Smacking Children: A Grey Area?

According to a recent poll on, 81% of parents have spanked their child at least once and 22% do so on a weekly basis. Whether or not it is ok to smack children is an ongoing heated debate. What ever your own views are it is important to firstly understand the law around smacking children and secondly the impact smacking has.

The Law

It is unlawful for a parent or career to smack their child, except where this amounts to “reasonable punishment‟. This defense is laid down in section 58 of the Children Act 2004, but it is not defined in this legislation.

Whether a “smack‟ amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the nature of the smack. However, physical punishment will be considered “unreasonable” if it leaves a mark on the child or if the child is hit with an implement such as a cane or a belt.

There are strict guidelines covering the use of reasonable punishment and it will not be possible to rely on the defense if you use severe physical punishment on your child which amounts to common assault or battery.

There is huge pressure from different organisations in theUKto change the law relating to reasonable punishment. Organisations such as the NSPCC and 11 Million campaign for a complete ban on reasonable punishment.


The Impact of Smacking Children

Hundreds of studies spanning several decades and different countries have found smacking to be associated with an abundance of highly damaging affective, cognitive, and behavioral child outcomes. Some examples are: – Aggression (Stoolmiller, Patterson & Snyder, 1997) – Criminality (Straus, Sugarman & Giles-Sims, 1997) – Alcohol abuse (Straus & Yodanis, 1996) – Child-to-parent violence (Ulman & Straus, 2000) – Decreased academic achievement (Straus, 2003) – Depression (Straus, 2000).

Further support for the argument that smacking should never be used comes from the fact that alternative disciplinary techniques such as time-out (isolation); a combination of non-physical punishment and reasoning (explaining and justifying the intrinsic and extrinsic consequences of a particular behaviour); and verbal prohibition, have been found to be equally effective (Larzelere & Kuhn, 2005), and do not involve the risk of escalation towards abuse.


What Does it Feel Like to be Smacked ? – A Child’s Voice

The National Children’s Bureau and Save the Children UK carried out a study with young children in 1997 to ensure they could be part of the public debate on physical punishment in the family – the full article can be found online.

It feels like someone banged you with a hammer.” (five-year-old girl)

It hurts and it’s painful inside – it’s like breaking your bones.” (seven-year-old girl)

It’s like when you’re in the sky and you’re falling to the ground and you just hurt

yourself.” (seven-year-old boy)

“[It feels] like someone’s punched you or kicked you or something.” (six-year-old boy)


The emotional impact was clear too:

“[It] hurts your feelings inside.” (seven-year-old girl)

“[It makes you] grumpy and sad and also really upset inside. And really hurt.”

(five-year-old girl)

It hurts a lot, it makes you unhappy.” (six-year-old girl)

You cry and you’re miserable.” (five-year-old boy)

You’re hurt and it makes you cry [and] drips come out of your eyes.” (five-year-old girl)

How to Discipline Without Smacking

  • Give love and warmth as much as possible
  • Have clear simple rules and limits
  • Be a good role model
  • Praise good behaviour so it will increase
  • Ignore behaviour you don’t want repeated
  • Criticise behaviours, not your child
  • Reward good behaviour with hugs and kisses
  • Distract young children or use humour
  • Allow children some control; joint decisions, choices
  • If a punishment is necessary, the removal of privileges, “time out” or natural consequences  are better.
This entry was posted in Anger Management, Counselling Leicester, Family Counselling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply