Can smacking children ever come from a “loving place”?

New research out of the US, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has concluded that spanking a child is okay as long as it came from “a good place”, that the effects of harsh discipline are mitigated by having a loving mother.

spanking-2The study, published in Parenting: Science and Practice, said: “The use of harsh discipline of unwanted behaviour in children has long been controversial. Whether verbal (insults, disparaging remarks, threats) or physical (slapping/spanking), harsh discipline at all stages of childhood carries a large risk of manifesting antisocial ‘externalising behaviours’ in the child, including aggression, delinquency or hyperactivity.”

Curiously, the study only looked at Mexican-American children, based on the idea that “Latino cultural norms” such as respeto (respect) and bien educacion (social responsibility) – support the use of harsh and restrictive discipline against children.

The study also only looked at the effect of maternal involvement and love, and the findings suggested that “as long as the child knows they’re loved, and feels that it is coming from a good place, their experiences of being strictly disciplined is unlikely to result in antisocial behaviour further down the line.”

In the UK’s The Spectator, Alexander Chancellor wrote that the findings were “creepy.”

“The research carried out at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York concluded that spanking a child was all right provided it came from ‘a good place’, meaning that it was done in a loving way against a background of solid parental affection.

“But what a creepy idea. How is it possible to smack a child in a loving way? In a decent world, a child only gets smacked when it has temporarily forfeited a parent’s love.

“For smacking to be acceptable, there has to be anger involved. The child must have driven its mother or father to a point of exasperation at which no other response seems possible. Spanking is a parental cry for help. It is a message to the child saying, ‘Please stop winding me up; I just can’t take it any more.’ And sometimes that works as a means of making the child change its ways.”


Does smacking change a child’s ways? In 2011 an Australian poll found that 85 per cent of parents smack their children, and some experts said they were surprised the figure wasn’t higher.

While it might be obvious to make the distinction between the occasional smack in a loving home and routine corporal punishment in the home, for some it’s a slippery slope.

Last year, Dr Gervase Chaney, the head of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ Paediatric & Child Health Division, said the argument that “it never did us any harm” was no longer sustainable.

According to, Dr Chaney wrote in a letter published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, Dr Chaney that: “We cannot keep going on with the argument that it was OK for our generation as children (or that of our parents) and ‘it never did us any harm’. It is up to us as paediatricians to make the issue about children and their rights and advocate for their now and their future.”

Dr Chaney said he believed the college’s position, opposing the use of physical discipline as an “ineffective and unhelpful” method of punishing children, did not go far enough: “There has been good evidence that in countries where it has been banned there is a reduction in child abuse.

“Although many people have used physical discipline and it is still regarded in most of our society as an acceptable form of parenting, there is no delineation between what was acceptable as a smack and what is child abuse.”


Were you smacked as a child – did you fear the wooden spoon, the belt, or the back of a Mason Pearson hairbrush? Have you smacked your children? Do you think it works?

And should it, as Dr Chaney maintained, be illegal?



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  • Reply April 30, 2013


    Was I smacked as a child? Yes, by my father’s hand , mother’s wooden spoon, grandfather’s belt and, once, with a stick (by my father after I’d tried to defend myself from being scratched & kneed by my stepmother)

    Did I fear being smacked? No, not in the end. I learnt the physical pain soon passed … though the feelings flowing through me as I post this comment prove the emotional pain hasn’t passed (& I’m now in my 50s!)

    Have I smacked my child? Yes, by hand, and I’m not proud of it.

    Do I think it works? No, when I was smacked, it caused me to shut down emotionally. When I smacked my child, it led to him becoming more aggressive. I recognised this & stopped it (years ago) … but my son hasn’t forgotten – he cowers sometimes and it shames me.

    Should it be illegal? Outlawing the “paddy whack” won’t work. Parents need support & education on the negative effects of smacking, for their children & for themselves in the long run (my father tells me he now feels bad that he hit me with a stick). Parents need to be provided with alternatives to produce positive outcomes.

    The best way to end smacking is to make it socially unacceptable … as should be all forms of physical violence!

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I smacked my little boy when he played with matches and nothing else worked to prevent it. Incensed, he promptly turned to me and threatened to call the police.

  • Reply April 30, 2013

    Not Sorry

    I have 9 & 11 y.o. boys who were smacked every now and again – only after being warned that the smack would result if the behaviour did not cease and only with an open hand on their bottom. Exceptions being the rare occasions they did something extremely dangerous (eg. put their fingers through the guard on a fan – one memorable occasion – eek) – lecture and smack, no warning. I NEVER used a wooden spoon or anything else, as I felt that by using my hand it would stop any possibility of ‘going too far’, which I believe could happen. Hand on my heart, they were never punished because of a lack of control on my behalf or because of lazy parenting – it was a choice we made (in partnership) and we stand by it. I don’t judge people for not smacking – their kids, their choice. But I don’t see an issue with smacking as a considered punishment – more often than not, if we had issues occur, my kids were told to go to their rooms for a few minutes before being smacked, as we were conscious of not doing anything in the heat of the moment – smacking or hitting as a result of power play, abuse, exasperation, or because of circumstances beyond the child’s control (eg. bed-wetting) is a whole different ballgame.

  • Reply April 30, 2013

    would do it again

    I was smacked as a kid with a wooden spoon (we kids ended up hiding it, so there was never a spoon in the house) when I was badly behaved (probably 3 times over my childhood). The 60s were a time when teachers smacked students with a leather strap (escaped that experience, thankfully).
    I have smacked my kids, but only ever with an open palm, and never when angry. I smacked when they did something incredibly dangerous and my smacking was fear driven and an automatic adrenalin driven response. Eldest daughter, an enquiring child, now an electrical engineer so that time spent sticking knives in power points may have had some effect, was smacked twice. Youngest daughter, more physically able and no sense of fear, probably smacked 4 times. Would I do it again, yes.
    When they stacked on a turn as toddlers, I found the best response was to copy their behaviour and stamp my feet and rant and rave too – bit embarassing in the middle of KMart, but OK at home. This made them see just how stupid their behaviour looked and after a while time they just looked at me as if to say ‘what the’. Worked a treat – and I got my anger and pent up frustration out stamping my feet too.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I just don’t think you can use violence as a final resort and not expect children to learn that this as an acceptable way to resolve a conflict. The message seems to be – when nothing else works you can use physical violence. How do you reason with them if they then hit a child at school or child care? People with more legal knowledge than me might say you could outlaw it, but either way it requires a shift in what is seen by society as acceptable.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    When you smack a child you are sending a strong message that violent solutions are acceptable means of dealing with problems – an example that you probably don’t want your child emulating in his/her own social relationships and interactions.
    Like it or not as parents you are the first role models your children come into contact with – you need to be careful that the examples you set are the right ones.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    In my view, when you smack a child or are harsh with an animal, you break the trust which has been so painstakingly developed.
    I often picture a parent hitting a child around the head for hitting his brother “Don’t hit your brother!” An absurdity by any measure.
    Smacking children (in my experience), is an error. If I were to be harsh in any way with my 8 year old, I would need to work overtime to rebuild her trust, if it were to be possible at all.
    Violence toward children is more of an expression of frustration and a manifestation of ignorance within the adult.
    Even raising one’s voice is a violent act, whether that be toward one’s children or life partner.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    Two silly quoted in this article… a child only gets smacked when it has temporarily forfeited a parent’s love. Really!

    Also, I disagree that there has to be anger involved. If you smack a child for running on the road after repetitively being told not to, it’s not out of anger it’s out of love.

  • Reply April 30, 2013

    Wendy Green

    When Alexander Chancellor says, “For smacking to be acceptable, there has to be anger involved.” I am inclined to think he either has no children or he himself is a very violent man.
    I raised four children by employing the discipline of a smack or the threat of a wooden spoon when they were in danger of hurting themselves eg throwing things into the open fire, sticking knives in power points, etc OR when they were mean or spiteful to their siblings or me or their father. I can’t see this has done them any more harm than paying fines when they break the law (fare evasion, speeding or parking tickets).
    There MUST be consequences for unacceptable behaviour otherwise I don’t think we are doing our job as parents effectively.
    If I can use an old cliche, the problem with kids these days is that they don’t appear to be given any parameters, as are established when giving them clear DO’s and DON’Ts. Children need to take responsibility for their actions too (why is it only the parent’s who are brought into question when discussing discipline?).
    I must say, I despair of the next generation and their lack of respect and ability to control themselves.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I was hit/smacked/belted as a child and of course I didn’t like it but I also felt that was the only response instead of discussing why what I did was wrong. It was the beginning, middle and end of discussion.
    I’m quite proud to say I haven’t smacked my 11 year old daughter. Wouldn’t dream of it. In fact only a few months back I was faking anger and said, “right now you’re getting a belting.” She ran to the bed and giggled, then stopped and said, “what’s that?” Then I tickled her.

  • Reply April 30, 2013

    Wendy Green

    … Mind you, this is an age old problem. Look what Socrates said around 400BC …

    “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I belong to a few sites for families with children on the autism spectrum and many people speak of experiences in shopping centres etc., where their child has been having a severe reaction to noise or crowds and ‘helpful’ members of the public have advised ‘ a good smack will fix that’.
    Not only is this wildly intrusive and very rude, it is not useful. Smacking does not work as a punishment and it does not work to prevent further bad behaviour. We had the crap beaten out of us as kids, not because we were particularly naughty, but because our parents “had to get married” and resented us. My mother used to tell my father of our bad behaviour during the day and we would be grabbed out of bed and smacked. I realise this is the extreme end of using physical punishment but all it does is cause resentment and in my case, hatred, of the authority figure. When I became a parent my father told me “It is OK to withdraw love”. Er no, it is not. It is OK to withdraw attention but it is never OK for your child to think you do not love them.
    Every parent smacks at one point and most regret it. There are other ways (time out, extra jobs, withdrawal of a privilege or toy) to punish children and children need punishment because as Wendy Green says, there must be consequences.
    I think punishment needs more consideration than it gets in our community. I overheard a mother in a fast food restaurant, reduce her child to frightened tears because the child had said something to “hurt Mummy”. I was nearly in tears over the way she manipulated the child’s feelings until the child was distraught then told her off for not being able to eat her food.
    People seem to forget that their children are not their possessions to do with as they want.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I was often punished as a child for actions that my Brother, who was the apple of my Mother’s eye, had done, as well as sins that I had commited! The Punishment would be to go to my bedroom, no matter what time of day it was, and stay there until my Father came home to punish me by smacking with a hairbrush on a naked bottom. My poor Father would come home at about 7pm in the evening after a hard day’s work in the City of London, as a Solicitor, and the first thing he would have to do was smack me for something he knew nothing about and then insist that I apologise to my Mother. I would refuse to apologise for something I had not done and so I would have to stay in my room and be smacked every hour until I apologised. Of course I eventually did apologise, just to get out of my room and have something to eat. I shall never forget the smug look on my Brother’s face when I came down and apologised to my Mother. There was never any kissing or cuddling from either Parent at any time when I was a child. My Mother would just turn away telling me that I was never to do such a thing again. It is no surprise that I did not have a loving relationship with my Mother. I am adopted and was never allowed to forget how “I had let her down” and how she “wished she had never adopted me!” Now, that is punishment! I made a promise to myself that I would never smack my children and that I would always tell them sternly when they had done something wrong but make sure that there were lots of kisses and cuddles all the time. As a result, my Children have grown up to be loving and balanced adults, even though they survived a very bitter divorce. They were never in doubt as to the love they had from their parents. I believe that you must always make sure that a child knows that they are cherished and loved, no matter what. Oh, and I do not approve of smacking or any kind of physical punishment for a child. It is not just the pain, it is the humiliation that hurts much more.

  • Reply April 30, 2013

    Nel Matheson

    If a child lives and grows within a framework of a loving family, why is there any need for any form of violence, and yes, I include “smacking” as violence.
    I too, grew up in the era where childhood discipline included the right for parents and teachers to inflict physical punishment for misdeeds. Haven’t we progressed from this? If memory serves me correctly, the only thing I learned from this form of punishment was that I needed to be smarter, and not get caught!
    Didn’t inflict physical punishment on my children, and they seem okay.
    It seems to be reactionary rather than proactive.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I was smacked occasionally as a child but the worst punishment handed out to my brothers and I was the threat of not being able to ‘join in’. We were a very social family and all loved doing stuff together so this was a serious threat and sometimes it was carried out. Smacking is done by different parents for different reasons and though it is awful to hit a child even as discipline I don’t think it should be illegal.
    That would cause to many problems and lead to children having power over their parents, by way of threatening false accusations if the child didn’t get their own way. We already have enough children and teenagers who feel they are entitled to everything they want. Parents need to learn to say no and not be a friend to their child. If my children said to me I was their best friend, I would wonder what I had done wrong. I am here to teach my kids how to live in this world, how to love and be loved. If they are naughty I let them know. Friends don’t discipline, parents must.
    My kids know I will always love them but also that I demand a certain amount of respect and care. That is why from a young age I have told them I am always right and I know what they are thinking. Though they are easy to read now, I wonder how long I have got before they catch on? They are smart little critters!

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I was hit as a child, not ever bruised or beaten, and every hit still resonates awfully. It was a poor demeaning awful way to guide a child to better behaviour. No hitting is far more loving and respectful.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I think smacking has no place. I was smacked as a child – I think I could count them on one hand – and yes, it ‘never did me any harm’. But I don’t see how you can teach a child that hitting and physical violence is never the answer if you in fact use it as an answer yourself!

    I also make this very clear with others. I doubt anyone would ever hit another person’s child, but I find that the older generation in particular will ‘jokingly’ say to my daughter ‘do you want a smack?’ if she starts acting up. To me, even this is going too far. You’re threatening the child with physical violence even if you don’t intend on actually carrying it out.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    Re ““But what a creepy idea. How is it possible to smack a child in a loving way? In a decent world, a child only gets smacked when it has temporarily forfeited a parent’s love.”

    Leaving aside the question of smacking for a moment, I completely disagree with this premise. We tell our 3 year old often that we always love him, but we don’t like it when he chooses bad behaviour. We also make it very clear whenever we discipline him that we love him but we are not going to accept bad behaviour. If a parent chooses to smack their child, I don’t agree that it should be seen as a temporary forfeit of the parent’s love – or at least in parents who are acting rationally rather than using violence in an “out of control” way.

    In terms of our own choices, we would prefer never to smack our child as we would prefer any other type of discipline, but we have felt the need to on a few occasions when the usual strategies (time out, confiscating a toy, “naughty step” had not worked and the behaviour was serious and intentional. It was always done with a warning it would have to come and the child knew it would be a consequence if they continued to choose the bad behaviour – and always gentle, open handed, over a nappy etc so no actual pain involved, more of a shock). We have always followed up by a ‘debrief’ about choosing good v bad behaviour and reinforcing our love for the child v not being willing to put up with poor behaviour.

    I know others disagree that smacking is ever OK and I can respect that, but my main point in commenting is that I disagree that a smack should simplistically be seen as equal to a loss of love.

  • Reply April 30, 2013

    Mary Longford

    Ridiculous….how can you tell a child, “don’t hit your sister/brother/playmate” if you are prepared to hit them for any reason.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    To my undying shame I once slapped my teenage daughter across the face. No, it was not out of love, it was out of anger.
    The incident still torments me 20 years later. Recently It had been preying on my mind so I gathered up the courage to bring up the subject and apologise. I told my adult daughter how horrified I was that I could do such a thing, there was no excuse for a parent to hit a child etc. She said, “Mum, I don’t remember that at all.”

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    Let me first start by saying I abhor violence of any kind. At the same time, I have smacked my child, I think 4 times in his 17 years & totally hated myself for it every time. The quandary is that children need boundaries. While they are in our care, it is our responsibility to define & reinforce those boundaries. So as parents/guardians we need an acceptable method of doing that. One of the only ways the find out that they’ve crossed a boundary is when their behaviour earns our disapproval. To respond with a chosen method of ‘discipline’ (for the want of a better word) is definitely not because they have momentarily forfeited our love.
    This is an issue that has many shades of grey. What I think we need is an attitude toward parenting that sits somewhere between the old ‘children should be seen & not heard’ (100% parent-focussed) & today’s child-centred approach (100% child-focussed). Parents need an equal say in this. We need support, education & understanding to do this job properly, instead of derision & blame when we get it wrong. We need to also look at the long-term consequences of the 100% child-centred approach. This approach has been gaining momentum for the last few decades, so Gen Y is probably an example of the type of adults it can help to create. Some have referred to these young people as the “Me generation”. Join the dots.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    If you wouldn’t smack a neighbour’s child then why would you smack your own. It’s assault in any language. Acceptable in some quarters and in certain circumstances but it’s assault nevertheless and gives permission to those who take no notice of boundaries.

    Some people have a manner that commands respect and it this manner that all parents need to adopt. Smacking is the lazy easy way out of a tense situation. You have to discipline yourself if you want to discipline someone else.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    I heartily agree with those who have disagreed with the premise that “you only smack when love has been forfeited”. What poppycock! As if a parent would ever not love a child, regardless of what they may have done! I have smacked my children, not with the intention of hurting them but rather to gain their attention in order to demonstrate that they have done something unacceptable to me. I don’t recall any of them ever being reduced to tears by the smack, and it only happened very rarely, and they are now in their 50s so it was a long time ago. In fact my daughter recalls me as being “pretty soft” with them all when they were growing up. Sometimes it takes a gesture which commands the child’s full attention when you need to remonstrate with them about something you consider to be a serious misdemeanor. So often when you “lecture” a child they tend to switch off.

  • Reply April 30, 2013


    If I smacked my partner when she did something wrong I would be charged with assault. So how do you figure it is ok to hit someone so much smaller than you no matter what the reason. It wasn’t acceptable before and definately isnt acceptable now.

  • Reply May 1, 2013


    Iagree with Jenny. I have worked in child care and through experience can tell you there is not one size fits all with kids. Some you can reason with and explain why their behaviour (hitting, grabbing toys, throwing blocks etc) is not good. (You wouldn’t like it done to you) With some you can try to reason with but you know they are not listening and have no concerns about going back to what they were in trouble for. Obviously we do not hit children in child care centres so we need to use other methods like time outs, especially if their behaviour is dangerous to the other children. Some of these kids have gotten smacked by their parents for any and everything that it is ineffective, and some have never been hit so they just ignore the talking and carry on as there is nothing to convince them that you mean what you say.

  • Reply May 1, 2013


    Was I smacked as a child? only by teachers, until I was old enough to grab the strap off them, the power soon shifted. Only once did I smack my now 25yr old son, as it turned out, for the wrong reason. Mr 10yr old has been smacked probably twice, one of those times, for running across the road [unguarded crossing- he was almost 6]. He was with both myself, and his brother, we were not paying attention to him. I panicked, smacked his backside and yelled at him, then after calming, knew where the blame lay. So to me, smacking children is a weakness in the parent. By all means smack your children at home, but in public? NOT a good look!

  • Reply May 1, 2013


    The slope between a ‘ smack’ and the child becoming a punching bag is a slippery one – especially for people who believe that their children are their possessions and that they themselves are never wrong.

    I’m almost 50 and I still cringe, am still realing from blows received as a child. Hitting someone gives rise to feeling that simply never go away. To hit someone is an abuse of power and act of prime disrespect. fear and respect are totally different entities.

  • Reply May 1, 2013

    Annie Also

    There is a difference between ‘discipline’ and ‘punishment’.
    “Discipline” comes from ‘desciple’…to guide
    Punishment is to exact pain; physical, psychological.

    Teaching self discipline is the way to go. To hit a child when you are not allowed to hit any other human being is vicious and cruel. To strike another human is barbaric…to strike a child is abuse.

    Please read up on and attend PET classes (Parenting Effectiveness Training).
    Please express yourself, your fear ( running on the road frightens me and I am concerned for your safety), your frustration, your desire for social behaviour in words. NOT lectures…expressions of feelings..YOUR feelings.

    Please don’t hit children.
    You are teaching your child that their skin, their body, their physical self is ‘wrong’, ‘ugly’, ‘unloved’. Their body is sacred. It belongs to them. You have no right to do harm to that have the highest duty of care. IF you find it difficult to ‘follow through’ with discipline without punishment then please seek professional guidance.

    I was hit. I hated it. It did me harm. It made me hate myself.
    I have three children ( all in their 30’s). Our son came home one day from school at age 8 and told me his best mate got the ‘wooden spoon’. He said; Why would someone do that and what does it feel like? I said it really really hurts. He got my wooden spoon and said will you hit me so I can understand what he feels? I said no! He said please! I took the spoon and just tapped his arm….He grabbed it and said; THAT IS AWFUL. I said Yes…it is abuse. He felt very very sorry for his little friend.
    My parents, my in laws were all shocked that we refused to hit our children. In the end they ‘kind of’ saw that our children became compassionate, generous and kind adults.

  • Reply May 4, 2013


    Smacking was a last resort for me, when the discussion, explanation, time-outs etc didn’t work or in the case of something dangerous. It was always one smack as a short, sharp lesson that something wasn’t tolerated and I made a point of telling them why the smack came about. By the time they were about 6 none of the three ever needed more than a look or a word to know that they were crossing a line and I never needed to smack them again.

    They’re all adults now, all well adjusted and loving people who are well aware of actions and consequences. Despite all the supposed damage I did our relationships are incredibly close.

  • […] Smacking, From a Loving Place […]

  • Reply July 18, 2013


    I think smacking, or any form of over the top violence (including yelling like a banshee) is lazy parenting. It’s easier to smack than it is to think clearly and objectively. It’s easier to smack than to treat your child with the understanding and compassion they deserve.

    Would you hit your wife/husband? your work colleague? your friend? For spilling a bottle of milk or being in a bad mood? What about your pets? Do you hit them as well because they haven’t yet learned that peeing on the carpet is not appropriate?

    Positive reinforcement is the only method that works 100% of the time and if you think that smacking works then you are missing the point that smacking might get you the results you want in the short term (e.g. the child is quiet) but you add additional problems for the long term.

    It simply makes no sense to smack.

    All but one of my siblings do not smack their children and all but one of my siblings children have turned out to be well adjusted young adults… the other have children with “issues”.. now if could be a fluke that those children had problems regardless.. but it’s pretty clear that, at the very least, smacking is not required to have well behaved, well adjusted, socially aware children.

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