Comment

Smacking ban offers the chance to educate parents and carers

A ban on smacking children being considered by the Welsh assembly would be a chance to educate parents and carers and offer support

A ban on smacking children being considered by the Welsh assembly would be a chance to educate parents and carers and offer support


Picture: iStock

The physical punishment of children has been considered acceptable in the UK for centuries, so the Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment (Wales) Bill has been a long time coming, especially in view of how the protection of children from physical punishment has progressed worldwide.

The bill was put before the Welsh assembly by deputy minister for health and social services Julie Morgan in March. If it is passed, parents, carers and adults with parental capacity will no longer be able to punish children physically.

This will allow children to have the same protection as adults if an act of physical punishment occurs.

Rights and protection

Children should and must have this protection and their rights upheld. What right does an adult have to physically chastise a child? Reflecting on children’s rights and the law made me think about what an adult would do if someone slapped them.

‘There are many strategies that can be applied when parenting and disciplining a child – physical punishment should not be one of those strategies’

They have the right to press charges and take matters further. A child who is potentially defenceless should be afforded the same rights and protection.

Smacking, slapping, hitting, biting, kicking, burning, punching and suffocating are some examples of physical abuse that escalate in severity. These are categorised by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Detrimental effect

A tap, slap or smack is often minimised by carers and parents. The act of this physical chastisement occurs due to a loss of control, or an impulse due to a certain behaviour displayed by the child.

Being subjected to smacking or hitting causes distress, and if it occurs frequently it can have a detrimental effect on the emotional and physical development of the child.

Parenting a child is not easy. It can be challenging. There are many strategies that can be applied when parenting and disciplining a child – physical punishment should not be one of those strategies.

Changing attitudes

The word ‘discipline’ is taken from a Latin derivative of ‘disciple’. When looked at in a positive context it is linked to following or being an example.

The bill offers clarity for parents and carers. Reasonable punishment can mean so many different things to different individuals. Smacking, however light, is not okay. Hitting is not okay. These behaviours can escalate, and a tap or smack can escalate into a hit, a punch and death.

‘A change in attitude and in the law will reflect positively on children’s health and development’

Attitudes to smacking have changed. A recent Welsh survey found 81% of parents feel it is ‘not acceptable to smack a naughty child’, compared with 71% in 2015.

Allowing the best start in life

Almost 60 countries worldwide have committed to protecting children against physical punishment. We have to advocate for our children, who are our future generations, and respect what is set out in the UN convention on the rights of the child.

A change in attitude and in the law will reflect positively on children’s health and development, allowing them the best start in life, nurturing them – especially in their first 1,000 days – to allow them to meet their full potential as they progress through childhood.

Parental support on disciplining children is available from specialist community public health nursing teams, namely health visitors and school nurses.

This bill is a positive step in the protection of children from physical chastisement. It is an opportunity to educate parents and carers, provide them with a clear message and offer support where needed.


Michelle Moseley is lecturer in primary care and public health nursing and director of learning in practice at the School of Healthcare Sciences, University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff

@cuHealthSci @shel_e_moseley

 

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