Cathy Dobbs: To err is human - but should a slap be illegal?

Cathy Dobbs takes a look at life.

Slapping a child is now illegal in Wales
Slapping a child is now illegal in Wales

Smacking is really hitting the headlines at the moment.

Last week we read how parents in Wales are now banned from smacking their children.

Then this week we all watched as actor Will Smith walked on stage at the Oscars and smacked comedian Chris Rock around the face.

Assault is wrong, we all know that. But parenting is also hard and often kids know how to push their parents’ buttons to get a result. Most of us have probably seen children that have kicked, scratched or punched their parents, with seemingly very little consequence.

Will Smith slaps Chris Rock

I’ll never forget seeing a boy grab his mum’s hand and scratch so hard it bled, only for his mum to say in a gentle voice: “Use kind hands please.” I’ll never forget it because I felt so angry for his mum – parenting is such a thankless task anyway, but to be regularly hurt by the person you are waiting on hand and foot is just horrible.

Respect has to go both ways, and while it is still perfectly legal for a child to batter their parents – it is seen as wrong for that parent to give a child a smack on the bum. So, how do you get your child to respect you enough so that they don’t view you as their human punch bag? At a baby group I saw a mum changing her toddler’s nappy and he thought it was hilarious to kick her in the chin. A sharp slap on the thigh soon stopped his laughing, and made him realise that hurting mummy wasn’t a clever thing to do. If that was to happen now in Wales she could end up with a criminal record.

Other parents will try to give you advice, such as have you tried the naughty step? That failed for us, as my autistic son loves the routine of the naughty step. In fact he would be bad on purpose if it meant he could have the reward of sitting on the naughty step. Other advice was ‘take their tech away from them for a week’. But that leads to everyone in the whole house being punished for a week – like it or not, busy parents need their children to have access to technology.

The NSPCC did a survey of 3,000 adults in England, and found that 64 per cent think it is also time to change the law here and ban smacking, while 68 per cent said it is not acceptable. So, is this new law in Wales realistic? Are we going to see extra police officers recruited to deal with all the arrests? And what about the already stretched social services, which can miss some of society’s most serious child abuse cases. Are they going to have extra funding and resources? The answer – not a chance.

Will Smith isn’t being prosecuted for his actions on stage, but it has shown us that sometimes all of us flip out if we are being pushed too hard.

It isn’t right, but it is probably very human.

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