Are you researching discipline methods and techniques to improve your child’s behavior? What about smacking to solve child behaviour problems? Parenting expert Diane Levy writes about smacking, and provides advice whether that’s the answer for disciplining children effectively.

If smacking is the answer, what was the question?

From time immemorial, children have been smacked, caned or strapped (and let us not forget the famous cry, ‘I’m going to get the wooden spoon’) when they have misbehaved. This has been seen as a punishment for bad behaviour.

The idea was that children would learn, through punishment, that what they did was unacceptable and would feel disinclined to repeat the behaviour; punishment was unpleasant so it was negative reinforcement.

So have I smacked? Yes. As a method of discipline do I recommend it? No – and here’s why.

There are no winners

You ask your child to take his glass to the sink. He doesn’t want to. You offer him a smack. He opts for the smack and then says, ‘That didn’t hurt.’ You produce a smack that does. His eyes water but he holds his ground and says, ‘I’m still not going to do it.’ You smack once more. He cries, but he is still not going to do it.

At this point, one of two things can happen. One, you lose your temper – not surprisingly – and wind up hitting him much harder than you intended. Most parents find this very upsetting. Result: your child is distraught (possibly crying in his room); you are distraught (possibly crying in your room); the glass is doing fine. At the end of an episode like this it is unlikely that you will have the heart to insist he takes the glass to the sink.

I quit

The other option is that having smacked a couple of times, you don’t have the heart to continue. You feel discouraged. Your child may feel unhappy or feel he has won. The glass still sits there. The atmosphere is unpleasant. Your other children are watching and learning interesting things.

In the good old days….

In the days when parents had the backing of the Church, the Police and the State, smacking worked a lot better, especially as it was unthinkable for a child to hit back at a parent.

Now however, we live in a different age. Children are exposed to violence regularly – on television, in movies, in computer games and often, in real-life. Violence is portrayed as the simplest way to get your own way or force your opinion on anyone.

Role models – who, us?

We are the role-models for our children – whether we want to be or not. Through watching how we behave, they learn good and bad behaviour. It can be very difficult for children to escape the lesson that the way to deal with behaviour you don’t like is by smacking.

One of my favourite cartoons shows a father smacking his son while saying, “That will teach you not to hit other people.”

‘Good’ kids

I smacked before I knew what I know now. I learned that, with ‘good’ children who usually co-operate, a smack will usually result in their crying for half an hour, sleeping for two hours and then behaving well for the next three months. The only reason they got themselves into that situation was probably because they were over-tired or over-wrought in the first place.

‘Strong-willed’ kids

With these types of strong-willed children, smacking occasionally works, but more often it does not. It upsets them but they rarely change their behaviour. More often, you get a resentful child who may co-operate briefly with on-the-surface behaviour,  but is more likely to resort to sneaky sabotage.

Our most strong-willed child was our third. Although by this time I had been a Family Therapist for quite a few years and had many skills I could call on, at some point I would become sufficiently annoyed and/or despairing or desperate to resort to smacking. As a result, our third child would feel entitled to be angry and indignant and plot revenge.

Smacking does no-one any favours

The more experienced I have become, both as a parent and as a Family Therapist, the less I have smacked. Today, I know about so many better ways I could have dealt with such situations. I most certainly could have been better behaved than preceding and accompanying the smacking with all manner of (my) yelling and screaming!

I learned something else about smacking. Vernon and I were and are loving and caring parents. In “the smacking days” we probably used smacking about equally. I learned that, when I was the one doing the smacking, it felt more-or-less OK. When I listened to Vernon doing the smacking it felt horrible and, definitely, when I see an unknown parent in the supermarket swiping at a child’s legs or bottom, it just looked like a larger person hitting a smaller person.

And the alternatives are…….?

We can lovingly, firmly and effectively discipline our children in many ways, without having to resort to smacking. See my ‘Time Out’ article on the website for starters, or check out my parenting book, “Of Course I Love You, Now Go to Your Room.”

So yes, I have smacked and I am not proud of it. I am reminded of a friend and colleague who used to say that it was okay for a teacher to cane a child who misbehaved in class provided that, with each stroke, the teacher intoned, ‘I am doing this because I am an inadequate teacher!’

And the last word goes to…

When my son Robert, was about four (he was a strong-willed child), he was guilty of some misdemeanour. At one desperate stage, I threatened him with, ‘You’re going to get a good hiding!’ His quick-as-a-flash response was, ‘There is no such thing as a good hiding.’ Of course he was right – not that it saved him that day!


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Diane Levy’s warm, humorous, practical and commonsense approach to raising children is evident in her writing, her speaking and her private practice in Auckland as a family therapist. Her main focus is on coaching parents. She is also the author of the best-seller “Of course I love you…NOW GO TO YOUR ROOM”, “They look so lovely when they’re asleep” and “Time Out for tots, teens and everyone in between."

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Thank you for sharing this article! It’s good to hear you’ve experienced smacking and not smacking and seen the result of what that style of discipline can bring.

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