Rob Buckingham's Blog

To Smack or Not To Smack?

Smacking is back in the news – again.  This topic is like a common cold … it comes around about three times every blinkin’ year; this time it’s been raised by Dr Gervase Chaney the head of Australia’s leading paediatric body.  Dr Chaney said it was no longer okay for parents to argue “it never did us any harm” – and called on colleagues to stand up for children’s rights.  Dr Chaney said the current position opposing the use of physical discipline as “ineffective and unhelpful”, did not go far enough.

To me this smacks of bureaucratic interference.

Those who want to legislate against smacking do so for a number of reasons.  Some say it’s ineffective and unhelpful.  Others object to smacking children because we wouldn’t smack an adult.  That’s right; we put naughty adults in jail.

Others say it leads to child abuse and so should be outlawed.  I wonder if a law against smacking would deter those who abuse children.  There are already laws that cover child abuse.  These laws need to be enforced.  Sadly, often they are not.  It’s also important to remember that lots of things are abused in our society.  Some people abuse food.  This leads to obesity that costs Australian tax payers over $20 billion annually.  That’s it let’s ban food!  And what about sex?  Sometimes it leads to sexual abuse so we need to legislate against that too. There is a difference between discipline and abuse and a lack of discipline in itself may be a worse form of abuse.

According to a number of polls last week most Australians are against a law that would ban smacking.  The Herald Sun asked the question: “Should parents be banned from smacking their own children?”  Out of almost 9,000 responses 91.4% answered “no” and 8.6% said, “yes.”

For the most part Christians are against a ban on smacking because the Bible appears to endorse it as a valid form of punishment.  Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”  Likewise, Proverbs 22:15 teaches “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away.”  (See also Proverbs 23:13-14 and 29:15).  It’s important to remember however that Proverbs are not commandments they are proverbs – sayings that are generally true.  There is one commandment in the Bible regarding the discipline of our children that I’m sure no parent would ever want to obey and that’s in Exodus 21:17, “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.”

The Bible allows for smacking but doesn’t command it.  In this way God leaves the choice of discipline up to what parents believe is right for them and their children.  As with many issues, God gives us the freedom to use the wisdom He has given us to make good choices that are in line with His Word and our conscience.  And so with this in mind, let me share some wise guidelines for the discipline of our precious kids:

  • If you choose to use smacking in your regimen of discipline make sure that it is always last on your list.  The positive reinforcement of, and reward for, good behaviour should be on the top of the list.  Christie and I use a points system where our kids can earn points for good and helpful behaviour.  These points can be converted into cash so the children can “save up” for what they’d like.  Negatively, discipline can be the loss of privileges and liberties.  “The Naughty Seat” made famous by Super Nanny is also very effective.
  • If you use smacking as one way you discipline your kids always make sure you use it as a last resort and never out of anger, always in love.  If they are about to receive a smack calmly explain why, then administer the punishment on the bottom where there is extra padding and remind them that you love them very much.  Getting your child to do something for you straight away is a good way to get them refocussed.  Don’t allow moods and sulking.  A smack is like a thunderstorm – it clears the air and brings refreshing.  Life should then resume and the incident forgotten.  Don’t allow someone else to smack your kids and don’t yell at or verbally abuse your kids.
  • It’s important to learn what works for each child.  For example, if I told our eldest daughter to go to her room for time out she’d be thrilled.  Our second daughter would hate it because she hates being isolated from people.  Some kids prefer a smack to being grounded because the smack is over and done with quickly whereas a loss of liberty can effect a week or longer.
  • More than any form of discipline the most important thing in raising well-behaved children is what the parents’ model by the way they live, behave and respond to others.  Adults who love and respect other people will raise children who do the same.  And it takes a lot of self-discipline as a parent to be creative and respectful in how you discipline your children.

A final word from Barry Newton (aka. Squirt the Clown): “My wife and I haven’t smacked our kids in years. We find a good tasering so much more effective.”

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