Twenty years after corporal punishment was banned in private schools, Scotland is making it a criminal offence for parents to smack their children.
According to opinion polls, parents are up in arms about the new bill, declaring a nanny state where parents are told how to bring up their children. While Be Reasonable Scotland is concerned this new law will turn ‘good’ parents into criminals.
This is a concern I share. I have vivid memories of my mum walloping me as a mouthy teenager – but should she have been prosecuted? Absolutely not, she was a great mum, and will be mortified if she reads this article.
READ MORE: Scotland becomes first part of UK to ban smacking of children
READ MORE: Smacking laws in Scotland: current regulations, proposed changes and how the rest of the UK matches up
Back in the 80s, hitting your kids was standard practice. Things have changed since then, as has language we use. We now talk about ‘smacking’ children, as opposed to hitting them; just as we call those things we put our expensive cross-breed puppies in, crates instead of cages. It softens the blow, so to speak.
Smacking our own kids
The fact is, many of us have been driven to give our kids a smack at some point. According to a report by four leading Scottish children’s charities around 80% of parents in the UK have used physical punishment, with children aged three to seven the most likely to be on the receiving end.
The numbers don’t surprise me. Nor do the ages of the children, as this is the time when parenting can be the most challenging. My son was three when I smacked him. Six years on, it still makes me shudder with regret.
We were at the start of our holiday and had been travelling for around eight hours. I needed to change his nappy, but he wouldn’t let me. He wouldn’t stop shouting, he wouldn’t listen, he wouldn’t do a single thing I asked. So, in desperation, I smacked his very well padded bottom (baby fat, plus a wet nappy).
And you know what? He stopped. Everything went quiet. And for a split second I felt relief. And victory. But then he turned to me and said ‘don’t you hit me’. Well, he did have a point… And then we both sobbed.
A flash of fury
The essential problem with smacking or hitting your child is that it’s done in a moment of madness. It’s a flash of fury and frustration, when all other options have failed.
This is what ‘time out’ was created for. It’s not just about punishing the child, it’s about giving the parent time to take a breath and calm their thoughts. There are countless times I have shut myself in the kitchen cupboard, so I can silently scream into the fridge, or bang my head against the cornflakes.
I will do everything I can to avoid hitting my children because I know, in my gut, that violence is wrong. I tell me children on a daily basis not to hit each other, so how can I justify doing the same to them? We shouldn’t hit our children just because society or the law say it’s ok, or because they aren’t big enough to hit us back.
In fact that is the very reason we shouldn’t hit them. Even when pushed to the limits by a tyrannical toddler, we don’t have the right to use physical violence. Just as those teachers back in the 90s had no right to hit our children.
Many parents today look back on those times with disbelief and horror, and I wonder if 20 years from now our children will feel the same about those dark days when parents hit their children.
Maybe this change in law marks the beginning of a new era of positive parenting. Where we think first and act later.
Or at least try screaming into the fridge.
This opinion column first appeared on our sister site the i.