August 24th, 2015

“My parents smacked me and I turned out all right!”

We have all heard that sentence uttered as a way of condoning what our own parents may have done or what we may also have done to our own children.  

I was revisiting an interesting discussion about smacking that appeared on BBC Women’s Hour over 5 years ago.  The post is still available at and is still worth listening to. 

Five years on, the debate about smacking children still shows how polarised the opinions are on this subject.  For over 15 years now, all of us at the Parent Practice have become familiar with the different views about smacking children. 

The evidence is that overwhelmingly when parents smack their children they do so, not in a controlled way to discipline them, but because the parent is overwhelmed by their own emotions.  Perhaps they are so overcome with fear - as in the example given in the programme - when a child runs into the street, or out of anger or frustration. Often it’s because in the moment they don’t know what else to do –they feel powerless. 

Here’s the thing, though.  A child that has been smacked knows full well (even if they can’t articulate it) that his or her parent has lost control.  One of the fastest ways to lose your children’s respect is through using smacking as a means of discipline. 

There is no doubt at all that discipline is necessary but the point of any method of discipline is to teach and smacking is the least effective of all the tools at our disposal if teaching is our goal. Children are not so open to learning if they are shocked and hurting. We are in danger of teaching them something we don’t intend if we use smacking - that when you are an adult you can use your power to hurt, that you can resolve conflict or get your way by hurting. That is not what parents intend when they smack and I would never judge a parent for smacking but it is clear that parents need to be supported in the difficult job of raising children by giving them tools other than smacking. 

In the five years since this segment appeared on Women’s Hour, the movement towards Positive Discipline has thankfully gathered speed and support.  We now know – through brain science - that positive discipline brings with it so many benefits.  In his book, No Drama Discipline, Dan Siegel outlines the benefits as: “foster[ing] development that builds good relationship skills and improves your children’s ability to make good decisions, think[ing] about others, and act[ing] in ways that prepare them for lifelong success and happiness.” Positive discipline is a way to build a healthier brain through teaching children appropriate behaviours. 

Whenever the discussion about smacking arises, Haim Ginott’s much quoted comment is essential to share.  

“When a child hits a child, we call it aggression.
When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility.
When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault.
When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.” 

Haim G. Ginott 

Did those parents who were smacked as children (many of us) turn out all right? Maybe not if they advocate smacking as form of discipline. 

To find out more about how to effectively use positive discipline, sign up for our newsletter at and we’ll send you a free copy of our Positive Discipline parenting insight.

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September 10th, 2014

Do you use the Naughty Step? Quick tips for a more positive approach to discipline

What parent has not heard of the ‘naughty Step’? It is one of the main sound bites from the Super Nanny program with Jo Frost and indeed if I earnt money for every one of my clients who mentions discipline and the naughty  step in the same sentence I would be a millionaire!

If you are one of many parents who has used it and feels a failure for not being able to make it work, either because your child will not stay there and you end up physically manhandling or he thinks it’s a game and starts laughing at you and blowing raspberries in your face or it has no impact on changing the behaviour – you are not alone! Join the posse of parents who have had the same experience.

Don’t blame yourself if you have experienced this, as the idea of the naughty step is fundamentally flawed.

The naughty step and other punitive and shaming forms of dealing with misbehaviour seem to work in a fashion  - i.e. they can quell a particular behaviour in the moment, but the unintended results are often:

  • resentment and rebelliousness
  • reduced self-worth
  • naughty identity –i.e. the child has a picture of himself as a ‘bad’ person and bad people go on to do bad things, as that is who they think they are
  • he may learn to toe the line in the moment due to fear
  • he does not learn about self-discipline nor understand how to clear up his mistakes

Do you recall the incident last Christmas when a little girl broke a bauble whilst shopping with her Mummy in John Lewis’s and John Lewis then used Face Book to show the world how this little girl had cleared up her mistake?

How effectively you react in the moment depends on your ability to see all misbehaviour as a teachable moment and an opportunity to allow your child to clear up her mistakes.


Clearly this little girl’s parents had established a system of positive discipline so she had an opportunity to put right her mistake and will no doubt have felt better for it. I wonder how she would have felt if her parents had punished her by placing her on the naughty step?

A more positive approach to discipline doesn’t amount to permissiveness and it really works. Our experience is that telling off kids or pointing out what they are doing wrong just DOES NOT WORK and often results in the same misbehaviour at a later date.

 So here’s a step by step guide to what to do and say when your child misbehaves:

  1. Approach the matter without anger or judgment. (This may necessitate leaving it until you’re calm).


  1. Encourage the child to admit what happened and that it was a mistake. Why was it a mistake?

If child says ‘I didn’t mean to’ don’t lecture her on how that doesn’t matter and that the harm is still done. Descriptively praise the child for not meaning to.

 “I’m so glad that you didn’t mean to. It means a lot to me. It shows me that you know it wasn’t the right thing to do and that maybe you wouldn’t have done it if you’d thought about it.”

Explore with the child (without judgment) how the behaviour happened. Don’t just ask why did you do that? This is so that everyone can learn from the episode –maybe something needs to be altered for the future.

  1. Make amends – set wrongs to rights. Fix someone’s upset feelings. This might include an apology but not unless the child is ready.

 “You’re probably sorry inside your head –when you’re ready you’ll also need to apologise out loud. You’re probably wishing you hadn’t done this.”

Sometimes just clearing up the mess (eg washing the ink off the walls) is enough to help them alter their behaviour ….but shouting at them would not!

  1. Alter behaviour- What can you learn from this? /what can you do differently? What would help you not to do this again? Maybe we need a rule about where you can use your coloured pens?


  1. Acceptance - forgive self. We want to teach our children to think ‘when I make a mistake I know how to clear it up.’

Go on  - next time your child gets something wrong try this Mistakes Process and see the results – we guarantee they’ll be much more effective than the naughty step. Let us know what your experiences of using the naughty step have been. What consequences have you used that you think really taught your child something.

Happy parenting!                                

Elaine and Melissa

PS You too should use the Mistakes Process if you feel you got something wrong. This would be very powerful modelling that cleaning up mistakes does not diminish one but is what a good person does.

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