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Smacking may stop a child doing what they’re doing at that moment, but it doesn't have a lasting positive effect.

Every parent gets frustrated at times and it is at these times that a parent may smack in the heat of the moment. However this is generally an outlet for the parent’s frustration, rather than a helpful way of influencing the child’s behaviour.

Children learn by example, so if you hit your child you’re telling them that hitting is an acceptable way to behave. Children who are treated aggressively by their parents are more likely to be aggressive themselves. It’s better to teach by example rather than behave in the way you're asking them not to behave:

  • try not to let a situation get so bad that you feel you need to smack your child

  • set limits early on

  • explain why you may be unhappy with their unacceptable behaviour and praise their good behaviour

  • if you feel so angry you are out of control take time out and walk away.

  • try to take a break, all parents get frustrated sometimes.

  • be consistent.

  • positive attention will distract your child from misbehaviour.

Extra help with difficult behaviour

Talk to your health visitor or GP, or contact your local Children’s Centre, who will be able to offer you support to learn about and improve your child’s behaviour. In some cases, it may be best to refer a child to a specialist where they can get the help they need.

Is smacking legal?

It is unlawful for a parent or carer to smack their child, except where this amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’ regardless of any individual, cultural or religious justification.

There is a grey area in the Law as to whether a ‘smack’ amounts to reasonable punishment. However, physical punishment will be considered ‘unreasonable’ if it leaves a mark on the child or if the child is hit with an implement such as a cane or a belt.

As a result, child protection professionals will assess incidents of physical ill-treatment of children, in order that they can understand, prevent and explain the consequences of further incidents to parents.

You can get further information from the Children's Legal Centre.