Many people say that smacking is a necessary part of parenting. They say it’s natural and normal for a parent to have to smack his or her kids from time to time.
I challenge that.
Let me just clarify what I’m challenging. It is natural to automatically do what was done to you and what everyone else around you seems to be doing. But just because something was done to you or everyone around you is doing something, doesn’t necessarily make it right.
Many people get upset at the idea of “someone else telling them how to raise their kids, someone else telling them what they’re allowed to do with their kids”. Or to their kids.
Well, this article is not about morals. Let’s just look at the very sensible and logical reasons that kids should not be smacked by their parents, teachers, or anybody else at all. I’m not the first person to say these things (note to self: cite other websites and references) but I figure it never hurts to spread this message around.
So here we go. Firstly…
What do children learn from being hit?
• It teaches them that hitting someone is an OK way to communicate your irritation, frustration or anger.
• It teaches them that applying violence is an acceptable way to communicate.
• It teaches them that bigger people can inflict pain on them and violate their personal space and bodies, and that there’s nothing they can do about it.
• If you hit your kids but don’t let others hit your kids, then this teaches them that adult relatives have special rights over their bodies that other people don’t have. Creepy.
• It teaches them that it’s OK for bigger people to hit smaller people. Kids who are smacked are learning by example that it’s OK to hit their smaller siblings. Whether you tell them that verbally or not.
You do not own your child, thus you do not have rights over your child
You do not possess (own) your child, any more than you possess (own) your wife. By marrying, you enter into an agreement where you agree to support and protect each other.
By having a child, you automatically become the main supporter and protector of your child.
But in neither case do you possess them. You do not own your wife. You do not own your child. Your child is another human being just like your wife. Just like you, in fact. And you have a right not to be hit. So does your child.
Old laws, laws which we (our society) have now collectively renounced as wrong, made a wife the property of her husband. He was also allowed to hit her, presumably because she had no rights.
I think these days we’d all agree that it’s not right for a man to hit a woman. And I think we’d also agree that when a man is hitting his wife, the hitting is not helping anything or anyone. It’s not making the relationship any better and it’s not changing the wife (for the better – she may be more fearful and in more pain each time he does it, however), and it’s not improving the man doing the hitting. In fact, I think we’d all agree that there is something seriously wrong in this relationship and that no amount of hitting, small or large, is going to improve it.
So then, why do people still hit their kids? (Yes, one answer given to this is that parents don’t hit their kids to improve the relationship, they hit their kids because they think it’s their job to “shape” their kids’ behaviour, on the grounds that they don’t believe that children will behave well without being punished for socially unacceptable behaviours. Give me a minute and I’ll get to that concept, too…)
Most people still think it’s natural and acceptable (and even beneficial or necessary) because they have never seen or heard of parenting without smacking before.
A wife who gets hit can leave the relationship. She can walk out. She can say, “No more.” (It may be hard for her, but as an adult, she has an adult’s choice.)
But a child has no such choice. A parent smacks, and the child can’t leave. The child can’t get away.
You should not smack your child because you are violating their right, as a human being, not to be hit.
They are cornered by default. They cannot run away because you (the parents) are the only people they’ve got. They cannot fight back because you are bigger and can just hit them harder again. Even if you don’t hit them again or hit them harder… they know you can. Do you really want to cause them to even contemplate that?
What damage can hitting do?
Hitting (and all its permutations – smacking, spanking, beating, walloping, clipping around the ear, belting, slapping, switching, hand “pats” or any other version of violence that parents have been collectively known to afflict on their children):
• breaks connection between you and your child
• brings bad energy into your home
• can damage their spine and/or neck
• makes children more aggressive and increases the likelihood of criminal behaviour in children later in life
• specially, makes them more aggressive towards people smaller than them, such as siblings (who, in turn, can’t retaliate – the ideal outlet for a child who gets hit to pass on the bad emotional energy)
• interrupts learning: stress up = learning down
• takes the focus off behaving in a socially appropriate and/or empathic manner and turns the focus onto avoidance of punishment. This leads to attitudes of “nobody believes that I want to behave well anyway, so I may as well see what I can get away with between punishments”
• contributes to a society of confusion where a kidnapper can get away with stealing a screaming child away right under the noses of onlookers. What, you say? Well, because everyone assumes that when an adult smacks a child, the child is being “disciplined” by a parent. When the child struggles or yells, onlookers assume that the child doesn’t like the “discipline”. The kidnapper might hit the child again telling them to shut up. Yet onlookers are unlikely to step in and say anything or do anything because nobody wants to “interfere” with how another parent disciplines their child. But there are laws against adults hitting each other. If an adult hits another adult, someone will generally stand up and do something – even if it is maybe to throw a punch back at the original punch thrower. But unfortunately, children do not receive the same protection from society at large. Neither parent nor kidnapper is stopped from hitting a child. And how is the public to know which one the adult is?
• doesn’t make you feel any better. In fact, being aggressive and/or violent actually makes people feel worse. Makes them feel even angrier. Giving in to violent impulses simply feeds the strength of those impulses, and the anger behind those impulses
• instills a sense in your child that they deserve to be hit. That they deserve pain. The history of Western man (and woman) hitting his (and her) children laid an ideal foundation for religion’s control over people based on their belief in “original sin”. Having been smacked and hit in childhood, people found it easy to believe that they were inherently bad and sinful and simply could not do right or behave well. They developed the belief that they needed to be punished.
Children have to repress the pain of being hit – in order to survive with sanity intact
Children cannot see or think objectively and they believe that the way their parents behave is “right”. Therefore the hit child believes that it was right and proper that they were hit.
An adult can see objectively. That is why they feel clearly wronged when they are hit. This is why an adult will hit back if they are hit. (Of course, two wrongs do not make a right, but there’s an impulse there to defend ourselves when we are wronged.) A kid can’t see the parent’s behaviour objectively, so they accept that it was right that they were hit. This is why grown men and woman will insist, all these grown-up years later, that it was good that their parents hit them; that it was right; that they deserved to be hit.
But how did it make them feel? Most adults have blocked out the emotions that they felt as a child when they were hit. This is because it was painful, and children had to block it out to “go on” and keep sane – to survive in a world where it was OK where they can be hit, but can’t get away or fight back. They had to suppress the painful emotions in order to survive with their sanity intact.
Children (who later grow up into adults with repressed feelings) block painful feelings in order to literally stay sane
The parent says he loves her, but when he hits her it causes her pain. She wants to believe that he loves her – she needs to believe he loves her, because he’s her only daddy and the only protector she’s got. So she blocks out the pain of him hitting her.
Later, when she’s older, she’ll tell herself that he hit her for her own good.
But why did dad (and we’ll use the male pronoun here to save confusion, but it just as well could have been mama) really hit the child? – because reason and logic tell us that he hit her for other reasons, and none of them did the child any good.
Why did he hit her?
• He hit her because he was once hit – hitting came automatically to him.
• He hit her because he wanted her to stop doing something annoying.
• He hit her because he was afraid she would get hurt.
• He hit her because he thought that hitting is necessary to “teach” her what is wrong.
• He hit her because he thought it was necessary to “teach” her “right from wrong”.
• He hit her because he didn’t know what else to do.
Dear oh dear. Basically, he did it because he couldn’t help himself. But how to remedy this painful situation?
How to stop yourself from hitting your own kids
This really is beyond the scope of this article, but I don’t like leaving anyone in the lurch, so I’ll cover it briefly then leave you with some excellent resources that you can check out. It IS possible to stop hitting, even when it feels almost like a compulsion that comes over you. (If you’re doing it “cold”, with reason alone as your motivation, then you should now be able to reason yourself out of it, although for most people the urge to smack their kids runs deeper than than and requires personal inward-looking to understand and overcome.)
Accept and experience. As an adult wishing to not perpetuate a parenting model of violence for another generation, you need to first look into your past and allow yourself to feel the pain of having been hit as a child. When you were a child, it was too dangerous to let yourself feel the pain. But now you’re an adult, there’s no danger any more. There will still be pain, but now you’re an adult, you’re free to grieve – in mental, emotional and bodily safety. You can also mourn the loss of a violence-free childhood. No, pain and grieving and mourning are not easy. No, they are not fun. However, once we have allowed ourselves to feel the pain of violence once inflicted on us as children ourselves, our impulses to perpetuate the violence onto our own children die away of their own accord.
Learn new parenting methods. Once we have experienced the pain of violence from our own childhoods, and possess that visceral understanding that violence against children does nothing good, we can then learn new parenting methods to replace hitting.
Still not convinced? Then I’m surprised you got this far… but since you did, check out 10 Reasons Not To Hit Your Kids, from Jan Hunt.
If you’re 99% convinced but still think that kids need the occasional smack for their own good, check out For Your Own Good by Alice Miller.
Are you a Christian who is wondering how parenting without spanking fits in with the Bible? An excellent resource for you is Christians for Nonviolent Parenting.
Or did I just preach to the choir? Feel free to comment (below) and tell us your perspective on spanking/hitting! I’d love to hear from you.