Smacking a child is not acceptable; violence is never acceptable especially between an adult and a child. But judging parents who have resorted to smacking doesn’t help either. Families need support to build strong relationships so children can thrive right from the start.
That’s why NCB signed a shared letter to The Telegraph this weekend, calling for England to follow Scotland and Wales onto the list of 60 countries where physical punishment of children is illegal.
While smacking has become much less socially acceptable over the past decade, the rate of decline is fastest in countries where it is prohibited by law.
It has become less acceptable for good reason – there is strong, consistent evidence that physical punishment is associated with increased childhood aggression and antisocial behaviour. There is a clear link between experience of physical punishment and childhood depression and anxiety. The evidence also suggests that physical punishment carries a risk of escalation into abuse and maltreatment.
It is never in a child’s best interests to be smacked. And it is never in a parent’s best interests to smack a child.
NCB believes that it is in everyone’s best interests for the law to be unequivocal on this point.
However, this is only half the story.
In the main, parents do not smack because they are ‘bad’, nor do they believe that smacking is ‘good’. There may be all kinds of factors – the way they were parented, their own experience of mental health or anxiety, their awareness of and confidence in alternative approaches to discipline, their feeling of powerlessness in the face of challenging behaviour in their children.
It would not be good enough simply to make smacking illegal and leave the conversation there. It needs to be part of a much more positive vision of childhood and support for families right from the start.
In our Better Childhood Manifesto, NCB calls on the Government to make available parenting support for all parents who want it, focused on the importance of strong relationships and attachment.
Rather than shaming parents into not smacking their children, we have the opportunity to support parents to attend to their children’s emotional health and wellbeing, leaving behind the approaches to discipline that many of us experienced from previous generations of parents. There must be no shame in needing that support.
We also need to let parents know that they are not alone. This means committing to a children’s centre in every neighbourhood with high quality services for all families from conception to age five. It means investing in the early years workforce and a world-class health visiting service.
Above all it means backing up legislation with adequately funded services that enables parents to deliver a better childhood for their children. Improving outcomes during pregnancy and in the early years will save a world of problems from emerging later on. It is the single smartest investment we can make as a society.
Without this support, a smacking ban would just be a slap in the face for parents.
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive