Smacking children…a parent’s right, or not?

I have written this blog post a million times over for months on end. It has been sitting in my drafts being reworked and reworded over and over again. I do not want to sound condescending or righteous but I do want to open a discussion about this. It is an important conversation to have. I’m not sure I’ve even got it right in this post. I WANT it to be better. But it seems that, when it comes to this topic, this is really the best I can do.

smackingSmacking kids has probably been happening since the dawn of time. Kid misbehaves, give it a little whack. Is that OK? I find myself asking this question more and more now that I’m a mum.

Now before you think I’m going to get all judgemental on your arse let me own up to something here: I have smacked my child. In fact, there was a period there that I did it with quite some frequency. Most usually it would be a smack on the hand but I’ve done it more than once at a time and also in other locations.

I don’t do it often at all now.  As a rule I try to avoid it but I’m human and sometimes I don’t succeed. My change in habit was mostly because of a blog I read one day about whether or not smacking should be banned as it is child abuse (I’d link to it if I could even find it but not having much luck).

I have to admit, when I first started reading the post I was scoffing. The phrase Oh for god’s sake probably crossed my mind. And I definitely didn’t think it should be banned. I’m still not sure about this (and I think that’s a whole other blog post – I mean, how do you police this?).

By the end of the post though I was intrigued about the abuse side of things and it has left me thinking about the issue with some frequency.

None of us like to think we “abuse” our children so this term in relation to smacking our kids is going to make us pretty uncomfortable. Let me just work this idea through with you. Humour me if you will.

Let’s just say you had an agreement with your husband that you would move heaven and earth to have no dirty dishes in the sink when he got home at night. It is his little bug bear. He isn’t fussed about the messy toys or the dirty bathroom but for some reason dishes in the sink really give him the shits. You like to keep your marriage rosy where possible and you feel it is just a small thing so you agree that wherever possible you will make it happen. He understands that sometimes it isn’t going to work out but he can handle that on the odd occasion. He is nothing if not flexible.

So one week you are having a shocker of the week. And every single night when hubby gets home from work there is a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Hubby gets more and more annoyed about it until eventually, on Friday night, he gets home and goes a bit crazy. In the midst of it all her reaches forward and gives you a little whack. Not a beating and and only enough to smart a little but it is a whack nonetheless and it is done with anger. It’ s just to teach you a lesson.

Is this OK?

Of course not. We would consider that to be domestic abuse.

So why is it OK when someone does that to a child? Someone smaller and weaker than them. Someone who can’t fight back.


Because we birthed them? Or are raising them?

Nowhere in society is it condoned to inflict pain on a person to get our own way except when it is our children

Don’t you think that is a bit weird? I think it is a bit weird.

Aside from that how do we teach our kids that it is not OK to be violent when we want our own way if we are violent with them when we aren’t getting our own way? It reeks of hypocrisy.

So this is where I was sitting with it all until the other day. I was pretty much a non smacker but still losing it from time to time. The social smoking version of smacking if you will.

Then this article came out with research on smacking and what it actually does to the brains of our kids. It reduces gray matter.

Did you know this? Do you even know what this means?

Essentially they are saying there is a link between gray matter and IQ. And there is a link between smacking and the amount of gray matter. So if you smack, the gray matter reduces and the potential IQ is less. The other interesting fact from this study is that the area of gray matter we are smashing out of our kidlets relates to self control. So we are smacking them because they are disobedient and not controlling themselves to our liking…and yet by smacking them we are actually reducing their ability to be obedient. The study also states that while parents insist that smacking is the most effective form of discipline, research says that is not so.

So what are we doing it for?

Reading all this my logical mind tells me that it is not our right as parents to physically hurt our children because they don’t do what we want them to do. This is coming from a person who used to say “I was smacked as a child and it never hurt me. What’s the big deal?”.  But this is what the facts tell us. Facts are facts.

What do you think? Is it abuse? Is it your right as a parent to smack your child?

I’m very interested to hear your thoughts on this one. Please chime in.



40 thoughts on “Smacking children…a parent’s right, or not?

  1. Well, a highly contentions issue to blog about but well done you for being brave enough to do so. I think many of us were smacked in the past generation and while I don’t actually think it harmed me, I do remember being afraid at times. It’s plain and simple for me. I don’t want my kids to ever fear me. OK, so maybe i want my loud voice to scare them just a little into tidying up the floor, but I never want them to be genuinely afraid. I think that smacking induces fear and fear, especially in young children, is a bad thing. So that’s my stance. That said, I don’t judge anyone who smacks occasionally, especially if it’s just on the hand. OK, so that’s my two cents worth…..

    • It’s such a tricky topic. I try not to judge others either. Parenting is hard enough as it is. Fear is a big factor for me too. I don’t want my son to fear me deep down into his bones. I grew up afraid of my dad and I just don’t want that for my son. It’s no way to live with a parent.

  2. You’ll probably cop shit for this post but I agree. Michaela actually summed up my perspective on this beautifully, so she’s saved me a lot of work. I don’t want my kids to fear me. And for reasons which I won’t go into here I don’t want my kids to grow up in a house filled with tension and anger and aggression, so I very rarely yell or scream either. We all do the best we can with the knowledge and experience and resources we have at any given time, so I’m not going to judge other people for doing things differently, but this is how I strive to parent and so far I’ve been fortunate enough to live up to those expectations of myself.

    • I’m totally with you on the fear thing. My dad was a yelling screaming smacking parent and because of all that fear/anger/aggression I try not to yell or scream either. It has been a work in progress for me as it turns out I am naturally a screamer too but it has been something worth working on. I am a better, more tolerant parent now because of it and it makes for a much more pleasant experience. Things are always more shit if you are screaming about them.

      • My mother was the screamer spanker extraordinaire. I was scared shit before J came, I thought I’d be just like her. I read… must have been a thousand books on bringing up your kid, but only one really stuck with me- Scream Free Parenting. It talked about a plan to discipline children in a quiet way, while still making sure that they are disciplined, and not running amok and taking advantage.
        It was really hard when J was little, but got easier to be quiet and calm. Now, I wouldn’t do it any other way. It’s judicial, you know? I’m still the Mom. I’m the disciplinarian, and its always their choice whether to follow the rules or not. If not? consequence. Simple, quiet consequence. I’m not angry, but I have to punish you because you broke the rules. And after you pay your debt to society, assurance that you are still loved. Done. I love it. And when J was little, I loved simply having a plan, so I knew what I was going to do before I was put to the test.

  3. I think you are so awesome for writing about this touchy subject!
    I was spanked (often) when I was a child as I was not the most obedient kid and had a mouth that pretty much was horrible. I don’t think I ever felt fearful or abused. I knew that it was just a consequence for my bad behavior and often they didn’t even really hurt.
    I have spanked my daughter on rare occasion as a total LAST resort, but usually explain and/or put toys away for the day instead. And I never spank her for doing something physical.
    Your post has opened my eyes to some things that I didn’t know though. I am going to check out that article. Thanks for being willing to discuss this tense topic!

    • Man it is SUCH a touchy subject. Seriously took me forever to write this post. The article was definitely an eye opener for me too. It has definitely shifted me from sometimes smacker to never smacker. Hopefully I’ll be able to hold my position when I am severely tested. We know how once we try to choose a position on something as parents the kids set out to test us big time!!!! hehe

  4. Thanks for being honest – most parent’s wouldn’t admit to this. I’ve been there with my oldest and were “smacked as a child too. I don’t remember it as it wasn’t done often and didn’t leave me feeling abused. Even when I think of the action today I don’t regret my parent’s decision. I’ve smacked my oldest once and felt beyond terrible for days…yelling at your kids is just the same and yes I do that too…far more then I want to. That’s what makes me feel like a bad parent…parenting is hard sometimes.

    • Parenting is REALLY hard and those days when there is just so much going on are always the hardest. They are the days I find myself smacking or yelling. Which makes me realise that it is infrequently about the kid and more about me and the stressful environment at the time. So I shouldn’t be smacking, or yelling. So I work towards achieving that goal. I don’t think I will smack again in future, not after reading about that study. It just seems too wrong. Good luck with it. It’s not easy. I think you have a hubby that works away as well so that doesn’t make stress levels any easier. I think as long as we are trying to be the best parents we can be then that is all you can really ask. It’s the parents who don’t care about how they parent and what is happening that are the real problem. I don’t think we are them 🙂

      • Yes, my husband is away a lot (hoping that changes soon for us). I’m learning to be more calm and walk away from things when I have to. No, I don’t think we are them either 🙂

  5. Yup there is a ton of grey area. With very small children, still wearing a diaper, but big enough to get into trouble, there are very few options for punishment. We do time outs in our house, as a rule, and as our first line of defense. We do them everywhere, the rules apply at home as well as the grocery, the pharmacy, the toy store… I follow one philosophy very closely, and it’s not easy: don’t get mad.
    If my child misbehaves, they have till three to figure themselves out. If they do not, a pre-stated punishment will be enacted. The child is never punished without knowing the consequences beforehand. Usually a time out. Now- when the child is 2 1/2 and is trying to keep from bed at the end of the night, time out starts to look pretty good. If it’s necessary,the stated punishment, instead of time out goes to a butt smack. She is too young to understand a correction given out at a later date, but she must be corrected, or the behavior will continue.
    She always knows what the correction will be before she makes the decision to comply or not to comply, and I NEVER hit my children in anger. In fact, I’m sure it only hurts her pride. She’s got diaper back there. Once there’s no diaper back there… She’s too big in my eyes.
    J is too big. He’s 6. If I have to punish him for some reason, I have a million choices at my disposal. He’s reasonable. I can take away a toy, I can take away play time, I stick him in his room…I can arrange a punishment for the next day and he understands. Sometimes just feeling bad about whatever he’s done is enough. But still, he never ever gets punished without a warning, and knowing exactly what the punishment will be if he chooses to misbehave. The big thing for us is to keep our tempers, and dole out the discipline rationally. That can be hard, but it forces our kids to take responsibility for their own behavior. They did they crime, they do the time. They do not drag us along with them into impulsive angry behavior.

  6. It is criminal in Finland, and it can be reported. Social welfare is first supposed to work with the parents to find other means to take care of their children. I believe that’s what it is about: it shouldn’t be about something annoying us, it should be about teaching the kids how to do it. If the reports are frequent, well, the last resource is to take kida into custody.

    I think something worth thinking of is what you want you child to learn. If you hit, it will hit. I don’t hit but jeeze I’ve yelled some times. And jeeze it sounds bad when I hear the kids yell the same way to each other. Or anyone else. How would they know why it’s ok for me to yell to them but not for them to tell to others? They imitate everything.

    So I’ve been thinking, how do I want to be treated when I’m wrong? It helps me to get a small break, to breath, and then talk. So I started to tell (as in not yell, well, that is my goal ; ) ) our kids that “I’m angry because I’ve told you to… and you don’t listen. Now I’m going to cool down on the stairs a bit. Kids get surprised by the change. Usually that alone often improves the situation. But hey, our kids have also started to go to the stairs when they go crazy. Themselves. Or I can suggest it: do you behave or “cool down at the stairs”. They choose. They can come back when they are cool. Goes for me too. Or I can go with them to hold them if they wish but give some peace for others. But: kids imitate.

    And no, one smack probably doesn’t do too much harm. But where do we draw the line? What is too hard a smack? If we loose our control to smack, can we loose it so that we hit real hard? What do we want our children to learn? Do I feel respected if I’m smacked? How do i show my respect to the ones I love most? Can I as a parent find another approach if what I do so far doesn’t work?

    • I agree completely with you, for a child that’s old enough to understand. I wish my parents had stopped to wonder how their actions affected me when I was a child, but you can’t rationalize with a two year old. When you say ” I was angry because…” it doesn’t mean anything to them. You can talk, and change tacks, and rationalize all day long with an older toddler- that difficult age, but it’s not going to help. They are not rational yet. Treating your child how you would like to be treated is a wonderful idea, but until a child is old enough to understand, you need to be able to shock them back to Earth. There’s a point in a child’s development when they understand more than they speak. This is the difficult time- and sometimes they need a calm voice. A calm voice NOT reassuring them that their behavior is okay, but a calm voice letting them know the consequences of their behavior, should it continue, and then afterwards, whether they choose to listen or not, that they are still loved.
      It’s important that when a child is at that crucial developmental age, that they be taught right and wrong by simple action and consequence. Time-outs work for us, most of the time. But once in a while the consequence becomes a swat on the diaper. She is completely aware that this is coming, and she makes the choice to bring on the consequence of her actions. She is big enough to understand that. She always gets a count of 3, or 3 strikes, whichever is appropriate.
      I feel anger is the problem. Anger creates fear, and I never want my children to fear me, and I feel that someone who hits their child in anger is out of control. J is old enough now (6) to talk about his actions and the consequences that will arise from the continuation of a bad behavior. I have the luxury of treating him the way I would want to be treated, but discipline is VERY important to us. My kids do as they’re told and our system works, and moreover, they like it. J doesn’t even remember the times I smacked him on his butt, if you ask him (which I just did) he would tell you we never hit him.

      • Hmm, I think I could not disagree more ;).

        First of all: people can remember with their body what they can’t express. or they can remember feelings later on. That is, if they have been scared or hurt, and a similar situation arrises again, they may physicaly react to it (there is scientific proof for this but won’t look for it now).

        Secondly: maybe kids won’t remember but I don’t think that is something to justify ones actions with. I mean, I don’t think anyone would say that it is ok to smack somebody who is drunk just because the person will not understand it. I know, I am making it extreme but something to think about.

        Also, when my daughter was just under 2, she could bearly talk. We went to a place and us adults made jokes about some boats there in her presence. We visited the place a year later, when she was fluent in her speech, she saw the boats and told us similar jokes we made the last time. How can we be sure what and how children actually will understand? They certainly read our moods though, so I agree with the anger part. That is probably scary for them.

        Another thing: my children are 2,5 and 4 now, i haven’t smacked them and they do as I tell them (in the things that are important, e.g. in trafic). So there has to be other ways too to make it work. Not saying that my way is the best way or the only way, just saying that I haven’t “schocked them back to Earth” by smacking.

        Also, am not rationalising with them. They may not understand what I say, but they can read how agitated I am. Who does it hurt if I state what I feel even if they don’t understand it (and can’t say that I quite always do it exactly as in the example;) )? However, the 4 yo understands and even the younger ones learn to label their feelings. That can’t be bad thing, can it? Also, it’s helping me to stay rational. But it is not a negotiation either. I am angry, I “cool down” on the stairs. They go crazy, they cool down on the stairs. Just explaining and they pick it up when they are old enough to understand. But I do think it is a good thing to be able to recognise my feelings and also to be able to express them to others.

        But hey, see how good a post Rachel did? it got us talking! 🙂 And I’m sure it got us all thinking too!

      • However you want to raise your kids, I’m glad that they are good kids, but I disagree as well.
        It’s difficult to keep calm sometimes, but I feel it’s the best thing for kids.
        One of the reasons I do what I do with my kids, is because my mothers agitation and anger frightened me as a child. Kids take on grown up feelings as their own- or they blame themselves for mommy’s anger.
        We have a system in place in order to take all of the grown up feelings out of discipline, and only focus on the child. It helps to teach the kids how to manage their own feelings, no matter what they are.
        I don’t beat my kid. She has never cried when I smacked her on the rump, however she has stopped crying. I understand thats a hard concept, but hitting to hurt only occurs when someone hits out of anger.
        Our home is a calm place, because mommy and daddy are calm. Don’t get me wrong, my kids are kids, they still make me crazy sometimes, but reacting to their behavior with agitation only makes it worse. If my kids are misbehaving there is a procedure:
        X is what you are doing wrong right now. You have A: till three or B: two more chances to stop/fix it, or X will happen.
        Finished, no anger. Now the ball is in their court.
        If I need to do that a million times in a row, so be it, but they don’t push my buttons, because that’s when anger comes out, and they’re kids. They should only know love and discipline. It’s my responsibility to teach them how to deal with their own emotions, not to make them deal with mine.

      • Btw, I agree with using the calm voice. And it often works too. But is not always easy to do if you don’t feel so calm 😉 but I’m working towards that. I also agree with trying to be consequent so that kids know what is expected.

      • I like the way you focus on the child. And I agree, children should never have to be responsible for parents emotions (or how parents act). And that parents anger is something that may frighten the kids (but maybe that is frightening only if kids don’t know what to expect/ expect something scary? Just thinking here…).

        But yes, it is good to stay calm, that is what I want too. And luckily it mostly works too :). But I’ve thought about this in order to work with me, instead of reacting to the child (as in my responsibility, not the child’s). Seems like you have too: you have a procedure, you know how to deal with the situations, as have I. In the end I think we think very similarly, as we both want to show love and make the situations feel safe for the children. Or what do you think?

        I feel like I’ve been hijacking this, sorry Rachel. But can I just ask one more thing? What do you think kids read in parents not showing emotions that they are feeling? What if they learn that it is not ok to get angry? What if they start feeling shame because they get angry? I mean, doesn’t everyone get angry sometimes? But aren’t all feelings ok as long as we don’t act in an irresponsible manner on them? How big a role do you think culture plays in views on this? Are all emotions ok? I guess my original purpose was to bring in the other cultural view point with us actually having a law sending quite a clear signal on what is not allowed in parenting (and still I am sure kids get smacked here too. I did as a child, before the law ;), and I join the club of can’t say it hurt me). So far I’ve been wanting to do for myself and hopefully teach my children (we’ll see in 20 years how it worked out ;)) is that all feelings are ok but we need to learn how handle them. But maybe there is more to it?

      • We aren’t robots, we all have feelings. My kids have seen me angry, they’ve seen me agitated, they’ve seen me sad. They have not, however, seen me have any of these emotions in regard to their behavior. (Mostly. Nobody’s perfect.) The times I let go of my emotion are only the times when my kids need me to let go of my emotions, the times I need to concentrate on theirs.
        It’s not easy to learn how to be mad or sad without acting out, or to talk about it instead. When J is acting out, and he gets a time out, he’s angry.
        Anger feeds off of anger. But if, instead, I take that opportunity to calmly discuss with him why he’s angry, (if he can explain, or if he even knows) and that it’s okay feel that way, but we have to be in control of our actions when we feel those kind of mad feelings, we are taking what could be a negative situation and turning it into a teachable moment.
        He does his time, ALWAYS. Punishment is ALWAYS carried through, and then he tells me why I put him there in the first place, and I get an apology, hug and kiss, and then it’s OVER. Like it never happened. I punish behavior, not my kid. At 6, he’s growing out of time out now, so we’re beginning to use other forms of punishment when we need it, like no TV, no dessert, etc. But we rarely need it. He’s a really good kid.
        With K, the three year old, things are different. She’s at a different stage in her development. She can’t be expected to discuss her feelings, or tell me she’s angry or sad. Simple cause and effect works for her.
        My kids know their emotions are normal and that it’s okay to have them, but they also understand that it’s not okay to make someone else feel bad when you feel those feelings. J’s Kindergarten teacher told us a thousand times how empathetic he is. The example she gave is when he was able to go over and help another child who was crying. There are so many examples, though. I think it’s his best quality. He is calm in the face of another childs emotions. I’m very proud of that, and I think it comes from home.

  7. O-oh, after rereading my comment, I realised that I have been jumping a bit; I should define, that yes, a smack can be reported in Finland but who would do that? And yes, there is a difference between a little smack on the fingers and a proper hit, but as far as I know the law actually doesn’t allow either one.

    I like the comments about children’s fear, something to think about. Anyway, great post, I thought I knew were I stand with this but still it makes me think!

    • This is silly, but I did a count down, and then my sister followed suit, we counted down from 5, because I didn’t want Mr. T to become afraid of counting or math and that’s always taught counting up, so I did a count down. 🙂

      • Makes me laugh, but not silly. That’s good thinking, and I think that could work for me too. I guess the one thing I need is to have something make me breath 🙂 I might try this one if I’m not at home (were the stairs are)!

  8. I am finding it is the most important yet most difficult thing to stay calm with my 5 yo! I’ve never hit him, but have had the impulse plenty of times, and there is definitely a little voice in my head that tells me just maybe it would teach him a lesson. The thing that keeps me from doing it is that part of my job is being a parent educator, so I know the research says it’s not a good thing. Kids are so trying!! For me, it isn’t about having the knowledge for different techniques; it is about doing my own work (meditation, etc.) so that I will be able to regulate my own emotions so I don’t get all bent out of shape about a kid being a kid. Setting limits without anger can be a tough one!

    • You are not kidding. Its a struggle sometimes even now, and we’ve been at it for 6 1/2 years, but it gets easier. What I do when I start feeling angry at my kids or kid, is I consciously relax all my muscles at once. Shut them out for a moment and get centered, like meditation, but all at once. Once I’ve done that, I can move about our disciplinary process or calm down the kids quietly and calmly. Try this too– the louder they get- the more quietly you speak. You’ll be surprised how fast they calm. They have to, they can’t hear you if they’re screaming.

  9. Great post. When I was young we got smacked around the head if we were naughty, but sometimes also out of frustration and temper (mainly my dad). I stood up against him when I was twelve and he stopped after that. When I moved in with my first boyfriend at the age of 18 I used to duck when he made an unexpected movement. So yeah, fear had been inclined to a certain point and I think it might even affect my relationships nowadays. (Mind, this was not beating up but just a “corrective” smack which was totally acceptable at that time). And I have seen my nephew being scared of my brother ( I have never seen him being smacked though) and it broke my heart to see that. I think installing this fear in your child is the worst and for that it is the main reason I think children should never be smacked. Great work to raise awareness on this topic by writing your post!

    • Thank you. Yes I remember once when Saxon was younger he pulled away from me in fear when he was in trouble. I swore that would never happen again. it broke my heart. Now if I do get grumpy about something and happen to yell (which is infrequent) he actually tells me “Don’t yell at me mummy, you aren’t supposed to yell” and I always say “You are right. Mummy is very sorry”. There’s no need. We can communicate that we are unhappy without smacking and yelling!

  10. Putting it in the context of a husband doing it to a wife is very thought-provoking. It is definitely not a black and white issue, but it is one that can easily cross that line. Yelling is usually my go-to when the kids really upset. But we try really hard to emphasize natural consequences, which gets easier as the kids get older.

  11. Rach, I really admire your bravery in putting this very hot topic out there, and also for admitting to, on occasion, smacking the little one.

    Mine are both grown now, and while my default disciplinary action was yelling (and believe me when I say my roar can be pretty damned scary to children and adults alike!), I also recall, on just a couple of occasions, smacking each of my two on the back of the hand, in the mistaken belief that this was a better spot than say the bottom. I then learned that the backs of our hands are so full of nerve endings that even a lighter smack can be very painful there. When I found this out, I immediately felt immense guilt for ever having done that to my child.

    I think that when we smack or yell, it is a because we (the adults) have lost control. Lost control of our emotions. We do these things out of anger or exasperation. I’m very, very fortunate that I had very easy kids. Kids who made it very EASY for me to be a decent parent because they were, quite frankly, really good kids.

    Your description of the scenario where a husband would lightly smack a wife for not having behaved the way her expected is a perfect analogy. If that would never be acceptable (and it wouldn’t!) then why is it acceptable for a parent to do it to a child?…

    • Exactly Nance, on everything here! The whole yelling / smacking thing is really about the adult being unable to regulate their emotions. If we can work on that as a society then it would probably really help. 🙂 PS Sorry for late response. I somehow missed replying to a stack of comments on this post.

  12. A wonderful thought provoking blog and some insightful comments from the Poster Participants. I wish parenting classes had been available when I was a young mother. Perhaps parenting classes should be compulsory these days? Not all parents do a good job instinctively or intuitively and some of these skills need to be taught especially in cases where their own upbringing may have been lacking.There is so much important research available that might pass us by, like, for example, a little smack can reduce grey matter? Chilling. Epigenetic’s appears to hold some vital codes to successful child rearing. In simplistic terms give them lots of hugs, tender strokes, love and approval and they will reap the benefits in adulthood. It sounds so obvious and such a cliche doesn’t it? But read up on epigenetic’s and you’ll be astounded at the impact that paternal and maternal great, great grandmothers/grandfathers bare to this day on our lives and the lives of our children. Chilling, but not irreversible.

  13. This is a great post. I started off a “never want to hit my child” kind of parent, but then softened to family recommendations for occasional bum smacks when I discovered the reality of dealing with a wild toddler who is too young to process other types of discipline.

    This article raises some great points that may motivate me to move from “almost never” to “never” spanking kind of parent.

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