Smacking your kid? Here's why you don't need to

By admin
22 September 2016

Smacking could lead to angrier and more defiant children – so what are your other options?

Brad Pitt is allegedly under investigation by LA authorities for being "verbally abusive" and "physical" with one of his children  -- and his outburst with supposedly enough to prompt wife Angelina Jolie to file for divorce.

The news is shocking -- but it elicited some interesting responses on YOU's Facebook page.

"Why now all of a sudden? Oh really please! Nothing wrong with discipline," one commenter wrote.

Another added, "Oh please, we've all done that, got the t-shirt and the kids are still all fine."

But is physically disciplining your children the best option? 

A recent study has found that smacking or spanking children by way of discipline could actually have the opposite effect.

A team from Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas examined 75 studies conducted over the last 50 years, which included information on about 160 000 children. Their conclusion was that spanking can lead to long-term behavioural, emotional and cognitive negatives.

"We found spanking was related to less of all the good things," said researcher Elizabeth Gershoff.

"And it was not significantly related to compliance. It did not make children more or less likely to comply. It doesn't achieve what parents want: compliance and acting appropriately in the future."

Of course, this directly contradicts the old wisdom, "spare the rod and spoil the child" – which was the controversial message even Pope Francis himself seemed to be preaching last year.

As any parent who’s been faced with disobedient or defiant children will know, the answer isn’t always as simple as putting them on the naughty step.

But there are alternatives to smacking that work, experts say. Here’s a look at other ways to discipline. 


The trick is to learn to respond and not react to your child’s behaviour, says South African parenting coach Andalene Salvesen, author of A Brand-New Child In 5 Easy Steps. Hitting a child isn’t effective because it places the focus on the parent’s anger instead of what the child did wrong, says Salvesen, who founded the Monsters To Munchkins website and travels the world giving parenting seminars and courses. Here are some tools to try.



This is suitable for kids aged three and older. “Get two boxes or jars that can hold a few pieces of folded paper. Mark one So Happy and the other So Sorry,” Salvesen (59) says. Sit with your child at a time when you’re both feeling relaxed and discuss things to put in the jars – punishments in the one and rewards in the other.

Write them down on pieces of paper, fold them and put them into the appropriate jars.

Read more: ‘My granddaughter is a spoilt brat’: a frustrated grandma’s week-long nightmare

When a discipline situation arises, ask your child to select one of the folded pieces of paper out of the So Sorry jar – this is the consequence for their bad behaviour. “Your children have to learn that their choices determine their consequences,” Salvesen says.

A tip: put one blank piece of folded paper in the So Sorry jar. “This is a wonderful opportunity to teach about grace. Sometimes we deserve punishment but we don’t get it.”

Use the So Happy jar to reward good behaviour. It’s vital rewards don’t involve sweets or toys but rather positive time spent  together.


Extra chores – these are in addition to your children’s regular chores which they should be doing anyway from the age of six. They can include cleaning and repacking cupboards, weeding the garden, sweeping the yard or cleaning the fridge.


These could be an extra bedtime story, a later bedtime, extra screen time, choosing their own dinner, not making their bed for a week, breakfast in bed, dessert before supper or choosing a game to play with mom or dad.


Younger children respond better to the naughty corner or time-out, while older children can be disciplined by taking away  privileges, says Durban-based psychologist Tessa Burnard, who provides psychotherapy and assessment to children and adults.

Read more: Angry mom shames ‘bully’ son in viral Facebook post

The most important thing is to be consistent, Salvesen says. One minute a year of your child’s age in time-out is standard and they must do exactly as you’ve asked and stay in the time-out spot. Time-out will not be effective if you do any of the following:

  • Use your child’s bedroom for time-outs instead of a boring place such as the bathroom or a spare room.
  • Say “Go to time-out until you’ve stopped crying.”
  • Ask “Do you want to go to time-out?” as a threat.
  • Allow your child to stand, walk around or play instead of sitting in the designated spot.
  • Allow your child out of time-out before time is up.
  • Allow your child to leave time-out with a bad attitude.


American writer, educator and consultant Emily Plank, who’s been working with children for 13 years, suggests parents focus on whether their children are centred before disciplining them.

“When we human beings are feeling strongly (angry, sad, frustrated) we lose contact with the problem-solving area of our brain,” she writes on her site, Abundant Life Children. You need to teach your children how to recognise when they’re “uncentred” and help them to get out of it so they can reconnect with their problem-solving brain.

Read more: How to instantly calm a crying baby

Disciplining children when they’re not in charge of their emotions could result in them not taking in what they’re being told, she says. You need to give them something to do to get them to that “centred” state again.

“It seems so counterintuitive to ‘give’ a  child something when they’ve acted inappropriately,” Plank says. “In truth, this is the only way to be helpful. Once a child has access to her problem-solving brain she can learn how to get her needs met, make amends for any wrongs caused, and work to form a strategy so it doesn’t happen again.”


Learning how to negotiate with others to solve problems is an essential life skill. When kids are arguing with each other, perhaps over a toy, take them through a problem-solving process, Plank says.

“With the older ones I simply enter the argument to remind them of what to do: ‘It sounds as if you’re having a disagreement. I’ll hold this toy while you solve it. Let me know when you come up with a plan’.”

With younger children, talk them through each step of the negotiation.

Read more: How to handle kids’ stress and anxiety


You’ll know which privileges your child really values – withhold those when the need to discipline arises, says Wilma Calvert, a  counsellor and community worker at The Family Life Centre. This is particularly effective with preteens and teens. “The removal of a cellphone or games console seems to be equal to a death sentence for some teens.

Read more: Joburg teacher filmed kicking and smacking pupils for ‘not doing their homework’


According to a study by Cape Town-based non-governmental organisation Rapcan, 57 percent of South African parents interviewed use their hand to spank their children while 33 percent use other objects such as belts.

Parents need to learn to deal with their own frustrations without using violence, says Reverend Patrick Godana, government and media liaison officer for Sonke Gender Justice. The organisation promotes positive discipline methods that develop children’s coping and learning skills without the child learning fear, he says.

He believes hitting a child simply erodes that child’s self-esteem and confidence.

Read more: Mom’s ‘tough love’ letter to cocky 13-year-old son goes viral

“There are no benefits to smacking,” Reverend Godana adds. “There are only regrets and the perpetuation of violent nations. Children must trust their parents, not fear them. Violence begets violence.”

Other arguments against smacking include that it teaches children they don’t deserve respect, that it leads to children becoming indifferent to the pain of others, and that children who are spanked are more susceptible to delinquent behaviour.

It’s also a reaction that’s more about the feelings of the parent (who’s in fact out of control) than it is about the behaviour of the child. While the act of smacking a child is abusive, it doesn’t necessarily mean the parent is abusive, Childline’s Joan van Niekerk says. “Some parents just don’t know how else to discipline their children.”


Corporal punishment was banned in South African schools in 1996 but corporal punishment by parents is still allowed.

Department of social development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant says the department is still in talks with children’s rights groups about the pros and cons of corporal punishment of children in their own homes. Discussion of the issue started in 2007 when the Children’s Act was first amended.

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