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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
If not smacking, then what?
Even parents who approve of smacking children tend to see it as a last resort. But when tempers get frayed, there are still some alternatives.

Mother and child in a car
Tensions can rise during errands
In a supermarket car park, a mother is struggling to get her four-year-old into a car seat. The girl is resisting, squirming about uncooperatively as small children often do.

The mother finally snaps and lashes out verbally - but not physically.

"Do you realise that unless you get in this seat, you could die? If we have an accident and you're not strapped in, then you'll fly through the windscreen and be killed. You'll hit your sister on the way and you'll both die."

Parenting adviser Eileen Hayes, of the NSPCC, cringes as she recounts this story. "She didn't smack, but sometimes not smacking can be just as punitive. Think about the tone used as well as what you're saying."

To ban or not to ban

On Tuesday, two parliamentary committees warned that the UK risks falling foul of human rights laws by allowing parents to strike children.

Banned in schools
Childminders set to be banned from smacking this autumn
Parents may smack if it's 'reasonable chastisement'

Although the government is against making smacking illegal, an NSPCC survey of MPs found support for a ban of some kind.

While most parents do not want to hit their child, they may find they want to lash out in times of stress, anger or frustration. The trouble with smacking is that while it punishes difficult behaviour, it does not show the child how you would like them to act.

So what are the alternatives when tempers on both sides are fraying? To take supermarket shopping trips - a notoriously fractious time - as an example, Mrs Hayes says the best solution is to go alone.

"Do you have to take your child with you, especially now many supermarkets are open 24 hours? See if you can go alone, leaving them with your partner or childminder instead.

Child hitting another in a playground (image from NSPCC)
NSPCC campaigns against smacking
"But if you do take them along, plan ahead. Take a little toy your toddler can play with as well as a snack and a drink. With slightly older children, ask them to pick the colour of loo roll or point out their favourite cereal. And if they're old enough, ask them to help you - send them off to look for items on the list."

Therein lies one trick of the parenting trade - distraction, a tactic which can be deployed in all manner of situations.

Time out

And accept that there are some battles not worth fighting, so to speak.

"Sometimes actions are louder than words - and I don't mean smacking," says Mrs Hayes. "If you want your toddler to go from A to B and they just won't go, pick them up and move them yourself, then quickly distract them from being cross with a book or toy."

Victoria and her great aunt Marie Therese Kouao, who was convicted of the girl's death
Victoria Climbie's killers said they used "reasonable chastisement"
If punishment is warranted, then "time out" alone in a bedroom or removal of privileges - such as the toy or TV programme which has sparked an argument - are options. With older children, let them face the consequences of their actions, such as getting into trouble at school for not doing their homework.

It is important for parents to explain their reasons for the sanctions, such as taking away a toy until the children agree to share, says Mrs Hayes.

But avoid falling into the trap of talking above the child's level of development, like the parent witnessed patiently explaining - in words of three syllables or more - their motivation for asking Junior to go to bed immediately.

"It's not worth having an intellectual discussion with a very young child. You can reason with a four and five-year-old, but stick to simple explanations as to why things have to be the way they are."

Even if that smile and those sensible words hide gritted teeth in the supermarket queue.

Do you have any trusted alternatives to smacking? Send us your comments on this story:

I've introduced a 'naughty step' with my 2-year-old. It's at the foot of the stairs and when she's really bad, I tell her to sit on it until she learns to behave. It works because she now understands she's in disgrace - which toddlers don't like - and it gives you a bit of 'time out' to calm down. She's even been known to offer to put herself on the naughty step after being told off about something. So maybe she's not taking it seriously after all.
Kathryn Belchamber, UK

I tell my 2 year old 'Do it before I count to 5!' He forgets to whinge/have a strop while we count, and as soon as we say 5, he (usually) does it without any trouble.
Nicola, UK

One of the best methods we have used is a star board. If the child does something good he/she receives a star and if they are silly they have stars removed. Simple but works a treat!
Nasir Manzoor, UK

When my daughter has a tantrum, or refuses to share with a friend etc I tell her that's not a nice/kind thing to do and remove her, or the object. Then I wait for her to calm down (throwing a tantrum when nobody is looking soon gets boring). This also avoids feeling exasperated myself as I'm then talking to a calm, even if still slightly whimpering, child rather than having to reason through a whirlwind. Then I talk to her in a quiet voice about what went wrong and why such behaviour is not acceptable. I find the trick is to make sure she understands (she's 4) by asking her to explain it back to me in her own words.
Steve, UK

When my son started walking, removing him from the source of the problem often solved it. When he got a bit older, removing myself from the source of the problem often solved it! I would get more wound up by telling off my son than by the original problem itself. Now he is 9, I can use (amongst other things) the Gameboy as reward and punishment - at the moment he is banned from playing for 3 weeks.
Dave, UK

Parents now have the ultimate sanction: "No Harry Potter". Or worse, you could threaten to tell them that [censored] dies on page [censored].
Andy, UK

My five year old's behaviour is terrible sometimes. I've tried the talking, asking her to help in things I do, picking out things on the shopping list but it doesn't work. So now I just leave her to it - if she wants to have a tantrum, I let her do it while I have a coffee. She soon calms down and says sorry.
Tina, London UK

My father came home one night to find my mother exasperated as I refused to put on my pyjamas. Dad simply smiled and asked me which leg I wanted to put in first, at which point I gladly hopped into them. As a salesman he was used to the 'alternative close'. As a child I was glad also to made to feel I had input into the matter.
Andrew, UK

Why don't people start switching off their TV sets, and spend time with their offspring doing other activities, like going to the park and kicking a ball about, or (steady now) playing a board game or even (bit shocking this one) having a conversation, encouraging their children to express views and opinions rather than hiding behind the goggle box (sorry BBC).
Sarah, UK

Too often, when children are well behaved, they are ignored while the parent takes the opportunity to, say, do some housework. This leads them to misbehave in order to get attention. So step one is to reward good behaviour with affection and participation as much as possible. Bad behaviour should be combated with social exclusion.
HB, England

Once when a friend and I were playing up to our mums, they agreed to swap children for the remainder of the shopping trip. We'd never been better behaved.
Andy, UK

Kids learn from their surroundings as they grow up. If they see both their parents watching TV every night and telling them to go to their rooms at 9pm, they will sense the inequality and demand to stay up too. In my opinion being a responsible parent means doing your best to avoid double standards ie: turn off the TV and go to bed at the same time as your kids. If you can't do that, then don't have kids.
Yousaf, London UK

I don't agree with Yousaf. Children have to learn that they are a child and therefore not able to do everything an adult can do. Time-outs work so long as they are started young - at 14 months the child I looked after knew sitting on the bottom stair meant he was in trouble. And 2 mins later all is better. Babies and young children are more understanding of 'tones' rather than words and these definitely worked for me.
Lisa, UK

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Pressure grows over smacking law
24 Jun 03  |  Politics
Should smacking laws be stricter?
24 Jun 03  |  Have Your Say
Hodge is minister for children
13 Jun 03  |  Education
Smacking ban thrown out
13 Sep 02  |  Scotland


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