My So-called Life: Why smacking is the only answer

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A thoughtful and reflective columnist reflects thoughtfully on this week's hot topic, which is smacking children.

A thoughtful and reflective columnist reflects thoughtfully on this week's hot topic, which is smacking children.

I do not believe in smacking children in any circumstances. The other day, I saw a young mother getting off the bus with a little girl who badly misjudged the height of the step and fell with quite a bang onto the pavement. Her mother yanked her up by an arm, yelled: "Why can't you watch where you are going?" then gave her a good smack on the back of her legs. Oh great, I thought, thoughtfully and reflectively, the kid falls off the bus and then gets a mighty wallop for her trouble. There was absolutely no need for the smack. Instead, why doesn't the mother calmly take the little girl home and then hang her in the cellar by her ankles for a couple of days? The cellar may be dark and full of spiders, but do not worry if it isn't as you can pretend that it is. Children, up to a certain age, are very small-brained and will practically swallow anything you happen to tell them.

After a couple of days and nights in the cellar I can guarantee that the child will not only think twice about falling off buses, but will also be less quick to fall off swings, trip up, tumble selfishly down the stairs or go arse-over-tit in the stroller, an event they always try to blame on you for putting too many shopping bags over the handles. How quick children are to blame anyone but themselves! Little monsters! In short, what I am saying here, in my thoughtful and reflective way, is that the original smack was not only completely unnecessary, but also beyond what most people would consider reasonable chastisement in the circumstances.

It is true that there will be times when a good smack seems like the only option. This may occur when your child comes home from a friend's house and announces that he loves something he hasn't eaten before.

"What did you have for tea at Christopher's?"

"Lasagne."

"I didn't know you liked lasagne?"

"I love lasagne. Yum, lasagne. Lasagne is my favourite.'

So, the next day, you make a thoughtful and reflective lasagne - as a thoughtful and reflective columnist, it is hard to do anything in a non-thoughtful or unreflective way - which you present with some pride and satisfaction and no small amount of cheesy topping (because that's the best bit) at supper time.

"What's that?"

"Lasagne."

"I don't like lasagne."

"You said you loved lasagne! You said it was your favourite!"

"I said I loved Christopher's mum's lasagne. I said Christopher's mum's lasagne is my favourite. I didn't say I'd like your lasagne."

"But I've spent all day making it! It's home-made. It's good for you. It's thoughtful and reflective."

"It smells."

Again, although a strike with an open hand appears to be the solution, why not simply bring the hot lasagne pan down on his head? It does the job just as well and also gives you a good feeling: you've dealt with the situation sensibly and reasonably without resorting to smacking. This is known as positive parenting because, once he is out of intensive care, he positively won't be refusing your lasagne again.

So, he barges into the toilet one day and sees you using a tampon. He then says to the milkman/postman/father-in-law and all passers-by: "I saw my mum put a mini-milk up her front bottom." Of course, you want no more than to thoughtfully and reflectively beat the hell out of him. Or at least pull him home by one ear while clipping him round the other. However, stop and think. Would either really be the answer? Why not embarrass back? Embarrassment is a great weapon, and should not be confused with mental cruelty, which is a different thing altogether, much beloved of the middle classes, and involves denying children Sunny Delight at every available opportunity and then inventing opportunities, just so you can deny them further. ("Can I have Sunny Delight on my birthday, mum?" Sure. "Great." Only joking!)

Embarrassing things you can try might include: singing all the way to school while wearing a big hat; singing all the way to school while wearing a big hat and doing a funny dance; placing little love notes in his lunch box; greeting all his friends with "Respect, blood!"; kissing him in public; kissing him in public while wearing a big hat and doing a funny dance; sitting at the back of the bus during school trips while smoking out the window and drinking Dubonnet from a flask and then falling off the bus yourself. You may even wish to try putting beetroot into his lunchbox along with the love notes. For some reason, beetroot is always one of the most terrible, traumatic and embarrassing things you can ever do to a child. You may even wish to turn up for school events in a big hat decorated with beetroots. The lesson the child learns here is however hard they hit you, you can hit back harder. While doing a funny dance.

You get home in the evening. You're tired. Your child's tired. He rubs you up the wrong way. He doesn't mean to but he does.

"Hi, mum."

"Darling, give us a break, I'm really tired."

"Not a good day, then?"

"How many times do I have to tell you? I am simply not in the mood."

"Would you like a cup of tea?'

"That's it. That's the last straw. You've pushed me too far this time. Is it too much to ask that you'll always put yourself to bed by 4pm?"

And there you are, hand poised. It's understandable. You really don't need this. There are no rights and wrongs. But physical violence? Why not try "time out" on a stool in a "naughty corner", which can be placed as far afield as Sheffield or Aberdeen. There is no need to ever make a child wear a pointy hat with a "D" on it, but it is quite amusing just the same.

You see, there are many alternatives to smacking. But if you do smack your child, don't be too hard on yourself. As Rose West might once have said: "I was smacked as a child and it didn't do me any harm." I leave you with that last thoughtful and reflective thought.

d.ross@independent.co.uk

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