Writer and broadcaster

A child will learn nothing from being hit. The Independent

Be the sort of adult you’d like your child to grow up to be.

Well, that David Lammy has caused a hoo-ha with his talk of smacking children. And a decade ago, I might have agreed with him. But what a lot of learning I’ve done in 10 years. Here’s the thing with children. They aren’t born bad. They’re not born wanting to harm, or hurt or steal. Circumstances do that to them – adults do.

You want to teach a child about self-discipline, about caring about others, about “doing the right thing”? Smacking won’t do it. All it shows them is that you’ve lost control, at the very point where you’re trying to teach them about control. Sure they may do as you say in the short term, because they are afraid or cowed. But they won’t stay like that for very long. Ultimately, the fear will turn to anger, then pity if you’re lucky, resentment and dislike if you’re not. Hope your smacked child will look after you when you’re older? Good luck with that.

Furthermore, there is no evidence whatsoever to show that smacking a child makes them less likely to riot, such as Lammy seems to claim. Plenty to the contrary. Read up, David. A child who has good self-esteem (and cocky arrogance is not having good self-esteem), a child who feels loved and listened to does not riot or loot. Children are not monsters needing the “evil” smacked out of them; reverse that, you might get closer to the truth.

If you hit an adult, you can be charged with assault, even if you don’t leave a red mark (a red mark elevates it to actual bodily harm), but if you hit a child and leave no mark, that’s deemed OK as far as the law currently stands – unless you hit them above the neck, for which you can still be prosecuted, mark or no mark.

Yesterday, I heard this: “Wishy-washy liberals have ruined child discipline in this country, with their guilt-ridden belief that the rotten, spoilt little brats can do no wrong.” Incorrect. It is detached parenting that has done that, and that can have any political or economic background. A detached parent might hit, or shout, or conversely shower the child with presents. But listen, respect, or teach by example? Nah. Yet how can you teach a child to be empathetic if you show that its feelings count for so little?

Many people hit their children because it’s what they grew up with and it “didn’t do me any harm”. But scratch the surface and there’s always damage. Not disciplining your children doesn’t mean just allowing them to do what they want, either. There are many shades of grey: just look at a Farrow & Ball colour chart.

The way to get a child to grow up to be a responsible adult is to engage with them, be responsive, and love unconditionally. All of this takes time, and courage in today’s climate. A smack? Easier, but it teaches the child nothing positive. Nothing.