As growing numbers of countries are passing legislation to make the physical punishment of children illegal, many parents are thinking about this issue. It can be quite a complex and controversial topic. Adults often feel that they were slapped by their parents as children and that it didn’t do them any harm. They can get quite upset at the thought of their mum or dad being retrospectively branded as abusive when they did not necessarily experience them in that way. Others may feel that while it’s generally wrong to slap a child, there may be situations when it is warranted.
But what does the research say? In fact, the research is very clear: slapping children is not an effective punishment, and a punitive disciplinary approach can cause a lot of damage to them as they grow up.
Of course, children need to be taught how to make their way in the world, and a big part of that involves instilling a sense of discipline and control. Children need to learn how to behave with others, how to manage their anger, and how to make the right behavioural choices. The thing is, slapping and smacking does not help with any of that.
As parents, the most important way in which we instil discipline in our children is by modelling appropriate behaviour to them. If we slap or smack them when we are angry, not only are we hurting our children physically, but we are teaching them to respond to things that make them stressed and angry by resorting to violence. How can any parent expect their child to learn how to moderate their behaviour around others when they themselves lash out when they are upset or angry? It is bitterly ironic that parents sometimes chastise their children for behaving roughly with others by slapping them; a real case of “do as I say, not as I do”!
There are many approaches to discipline that are far more effective. While a slap might stop a child from misbehaving on an immediate level, in the longer term they are likely to struggle with anger management. Instead, punishing children with a “time out” when they are physically removed from the situation (for example, by being sent to their room or to sit on a “naughty step”) gives them—and you—time to calm down and think about what has just happened. When the crisis has passed, you can calmly explain to them how their behaviour was unacceptable, and what your expectations of them are.
While slapping children is wrong (and increasingly also illegal), if you have slapped your children briefly in anger in the past without injuring them, this doesn’t mean that you are an abusive parent. However, you need to make sure that you do not do it again. Try the “time out” approach outlined above or, if you feel it necessary, look into attending a parenting course that will help you to learn new and more effective techniques for helping your child to grow into a happy, responsible adult.
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