Smacking doesn’t work, parents told

By Gaby Hinsliff and Tracy McVeigh

The debate about whether or not to smack children took a new twist last night when a government-backed body insisted that violence achieves nothing and parents should be taught how to restrain themselves in order to reduce the risk of abuse.

Reigniting controversy on whether recommendations about family life amount to a ‘nanny state’, the findings will also disappoint campaigners who believe the Government is shying away from outlawing smacking.

The report from the National Family and Parenting Institute (NFPI) argues that smacking does not work and calls for a public education campaign on alternative methods of discipline.

But Valerie Riches, founder of pressure group Family and Youth Concern, said: ‘This sounds like the nanny state raising its head again.

‘We would protest any attempt to remove from parents the right to make decisions about what goes on inside the family home. Many children are undisciplined and appropriate discipline is needed.’

Ministers have so far rejected demands for smacking to be banned.

However, the NFPI argues that physical punishment ‘does not appear to work in sufficient measure to compensate for the full range of its negative complications, including the danger that it may lead to physically abusive behaviour, but mainly the risk that parents might rely on it to the exclusion of developing and using other more efficient techniques’.

American child development expert Diana Baumrind last week dismissed suggestions that spanking harms children. ‘When parents are loving and firm and communicate well with the child,’ she said, ‘the children are exceptionally competent and well-adjusted, whether or not their parents spanked them as pre-schoolers.’

One survey of British parents found that 88 per cent thought it was sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child. A Department of Health study found 75 per cent had smacked, with less than half regretting it. The law permits ‘reasonable chastisement’. Ten European countries have banned physical punishment of children.

The NFPI report concedes that, while parents who hit their children are statistically more likely to tip over into abuse, there is no evidence that normal, mild smacking — if used sparingly and rationally by parents who are loving — damages a child’s development. However, only one parent in five thought it achieved anything, with many admitting it had more to do with relieving their own frustration than changing the child’s behaviour. Parents often lashed out ‘harshly, without rational argument’ when at the end of their tether, the report argues.

It stops short of calling for a ban on smacking, but says a state-sponsored campaign could teach other ‘positive parenting’ skills, such as explaining and reasoning with older children and rewarding good behaviour.