The Biggest Parenting Myth – Smacking is Detrimental to Discipline

When did Smacking become a dirty word?

This is the biggest – and unkindest- myth yet propagated on our generation. A quick sharp smack on the hand has worked for generations and still works for people who are brave enough to do it.

I would argue that a quick comparison between previous generations that used the smack and the current generation quickly reveals the fallacy of that argument. Our parents’ generation turned out with ethics, morals, manners and a commonsense approach to life whereas this current generation has, by and large, dubious moral values, few manners and a big sense of entitlement. Of course I am generalising; there are modern families out there doing a fabulous job of raising their children to be moral and polite – kudos to them!

But by and large, parents have been failed by all the advice given by modern ‘experts’. The smacking myth has done the most harm for several reasons:

1) it lead to parents not disciplining their children until children were old enough to understand what parents were explaining. In the old days, parents started training their children before they could walk and children already had a basic grounding in manners and obedience by the time they started school!
2) parents started waffling instead of disciplining. They warned their children endlessly and explained endlessly. The result of this was that children started to take their parents less seriously. This led to less respect and awe, vital ingredients in being successful parents of teens.
3) parents discovered that timeouts and other methods were ineffectual and became very frustrated. The result of this was a lot more anger in the home and thus the potential for explosive situations went right up.

The Arguments Against Smacking

There is a lot of hyperbole out there these days about smacking which all boils down to these 4 arguments:

a) smacking leads to child abuse,
b) smacking teaches kids violence,
c) evidence shows that smacking is pointless, and
d) parents can’t be trusted to draw the line between discipline and abuse.

1. Smacking leads to child abuse

Organisations make big outcries on a regular basis about the need to outlaw physical discipline and child abuse, but there is very little hard evidence to support their claim. Instead they use sensational claims to bolster their argument and make smacking such an emotive subject that the average parent daren’t stand up and defend their right to discipline their children with a smack.

Smacking leads to child abuse and fatalities if parents are dealing with other issues such as poor parenting skills, drugs, alcohol or other deep seated issues. Parents like these are not likely to be deterred by rules against smacking. In fact, I would argue that modern parenting styles actually make it more likely that parents will be driven to anger and frustration and lash out. Old style parenting does not allow for arguing and disobedience so successfully avoided all the daily contentious scenes that so many modern parents have to endure. Modern parents are encouraged to always explain why a child has to follow a rule or why they are being punished. All very well at 2 years but then you find yourself with several older children all demanding to know ‘why do I have to do that?’. How very exhausting to have to justify yourself constantly. And that’s just one instance! Add all the other bad advice modern parents have been given, and it is not a surprise to find parents lashing out. Understandable but not acceptable. How much better to find an easier, more workable system.

2. Smacking teaches kids violence

With regard to the second point, children are not idiots. They can tell the difference between a sharp smack on the hand or bottom, calmly given, for an offence they committed, and fighting or abuse. I can speak from personal experience that neither myself or any of my siblings grew up with any tendencies to violence and yet we received many smacks on the hand growing up! If a smack is administered calmly without anger or frustration, then a child sees it for what it is – discipline. ‘If I break the rules, I get a smack’. They do not fear their parents’ anger or wonder what’s going to happen, because they know what the consequence will be. They know their parents will not get angry – the only question will be ‘am I going to get one smack or two?’ Logic will tell you that a smack that stings for a few seconds and makes the point quickly has a huge advantage over endless lecturing, time outs, ignoring, removal of privileges and all the other methods parents try to employ as a substitute for smacking. For most parents, these is not adequate substitutions, just poor second choices.

I have tested this theory out a few times by giving my children a choice between a smack on the hand and some other painless punishment, like no tv. In every case, they have immediately chosen the smack. It is unfair to make a child listen to a parent rant in frustration because they’ve told their child this rule umpteen times; it is unfair for a child to fear their parent’s reaction for having broken a rule; it is unfair to give a child a punishment that last several minutes/hours/day/weeks when you could have just given them a smack and the lesson is over; it is unfair that that the punishment changes from week to week because parents can’t keep track of what punishment they imposed. It is unfair that parents are expected to juggle all the possible consequences in their head for each child, when parents today are already feeling embattled and overwhelmed.

Smacking given calmly and consistently teaches a child firm boundaries that he, eventually, will learn to impose on himself. It is not about anger; it is not about hurting your child; it is not even about punishment for wrong doing – it is about teaching your child where their boundaries are. Your child will feel so much more secure and confident when they know exactly where their boundaries are, and the quickest and most effective way to do that is with a smack. It works like a circuit board telling a child ‘yes/no’ at every turn and allows them to quickly draw a picture of their boundaries in their head.

A smack is not violence and we should not allow interest groups to force us to group it with violence. If a smack is the same as violence, then we would have to put roughhousing with Dad on the carpet in that category too; hey, maybe even Dad’s friendly smack on Mom’s bottom as he walks by; and while we’re at it, all those games children play that involve a whole lot more pain than a simple smack on the hand, like Knuckles. Ouch!

3. Evidence shows that smacking is pointless

Firstly, these results are hugely dependant on how the study was conducted. Did they follow parents who have been using the smack forever or the occasional smacker, or worse, the parent who only smacks in frustration and anger? That would have a big effect on the outcome of the ‘research’. So many parents now only use smacking as a last resort when nothing else works where once it was used as a first resort. The result is that it is often delivered in frustration and anger, which invariably defeats the purpose of the lesson. If these are the cases ‘researchers’ use, then of course it will affect the outcome adversely.

On the other hand, historical and anecdotal evidence shows that smacking as the main tool of discipline has worked beautifully for years, and conversely, the removal of it can be shown to have led to a decline in politeness, respect, values and standards. Why? Because no other effective system has moved in to take its place. Parents have been left with ideas that sound great on paper but ultimately, do not work. Rather like communism – a nice idea that just resulted in chaos.

I only have to look at my own family to see how well smacking can work when used correctly. I remember at 12 years old suddenly realising that my parents had not smacked me in about a year. Indeed, they never smacked me again. They didn’t have to – I had imbibed all the lessons on behaviour and respect needed to be an acceptable member of the family and society. It was the same with my 4 siblings – somewhere between 11 and 12, my parents did not have any more occasions to correct them with a smack. Indeed, I can only remember a couple of occasions during the teen years when any punishment needed to be imposed at all.

Isn’t this what good parenting should be about? Training your children well so that you are not still repeating the same lessons in the teen years? Those years should be about preparing them for leaving home, about further developing ethics and character, giving them more independence and trust…you certainly shouldn’t still be disciplining them about towels on the floor! And the thing was, our family was not unique! Most of our friends were polite, obedient and respectful kids, too.

4. Parents can’t be trusted to draw the distinction between discipline and abuse.

Normal well adjusted parents know where to draw the line. They are not trying to hurt their child when they discipline them. Even modern parents who tend to smack in anger or frustration are trying to teach their child ‘yes/no’, ‘right/wrong’, ‘good/bad’. If we demystified smacking again and taught parents once again to use smacking as the ‘first line of defence’ instead of the last resort, they would be able to regain control of their family -and themselves- again. It would be seen again as a training tool instead of a punishment.

A look at the people who do cross the line will show other factors at play – bad family backgrounds, drugs, alcohol, even immaturity. Lessons would be far more effective here than banning smacking. Occasionally, you will find a ‘normal’ parent who snaps and lashes out but I am convinced this would happen far less with an old fashioned approach where parents discipline immediately and train children to be obedient and respectful. These kind of parents are unlikely to find themselves in the middle of an explosive scenario with a rude, argumentative kid.


In conclusion, a smack has remained popular for so many generations because it is tried and true. A parent has to react instantly to successfully correct a child, and using a smack as discipline allows them to do so. No thinking about appropriate consequences, what did I do last time, did I use the same punishment for their sister, how long should it be for? Just a quick, immediate consequence that lets them know ‘wrong choice’. Experts keep trying to lump normal parents with child abusers, which is blatantly wrong and illogical. The average parent is just interested in teaching their children boundaries with the minimum of discipline. A smack is the minimum of disciplines. Modern parenting methods require explaining of decisions, time outs, removal of privileges, appropriate consequences, and so on and so on.

In this modern climate of disapproval, it is hard for parents to cling to the belief that a smack is an appropriate method of discipline. We have parenting groups, psychologists, government organisations all trying to tell us that smacking is not acceptable. Because a few people do abuse their kids, these groups are taking a blanket approach to any form of physical reprimand. Yet none of the reasons given hold true. People who abuse their kids will not stop doing so just because government and other groups say it’s wrong! All it is doing is taking a valuable discipline tool away from parents. And unfortunately, a lot of families are floundering as a result.

For when you remove The Smack as a discipline tool, what are you left with? Weak, ineffectual talking and equally weak consequences. The fact that parents are still dealing out ‘consequences’ well into their children’s teen years is proof that it doesn’t work. A child that is disciplined consistently and calmly from an early age should have well and truly learned his boundaries and rules of behaviour by the time he is 12. A well disciplined child would not dream of being disrespectful to his parents because the rules of behaviour are deeply entrenched after 12 years of training. Parents can’t effectively manage teenagers with physical discipline or even consequences. The basis of their control has to come from the awe and respect children hold for their parents. This is a rare thing today because awe and respect comes from seeing parents in control of their emotions, seeing parents as authority figures who always know what to do, seeing parents as all-knowing and all-wise, seeing parents as the source of laughter, fun, care – and consistent discipline. Modern parenting advice has successfully torpedoed a lot of those opportunities for developing awe and respect.

So what is the solution?

If your child is under 12, it is rather simple.
1) Resolve to never lose your cool again when correcting your children. Become a good actor if you have to. While you are learning to maintain that image of calm, learn to say ‘go to your room. I will deal with you later.’ When you are calm and in control, administer the discipline.

2) Resolve to use smacking as a first resort, not the last. Tell a child to do something once and only once, whether he is 9 months old (obviously have appropriate expectations. At 9 months, all you are trying to teach is usually ‘No, don’t touch’, etc.) or 9 years. Then calmly go over, repeat ‘no’ and smack their hand. Use force appropriate to their age. The smack should only be strong enough to sting for about 3-5 seconds.

3) Do not explain, argue or reason with your children. They’ve usually heard it all before anyway or are too young to understand.

4) Be consistent! This is a very important rule as it is fundamental to teaching your children their boundaries. If you decide you are going to warn once and then smack, always do that. If you don’t want to use The Smack, it is still vital to be consistent.

5) If you are starting over with children aged 13 and over, the same rules apply, except you are probably using privileges and consequences. It is usually too late to use smacking as a disciplinary measure. Choose a couple of consequences and be consistent. Write up a chart and group behaviours which will receive the same consequence. This is as much a reminder for you as your child. If your teen tries to argue with you or is disrespectful, send them to the toilet for a timeout. Sounds funny, I know, but it is effective because a) it removes them from the scene so neither of you can get upset, and b) it is so boring that they quickly calm down. Don’t allow them to come out until they are calm, apologise and get on with the job given.

Whatever form of discipline you choose, remember that children need to perceive that their parents are in control of their own emotions and impulses. That means, self discipline is even more important than what method of discipline you choose to use.

Author: Sue Dillicar
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Provided by: PCB Prototype & Manufacturing

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