Commentary: Is smacking children ineffective and bad for their development?

WINCHESTER, England: The question of whether it is ever acceptable to smack a child – hit them with the inside of one’s hand with the aim of achieving compliance – is still highly controversial. In England, this controversy was reignited in April by former education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, who said that “the discipline of children should be left up to parents”.

Smacking is currently illegal in 63 countries, including Wales and Scotland. In England and Northern Ireland, though, parents remain free to smack their children.

Typically, the main argument against banning parents from smacking their children is based on respecting parents’ rights. Zahawi said that the state should not “nanny” parents about how to raise their children.

In contrast, child protection groups and psychologists argue that the decision on whether to ban smacking should be based on what is best for the child rather than the parent. 

They point to psychological research as a source of information on whether smacking is good or bad for children.

LINKS TO BEHAVIOURAL, SOCIAL AND MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS

Research has found that physical punishment, such as smacking, is both ineffective and bad for children’s development. Research which analysed a range of studies on physical punishment found that, in fact, this punishment made children’s behaviour worse.

Often, children still do not obey their parents’ orders after being disciplined. And even when they do, a punishment such as smacking does not help the child understand why their actions were wrong. This is because sometimes the discipline comes with no explanation.