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Further information

Smacking children

"Smacking is the only thing that works… I get so frustrated with him sometimes. Besides, I was smacked when I was a child and it never did me any harm."

Warning signs
A child who flinches or moves away when they fear they might be hit. Smacking a child hard with a force, which (when you look back at it) you feel you shouldn’t have done and feel bad about. Leaving bruising and other marks on a child, or using an implement like a belt.

If you are worried about your own or someone else’s smacking get support from the organisations listed under Contacts . If it is someone you know, offer practical help and suggestions.

What to say

Tell your child they have gone too far or broken family rules. Use your tone of voice and the expression on your face to help them understand that they have reached the limit. Explain your reasons why.


Make it a general rule not to smack your child. Use other ways to discipline; set clear limits and explain them, be firm and stick to rules, ignore minor bad behaviour and reward good (perhaps use a star chart).

The facts

  • Smacking does not teach children self-discipline
  • Smacking gives attention to a child’s bad behaviour
  • Children learn best by attention to things they do well
  • There are many better things to do than to smack
  • Smacking teaches children to hurt others
  • When self-discipline is taught, smacking is not needed

The great debate

It is important that children learn how to behave and control how they act as they get older. Parents have a very important job as role models for their children in helping them to learn how to do this.

Teaching children from a young age by setting limits and explaining reasons for these limits helps them develop self-discipline. Smacking, which controls your child from the outside, has no long-lasting good effects. In fact smacking usually has to become harder in order to have the same impact on your growing child. This is where the thin line between smacking and hitting can be crossed.

Have you ever smacked your child? The answer from many parents reading this will be ‘yes’. Every parent experiences frustration with his or her child at some time. It is at these times that a parent may smack in the heat of the moment, but this is an outlet for the parent’s feelings, rather than a helpful way of training a child.

However, simply because lots of people may have smacked their children does not mean it is the best way to punish your child or make sure they are good. Those who say smacking is okay have argued that it is not harmful in the long-term and is the most immediate form of discipline. However, it is much more helpful and safer to notice and reward your child’s good behaviour, in order to encourage the behaviour you want.

Fewer parents are smacking their children now. Lots of those who keep doing so do it because they are not sure what else will work. In UK society parents are not allowed to hurt their children whatever their individual, cultural or religious reasons.

As a result, child protection professionals will look at cases of abuse of children, so that they can understand, stop it and prevent it happening again.

In England and Wales the Children’s Act says smacking is against the law if it causes bruises, reddening of the skin or mental harm. It is against the law to use an implement to hit a child, for example a belt, or a wooden spoon.

There are a number of other ways to deal with your child’s bad behaviour. Talk to one of the agencies listed under contacts to find one that works for you.

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