Good parental discipline is not the same as smacking.
Of course there are good parents who have smacked their children, but smacking isn’t what makes their parenting good. It’s the other things that work - the love and warmth, the time and attention, the firm limits, and the praise. It’s the many times they dealt with a situation early, so that it never reached a smacking pitch. It’s the good example set with their own behaviour when they didn’t smack.
There are alternatives to smacking that work well. They not only guide and control children’s behaviour, they help kids to learn the self control and good boundaries that assist them to function well as adults. Some of these methods are explained in Choose to Hug, Not to Smack.
Most parents don’t smack as the result of a calm choice. You are usually at the end of your tether when you smack your kids. The smack expresses the rush of fear, the heat of anger, the churn of frustration, the pervasive tiredness. Those feelings are normal and understandable and are probably shared by every adult who spends much time with children.
On the other hand, those feelings don’t make smacking a useful response. The smack is not about correcting the child’s behaviour, it is about a momentary failure by the parent to come up with good behaviour of their own. On top of that it causes kids a lot of hurt and confusion when parents they love seem suddenly fierce and mean.
Good parental correction means something more productive than teaching children to lash out at someone more vulnerable when they’re feeling fed up. It involves showing your children how to manage their difficult feelings and behave constructively. You show them by doing it yourself.
The most telling lesson for kids is what parents do. They’re like sponges. They soak up your actions and your choices. How you chose to behave will influence what they learn. If you snap under pressure and smack, then your kids learn that getting a bit physical when they feel strung out is okay. If you set firm boundaries and help your kids deal with their frustrations and disappointments, then they learn to take a deep breath and reel themselves in.
At Relationships Aotearoa we work with all kinds of close relationships. We’ve learnt quite a bit about things that help relationships and things that undermine them. Moments of fear or hurt get in the way of relationships. So does a sense of unfairness. Feeling that the person you love is unpredictable - that you have to keep them happy or they will get mad at you - is confusing and unsettling.
Feeling like this in important relationships causes unhappiness for adults and children alike. And these are feelings that children associate with being smacked. You can read more about the research on this in Children are Unbeatable
Close relationships thrive on warmth, on a sense of security, on affection, respect, and empathy. By undermining those qualities, smacking works against close relationships.
A choice about smacking is much more than a choice about discipline. It’s a choice about the kind of a parent you want to be, the kind of relationship you want with your kids, and the kind of example you want them to follow.
So when you are choosing how to discipline your kids, opt for the kind of parenting that teaches kids self control, kindness and self respect. If you want ideas about how to make that work, make an appointment with one of our counsellors to work out strategies that will work for your family.
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