real life

Smacking. Where do you stand?

Always a contentious subject for frazzled mothers, smacking was again brought into the public forum when Insight aired on SBS last night. Parents in both the for and against camps are eager to be heard. And this time they want ALL Australians to be heard.

Research from Monash University suggests that migrants who come to Australia from places like Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, often find Australian parenting styles too laidback and are surprised to learn that smacking isn't that common. In these societies parents are usually more authoritarian, and smacking is a part of that role.

Associate Professor Andre Renzaho said on Insight last night that people need to stop seeing Western styles of parenting as superior to that of other cultures.

“It’s very disappointing to see cultural imperialism, and what I mean by cultural imperialism, is that someone wrote a book about smacking," Professor Renzaho says.

"See, I smack my kids, but I don’t condone smacking. Smacking is one ingredient that is what I call ‘a clash of cultures’. Yes, smacking, when you use it in an individualistic culture, like Australia, it can be misunderstood compared to when it’s used in a collective culture," he said.

"If you are in an individualistic culture like Australia, smacking, which is an ingredient of authoritarianism, is associated with maternal stress and negative emotions. When they smack, they are not smacking to discipline, but it’s to relieve their emotions, relieve their stress. While in a collective society it’s more about telling your kid ‘when you do this, this is what is expected from you in society’".

An interesting perspective. But how much is smacking ingrained into our own culture?

Pinky McKay, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Parenting Editor, Author, Infant Massage Instructor & Mum of five says on


"For me, not smacking is rather like learning a second language: when my first child started to get into things that were unsafe I was at a loss. I wondered, ‘should I smack him?’ I couldn’t bring myself to smack this beautiful little person who to me seemed to be ‘exploring’ rather than ‘naughty’ but I simply had no other resources in my parenting toolbox, because this is what I had been exposed to as a child.

Despite my efforts to learn this new language of gentle parenting, in times of stress I have reverted to my ‘mother tongue’ and occasionally smacked my kids. In an incident that has become part of our family folk-lore, one of my sons was watching an Olympic boxing match on television. He was getting very carried away – shouting excitedly at the screen. I walked over and switched off the television. My son reached forward and turned it back on (he was sitting eyeball to eyeball with the set). I reacted faster than any champion boxer – with a slap on his arm as I yelled, ‘leave the bloody thing off, I hate violence!’ It took me more than a few seconds to realise why my quick-witted kid sat there laughing at me in a state of near hysteria."

In Australia it remains legal for parents to use “reasonable corporal punishment” to discipline their children. New South Wales is the only state to have made amendments  to the law regarding corporal punishment by parents.  The Act states that physical punishment should not harm a child "more than briefly" and specifies the parts of a child's body that can be subject to force. While this amendment seeks to limit use of corporal punishment, it does not ban the use of corporal punishment altogether.

What are your thoughts on smacking? How do you enforce discipline in your home?