Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Time to outlaw the smacking of children. Seriously.

Posted by: Dr. Thunder.

Today I was in "The Square", a large shopping centre in Dublin. A young mother wheeled her trolley past me, and a small child was sitting in it. He was about 18 months old, and mum had let him play with a plastic bottle of milk that she was going to buy. As tiny curious people do, he threw it out of the trolley to see what would happen.

Unsurprisingly, milk exploded all over the floor. Mum was very embarrassed. So, what was the first thing she did? Put the trolley over the spill to stop people slipping in it? Go and get a staff member to tell them?


She slapped this tiny child across the face.

I saw red. I was so angry. If she did that tme, a large male, she wold be arrested and charged. But it's OK to do it to a small toddler.

I wanted to ring the police and tell the security guard. But there was no point. This behaviour is COMPLETELY LEGAL in Ireland.

The baby looked stunned, and cried for a minute. But this obviously wasn't the first time it has happened to him. Will it stop him doing it again? No. He isn't old enough to know why he was hit. He isn't even old enough to know that it's wrong to throw a bottle of milk out of a trolley.

I've been a staunch opponent of corporal punishment for as long as I can remember. I've heard all the arguments. I'm sick of "A smack never did me any harm". Well, smoking didn't do my 90 year old neighbour any harm, but anecdote shouldn't form the basis of policy. Plus some of the people who say it hasn't done them any harm are the most maladjusted individuals I know.

I'm sick of the "I just tap him if he's bold" argument. Firstly a "tap" from a 20 stone man is probably quite painful to a child. And surely a "tap" that doesn't hurt won't have the desired effect.

Aside from the fact that it's wrong for be to be allowed to hit a lid, when it's illegal for me to hit an adult, it's also not effective.

Virtually all of the scientific studies and all of the paediatric bodies come to the conclusion that corporal punishent is the least effective form of punishment, and it can lead to problems in itself. I used to work in a paediatric behavioural clinic, and more problems are caused by smacking children than are solved by them. In fact, getting parents to stop hitting children is one of the first steps in improving behaviour.

Smacking a child tells them A) Violence is an acceptable way t0 solve a problem and B) That their parents are not in control of the situation.

A child who believes either of the above has the potential to be a disciplinary nightmare.

I respect no-one who hits children. I know it's harsh. But I lose all respect for someone when they tell me they hit their kids. It's always followed by a nonsense excuse. But it's still assault in my eyes.

The UK have gone some ways towards protecting their children. And special praise must go to New Zealand where they have banned the smacking of children in all settings.

Sadly, Australia and Ireland (as always) are lagging behind. The Irish in particular have most to be embarrassed about, considering it's still legal to slap kids in reidential settings (though virtually all of these institutions have guidlines for staff advising against it).

Both Ireland and Australia have a pretty shameful history of failing to protect the most vulnerable people in their societies. Outlawing corporal punishent would be a step in showing that we're beginning to take the welfare of our children seriously after all these years.

Dr. Thunder.


  1. I totally agree. I treated a child the other day with a fractured zygoma who recieved "just a tap" from an overzealous parent. I just wanted to sit down and cry after I treated the poor thing. How is it logical or acceptable to physically abuse your child for any reason?

    Oh and the icing on the cake had to be the mother threatening to sue me because I (calmly and reasonably might I add), stated that I did not believe her story that the child recieved the injury from another 5 year old. Madness.

  2. I agree anonymous. I hate how it's left up to the parents to decide how hard they are allowed hit their kid. Though I accept fractured zygoma is going to land you in trouble.

    But it's time for society to believe that we don't need to hit toddlers in order to teach them right from wrong.

    Dr. Thunder

  3. What a great but disheartening post. We don't see that as much in the states but verbal abuse still occurs and that makes me cringe every time. I've been known to step up and speak my mind occasionally (thank God I work out often!). Your experience reminds me of a song from 10 or so years ago--"What's the Matter Here" by 10,000 Maniacs (Natalie Merchant lead sings). Check it out. Words are fantastic.

    Thanks for the great post.

  4. If you assaulted an adult you would be arrested, but it's ok to assault a child because they are your "property"? Ridiculous.

  5. brilliant post!!

    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    If you hit a child (even just a tap) you have lost control. Parents (and i am a parent) need to learn how to praise there children and place appropriate boundaries without resorting to bullying, intimidation and violence. You can be sure if a parent hits their child they also verbally and emotionally abuse their child. The problem is much bigger than simply outlawing slapping your children, we need a whole cultural change.

  6. I think we do need a cultural change. But one of steps towards that shift is in banning smacking,in order to take that option away from parents.
    If they don't have that option, they will have to engage with their child in other ways.

    Praise and positive reinforcement are so important. But I still think we need to legislate, in order to protect small children from some of their parents' more destructive discipline strategies.

    Dr. Thunder