The spanking debate



Recently scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I came across this:

It had been “liked” by over 1.2 million people at that stage. I was taken aback to see that so many people agreed with the sentiment; agreed that spanking children is a good thing to do. Agreed that teaching children that physically hurting someone or humiliating them is the correct response to any conflict.

Maybe I live in a bubble. I don’t actually know anyone who sees spanking as a reasonable parenting tool. Sure, lots of parents did so in the 70’s and 80’s, but I believed that generally people in the 21st century agree that it’s not a good practice to hit children. In the past it was an accepted norm, now it’s not. Like car seats and smoking around children – not enough was known in the past about damage that some practices can cause, and now that information is widely available, practices have changed.

But I also think that the debate that this meme has generated is healthy. Perhaps because spanking children has become unacceptable for so many, it has also become difficult for anyone to admit that they’re ever tempted to do so. I’ve had moments where I’ve been pushed to my furthest limits as a parent, and though I’ve never spanked my children, I’ve felt guilty that I’ve been so close to losing it. I’ve shouted at them which was probably just as frightening for them. I haven’t always been as gentle as I should be. I’ve always apologised afterwards, and guiltily analysed to see how I could have handled the situation differently.

But I didn’t feel that it was something I could talk about – in my mind, spanking was so unacceptable, that even admitting to being close to doing it was taboo. And that’s not healthy either. Bottling up anxiety and feeling guilty and thinking nobody else ever felt the same isn’t good for any parent.

There’s a world of difference between actively practicing spanking in a deliberate, planned way as a means of disciplining a child compared to losing it on occasion and making amends; resolving to avoid doing it again.

It’s good to have the debate – and maybe instead of simply being “parents who don’t agree with spanking”, we can add a sub-heading: “but have sometimes felt close to doing it”

If we continue the discussion, people who spank their kids might have a chance to read up on what it’s really teaching their children. People who have been tempted to spank their kids can take heart that they’re not alone. And perhaps some other memes can be shared on Facebook, like this one:

via Olive Branch
via Olive Branch

This isn’t an attempt to analyse the debate in any detail – it’s a surprised remark on an attitude that I didn’t know existed to this extent. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m in a bubble and maybe I’m offending people. I’m open to hearing other points of view?

Additional note:

The ISPCC report on parental attitudes to slapping has just been released, you can see it here .

Among other findings, it says that three in five adults already think it’s illegal to slap a child (it isn’t) and 73% believe that it’s an ineffective way to discipline children.


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13 thoughts on “The spanking debate”

  1. Great post Office Mum!

    I am always questioning why if an adult hits another adult it can be assault but if an adult hits a child they can claim they are just disciplining them.

    Believe me I know kids can push buttons and I have been on the edge but slapping has in my opinion no place in effective parenting.

    1. That’s exactly it Lucy. And hitting children just teaches them that hitting is the solution when things go wrong.
      Thanks for the lovely comment

  2. People slap/spank children for two reasons.
    1. They have lost control
    2. They think it is an effective means to correct behaviour.

    In the case of the first, with experience, support and understanding, all parents can learn control. As for the second, a willingness to explore other methods of correction is required. If they close their ears to such ideas, no one will ever stop them, only legislation.
    Because there is never ever an excuse for hitting a child.
    tric recently posted…Technofeckinology!My Profile

    1. Yes, I agree that in the first case, parents can change and learn to be calmer and more controlled in challenging situations. I think it’s case two that’s the problem. But perhaps debates that are going on will help educate some. Thanks for the comment Tric

  3. I love the last meme, much more effective and and proactive than the top one!
    I’m am against physical punishment for children of any kind. I worked with the ISPCC on the phones in Childline and Le Cheile youth mentoring program so saw and listened first hand to the effects that has had on children.
    I do completely understand how close someone can come to losing their cool though as you’ve mentioned above. I’m sure as L gets older there will be times when he’ll push my buttons but I will always try to resolve things in an effective none physical manner. I think physical discipline leads to making a child frightened and I don’t think any child should be frightened in their own home.
    I really could go on and on in this discussion as it’s something I feel strongly about!
    Louise (@TattooedMumsy) recently posted…Bottle Vs BreastMy Profile

    1. Louise that’s really interesting – it must be so upsetting hearing firsthand directly from children about the impact of physical punishment. Perhaps that’s a solution (albeit not practical) – people who are adamant about maintaining rights to hit children need to take a turn listening in to Childline calls… thanks for the comment Louise

  4. Great post Office Mum littered with much well needed honesty.
    We have a black and white rule in our family where we don’t allow physical punishments at all. The rule is there simply because I don’t trust my temper and I know, having been hit as a child, that it doesn’t work as a form of discipline. thankfully my husband feels the same.
    In the meantime my main tool to calm down is stepping away and cooling off. It only takes a second and, though I still feel guilty for having my temper, at least I know I’m not acting on it.

    1. I love the black and white rule and I love your honesty. I too am a “rule” person and it works for me. It’s very interesting to hear your perspective as someone who was hit as a child. Thanks a million for the comment Helen

  5. I was surprised when moving to Ireland how many mothers I have come across who think spanking is OK. I absolutely do not.

  6. Great post. I was smacked as a child (only an odd time, but there was threat of wooden spoon) and I guess it worked in some ways, I never lied again, (well almost never), had respect for my elders etc. But that was a different time. We know more now. I don’t want to be the type of parent that smacks their kids. It doesn’t help any situation and only teaches them it’s ok to lash out with temper or ok to hit other people. I have come close and it’s a patenting challenge to calm yourself and deal with situation in a better way.
    laura @ dairyfreekids recently posted…Dairy Free CarbonaraMy Profile

    1. I strongly feel the same Laura – I don’t remember being smacked as a kid but I know it was seen as a perfectly normal thing to do in the 80s. We know a lot more now about everything, including the impact of smacking. Hopefully things are continuing to change in the right direction.

  7. Great post Officemum.
    Like dairyfreekids I was given a slap a few times as a child and therefore lived in fear of it. I admit that I have on occasion slapped wrists here, mostly to get them out of pots or danger. I’ve always instantly regretted it and it absolutely doesn’t help the situation at all and only makes things much worse.
    I did get a lot of feedback on my article on tantrums to say that really what these children needed was a good slap, and I was challenged on that in a radio interview too! There do seem to be a lot of invisible people out there who think it’s a good idea!

    1. Thanks Sinead – I wonder if the feedback on your Journal article and the texts to the radio show were representative of the general viewpoint or if it’s the case that the type of people who think “giving kids a good slap” is a good idea are more likely to comment/ text in, incensed by a perception of “soft” parenting? Quite apart from anything else, a slap wouldn’t help defuse a tantrum!

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