Smacking does for your relationship with your child what hitting your spouse/partner might do for your marriage.
There. Iâve said it.
No. Iâm not talking about the kind of hitting we might call âabuseâ. Iâm talking about giving your kid a whack because theyâre not listening, or theyâre being a challenge, or theyâre hurting their sibling.
Depending on which research you read, about 70-80% of Aussie parents admit to smacking their kids. Some do so quite proudly. The thinking is that kids need to be âdisciplinedâ or theyâll grow up to be terrors, roaming the streets and getting up to no good. Either that or theyâll be pampered little brats with no manners. Itâs ironic that not smacking is thought to lead to such diametrically opposed outcomes.
But is that real? Are those who champion smacking onto something?
A little while ago I posted a scientific report on smacking to my âDr Justin Coulsonâs Happy Familiesâ Facebook page. The report was deep and detailed. It was called a âmeta-analysisâ, which means that itâs a study of all the studies on the topic.
In this report, more than 50 years of research on smacking was reviewed against 11 criteria: compliance, moral internalisation, aggression, anti-social, delinquent, and criminal behaviour, relationship quality, mental health, adult abuse of spouse, adult abuse of child, and becoming a victim of abuse.
The research showed that in every one of these variables, being smacked as a child made things worse. The only questionable finding related to compliance. It seems that some kids do become compliant â instantly â when they cop a smack on the bum.
More recent research has indicated that the compliance may be less than 10 minutes in around 75% of cases. Psychology research George Holden recorded interactions between parents who smack, and their children. He wanted to see how effective smacking might be (but he didnât tell the mums that).
Here are some examples of what he saw:
A mum smacks her 3-year-old 11 times for fighting with his sister. It doesnât stop the fighting though!
A mum slaps her son for turning the page of a book while she reads to him. He tries it again about ten seconds later.
A mum smacks her 5-year-old when he refuses to clean up his room after repeated warnings to do so. He cries. The room doesnât get tidied.
A child aged 2-3 years old was having a tantrum and started hitting and kicking mum. She slaps him on the hand and says âThatâll teach you not to hit your mother!â
Letâs think about this for a second. Kids are fighting. We hit them and tell them itâs not nice to fight. Irony? A mum is reading nicely to her son. Heâs so excited he wants to see whatâs on the next page. She hits him for it! A child wonât clean up so mum hits him! A child is hitting mum so she hits him back and says âdonât hit!â
Letâs be really clear about a few things:
First, kids are sometimes (but not always) compliant when they get smacked. But they donât âinternaliseâ what is right. They just get scared â or sneaky. The research tells us they become more likely to be aggressive, anti-social, delinquent, and in the worst cases, behave criminally.
And the relationship between parent and child is hurt. Trust is broken. Mental health challenges can occur, and once again in serious cases, children become at greater risk of either abusing or being abused as they get older.
As for the argument that kids wouldnât be up to mischief if more people smacked them, thatâs a weak argument. Dr Ralph Welsh, who has given psychological exams to over 2,000 delinquents has said: âit is now apparent that the recidivist male delinquent who was never struck with a belt, board, extension cord, fist, or an equivalent is virtually non-existent.â
Some parents say, âBut we canât reason with them.â My response: You canât reason with a dementia patient either. Is it ok to start hitting them?
Some parents say, âBut they need to be disciplined.â My response: Yes they do. Discipline means teach. It means guide. It means instruct. It doesnât mean hit.
Some parents say, âBut it never hurt me.â My response: It most likely did hurt. Research shows kids say being smacked hurts. All the time.
Some parents say, âMy kids need to learn to control themselves.â My response: If you smack your kids, how much control are you showing?
Some parents say, âI turned out ok and I was hit.â My response: I donât want my kids to turn out âokâ or âfineâ in spite of being hit. I want them to turn out brilliant because they were loved.
51 countries around the world have made smacking children illegal. Why would they do it? Because the evidence is incontrovertible. It doesnât work to do anything but give occasional short-term compliance. The costs are too great.
A caller to a radio show where I was a guest speaking on the topic of smacking rang in and said, âAs kids, being smacked like we were, taught us what was not allowed. But we also grew up not loving our father the way most families grow together. Like my sister says: âWe learned right from wrong, but we didnât learn love.â
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.
About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.
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