Laying The Smack Down (for good)

by | Mar 29, 2011 | Uncategorized | 27 comments

Angry Face 
 I have been sent here to test you

I’ve had a glass of vino so I’m just going to come right out and tell you something.

I have smacked my kid.

Let’s go back to a happier time: a time when ideals were vigorously upheld, when parenting was considered the privilege and honour it truly is, a time when level heads prevailed.

A time before I had children. Long, long before.

B and I had agreed that we did not believe in hitting children as a form of discipline. We felt it was important to find a non-violent approach. We would talk to our children, reason with them, guide them.

And it was a lofty ideal: one that was worth striving for. But it had absolutely nothing to do with the reality of dealing with a small child.

For the first couple of years, I stuck to that ideal. While other rules slipped by the wayside (Strictly no junk food! No television before the age of five!), I stayed true to this one. Of course I did. I had a baby. Who the hell smacks a baby?

And then LD was two. It wasn’t an immediate, devil-possessed kind of transformation but just a general willfulness that developed over time. And this willfulness coincided with my second pregnancy. I was bone-shatteringly exhausted and LD was the button-pusher from hell: a potent combination.

I recall the first time I smacked LD. I remember he was on the change table. Nappy change had gone from a quick and painless non-event to a kicking, screaming trauma. And on this occasion, LD kicked me. Right in the belly.

I remember my hand connecting with his little thigh. The ‘crack!’ it made as my palm connected with his bare skin.

I remember how satisfying it felt.

And I remember how that satisfaction was immediately wiped out by extraordinary guilt and shame. LD’s little face was painted with shock. He began to cry in earnest.

I took him up in my arms and held him as tight as I could, whispering I was sorry over and over in his little ear.

Did LD kick me in the belly ever again? Of course he did. He had no real concept of the baby in my belly. All he knew was that he disliked nappy changes and he was going to make it known. His behaviour was not borne of malice. He didn’t want to hurt me. He simply wanted his own way. As a two-year-old with a very skewed view of the size of the world (didn’t it revolve around him?) and no real capacity for empathy, he did not know any better.

But I did.

It was obvious to me that smacking my misbehaving child had very little to do with discipline and everything to do with me venting my frustrations.

I would like to tell you that I learnt my lesson that day. I would like to tell you that I have never smacked LD again. But that would not be true.

LD continues to misbehave – and with increasingly more intent as he gets older. And I continue to be pushed to my wit’s end and make the wrong choice. It’s rare but it happens.

Ironically, the times I am most tempted to smack LD are when he has hit or hurt his little brother in some way.

But it has never once worked. Smacking as a form of discipline has never stopped LD from behaving in a certain way. It has served neither as a deterrent or a meaningful lesson.

Smacking doesn’t work. Not in this house.

Parents commonly use the term smack or spank. It’s more palatable and distinguishes us from those parents who abuse their children by beating them.

And while I acknowledge that there is a significant difference between smacking and beating a child, I also have to acknowledge that when I smack my kid, it is a sign that I have lost control. It is not a method of discipline so much as a form of punishment. And that for a split second, I feel gratified.

Admitting those things makes me deeply uncomfortable: sharing them with you is excruciating.

But this acknowledgement serves to remind me that I want to do better as a parent. That smacking, whether I believe it is detrimental to my child or not, doesn’t fucking work. That the split second of release I feel is not worth the guilt that plagues me thereafter.

Meanwhile, I am still up shit creek and all paddleless when it comes to discipline. Some things work, then they stop working and in general, I find it tough. LD is three-and-a-half and all hands on hips outrage and indignation. And then there’s Zee who has, from very early on, displayed a willful streak. For the record, I have never smacked Zee. I couldn’t. He is still a baby. But how best to teach a sixteen-month-old who finds the most dangerous way possible to go about everything? 

I need some creative ideas.

Or robot children.

Or a time out.

Yes, that’s it. Mumma needs a time out. Preferably in Hawaii.

 

Hello friends

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I’m Angie!  I mum. I write. I wife. My husband would say this is the correct order.  He’s so neeeedy. I live with my family in Melbourne, Australia, where I complain about the weather for 90% of the year – but I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Except maybe in Lake Como, waving to my neighbours George and Amal each morning.

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27 Comments

  1. Fran

    *hugs* Angie, when someone gives you the magic answer, I’ll take notes too…smacking doesn’t work in this house either. It just doesn’t. What has helped somewhat with my 3.5 year old’s behaviour is a reward chart. Back to basics, but we have noticed an improvement 🙂

    Reply
  2. Ladybird

    Meh. I dole out love taps. Unashamedly. Is it sending mixed messages? Is It showing violence begets violence? Of course – but thats a no brainer.
    I have 3 kids. 3 very small close in age kid. I don’t need to say more! No guilt here.
    And yes, it is do what I say, not what I do and clearly – I don’t always lead by example. Casa Dell-Sewell is not a democracy.
    Call DOCS.
    xxx

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  3. Robyn

    Hear Hear! I keep telling my husband, ‘Mumma needs a holiday!’ I am still in the baby: we-will-never-smack-ideal land…. but I am sure I will have to tackle this very same issue one day (probably sooner than I would like). Also, if you ever find out more about the robot children idea, let me know! I’m working on getting a remote control- a pause button would be so handy!

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  4. Mad

    I think it all comes down to button-pushing.

    A person can have all the ideals in the world, but until they’ve had kids, they should never judge. I know I’ve sure as hell reneged on many things.

    I haven’t smacked (yet), but I totally understand the breaking point that results in doing so. I don’t delude myself or smugly congratulate myself for not smacking… I simply haven’t had that particular button pushed. I’ve been lucky, nothing more. I know that button is there, waiting, and I know I’ll be capable of it when it finally does get pushed.

    Oh, and I’ll be interested to read the creative ideas for teaching toddlers how NOT to do things the most dangerous way, as I have one of those too…

    Reply
  5. Melissa

    You’re not the first, you won’t be the last and I’m putting my hand up here for this too.

    Everything you’ve written is spot on. I never wanted to smack … never. I have memories of being smacked and all I can remember is the smack and not why it was administered.

    Rory is one of those kids … he will push you to the absolute limit. He also responds to nothing except, paradoxically, a smack on the bum. Why is this? His verbal skills are second to none. He gets it and I know he does. Why then does he persist in pushing me to the point where I smack him and only THEN does he stop?

    I realise that kids are looking all the time for boundaries. They want to know where the line is. They want to know that when they cross it, we will let them know through consequences. Why is it that going to his room or into his cot or onto the naughty step is not enough?

    I too always feel out of control if I smack and herein lies the rub. The only time to smack is when I’m frustrated because why else would someone do it? How is it possible to calmly and consciously administer a smack as discipline? The whole thing screams “out of control”. I hate myself for it.

    I don’t talk much about my work but let’s just say that as part of it, I sometimes get to read sentencing remarks for individuals who have committed the most horrendous acts of abuse on children in the name of “discipline”. When I hit, does this make me an abuser?

    I tell myself it will never happen again but then there’s another day with the endless exhaustion and the screaming wilful child who does something dangerous when you least expect it …

    As I said at the start, you’re not alone on this . Not by a long shot.

    Reply
  6. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Thanks, Fran.

    And thank you for your suggestion. We have tried the reward chart at different stages. I’m not convinced it suits the type of kid LD is. I think it’s quite a cerebral tool and particularly geared to the child who thrives on praise and pleasing their parents. So girls in general would probably respond better.

    I think it may be more effective when LD is older. I’ll just keep trying!

    Reply
  7. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    I love that you own your parenting unashamedly, Ladybird. I really do.

    It’s a tough gig. We all do what we have to in order to survive. But I can’t help but think that smacking LD has eroded some of the implicit trust he had in me. That makes me sad.

    And chez M-G is no democracy either! But I need some more tricks up my sleeve.

    Reply
  8. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Pause button? Yes! Power down? Excellent for bedtime!

    I hope you can keep to your ideal, Robyn. The occasional smack on the bum probably won’t leave psychological scarring but it also won’t solve behavioural issues.

    New tricks. I need new tricks!

    Reply
  9. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    I’m jealous, Mad. I so wish I could say that I never went there.

    I’m not entirely certain it’s all down to your kids not pushing your buttons. I think you have to take some credit for better staying in control. I admire it, truly.

    As to our ‘danger babies,’ I just fear there are no answers. Eeep!

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  10. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Mel, thank you for sharing this with me; for identifying with me, for helping me feel that I am not alone.

    A smack will work with Rory? See, all kids are wired differently, so successful discipline is about tailoring it to the child. Makes it bloody confusing when you have more than one kid!

    I wonder, if I believed it worked, whether I would smack more often and with less guilt? I really respect that despite the fact that you have found it can work with Rory, that you still don’t want to do it.

    You make such a good point about there being no ‘reasoned’ smacking. For me, it is a moment of failure. I cut myself slack by acknowledging that this job is a difficult one but at the heart of it, smacking reveals that I am not coping. And that’s not how I want to parent.

    I want to do better. I think we all do.

    Thanks for reading, Mel. xx

    Reply
  11. Bron

    I was/am a non smacker too. I tried it a couple of times as a discipline technique…I smacked Kai, told him why I did it. Next thing I know, I had done something Kai didn’t like so he smacked me. Smart little bugger!

    Thankfully the naughty corner works for my kids. Often will give kai the chance to calm down and forget about what he was doing originally.

    Conner is a funny one. So willful. He’s a hitter. Where the hell did that come from. Its not a learned behavior with him, I’ve never smacked him, but if you do something he doesn’t like he’ll start hitting and keep going. Thankfully all you have to do is threaten him with the naughty corner and he’ll head there and stay there until I go get him.

    Do I regret smacking? No way! It gave me a chance to work out it doesn’t work for us. I’ll probably react again and smack either/both of them.

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  12. Mad

    No, it really is luck in my case. Call me sexist, but I’m certain that if F had more testosterone in her, she’d have reacted differently to certain situations and a smack would have been warranted.

    I’m not actually anti-smacking. Ironic, huh? I don’t think it’s automatically a bad thing, yet I’ve never had to do it myself. It was only used very occasionally on me as a kid, but I had the knowledge that if I pushed too hard, then my parents were capable of it. It was never undeserved.

    But you’re right, it depends on the child. I was generally a good child, so if I got a smack? I knew beyond doubt that I’d crossed the line.

    Please don’t be so hard on yourself! x

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  13. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Thanks, Mad. I still credit you with saint-like patience!

    I was smacked as a child – like your parents, it was very rare. I’m certain I deserved it. And am not troubled memories of having been smacked.

    However, I wonder if having been smacked means I am programmed to resort to smacking myself? Maybe if my parents had been completely anti-smacking, it would not even be in the equation for me as I parent my own children.

    I am not anti-smacking per se but having done it, I see that it is not a good solution for this family. I hate where my head is at when I do it.

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  14. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Bron, Kai’s reaction to being smacked is priceless! Of course that is what he would learn.

    Kids are weird. All different and all completely confusing as far as I’m concerned!

    I so wish the naughty corner worked for me. Maybe I’m not implementing it correctly. I don’t know?

    What I do know is that LD tests me daily. He is so like me it is unbearable! I know I am dealing with the world’s greatest manipulator – because that’s exactly what I was……

    Thanks for reading, Bron. xxx

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  15. Rae

    I smack my kids too (not Jed – he’s far too young). Not often, but just as you explained it – ‘when i lose control’, and it’s all i can think to do at those times. I don’t like it…not one bit, and i do feel guilt, not because i am abusing my children, because they really are quite mild taps – but guilt because i let my emotions take over and dictate my parenting. I don’t like the example i set for my kids.

    And smacking doesn’t work for us either. The only thing that really works here is ‘time out’. And not naughty corner time outs but ‘go to your room til i tell you to come out’ time outs. Mostly i just need that time with them out of my face, so that I can calm down, but also because my girls are much like me in that they also need that breathing space and the opportunity to reflect and think about how they can improve their behaviour.

    So far so good (most of the time). But it’s a process and something i need to remind myself to do daily – because it really is too easy to lose control and let my discipline plans go to shit.

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  16. Sarah

    To smack or to play mind games…? That’s really the choice isn’t it? I just told Mr 3.5 to go play outside like a normal kid. Is that wrong? Why yes, he’s copped a smack in his time & like you the look of dismay on his little face almost broke me. So now I use his finely developed sense of what is right to get him to do what I want! maaahahahahhaaaahaaa (evil laughter!) Miss 2 on the other hand is an absolute rogue child who I can already picture screaming at me when she’s 16. For her, its a really loud sound close to her – like big clap of the hands (or me slamming something down) Sudden, loud & startling – it gets her attention so I can yell and be heard!. We all do what we can, within the boundaries we’ve set ourselves.

    Reply
  17. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    I do the bedroom time out too, Rae. This appears to be the most effective for us, too.

    But yep, it is not so much that I think I am doing permanent damage when I smack. As you said, it’s basically a pat on the bum. The issue is what it reflects back to me about myself and how my parenting is tracking on that particular day.

    I can do better. That is always what stays with me when I have resorted to smacking. I can do so much better.

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  18. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Yeah, good point. Violence or mindfuck? What a choice!

    I would think you could reason with your little man based on that sense of righteousness he’s got going on. Hilarious little fella. I love it.

    As for your little lady, second kids, man! They just fuck the program sideways. She’s a goer, your girl one. I want one just like her.

    I think you’re the very model of patience. Seriously, you’re super-mum in my eyes. xxx

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  19. Ladybird

    I look at B’s upbringing. Like most of us – he was smacked as a kid. Wooden spoons, skirting boards even. Thats what happened back in the day. You did something wrong, you got an almighty whack. NO time outs, not naughty corners, no ‘think about what you have done’. You got your tan hided. And not gently 🙂
    Now my own situation is different because I have different family issues – but this was the model for B’s house. The result? He has grown into a fine man who is the most non aggressive person ever. No-one in his family are violent. You could not find a family who love each other more or respect and value their parents more. You could also not find 4 more well adjusted, happy and caring individuals.
    So don’t judge yourself by what you perceive as your ‘bad’ moments. Judge yourself by your ‘good’ moments and just make sure there is always more good than bad. xxxx

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  20. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Absolutely. You know, Ladybird, I was smacked too (only by my mother though, Dad could not bring himself to do it although he did smack my brother) and I don’t feel that it impacted on me negatively at all. I recall being chased by mum with a wooden spoon – the memory is a funny one. A friend tells the story of having a wooden spoon broken across their arse. Again, a story that when told, makes everyone laugh.

    There are levels though and I would say the act of smacking itself is not so much the issue as much as the fear and intimidation that may have gone with it. I know there are people who recall their parents disciplining them with terror. Clearly, there was a lot more going on than a whack on the bum.

    So yeah, like Mad, I am not against smacking per se and certainly don’t believe it will send my kids into early therapy. But it erodes my confidence in my ability to effectively parent these kids and sometimes LD looks at me as though he feels the same way.

    But yeah, focusing on the good days is some pretty sage advice, my wonderful friend.

    Love you.
    xxx

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  21. Ladybird

    I have to focus on my ‘good’ mumma points. If I only focus on the bad I’d be curled up naked in the corner, rocking back and forth and wondering how the fuck my life ended up here 😛

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  22. MamaRobinJ

    I’ve done it. (Deep breath. Whew.) Have never admitted that. I was horrified and, like you, it was a sign I’d lost control. Not a good feeling.

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  23. MJ

    I was talking to J about smacking last night. He has similar views – in fact, I would say he is more anti-smacking.

    He made a good point to me, though. Non-physical, emotional reactions from parents can be equally damaging/upsetting for all involved.

    There have been a couple of times when he’s lost it and really raised his voice at F. Shouted, sharply. Immediately, he has felt like the shittiest person on earth and regretted it. I’ve witnessed this. As for F, the look of shock and hurt on her face, that her daddy would speak to her like that – heartbreaking. You’d think he’d slapped her in her face.

    She’s a sensitive thing, and I’m pretty sure she’d only ever need reprimanding, being sent to her room etc – I’ve not even done that with her though, or time-outs. Perhaps I’m raising a brat :/ …Perhaps I’m one of those parents, completely oblivious to the brat that her child can be, and pathetic at doling out the discipline when needed. Hmm…

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  24. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Yep, screaming when you lose control can be equally ugly. Worse even. I’ve done that, too. Insert face of shame and devastation here. Sigh.

    The fact that you’ve never had to use time out is astounding to me. And awesome. How do you get her to behave??? Like, seriously??? HOW???

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  25. Angie @ The Little Mumma

    Not a good feeling at all, Robin.

    But thank you for sharing. It’s confronting, isn’t it? But I think by sharing we learn that as mums, we are not so different. And that’s comforting to know.

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  26. Mad

    Ultimately, she’s a people pleaser. As strong willed as she can be, she tends to behave herself in the situations where it counts most. She tests me in situations where I can’t really apply the time out method, though – chiefly, the supermarket. That’s our battleground.

    The most effective tool I have with her is the old “I’m going to count to ten – one… two… ” trick, along with a dead serious glare. I don’t know why, but she’s scared to find out what’ll happen at ten! It never fails, but I’m dreading the day it does.

    Oh, and bribery. Yep, bribery. That big old loot from Halloween is still coming in handy (I have it where she can’t access it freely)

    See? I have imperfect methods…

    Reply

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