‘day-to-day’ parenting tool saw smacking and spanking as par for the course.

The UK introduced its’ first ban on smacking in 1987 through the recognition that corporal punishment was no longer an option in our educational system. In 1999 this ban was then extended to independent schools. In the past decade further laws have been passed that have resulted in the prohibited use of corporal punishment in private and public children's homes and care facilities. Since 2004, the law has changed further to make it harder for parents, or primary caregivers, to use the defence of “reasonable punishment” when they could otherwise be charged with assault.

Concerns remain about smacking at home and in part-time educational institutions such as faith schools, where adults using "reasonable force" can avoid prosecutions.

But are parents being encouraged to look at alternative ways of managing their children without the use of smacking or physical punishment?

Currently, parents are allowed by law to mete out "reasonable chastisement'' on their children, providing smacking does not leave a bruise or mark. The Children’s Act 2004 clarifies these points and specifies the limits for parents. Children’s groups and MPs have argued that spanking or smacking is an outdated form of punishment that can cause long-term mental health problems. Despite persistent enthusiasm for physical chastisement in significant sections of the population, social scientists are virtually unanimous in arguing that smacking has more negative than positive effects.

Smacking or spanking is an act of aggression and in some cases violence against a child. In my opinion it has no demonstrative qualities and it has no place in parenting for the 21st century. Parenting in the 21st century means parenting with consciousness doesn’t it?

As a forty two year old ‘social scientist’ I am totally convinced that smacking or spanking is outdated, unnecessary, misguided, ineffectual and is a hopeless measure in support of discipline. Aggression is not the only way to deal with a problem. In demonstrating and modeling aggression and smacking it will not encourage positive teaching of our children, nor will it support them to consider alternatives solutions. It will affirm that ‘hitting out’ is the only way to deal with problems.

Smacking seems to me to be a loss of control. If parents have already lost control how far will they go in their attempts to discipline and control? How do we accurately measure “reasonable chastisement?” Take a look into the mind of a child and how he or she will process the concept of smacking, very simply in the following way. Mum or Dad smacks me so it’s OK for me to smack others too, especially people who are smaller and more vulnerable than me.

The consequence is that children who are smacked consistently hit out as initial response to dealing with problems and conflicts. I have worked with many children for many years and not only do I hear and see their parents in them and their learnt behaviours I have been on the receiving end of a couple of punches whilst in the clinical space. Yes punches rather than smacks. A child who is regularly hit will feel discomfort and pain, and he or she will experience shame.

Shame affects us in so many negative ways. A child will innately ‘act out’ their feelings in one of two ways - harming themself or harming another. They will not stop to consider the difference between a smack, a punch, a bite etc.

To add insult to injury smacking doesn’t ‘fix’ the problem. Many children learn to expect and tolerate the pain; some go on to request smacking as punishment as it is seen as a quick punishment. As the negative behaviours continue and the seeds of parental hatred begin to grow will it be your child visiting me in my clinical practice to discuss how being parented negatively (through smacking etc.) has affected their lives. I hope not, for their sake and yours.

I have three further comments to make firstly recent media articles are suggesting, “smacking never did me any harm” and kids who have been smacked are more likely to attend university etc. I’m afraid I believe the reason why people who have been raised using smacking as a disciplinary measure attend university is they are more than likely to feel a need to prove themselves to the world and I believe this is why they are more likely to attend university.

Secondly, research shows and so do many of the popular parenting experts/authors there is no place for smacking. We know that firm and consistent boundaries and reward-based systems will benefit our children thereby allowing for development and growth through learning more of the impact of their behaviors and how this can affect themselves and others.

Finally the issue of smacking must now be considered in light of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention of Human Rights, particularly Article Three on protection against torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 is also relevant for child punishment, as Article 19 states: "Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation.”

In 1995 the Committee on the Rights of the Child, after examining the UK's first report under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, recommended that corporal punishment in the family should be prohibited, and criticised the existence of the defence of "reasonable chastisement".

SAY A BIG FAT NO TO SMACKING….it’s not the answer.

Vivien Sabel
Relational Psychotherapist/Clinical Supervisor/Researcher/Writer


Vivien Sabel is the author of The Blossom Method ™ - Understanding and Bonding with Your Baby From Birth - publication date June 2012 (The Blossom Method has received outstanding worldwide reviews and a publishing house in Australia has already tipped it to be a global bestseller).

Vivien is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and a qualified Clinical Supervisor. She is a published researcher, a British Mummy Blogger and a parenting book & product reviewer.

©Vivien Sabel 2011 All rights reserved


  1. Very interseting and thought provoking post! As a social worker I obviously have my own professional as well as personal views. I am also interested in the latest research on the development of the brain that highlights how important the connections made in the first 3 years are for the future, particularly in relation to violent behaviour. Important topic to highlight. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for your comments Deidre. I appreciate your though-provoking message too.

  3. I have had to read this write up over and over again because it makes an interesting read. Thank you for the insights. I have learnt something new here and am very glad to have read this. I personally don't believe in smacking but now i can defend my stand by quoting your reasons.

  4. I do not like smacking. To me I remember children being smacked when I was growing up and now I hardly see or heard of it. I think parents have found other ways like withdrawal of items as a form of control.

  5. A thought and comment provoking article! Clearly beating a child senseless is completely unacceptable! Children need boundaries & an element of discipline is required. I grew up in the 80's & when the cane was removed from school discipline went out of the window! Draw yr own conclusions! I am not violent by the way!