Smacking is defined as:

  1. physically non-injurious;
  2. intended to modify behavior; and
  3. administered with an opened hand to the extremities or buttocks
    (Pediatrics, 1996, Vol. 88, p. 853)

Anything above or beyond that becomes child abuse.

Let’s deal with some of the unsubstantiated claims made against smacking – referring to a study entitled “Spare the Rod? The Research Challenges Spanking Critics,” Den Trumbull, M.D. and S. DuBose Ravenel, M.D., Family Research Council. This superb summary deals with the following claims:

  • do the studies support the view that smacking is inappropriate
  • does smacking teach hitting
  • do smacked kids learn that anger and frustration justifies the use of physical force
  • is smacking harmful to a child
  • does it make children angry and teach them that ‘might makes right’
  • is smacking violence
  • is it ineffective as a solution to misbehaviour
  • do smacked children use violence as adults
  • does smacking lead to child abuse
  • is smacking never necessary

Click here to read this study.

Smacking Physical Abuse
The Act Smacking: One or two smacks to the   buttocks Beating: To strike repeatedly (also   kick, punch, choke)
The Intent Training: To correct problem behaviour Violence: Physical force intended to   injure or abuse
The Attitude With love and concern With anger and malice
The Effects Behavioural correction Emotional and physical injury

Guidelines for Disciplinary Smacking

The following are guidelines that Dr. Den Trumbull has used to advise the parents he serves in disciplining children. These guidelines should help policymakers appreciate the legitimacy of disciplinary spanking. Dr. Den A. Trumbull, M.D. is a U.S. pediatrician and is also Vice President of the American College of Paediatricians. The Executive Director of the ACP is a previous president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  1. Smacking should be used selectively for clear, deliberate misbehavior, particularly that which arises from a child’s persistent defiance of a parent’s instruction. It should be used only when the child receives at least as much encouragement and praise for good behavior as correction for problem behavior.
  2. Milder forms of discipline, such as verbal correction, time-out, and logical consequences, should be used initially, followed by smacking when noncompliance persists. Smacking has shown to be an effective method of enforcing time-out with the child who refuses to comply.
  3. Only a parent (or in exceptional situations, someone else who has an intimate relationship of authority with the child) should administer a smacking.
  4. Smacking should not be administered on impulse or when a parent is out of control. A smacking should always be motivated by love for the purpose of teaching and correcting, never for revenge.
  5. Smacking is inappropriate before 15 months of age and is usually not necessary until after 18 months. It should be less necessary after 6 years, and rarely, if ever, used after 10 years of age.
  6. After 10 months of age, one slap to the hand of a stubborn crawler or toddler may be necessary to stop serious misbehavior when distraction and removal have failed. This is particularly the case when the forbidden object is immovable and dangerous, such as a hot oven door or an electrical outlet.
  7. Smacking should always be a planned action, not a reaction, by the parent and should follow a deliberate procedure.
  • The child should be forewarned of the smacking consequence for designated problem behaviours.
  • Smacking should always be administered in private (bedroom or restroom) to avoid public humiliation or embarrassment.
  • One or two smacks should be administered to the buttocks. This is followed by embracing the child and calmly reviewing the offense and the desired behaviour in an effort to re-establish a warm relationship.

8.  Smacking should leave at the most only transient redness of the   skin and should never cause physical injury.

9.  If properly administered smackings are ineffective, other appropriate disciplinary responses should be tried, or the parent should seek professional help. Parents should never increase the intensity of smackings.

Click here for a copy of these guidelines. 

What does the research say about smacking?

There has been much research done in this area. But the studies cited by opponents of corporal punishment do not adequately distinguish the effects of smacking, as practiced by nonabusive parents, from the impact of severe physical punishment and abuse. Nor do they consider other factors that might account for problems later in life, like whether defiant or aggressive children might be more likely to be smacked in the first place. It simply assumes that the outcomes of a light smack will be the same as a child who is physically abused.

Yet research in NZ completely refutes this. A 2007 Otago University study found that children who were smacked in a reasonable way had similar or slightly better outcomes in terms of aggression, substance abuse, adult convictions and school achievement than those who were not smacked at all. And a study by the Christchurch School of Medicine found there was no difference in outcomes between no smacking and moderate physical punishment. They said, “It is misleading to imply that occasional or mild physical punishment has long term adverse consequences”.

Ultimately, it’s not the technique that the parent uses to correct their child that’s necessarily the problem – it’s the way it’s used. ‘Time out’ can become neglect, a ‘telling off’ can become verbal abuse which is degrading, humiliating, and potentially emotional abuse. Withdrawal of privileges can become denying the necessities of life, and even reasoning can become manipulation and bullying. Calling a smack ‘violent’ is like calling ‘timeout’ imprisonment, or withholding allowances as robbery!

A recent US study found that young children smacked by their parents may grow up to be happier and more successful than those who have never been hit. According to the research, children smacked up to the age of six were likely as teenagers to perform better at school and were more likely to carry out volunteer work and to want to go to university than their peers who had never been physically disciplined. Only those children who continued to be smacked into adolescence showed clear behavioural problems. Marjorie Gunnoe, professor of psychology at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said her study showed there was insufficient evidence to deny parents the freedom to choose how they discipline their children. “The claims made for not spanking children fail to hold up. They are not consistent with the data,” said Gunnoe. “I think of spanking as a dangerous tool, but there are times when there is a job big enough for a dangerous tool. You just don’t use it for all your jobs.” Research into the effects of smacking was previously hampered by the inability to find enough children who had never been smacked, given its past cultural acceptability. But Gunnoe’s work drew on a study of 2,600 people, of whom about a quarter had never been physically chastised. [WATCH the TV3 News Coverage]

A recent study of teenagers by a team from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York found the effects of discipline – such as verbal threats or smacking – are offset by the child’s feeling of being loved and the child believes their punishment is coming from “a good place”. This study joins what the researchers refer to as ‘emerging theoretical and empirical evidence’ which challenges the academic and political view that smacking is child abuse and should be banned. Other studies showed that expressing disappointment and yelling or scolding were associated with as many significantly adverse outcomes as smacking, and time-out and shaming were also significantly associated with internalising problems.

What does the research say about child abuse?

unicef child abuse reportThe 2003 UNICEF report “Child Maltreatment Deaths in Rich Nations” listed factors most commonly associated with the maltreatment of children including:

  • * drug and alcohol abuse
  • * family breakdown
  • * poverty and stress
  • * children not living with biological parents

CYF logoA 2006 CYF report “Children at Increased Risk of Death from Maltreatment and Strategies for Prevention” identified the following as factors which signaled greater risk for children:

  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • family breakdown
  • poverty
  • domestic violence

unicef 2007 reportAnd a 2007 UNICEF Report “An overview of child well-being in rich countries” said that the likelihood of a child being injured or killed is associated with

  • drug or alcohol abuse
  • single-parenthood / weak family ties
  • poverty / poor housing
  • low maternal education
  • low maternal age at birth

Interestingly, in the UNICEF report, of the 10 top countries that were deemed safest and promoted the highest level of well-being for children, six hadn’t banned smacking. The safest country in the report hadn’t banned smacking. In other words, to try and suggest that a smack on the bum is child abuse is simply not true, and is an insult to good parents.

childrens commissionerA 2009 Children’s Commissioner report entitled “Death and serious injury from assault of children aged under 5 years in Aotearoa New Zealand: A review of international literature and recent findings” said that risk factors for child abuse included:

  • drug and alcohol abuse
  • presence of a non-biological parent
  • family breakdown, severe conflict and ongoing domestic violence
  • unsupported young mothers with little or no antenatal care
  • mental illness
  • poverty, instability and unemployment
  • ethnicity (including the high rate of abuse amongst Maori)

 Family First is calling for a Royal Commission on the issue of family breakdown, family violence and child abuse. See: www.stoptheabuse.org.nz