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The smacking controversy: what advice should we be giving parents?


  • Julie Taylor BSc MSc PhD RGN ILTM,

  • Susan Redman BSc MSc RGN DipHV

Julie Taylor,
School of Nursing and Midwifery,
11 Airlie Place,
University of Dundee,
Dundee DD1 4HJ,


Background.  Even among countries that have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child there is much disagreement about corporal punishment of children. Last year the Scottish Executive proposed a new law banning the smacking of children under the age of three, becoming the tenth European nation to do so. The proposal, currently abandoned whilst ostensibly still under debate, has raised a wave of controversy in child protection circles. In the nearest neighbouring country, England, a similar proposal was robustly rejected.

Purpose of the paper.  Given an increasing family and community focus in nursing, the implications of the debate for the profession cannot be ignored. What should we be telling ‘ordinary’ families about smacking? Thus this paper presents a positional statement on the smacking controversy and outlines some pointers for practice.

Discussion.  While for many the legislation proposed does not go far enough, others decry it as a breach of parental rights and, thus, the issue has become hugely controversial. Media opinion and various opposing campaigns dominate both public and professional spheres. Rights, responsibilities, examples from other countries, culture and gender are all used as fodder in the debate. Extreme examples are cited by both sides and used as grist for what are at times tenuous arguments. As there is even a division within child protection arenas, practising professionals may struggle to find a way through the maze of seemingly contradictory findings from research, policy and opinion.

Conclusions.  A wide range of literature suggests that both public and professional opinion is divided on the use of smacking as a form of discipline of young children. Opinion is also divided on the ability of legislation to bring about change in social attitudes and behaviour. Health care professionals need to be in a position to recommend best practice and to do so consistently.