In 2009 the New Zealand government enforced the Anti-Smacking Law. Around 30 countries in the world have banned physical punishment towards children in any setting, inclusive of the family home. The ban is not used to criminalise behaviour such as a parent smacking a child, but used to educate and raise awareness on the parenting “tactic”.
The reason smacking is such a bad form of punishment or discipline is that it doesn’t work, kids aren’t given a reason to why their behaviour is bad and so the parent has to continue escalating the smacking. This is why smacking is so dangerous. Parents need to understand that good discipline that works will never be quick. It takes time for a child’s brain to fully understand the issue and takes about three tries of good discipline for a child to learn that the behaviour is not good. Parents don’t always have that kind of patience and understanding and that’s why we have smacking. Hitting when angry, or frustrated, shows children that as long as they are angry enough, and big enough, they too can hit says Grace Malonai. When you smack a child, you teach them that violence is okay. You dismiss this as “not that bad” of a hit, but that’s the same excuse abusers use when their spouse or child winds up with bruises and broken bones. “Oh it wasn’t that hard!”, “It wasn’t that bad!” It is that bad. The idea that you WANT to hit your child is beyond me. The idea that you do hit your child is unfathomable.
Children who are smacked tend to take to violence and anger as a natural reaction. They rarely remain calm in situations and they are what is known as ‘hot blooded’. Other than physical injuries, multiple studies have shown that punishment such as smacking and other means of causing pain can lead to increase of aggression, antisocial behaviours, and mental health problems for children. All of which continue into adulthood. Children who are smacked are more likely to use hitting as a way to solve their conflicts with their friends and siblings – according to a study published in “Child Abuse and Neglect” 2011. A study found that children smacked by their mothers had fewer cognitive skills (Cognitive skills are the core skills your brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason, and pay attention) in comparison to other children not smacked. Research suggests this may be due to the fact that those smacked don’t learn to properly control their own behaviour. Another study done in 2013 shows that children smacked by their fathers were more likely to have problems with vocabulary and language. This same study found that children who are smacked are more likely to act defiantly in their behaviour. Malonai also notes that smacking a child can be damaging to the relationship shared between the parent and the child. Spanking can, instead of teaching good behaviour, teach a child to fear the parent. This can reduce the trust and sense of safety for the child. The negative effects are not always seen right away. Smacking changes the way a brain thinks and feels and therefore the effects are usually seen in adolescence and early adulthood.
Parents say that sometimes the behaviour is so bad that the only way to teach a child what is ‘right and wrong’. But Grace Maloni tells us this isn’t true. “In general, punishment has a very low effectiveness rate”. If we are wanting to correct ill behaviours in our children, smacking is clearly not effective, and the argument void.
When you smack a child, you aren’t telling them why the activity is bad, you aren’t telling them what they did wrong. And they will do it again. When they finally don’t do it again, it isn’t because they understand “oh if I am mean to my brother it will make him upset”, they simply stop because “if I’m mean to my brother my mum will hit me”. They begin to fear their parents, fear making decisions. Graham-Bermann says that physical punishment will only work for a moment, and only because they fear being hit.
The most effective form of discipline is to explain why it’s bad. Tell them the effects it has on them, and those around them. Teach them that it matters how others feel, how they will feel once the deed is done. eg. if they hurt their sibling, they might feel bad after too. A huge factor of parenting is remembering that these are children. They don’t know right from wrong and we need to teach it to them. They aren’t always understanding of their actions.
If you have a child that’s aged four and under, the best means to stop a situation is to explain it, tell them the effects, but keep in mind that they are most likely too young to understand. It is so important to explain it anyway. Then distract. I saw this amazing “time out” DIY that is perfect for young children. It gives them a distraction and it looks amazing! If they’re having a tantrum, it can calm them down too. When they are old enough to comprehend your words, it’s then about explaining, and patience. When explaining a situation, always relate it back to them. If they’ve taken a toy of another child, say “That wasn’t very nice. Look they’re upset. You get upset when someone takes your toy. You don’t like it when your toys are taken and neither do they.” Kids are very narcissistic (I kid) and tend to understand things better when they can relate it to themselves and how they feel. It creates a more empathetic child, and ultimately a more empathetic adult. This is where patience is key. Children don’t learn right away – if your child does, count those blessings! So it will take a few tries of explaining before they will actually understand and “listen”. Realise they are listening the whole time, even if it doesn’t feel like it, but they don’t always process it correctly or they don’t understand it sufficiently to continue the good behaviour. Patience. Patience. Patience.
And finally, a very important quote from Elizabeth Gershoff, “I can just about count on one hand the studies that have found anything positive about physical punishment and hundreds that have been negative.” – Just because some good things may come from it, it doesn’t mean the good are able to outweigh the bad. If we want functional children who grow to be functional adults – including emotionally – then we need to learn different means of discipline. We need to stop thinking it’s okay to hit our children. If you aren’t going to be able to have a child draw on your wall three times before they learn the lesson then you might want to rethink your parenting dreams. Parenting requires patience. These children rely on you for protection and proper learning – and you cannot betray that by hitting them and not allowing their brains to function properly. A lot of people believe you have to have kids, and therefore those that aren’t emotionally capable to handle being a parent end up losing patience, which results in smacking and violent discipline.