I was a teenager when they stopped hitting us at school. It seems like the dark ages now, but it wasn’t actually so long ago.

It’s outrageous to think that it was recently okay to whack other people’s children with a big stick or with a slab of leather. Yet that’s how the world worked under corporal punishment.

I wonder if smacking will go the same way, finally relegated to the bin of universal repugnance?

It may take a while yet. There are people still squirming for the right to physically discipline their kids. With various politicians allegedly smacking in the news we continue to be conflicted about whether or not a clip round the ear makes for good parenting.

I don’t smack for two reasons, neither of which have anything to do with any legislation. One reason is that I view smacking as a double standard. The other is that I don’t trust myself not to smack in anger.

The smack, as promoted by its more righteous cheerleaders, is a tool that should be used as a measured tool of discipline.

“It has been established that at 10:30 am you did break the rules of this house, and upon understanding that the penalty for said rule breakage is a smack to the bottom, I hereby apply a smack of appropriate force at … wait for it … 4:45pm.” Whack.

Smacking seems to get championed on several counts. The old school crowd defend it because they got disciplined with the jug cord and reckon they turned out fine.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” gets trotted out a lot, as though there is a divine mandate to hit your kids with a stick.

Surely no one would suggest jug cords or sticks are acceptable these days. More common, I suspect, is the grab and whack smack, which is where the child does something that aggravates the parent and the parent grabs the kid and wallops them.

As much as you love them, children will take you to a place of rage that is way out of kilter with their actions. That’s why I don’t smack. I’ve sometimes raised my voice at my boys only to realise that I’ve totally misread the situation. You can say sorry for raising your voice but you can’t undo a grab and whack.

If you feel like hitting a small child, you are likely to be operating out of anger. I don’t trust myself in that space, so I refuse to give myself permission to get anywhere near there.

I gave my son a single deliberate smack a number of years ago. He was in the habit of climbing onto the roof of the car. His younger brother was starting to copy and we were worried it was going to end in a broken arm or worse.

My wife and I eventually decided on a last resort discipline. I sat my boy down and explained to him that, despite lots of warnings, he had continued to climb on the car. And what did we say would happen if he didn’t listen? Yes, a smack.

Speech over, I gave him a light slap on the back of his hand. His face crumbled and he didn’t climb on the car again, not for several months anyway. So you could say the smack worked, but I don’t credit the smack. I credit a broken little heart.

I think mine broke too. What had I just taught my child? “If I am bad my Dad is allowed to hurt me.”

I couldn’t abide that. I’ve never smacked again. Our kids seem to be turning out fine.


First published in Bay of Plenty Times 24 January 2014. Reproduced with permission.