Is Smacking your Child Encouraging Aggressive Behaviour?
By Michael Hawton, 2nd October 2018
On International Day of Non-Violence, rather than overwhelming ourselves with the global issues of today it is probably more helpful to think locally. After all, it is highly unlikely the Middle East crisis will be solved or even stop for the day, but it is far more likely that as parents, guardians and adults who work with children, in relation to aggressive behaviour we can all play a major role and influence by setting behaviour standards and ‘norms’ for the next generations.
It was only up until the mid-1990s that corporal punishment was legal in Australian schools. The cane, a cutting rap across the knuckles, flying dusters and bits of chalk aimed at heads or bare hands were the norm for punishments dealt out for all sorts of reasons and at the discretion of the teacher.
According to the NSW Government, reasons cited for ending corporal punishment include: “the link between violence in the community and the use of corporal punishment in schools; its limited capacity to deter unwanted behaviour; corporal punishment encourages an acceptance of violence to resolve conflict; and it is unprofessional”.
In many of our homes also, the belt from Dad or a smack across the bottom from Mum was the deterrent of choice. However, as mentioned in the reasons above and backed by many research studies including those undertaken by Gershoff and Grogan-Kaylor (2016) and Lynch and colleagues (2006), corporal punishment encourages an acceptance of violence to resolve conflict. It is also scalable, that is the harsher the punishment doled from the parent, the more the child accepts violence as a norm and will also accept corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure with their own children in the future. In effect, violence begets violence.
Research by Saunders in 2013 explored the way children perceive physical punishment and some of the more poignant responses were that physical punishment hurts and can escalate (get worse), it arouses sadness, anger, fear and confusion in the child and it is used when parents are angry and not in control of their emotions.
What is the alternative then?
In an earlier blog, I mentioned a client of mine, Chris, who was struggling to find an alternative to smacking because although she knew it was wrong, it felt to her the only thing that seemed to work in the moment. I set out to teach her that there is a “control centre” in every child’s brain (that doesn’t work properly if she hits or yells at them) and she could begin to see that her job was that of coach to make that part of her children’s minds work better.
She would take on the role of coach, and instead of just reacting to what they did she could assist them to become the best version of themselves.
In order to do something differently to what we might normally do, parents have to be able to learn it easily and they have to believe the effort is worth it for themselves - and their children. They then have to practise their newly acquired skills, so that their skills become more or less automatic.
Parents don’t want something that takes a month of Sundays to learn and they also sincerely don’t want to harm their children. Translating psychological theory into a method that could be easily understood and applied at home allows parents to sort out the behaviour they are going to ignore – the Minor But Annoying (MBA) behaviours, from the ones that they really do need to deal with. As with anything, learning these skills takes practice.
The Talk Less Listen More online course is a great first start as it allows parents to self-pace and learn these techniques when it is convenient for them (each video unit lasting only 7-10 minutes each).
If we can motivate ourselves to learn positive behaviour management skills for our children while coaching them into better adults then we are well on the way to make smacking a thing of the past – and lessen violence in the world while we’re at it!
Michael Hawton MAPS
Child and Family Psychologist