The Eternal Parenting Debate

You can’t talk about parenting without talking about discipline. And you can’t talk about discipline without the great “To Smack or Not to Smack” debate. Now experts are calling on smacking to be made illegal. Oh, this is nothing new. Is any parenting debate ever over something “new”?

Most people have quite strong opinions and feelings about this topic, for one side or the other. I used to feel very strongly that I would smack my child/ren and that was that.

“It’s not abuse, it’s discipline.”

“If you do it once you shouldn’t have to do it again.”

“I was smacked and I am fine.”

“You have to teach them who’s boss.”

Now that I’m a parent, my opinion has completely shifted. There are two main reasons for this, and they’re simple.

I can’t tell him in one breath that it’s not ok to hit people, then turn around in the next second and hit him. And I wouldn’t like to be hit by anyone, but especially not by someone bigger than me who is supposed to love me. Can you imagine how frightening it must be for a child to have this adult, who towers over them, who they just want love from, to wind up and smack them?

There may be a line between smacking for discipline and “abuse” but I tell you what, that line is very fine.

Let’s de-bunk the excuses. It’s not abuse, it’s discipline. So is it ok for a husband to “discipline” his wife because she doesn’t do what he asks or expects of her? Is it ok for kids to discipline other kids in the playground because they’re misbehaving or not doing what that child wants them to?

If you do it once you shouldn’t have to do it again. So by hurting them, shaming them, and smacking them, they’ll now fall into line whenever you want them to? And what lesson has that taught them? And what if you do have to do it again?

I was smacked and I am fine. I’d every person who was smacked as a child and says they’ve turned out “just fine” to ask yourself, have you? Have you really turned out just fine? I thought I had, but I have suffered depression, severe anxiety, fears over completely irrational things. Who is to say some of that didn’t stem from being smacked* as a child?

You have to teach them who’s boss. Do you? Are you “the boss” of your children? What does that even mean? There are many things we, as parents, need to teach our children. “Who’s the boss” isn’t one of them, unless you’re fond of the 1990s Tony Danza series.

It’s our job as parents to protect our children. It’s our job to teach them respect, manners, right from wrong. It’s our job to teach them how to treat others. Most importantly, it’s our job to love our kids, and frankly, that shouldn’t even be a “job”.

I am not a perfect parent. I get frustrated when my son doesn’t listen, or doesn’t do what I ask him, when I ask him. I know the feeling of wanting to smack my child, and thinking that will “teach him.” But nothing hurts me more than seeing fear in his eyes. Nothing hurts me more than knowing that I am the one who has hurt him, whether it’s something I said, or because I’ve taken something away from him. I know that it is my job to discipline my son, but I also know that there are so many ways to discipline a child without resorting to smacking.

Instead of fighting bad behaviour with worse behaviour, try other methods. Take away TV or video game privileges. Send them to time-out. Or instead of punishing bad behaviour try re-enforcing good behaviour. A quick google search led me to this article on WebMD and I am sure you could find many more. Dr. Phil has a brief list of age-appropriate discipline.

Having said all of this, while I am against smacking and it’s not our preferred method of discipline, I don’t see how banning smacking could be effectively policed, and I also wonder how far the government is willing to go to dictate and enforce this, or other parenting duties. And what about the angsty kids who taunt their parents with “You can’t hit me, I’ll tell the cops” or worse, tell the cops you did it when you didn’t.

I know parents will continue to smack, regardless of what I or any expert says, and regardless of what the laws are. But I challenge you to find an alternative discipline method, and just give it a go. I promise you’ll feel far less guilty than you do when you smack them. And if smacking your child doesn’t make you feel guilty, then maybe it’s not purely for discipline.

*Smacked is the term being used, but I think if you were smacked, slapped, wooden-spooned, or hit with a belt it is all the same thing. Some people may say the wooden spoon and belt are worse, but I think in the end it’s the same result.

Linking up with Jess for IBOT

35 thoughts on “The Eternal Parenting Debate

  1. Interesting piece Aroha, it is such a contentious issue, I agree that parents need to know that there are many alternatives to smacking, some of which can be highly effectively when consistently used. The debator in me though can still come up with a few pros for a quick tap in some instances but I will save them for a blog post!
    Leaving some fairy wishes and butterfly kisses from #teamIBOT

    • To be honest Rhi the debater in me can, too. And we have smacked Nick in the past – well hubby more than me. I just found it didn’t really work, it made me feel like shit, and I knew I never wanted to do it again. I can see if a child runs out on a road a smack *might* help for that to never happen again, but who knows?

  2. Completely agree. The times I have smacked my child have been because I was angry, tired, lazy and because that’s how I was raised.
    Since then, I have learnt other and much better ways to teach appropriate behaviour. My children do not get smacked any more and we are all happier about that.
    You forgot to mention the argument that lack of smacking has caused the downfall of society *rolls eyes*.

    • I *did* forget to mention that and it was something I wanted to mention! It’s not the lack of smacking causing the downfall of society, it’s the lack of discipline and letting kids do what they want when they want how they want and never saying NO! Lack of smacking does not = lack of discipline. Thanks!

  3. It certainly is an age old debate that will contine to rage long after our children are grown up. I think that parents will do what they feel is right for their children and nothing anyone says will make any difference to them. I think we all had a ‘plan’ before we had children but the reality of actually having them changes a lot of how we think about child stuff.
    Have the best week !

  4. Personally I don’t like to smack kids too, and I’ve been holding myself back (although there’s been times I think Lil Pumpkin really needs one) because I don’t like the idea of her being fearful of me, or seeing that it’s ok to smack if others don’t listen to you. What if I’m old and senile and don’t listen to her next time? I wouldn’t want her to smack me!

    Ai @ Sakura Haruka

    • I have to admit I chuckled at the thought of Lil Pumpkin smacking you when you’re old and senile! There’s plenty of times I think Nick needs one too, but I am just not sure it would make the situation any better.

  5. Great read Aroha. It is certainly a can of worms at the moment. I was disciplined with a wooden spoon, but luckily it was always just the threat of it sitting on the table at dinner that was enough to quiet us down. But that fear wasn’t a very nice feeling. We do not smack, or belts or anything like that.

    • It IS a can of worms. Is that show still on TV? I like it! We always got a smack on the bum or the arm. And got called names (well, I remember being called “pathetic” by my dad, lovely eh?). I guess we all think we’ll do different/better than our parents. We were threatened with a belt, but to my recollection that never actually happened.

  6. Ahora what an awesome piece. I love that what you wrote about “I was smacked and I am fine” I was smacked and I remember the intense hatred I felt for my parents when they did it. I don’t remember not wanted to do it again, I remember feeling angry, violated and fearful. I often think children from parents who smack are often open to being a victim because they fear others and don’t have the self esteem to stand up for themselves. I know I was manipulated as a young teen because I didn’t trust my parents to talk to. Smacking has a lot of reamifications and I don’t think it has a place in current parenting, especially with some information available to parents these days.

    • I remember hating my dad for smacking us too. But I also disliked my dad for a lot of other reasons back then, that was just icing on the cake so to speak. And I can tell by all these comments that we all have different memories and feelings connected back to our childhood discipline, it’s interesting! Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. It is a contentious issue isn’t it this one … and I really wouldn’t call myself a ‘smacker’ although Mr 16 has possibly been smacked half a dozen times in his life but in none of those cases did I feel good about it afterwards. I really do agree that our parenting role is to lead and guide our children and not to frighten or intimidate them, but that said, I think there does need to be much more education for parents and caregivers around alternative forms of behaviour management that are effective in teaching our kids responsibility, respect and safety.
    A great thought provoking post, thank you 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Shari. Kids still need discipline and consequences for their actions and boundaries. Taking away smacking doesn’t take away those things. But the govt banning/making smacking illegal doesn’t do a good job of addressing the issue really.

  8. Well it’s banned in NZ, not sure it’s stopped those who actually should be stopped from doing it. I don’t think a ‘smack’ no matter what that means, works, in my experience it can make a small child repeat the behaviour to someone else. I think there are WAY better, smarter and more efficient ways to keep kids in line other than hitting them. Well said hun xx

    • Thanks Em. I think small kids are too little to understand what it means and there are better ways of dealing with bigger kids (in MOST circumstances), like you said. And your’e right, the ones who are actually abusing their kids won’t stop even if it is illegal.

  9. Interesting read thanks. I was smacked as a child and I also thought I would smack my children. The couple of times I have done it though I have felt horrendous. I find much better results using other forms of discipline.

  10. Hello, I think this might be the first time I’ve read your blog. What a well written piece.

    I am currently really struggling with disciplining my almost five year old. There’s been a lot of changes going on in our family and he and I have not been coping too well. There have been times I’ve thought a smack would be the answer but I just can’t do it even though I was smacked as a kid.

    I have smacked Ned once though when he was about 3 and he kicked me in the face while I was putting his PJs on. I smacked his bare thigh in an instant reaction to having a foot kicked in my eye. I felt so bad afterwards. Just the look of shock in his little face! Broke my heart.

    As a sole parent I’m finding it really hard to make the right balance between parent and friend. His behaviour has been pretty bad with me lately but when he stays with his grandparents he is fine (so they say).

    I hate violence so I agree with you when you say how could you smack and then tell your kids not to smack other kids. But I also agree there shouldn’t be a law against it. What if a kid did tell fibs to his teacher that his parent/guardian smacked him/her and that teacher took it further, police got involved, etc, etc… Or if a person in a shopping centre saw a parent give their kid a tap on the bum and then reported it?
    It could make criminals out of parents who aren’t.

    Great post.


    • Thanks for stopping by and commenting Vanessa, and for sharing your experience. My son is also 5, and it is a big struggle at the moment, as he is trying to assert himself more, get his own way more and isn’t really doing a great job of listening at all! I agree, making this illegal is a very slippery slope. I think if teachers of family/friends suspect a child is truly being abused they should report it. You can’t just go on what a kid is sprouting at school etc. I think the balance between a parent and friend is a tough one. If Nick is upset at me he’ll say “You’re not my friend” and I say “No, I’m not, I’m your mum, and that’s different.”

  11. Very well written. I started smacking my two year old, lightly and very occasionally when she disobeyed a no command, but like you, I could not reconcile the don’t hurt other people value that I am wanting to teach her.
    I make use of time out, although it is not very effective at the moment, but I have also found that a light flick on the back of the hand is working – more of a shock value than painful I think.

    • I remember when my son was about 18 months old, tapping him on the hand because he kept switching the power to the computer off at the wall. I reckon we must have repeated our actions about 20 times before I realised that 1. he is not learning from my smacking his hand and 2. i am not learning that it is not working! that was the turning point for me!

    • Thanks Josefa. I know that I have smacked Nick before, but not for years now. And he doesn’t like to be smacked, because if I’ve asked him 10 times to do something and he’s still not done it, and ask if I need to smack him he usually says “no” and does it. So I guess that could be an argument for it having worked, but I agree, if it is a constant discipline method and there is no attempt at anything else, there could be issues.

  12. My question is, if you do smack, what age does it become no longer appropriate?! Yes, we smacked our kids but it was pretty much a thing of the past by the time they hit school age. But I know other parents who continue it a lot longer than that …

    • Good question Janet! I know it continued longer than school age with us. It continued right until dad moved out I think! I don’t know the answer to that one. Some might say until they’re big enough to hit you back just as hard?!

  13. Good points Aroha, there have been a few posts and articles on this lately. I don’t think you or any other blogger covering this topic is going to get too many, if any ‘pro’ commenters because it is too contentious. So many things that used to be completely acceptable are nowadays politically incorrect or outdated. I don’t know how this is policed in NZ but I can’t see how. I’m not sure those who say it is never right for any kids, any time- (eg what if they are hitting/ kicking you?) are necessarily correct either.

    • I think different things will always work for different people and different kids, and we won’t know how ANY of our methods will affect them in the future. It’s a bit different but playing competitive sport growing up, some of us responded well to gentleness and encouragement (usually the girls) and some of us (usually the boys) responded well to having their asses chewed out by the coach! I think it’s finding what motivates/works for YOUR child and doing it.

    • Would I blame being smacked for all my problems? No, I blame a broken home, dad who wasn’t around much/all that interested. But do I remember the smacking? Absolutely. I don’t think we can really know what kind of long term affects it will have on any given person as everyone is different.

  14. You know what, I never feel guilty for smacking. Never. And not because I like to do it, but because when I do it is always expected by the child. They know what is expected of them and if they break that rule, there will be a consequence.
    I’m all for other methods of punishment, but with some kids they will not work. Simple as that.
    And yes I was smacked and it didn’t scar me; it made me a better person cause it helped me realised when I line had been crossed that shouldn’t be crossed. It taught me respect, and as a strong willed child, I needed to know that I wasn’t the most determined person in my world.
    And I am the boss of my children. I have a responsibility to raise them to be considerate individuals; they are not my equal unlike my husband. You can’t compare those two relationships at all, because they are very different.

    I wrote about this last year actually and I still stand by everything I said then.

    • I just read your post Jess but I feel like what I was saying is very different to what you are saying. I don’t disagree that children need boundaries, punishment, consequences for their choices and discipline. I certainly agree they need all that, and structure, and they need to know what kind of behaviour is expected of them. I think lots of people think lack of smacking in a house = lack of discipline. My point was simply that discipline doesn’t work for us, but there are lots of other things that do. I certainly don’t think you’re a bad mother for time out or smacking if that is what works for you and it’s what you and boatman have agreed is appropriate discipline. I hated my dad for smacking us, and I have felt awful hitting Nick in the past, which is why we don’t do it. x

  15. You’ve said everything I feel about the issue. Great post.

    Pre-kids, I wasn’t anti-smack. I wasn’t pro-smack, I just didn’t see what the big deal is. Now, I don’t understand how you can teach your children that hitting people is not okay if you do it yourself. To them, to anyone.

    I think if you reach that point where you want to smack your child, it has a lot more to do with your own frustration and feelings than it does with what your child is doing or saying at that time.

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