Monday 24 September 2018

Carol Hunt: So, hands up, who hasn't slapped their kids? Thought so...

Smacking children at home. File picture (Picture posed)
Smacking children at home. File picture (Picture posed)
Smacking children

Pat Kenny wasn't having any of it. "You're talking absolute rubbish at this point", he told TD Regina Doherty of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

Doherty had just asked Kenny if it would be acceptable for him to smack his wife in the same way that children are sometimes smacked as a measure of "reasonable chastisement".

Not unexpectedly, Kenny was outraged. The pair were discussing the Government's response to the Council of Europe's ruling that our lack of a clear ban on smacking children was a "violation of children's rights".

Children's Minister James Reilly said yesterday that he was preparing regulations to ban corporal punishment in residential and foster care.

He is also examining the question of removing from common law the defence of reasonable chastisement.

Right. Confession time. Hands up those of you who have smacked your children. Yes, I thought so. On average it's about three quarters of us. And reports show, it may be closer to 90pc because we don't let on about it.

You may whisper - mortified, to a friend - that you completely lost it with your five year old when he would not stop bashing his baby brother in the head no matter how many times you told him to stop.

You may admit, ashamedly, that you gave the little brat a tap on the leg or the backside to show him what he was doing wasn't permitted.

But you will only ever reveal such behaviour on your part if accompanied by the requisite amount of apology and guilt. You must always, always admit that immediately after succumbing to 'the slap' you knew that you were a terrible parent and went and put yourself on the naughty step while apologising profusely to your child.

Surprisingly, Regina Doherty was adamant on the Pat Kenny Show that she has never, ever smacked any of her four children. Instead she used the naughty step and such like for specific periods of time in order to chastise her kids when they stepped out of line.


Kenny made the not unreasonable suggestion that psychological punishments like shouting, being 'sent to Coventry' or even the naughty step (so beloved of progressive parents) everywhere could be more damaging to a child than a short, sharp slap.

Getting angry with a child and screaming at them is far worse, he said. Yet the Council of Europe doesn't seem to have a problem with that?

Both Doherty and Kenny have a point. That's the difficulty. Where disciplining children is concerned there are no hard and fast rules - every child is different.

Where a slap rolls off one child and they've forgotten it (and what it was given for) in a matter of moments, to another it can be as damaging as being sent to bed with no love and no dinner.

There are many ways to hurt a child. Some of which are far, far worse than the odd slap. But in today's world, smacking a child is seen as the epitome of bad parenting.

We judge the mother in the supermarket who gives her toddler a smack in order to keep them from careening into everyone else's trolley. "Tut, tut", we say. "Imagine not having the parenting skills to keep control of your child without hitting them".

And yet, when we were kids hitting was the norm. In school, at home, even in youth clubs and the like - children could be hit with impunity by adults and often it was far more than just the odd "tap on the arm or the backside". It was violent physical abuse.

We've come a very long way in just one generation. My kids assume that hitting children is already against the law, precisely because they've never had to suffer it - bar the very odd time when I used to, in frustration, smack their arms or legs to keep them from hurting themselves or others. (And then promptly beat myself up for being such a cruel, crap parent.)

We all agree that the days when children could be beaten for the least transgression are best consigned to history. But we're human. And as well as being kind to our kids, we need to go easier on ourselves.

The odd, mistaken slap does not a bad parent make - screaming, shouting, and being consistently cruel does. There is a difference. A very big one. We need to make sure we understand what it is.

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