dilemmas A firm, gentle hand

Edna's husband claims he was never hurt by being beaten when he was young and though he says he'd never beat their three-year-old son, he's not averse to doling out the odd smack. She feels that any violence to children is unacceptable. How can they work things out?

If anyone ever said that my son was "asking for a smack" I would turn into a gibbering mass of rage, perfectly prepared to kill, let alone smack, the person who suggested it. And that's the problem with the subject of smacking: like smacking itself, it's an emotional area that provokes irrational and hot-blooded views. But if Edna's going to make any headway with her husband she has to remain cool and clear-headed, and deliver her arguments again and again in a logical way.

Presumably the spot she and her husband are in at the moment is the one where he accuses her of being soft and she accuses him of being a barbarian. But Edna must try to convince her husband that taking non-violence on board will not turn him into a wet and wimpish new man, but, rather, a king among men, a gentil knight, a good, kind, fair and noble masculine man who does not have to use the coarse, reckless behaviour of the fishwife to establish his authority. Yup, it's hideously manipulative, but it's the only way that will work.

He must be told that he actually looks rather a jerk when he hits his son, and that the fact that he's not agonised by the sight of his son's hurt and frightened face is something to be deplored, not admired. Edna's husband must be reminded that among the seven EU countries that have banned smacking is Austria, birthplace of the much-beaten Hitler. And he must also be reminded that children learn only by example. Smacking a child teaches only one thing: that bullying is OK and that it's OK for big people to hit little people. Polite parents breed polite children, parents who respect their children breed children who respect their parents and the more you treat a child as a real, valuable person the sooner she or he will behave like one most of the time.

If a child behaves badly - and even the sweetest children can wind up the sweetest parents by constantly misbehaving, usually in public - it should be possible, by saying "No" or "Stop it" with sufficient authority or force of personality for the behaviour to stop at once. Getting down to the child's level and repeating the words, looking it firmly in the eye, should be quite enough to put an end to it.

Does Edna's husband really want his son to flinch with fear whenever he's around? Does he wants a child who never gets an explanation of why what he's doing is maddening or wrong? Isn't a good father one who teaches his son to respect him by his admirable actions, not who teaches him to fear him by his bullying ones?

As for Edna's husband's argument that his father beat him and it did it no harm, it's only a measure of the damage that it has done. One can only despise someone who admires or condones someone else for hitting them.

To get her views to prevail, however, Edna must approach her husband in just the same way as she wishes her husband to approach their child when he does wrong. She mustn't use tears or anger; she must use reason, logic, and all the while try to build up his self-esteem by saying how much she will admire him if he manages to restrain himself and so on. In other words she must teach her husband not to smack in much the same way as she teaches her son not to misbehave.

READERS' REPLIES

A fine tradition of no smacking

My siblings and I are 40 plus - the products of a "no smack" upbringing. So far we seem to be coping with life. Independent, solvent and not one of us with a criminal record for anti-social behaviour.

I have carried on the fine tradition. After teaching other people's children for 17 years and not being allowed to smack I didn't see why I should start smacking my own. Unacceptable behaviour is removed from earshot with permission for the child to return when the screaming/scrapping has stopped.

When my children became big enough to join the street gang I was in a strong position to explain to one family that our house and garden was a hitting free zone. It came as a surprise to these children that not all adults hit and copying their parents' behaviour in hitting other children was simply not acceptable.

It is perfectly possible to bring up children without smacking them. What she does about a partner who will hit his child I do not know, other than to say; I was NOT smacked as a child and it didn't do me any harm.

Ani,

Stockport

Violence solves nothing

Why do people smack their children? Because they can, that's why. If their child was 6ft tall and built like a brick shipyard toilet they might think twice about doing it. I don't agree with smacking but on the few occasions I have smacked my children it has been out of my own temper and frustration. Use of violence to settle disputes is unacceptable in the workplace, in the pub and on the roads so why should it be accepted in the home?

Rick,

Bristol

Softness breeds lack of respect

You only have to look around you to witness the rudeness of British children. There is a complete lack of respect for elders in this country, and it can all be attributed to the bad upbringing they received as children while young. Since the parents do not smack the children when they're wrong, the children grew up stubborn, fearless and rude. I am an African. And no British person can actually testify that Africans are impolite or rude. It's our upbringing. Learn from us. Children do need to get smacked when they err.

Ade,

North London

Sending them to their room does the trick

We successfully discipline our lively seven-year- old twin sons without smacking. Although I do not consider a smack harmful in itself, it shows a bad example by encouraging children to think that the ultimate sanction must always be violence. We achieve (reasonable) order partly by not giving the boys treats they would otherwise receive (pocket money, for example), but mainly by banishing the one who needs disciplining to his room. He can only come down when he is prepared to behave well, and usually this is in a matter of minutes. The key is to encourage self-discipline rather than co-operation through fear.

Jill,

Plymouth

Child beaters pass it on

People who were beaten as children go on to beat their own children. I was beaten as a child and it had a traumatic effect upon me: it ruined the relationship between my parents and me despite the fact that they loved me and I loved them. When my daughter was about two I gave her a good walloping for some trivial offence. She was genuinely shocked, and I was shocked at my behaviour. I realised that I was repeating what my parents had done to me, and decided that violence has no place in a loving family. My daughters have now left home, but we are still a very close family and are firm friends.

David, Norwich

A quick slap is better than sharp words

When my children were smacked I found it effective because it was quick, immediate and prevented the situation getting worse. Then it was over. As a child I hated being lectured (and smacked!) but I felt "got at" by the parental reasoning in a way I didn't by the smacking.

Daphne,

Bedfordshire

NEXT WEEK'S DILEMMA: SHOULD WE BECOME PARENTS AGAIN AT OUR AGE?

Dear Virginia,

I am 43 and although I know the chances of my getting pregnant are lower than they were when I was in my thirties, I have high hopes that I might still be fertile. I got pregnant two years ago and had an abortion because I was breaking up with my partner. But since then I've been with a man who I love very much - he's 55 and we plan to marry this year. My dilemma is whether to try for a baby or not. My own two are 19 and 20 and he already has a daughter who lives with his ex-wife. We'd love more children, but would it be fair to inflict elderly parents on the child? I'd be 60 and my partner would be 73 when it was 18, for instance. Do your readers have any experiences of the hazards - or pleasures - of being older parents or, more importantly, do any children have experiences of having "the oldest dad in the playground"?

Yours sincerely, Esme

All comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send any relevant personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, the 'Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171- 293-2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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