“Don’t hit your sister because there is plenty more where that came from!”
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians are calling for a ban on parents smacking their children, making it a criminal offence to beat your child (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-26/doctors-calls-for-smacking-ban/4845210).
About time too. Smacking is already illegal in countries such as Sweden, Italy and New Zealand and it is about time Australia caught up. It is a pretty sad indictment of our parenting skills when a wise, experienced adult can only discipline a five year old by giving him a clip behind the ear. Surely we are better than that?
I see two major issues with smacking. Firstly it sends incredibly mixed messages to the child. How can we create a non-violent society where conflict is resolved through dialogue and reason when we can’t even resolve conflict in our own home without resorting to force?
The second issue is that smacking is just plain bullying. If one of my work colleagues annoys me I am not allowed to belt him. If my wife upsets me I can’t give her a swift backhander to put her back in her place. But I am allowed to hit a small defenceless child who has no hope of defending themselves or being able to strike back?
Unfortunately I grew up in an era where parents, teachers and just about anyone you could think of was allowed to go around randomly beating kids. While I seem to have survived it occurred to me that there must be a better way to instil good behaviour. Having an inquiring mind I often made the mistake of asking why I should do something. Answers like, “Because I said so” used to drive me mad and I resolved never to subject my own kids to that. When I asked them to perform a task I expected and encouraged them to ask why and was ready with a reason. It forced me to think more clearly about why I wanted them to do it in the first place and, if I could not come up with a good reason, perhaps it wasn’t really necessary. Decisions were not cast in stone. If the kids advanced a reasonable argument why they should not have to do it then they sometimes got out of it. The result was that both kids and parents took time out to think about their actions and arrived at a reasoned result. Admittedly this process could become drawn out and was not always something you wanted to be doing when you were rushing to catch a plane or late for work. However, I think it worked well and we got pretty good compliance without resorting to a lot of beating, shouting or screaming.
Discipline and responsibility must come from within and can’t be beaten into someone. If kids are treated with respect and given responsibility I find that more often than not they respond in kind. We were lucky enough to be able to send our kids to a primary school with similar values to ours. Teachers and students were on a first name basis. The day began with a school meeting chaired by a different student each day where the kids could air their grievances, discuss issues and plan activities. All students had chores to complete: feed the ponies or chooks, weed the vegie garden, etc. Older students mentored the younger ones and all age groups interacted with each other. Apart from the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic the curriculum was largely student driven. If the class showed an interest in amphibians the teacher developed a project focussing on the local frog pond. Parents were encouraged to help with classes and, if they had a special skill, to share it with the students. My special skill was to turn up with a dead kangaroo and cut it up in front of everyone. The kids loved it. They kept egging me on to take its brain out.
Unfortunately our kids went from this school to the standard high school where it was back to obsessing about having your shirt tucked in and other inconsequential trivialities. They seem to have survived that too but I am convinced that treating them with respect when they were young has resulted in them treating others with respect now that they are grown up (almost).
Dr. F. Bunny