Last week’s article on the banning of smacking children in Scotland and Wales led me to consider this a bit further this week. It is not an easy topic to read and sit with, we all have our own upbringing and notion maybe of ‘it didn’t do me any harm’, so why should we think more?
Dr Bernadette Saunders …..says smacking is a child rights issue:
“It’s time to recognise children’s rights and to provide parents with helpful support that promotes positive parenting, so that responding to children in a violent manner is not even a last resort - even ‘just a little smack’ is no longer okay.” (Huff Post *)
And Dr Ian Hassall sees corporal punishment as a way to excuse parents’ violent outbursts:“We’ve fallen into the habit of striking children and adopted the excuse that it benefits them in some way but if we’re honest it arises from our own poorly controlled frustration and anger. Another excuse is that hitting children is natural but what could be more unnatural than hurting a child? Many families don’t do it…... It’s a feature of societal dysfunction.”
“It’s a feature of societal dysfunction” – I find this interesting because in the many conversations I have with parents about smacking, they tend to pop that one into the ‘parental rights’ corner. No one has ever suggested to me that this is society gone wrong. And yet, when the politician set new laws of course it becomes a societal thing Whether or not parents should decide what’s best for their children, when we look at it from the child’s experience, as outlined last week, smacking does nothing but harm, in the short and long term. So, I am with Bernadette Saunders on this, society needs to provide the support required for an environment of positive parenting.
But here is the rub – were any of us offered parenting classes? My very first article mentioned my search for “The Manual”, beside my hospital bed in the maternity ward. We need a licence to drive a car; watch the BBC; qualifications to go on to university etc; but we do not need any training to bear and bring up children. Society seems to step back on this one and we largely go it alone or seek out voluntary help from books, other parents; play groups and our own parents. How do we learn positive parenting? Especially if our own upbringing maybe lacked ‘the power of pause’ and we were hit.
Some countries do offer practical support after the birth of a baby, but again, what happens when the children reach typical toddler challenging time? We presumably need to go it alone at some point, and I have no doubt that many of us have been tested to the nth degree by our children’s behaviour. Some of us may have been tempted with “just a little smack”.
Janet Lansbury, a well trusted parenting expert summarises some key issues from her book, in her blog version “No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame “ It is a worthwhile read in my opinion, because she helps us to understand the mental health benefits to both children and parents when we can offer alternatives to smacking. Conflict is inevitable at any age, but how we model our response to our own emotions pays off in the type of adult behaviour our children will exhibit later.
We all need to experience, understand and regulate our emotions. E-motions, are simply bodily responses to an event that move us towards or away from that event. They are in fact neutral and it is only our obsession with language that describes some emotions as ‘good’ and some as ‘bad’. I think this is a helpful starting point when we may be tempted to smack to shut a child up; stop them from shouting/crying or stamping their feet in anger. If we can see the outburst in terms of the body telling the child to do something; we can then take the role as listener, observer and educator, and still unconditionally love our child, whilst moderating the behaviour.
Why do we smack? It is seen as a way of ‘teaching them’. I have heard my students say that they thought it was important to be smacked if they did something wrong, so they ‘knew’ right from wrong. Janet Lansbury reminds us that disciplining is more about setting acceptable behaviour boundaries before we get to the reactive smacking point. She starts with the idea of setting routines that are predictable so our infants can quickly learn. And we maybe need to reconsider changing that just because we feel like a change – she writes “we cannot expect a toddler’s best behaviour at dinner parties, long afternoons at the mall, or when his days are loaded with scheduled activities”.
She offers eight more suggestions including not using time out, and certainly not confusing our love with “only if” they behave in a certain way. She adds “Purposely inflicting pain on a child cannot be done with love. Sadly however, the child often learns to associate the two.
Loving our child does not mean keeping him happy all the time and avoiding power struggles. Often it is doing what feels hardest for us to do…saying “No” and meaning it”.
If we can negotiate these challenges with authenticity and love, we deepen our relationship with our children and help them to grow up as loving, caring adults who do not resort to hitting out at other adults or their own children – we slowly re-create a functional society based on the deeply ingrained value that each and every life is precious. A society where physical and psychological abuse disappears, without the need for regulation by law, we can do this as parents, just because it is the right thing to do.