Lifestyle & Travel

Published on November 8th, 2013 | by Kelly Rose Bradford


Smacking kids – is it ever acceptable?

Today I went on BBC Radio 5 Live to confess I’d slapped my child. I made a similar confession on This Morning two years ago. I imagine that today, as I was introduced as the editor of Parenting Solo, the website for single parents, there was a collective eyebrow raise among the listeners, and a sucked-through-teeth mutter of ‘typical single mum, unable to control her kids.’

But actually, I am an old slapper: I’ve smacked (aside: I hate that word – it is practically onomatopoeic – you can almost hear a hand bouncing off a toddler backside as you say it) my son twice in ten and a half years. Both times taps, not out-of-control angry hitting, and neither having any long term ill effect (other than putting an instant stop to the behaviour they were a reaction to). And both times were prior to my separation (so ner! judgers of single parent discipline methods!)

The reason this was being discussed today is because Amazon are stocking an absolutely vile book which details how you can restrain and beat your children to make them behave.  Conservative MP Nadine Dorries (who herself admits smacking her kids when they were small) said the book – which advocates beating youngsters with paddles, rulers and willow branches – was child abuse.

And who wouldn’t agree with her? ‘But you have smacked your son – twice!’ I hear you say. Yes, I have, but let me make it clear – I do not approve of people hitting, be that parents hitting children, children hitting each other in the playground or adults belting each other round the chops.  But I think we have to be sensible about what we are regarding as ‘hitting’ and ‘violence’.  I am always shocked when I see parents yanking their kids out of the park by the upper arm, or gripping their shoulders as they press their faces close to theirs, furious words spilling from their lips. Angry, aggressive, prolonged actions that no one ever comments on. I was horrified to hear a mum in the supermarket threaten to punch her child in the face if he did not behave, and nine years on, I remain outraged by the two sets of parents I knew who bit their tooth-happy toddlers back when they sunk their teeth in to them or other children.

But back to me and my slapper past: the first occasion my son got a smack on the back of his hand was when he almost shut his fingers in the folding mechanism of his pushchair.  He was two and a bit and had been told repeatedly not to touch it.  I don’t know about you, but I find toddlers pretty unresponsive to kneeled down, face close to theirs, softly spoken requests.  My otherwise angelic little boy had discovered something that fascinated him and he wanted to know how it worked. The fact that ‘it is dangerous, darling’ meant no more to him than ‘it was precision engineered in a factory in Germany’.  He continued to fiddle, day in day out, until one day I saw the buggy was about to close on his fingers. With a shriek of ‘NO!’ I slapped his hand away from it because I didn’t want him to end up in hospital with a mashed up set of digits. We both cried. He never fiddled with the pushchair again.

The next occasion was when he was six, so four years later. We had visitors, he was refusing to stay in bed. No matter how many requests and threats of toys being taken away or days out cancelled were made, still he kept appearing at the sitting room door. And why wouldn’t he – fun was being had that he wasn’t part of. Frankly, I would have done the same.

But as he was marched up the stairs for the nth time, grumpy, whining, and putting up all kinds of resistance, he was eventually told that if he came down once more, he would have his bottom smacked.  The first time this particular threat had ever been made to him.

‘Go on then, I don’t care,’ came his wide-eyed, circle-mouthed defiant reply. But he obviously did, as he then galloped up the stairs, two at a time. But not before my hand had made contact with his pyjama-and-dressing-gown encased bottom.

He didn’t come back downstairs.

My son is 10 now and has no recollection of either incident. In fact he has just laughed heartily at me recalling them. He has always been taught that hitting is wrong, and has never lashed out at another child or shown any sign of any ‘violent’ behaviour.

I would not tap/smack/whatever you want to call it now; if I did, I would feel a failure as a parent because at 10 (and a half) he is old enough to know and understand danger (like the pushchair incident) and well-behaved enough to not push boundaries to a ridiculous level like he did as a bolshy going-through-a-growth-spurt six-year-old (the bottom smack).

And I would never condone smacking as a day-to-day way of disciplining a child, or consider it acceptable as a threat used to keep kids in line; the fear of it hanging over them like a cloud, leaving them scared as to what angry response they might spark in their parent.

Yet the fact I have done it – and admit it – made some listeners today very angry. NO smacking should ever be tolerated, I was told. It should be illegal. One caller even mentioned some high profile, dreadful abuse cases. Really? Prolonged, despicable, atrocious acts of violence are comparable to the two occasions I gave my son what was, in reality, little more than a pat about his person?

I refuse to allow anyone make me feel bad about once slapping my toddler’s fingers out of harm’s way, or giving his well-upholstered bottom a light tap to reinforce a message that the threat of time out, naughty steps and the taking away of toys had failed to deliver. It’s all about severity and scales; I didn’t act out of anger or frustration, or because I am a coward or a bully venting my own aggression on someone smaller than me. I simply did what was needed at the time.

But was I right? Over to you…







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About the Author

Kelly Rose Bradford

is a London-based journalist and broadcaster, writing for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sunday Telegraph, and a host of women's magazines. Her robust opinions and feisty debating skills make her in demand as a social commentator, regularly guesting on ITV's This Morning programme, and across many radio stations, including 5 Live and BBC Radio London.

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