When Little N was just ten months old, we were at a family gathering. He had only just starting learning how to use cutlery, and I was pretty proud of his efforts. I was eating my dessert when he toddled over to me, gave me a big grin, and took the spoon out of my bowl.
A relative immediately said, "you need to smack him."
I nearly choked on my cheesecake.
For a start, Little N hadn't done anything wrong. He was learning how to use cutlery, and as all parents know children learn a lot from copying us adults, so I let him take my spoon. But even if he had done something wrong, what would smacking him have achieved? Especially a ten month old baby?
A debate ensued between us, because there was no way I was going to smack my son. Not then, not ever. And another relative who was in the room said, "well, I was smacked and it never did me any harm".
Now this second person doesn't have children yet, but he is always sharing videos and memes on Facebook on the topic of discipline. Videos that are pro "spanking", as our American friends call it. Memes that said things like "I was smacked and it left me with a condition called respect". A video of a girl having her hair shaved off by her mother for bullying another child, which he shared with a comment along the lines of "well done to this mum being a badass, I'd do the same to my child".
Out of all the things that we parents have to think about when we're bringing up children, out of all the things we wonder about for our children's future, the only thing he seems to be concerned about for his kids, is how he's going to punish them by hurting and humiliating them if they do something wrong.
I was smacked by my mother when I was a child. And all I learned was, don't get caught. It didn't teach me why I shouldn't have been doing what I was doing. Just that I had better make sure I didn't get caught next time. I was fearful of my mother, more so of my stepfather, and I have little respect for them even to this day.
My dad on the other hand, never smacked me. I only saw my dad on weekends, and there was rarely ever cause to discipline me. But whenever he did need to, he would sit me down and talk to me. He'd explain why I shouldn't have done what I did, and why it was wrong. He'd explain why I shouldn't do it again. And do you know what, I didn't do it again.
My children are not angels - I doubt anyone's are - because it is normal for youngters to want to and try to push boundaries. I won't smack them though, as it doesn't teach them right from wrong. In fact it makes them more likely to develop aggressive behaviours themselves. If we discipline our children with physical harm, then the message we are sending is that when they are unhappy with a situation violence is the answer. After all, children learn from the examples we set.
Often "pro-spankers" argue that by not physically punishing our children, we are raising generations of ill-mannered, badly behaved children who grow up to become ill-mannered, badly behaved adults. But actually, it seems the opposite is true. There is a growing body of data that shows a link between smacking and crime rates. The decrease in smacking correlates to a decrease in violent crime.
I'm not a perfect mother, but I try to be a good role model and teach my children by example. I do my best to make sure that our rules and limits are clear. And if my children are behaving naughtily, which they inevitably do, then there are consequences to their actions. Most importantly, I talk to them so they understand why their behaviour was wrong. I simply do not want to hurt my kids. There is no need. So I don't care what you say, I won't smack my children.