Smacking children is to be banned in Scotland, the Scottish government has confirmed.
The move would make the country the first part of the UK to outlaw the physical punishment of children. Ministers had previously said they did not support parents using physical chastisement, but had "no plans" to bring forward legislation of their own. But the government has now confirmed it will ensure a bill lodged by Green MSP John Finnie will become law.
When I read this my heart leapt. I feel strongly that Scotland has made the right decision.
My mother hit me, dragged me by my hair and pulled me by my ears on a regular basis and I grew up terrified and traumatised, willing myself to be ‘good enough’ and not do anything to engender her brutality. However, her violence was regular and indifferent to my behaviour and I got it whether I had earned it or not.
As an adult I suffered severe and chronic post traumatic stress and depression. It took me years of 'work' to fully recover from the childhood abuse. Yes, I would call it that.
As I have two children, I can also sit on the other side of the fence and be the parent who loses their rag. I had, sometimes ‘lost the plot’ with my children and ranted and punished in a way that was unjustified. When that happened, I did nothing but whip myself afterwards.
But, having experienced chronic violence as a child, there was a bold line when it came to hitting my children: I have never, and will never, hit them.
I am constantly amazed by the number of parents who vocalise their approval of a ‘light smack’ But, I hear you cry, what is wrong with a smack when a child has been naughty? What is wrong with a short, sharp measure that will teach the child right from wrong?
Well, what is wrong is that it teaches the child that violence is acceptable, hitting is the way to express emotions, violating the child’s feeling of safety is OK and the small smack may end up a huge whack if you are not careful!
No, smacking is not OK and if you have to resort to smacking to teach right from wrong then you are tantamount to a bully - and a bully has no place in the life of a child who wants and craves a loving environment.
Here is the difference between children and their parents: children need us for their survival but we don’t need them for our survival.
This puts the power stakes high in our camp and we have to treat that power with the utmost care and have the highest regard for the child. If we don't we jeopardise their mental health.
As a society which condones smacking children, there seems to be a whole heap of denial about the double standards for children and adults. ‘Smacking’ is an assault and if I were to smack another adult I could be (rightly) arrested and charged with assault but if I smack a child I am within the law.
Why are adults protected when, surely, it’s children who need the protection? Why do we have one set of rules which prevent an adult being abused yet another set of rules which allow children to be hit?
If an adult hits a child, the adult is using the child as a method of releasing anger. The adult is angry and, unfortunately for the child, something they said or did triggered that anger so the adult loses control and becomes a violent bully by hitting the child. It's not right and cannot be condoned.
Having experienced ‘chronic assault’ as a child, it damaged my self-esteem, self-confidence and trust in others. It was a destructive force which I have had to combat and learned to gain trust in humanity as an adult.
So, how do you discipline a child when you are angry? NSPCC’s Ian Elliot said "Our advice is to take a step back before you say or do something you will later regret," he said. “Don't give in to anger - take control before it controls you."
Easy words to say but, behind closed doors, what real effect would they have? In my experience parents who take out their anger on their children are often punishing their children because they (the parents) are unhappy.
It is also more likely that parents who abuse their children will themselves have received similar treatment as a child. There is no doubt that abuse breeds abuse, "Being maltreated as a child puts one at risk for becoming abusive," say researchers Kaufman and Zigler and they put the risk of becoming an abusive parent more than 30% likely if the parent themselves had been abused as children.
If a parent is hitting a child, then there are bigger issues to look at. These start by the parent getting some help for their own issues. As painful as it is for parents to admit their failings, for the parent to seek help for their own pain and distress is the kindest and cleanest way through the anger that gets them to lash out at their kids.
Acknowledging that there is a problem is a first step.
But let’s balance the argument with the fact that children can, at times, behave in a way that offers the sanest of people no choice but to hurl themselves over the edge with frustration and annoyance. But this is the way children were born to be.
There are three things you can do to get some objectivity between you and your child:
View the child as a ‘mini-drunk’. Children are born 'drunk' and sober up over time until they reach the age of 15 when they are suffering the worst hangover of their lives and it is all they can do to grunt and get vertical. If you can address your child in the same way as you would a drunk, you can gain a perspective that may help you when you are both in conflict.
Understand that what they do that is so annoying is not personal to you. It is so easy to assume they are trying to ‘get you’ but they are not. They would behave in the same way no matter who was their parent.
it is the child’s job to push you to the limit – this is how they learn where the limits lie. However, it is your job to set the boundaries so they are clear where the acceptable edge of behaviour is.