Is it okay to hit your children? It’s amazing what I thought was a dead certain capital NO, is not 100% true in the UK. One of the last countries in Europe where it is legal to smack your child as reasonable punishment.
The debate here is less about the smack and more about the force exerted. To contextualise most adults remember being physically hurt in school by their teachers. It wasn’t until 1999 that Engalnd banned punishment in the independent school sector. (Americans insert shock emoji face here)
And there were appeals. The heads of a number of Christian fellowship independent schools appealed, at length, through various courts, for the ability of teachers to have delegated authority from parents to physically punish their children should they wish. (Americans insert shock emoji face here)
A BBC report from 2005 says the heads claimed that boys would be hit using “a thin, broad flat paddle to both buttocks simultaneously in a firm controlled manner”. Meanwhile, “girls could be strapped on the hand and then comforted by a member of staff and encouraged to pray”. As a foreigner in the UK that surprised me quite a bit. So now I hear parents can legal smack their kids as long as it’s not too hard. But who decides what hard is?
It’s not just tabloid newspapers like The Sun that say some people do not know what a reasonable punishment is. It’s also often the voice heard in parliament, that if we ban smacking we run the chances of living in a nanny state where we’re telling parents how to be. Things such as age and weight of the child must be taken into account with the amount of force that is being exerted.
The good news is that the subject is in the headlines again, Wales is first in line in an effort to ban smacking altogether.
Scotland is becoming the first country in the UK to ban all physical punishments on children. The new bill was set forward by John Finnie, Green MSP and Scottish government has confirmed that the proposal is now becoming a law. A vote will be held later this year, however, the bill is expected to be passed and become part of Scottish law.
Psychologists around the world say that smacking children can impact their mental health and encourage violent behaviour. Parent’s and carers are legally allowed to smack children lightly if it can be “reasonable punishment”, according to Children Act 2004. In many countries such as Sweden, Ireland, Spain, Germany, and Portugal have placed a ban on smacking children.
However, what will be the criminal offence or punishment set to parents who do smack their child?
Sweden in 1979, became the first country to ban any sort of physical punishment towards a child. This was the first step to making smacking illegal internationally. Today Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Aruba, Austria, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Congo, Costa Rica, Croatia, Curaçao, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, Germany, Greece, Greenland, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Kenya, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mongolia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, Pitcairn Islands, Poland, Portugal, Moldova, Romania, San Marino, Slovenia, South Sudan, Spain, St. Maarten, Svalbard and Jan Mayen, Sweden, Macedonia, Togo, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Venezuela all have bans on smacking children.
In October, 2017 a 25-year-old father was charged for smacking his child on the bottom for breaking a plant pot. The father claims that smacking his child was a reasonable punishment, however due to bruising (bodily harm) the man was sent to court. The father did not enter any pleas.
There are plenty of other ways to discipline your child without having to smack them. An example could be setting simple rules, praising good behaviour, and allow children to have some choice in their on decisions so that they don’t feel controlled.
One of our favourite parenting experts suggest simple tricks, like putting your hand on your child’s shoulder to get their attention and developing great communication skills. Kids want to please their parents so it’s really worth reading and understanding the non-violent communication ideals by the amazing Dr. Laura Markham. Read her Aha Parenting blog here.
The times I have applied her tips have been major breakthroughs in my relationship with my daughter.