News Miriam Donohoe

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Hands up anyone who has honestly never slapped one of their children

Published 03/09/2013 | 05:00

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Australian drama series 'The Slap', based on an award-winning novel, explores what happens when a man slaps a child at a suburban barbecue
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Hands up those of you who have never, ever, slapped your child? I am going to be completely honest and admit to having smacked my children on a few occasions when they were young.

Don't get me wrong. I do not condone violence against anybody, especially children, but I did lose it a few times and hit out.

I am of a generation where getting a smack at home and in school was commonplace. I remember in vivid detail getting the odd slap on the hand from a teacher. I also received a few clips on the ear and slaps from my own mother in my youth. And did it do me any harm? No.

The question of disciplining children and the rights and wrongs of giving a smack when they are bold is one parents grapple with all the time. And the issue is in the news again.

Yesterday, the Children's Rights Alliance (CRA) called on the Government to implement a complete ban on slapping children, and to deliver on its commitments under international law to ban corporal punishment, even within the home. They want the current defence of "reasonable chastisement" to be lifted.

The CRA has said it is unacceptable that physical punishment of children by parents, legal caregivers, childminders and foster parents is currently permitted in certain circumstances under Irish law.

To date, 22 countries across Europe have banned physical violence against children. And the Government has until the end of this month to respond to a formal complaint against Ireland by the Association for the Protection of All Children.

The reality is every single parent at some stage has either lost it, or has been on the verge of losing it with their children. Giving a slap, or even the threat of giving one, is often used to get your children to behave.

As a mother of two, I know how testing small children can be, especially when you are under pressure. Mine are now young adults and thankfully seem well grounded, responsible people who bear no scars of having had the very odd slap.

When debates about corporal punishment and slapping come up on TV or radio my children sometimes slag me by saying they are "victims" and "damaged" because they were slapped a few times. They know this gets to me, and that I am wracked with guilt, the devils. The story of the night I threw a carton of yogurt at my son, (missing him but ruining the wall), as he ran up the stairs aged 13 after using foul language against me is often relayed around the dinner table – with a laugh.

Yes, of course I wish I had stopped myself, because slapping is a lazy form of discipline. I do feel some shame.

Over the years lots of fellow parents have admitted they have hit their children and I have never been judgmental. Before you think I am a monster, I don't think it is perfectly okay to lash out. I realise that violence breeds violence and using extreme forms of discipline does send a message to children that if you are stressed, aggressive forms of behaviour are acceptable. And in many cases it can have a negative effect on parent-child relationships.

Yes the naughty step, or standing in the corner, is preferable. But experts also tell us that dishing out psychological punishment to a child can be just as damaging as a smack if it is used to humiliate a child. Shouting and roaring and using rough words can be as damaging as a tap on the hand.

The main thing is that disciplining children is tempered with a lot of love and affection.

A study of teenagers published in the journal 'Parenting: Science and Practice' this summer said being punished was unlikely to result in anti-social behaviour further down the line, as long as the child believed their punishment was coming from "a good place".

Previous research has found that children are more likely to grow into well-adjusted adults if their parents are firm disciplinarians. Traditional "authoritative" parenting, combining high expectations of behaviour with warmth and sensitivity, leads to more "competent" children, according to the 2009 study by researchers from London's Institute of Education.

We are in danger of going too far on this issue. The scary thing now is that administering a slap in the home might become a criminal act. Parents who really beat their children and are violent and bullies should, of course, face the full rigours of the law. But parents who occasionally "lose it" under pressure, with the best of intentions, should not be punished.

The main thing is that mothers and fathers parent with love. And if there is the occasional lapse, they should be forgiven.

Irish Independent

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