Growing up in the ’60s and ’70s just about everyone I knew got a smack on the bum if they misbehaved as children. Some kids were also unfortunate enough to get the much more painful (and potentially dangerous) clip around the ear. I have seen my sisters get smacked in public. And my cousins. The teachers were also quite free with their whacks, particularly the nuns (dare I say it). Sister Benedicta gave me the strap when I was about eight for saying I thought the Baby Jesus was much too important to sleep in a manger. I thought my statement served to highlight the significance of Jesus’ birth, that maybe he should sleep on a bed made of gold or something, but it was deemed obnoxious and irreverent. That strap burned for days. The welt was itchy and hot. I thought I was showing signs of some kind of stigmata so I bore it with pride.

I have smacked Nick probably about three or four times in his life. Just once each time. He would only have been about three years old. I don’t think it has scarred him for life. Actually, I don’t think he even remembers it. What he does remember is me saying NO to him in a calm, assertive voice, setting limits and boundaries and being consistent in my approach to discipline. He doesn’t remember the smacks, but I do. And I feel bad about them. Not because I think I hurt him but because it showed a lack of self-control on my part. I reacted to him having a tantrum, to getting out of bed 25 times in a row, to breaking a vase, to flushing my wallet down the toilet in a violent, negative way. I didn’t act like an adult, I acted like the child I was supposed to be disciplining.

That said, I am not necessarily an advocate for the anti-smacking lobby. I don’t think the Department of Community Services should be called if a gentle whack is administered on the butt in public. However, I also don’t condone smacking, so I find it hard to know where to put myself on this issue.

I suspect that smacking is more about the adult than the child. It is someone at the end of their tether. Tired, lacking in support, possibly depressed. It doesn’t excuse hitting a child, but it does go some way to explaining it. It can also just be a way of seeking a quick end to negative behaviour in public. As I witnessed today.

I was in line at the supermarket and there was this child on the line next to me. He was about three and was being a bit of a pain. Screaming at the top of his lungs, demanding chocolate and fizzy drinks. When he was refused a chocolate he started to throw things out of the trolley that he was standing in. His mother began to count backwards from ten. You better start behaving because if I get to one I’m gonna paddle your butt, she said.

Well, he didn’t start behaving and his butt got paddled. Gently, I might add.

The wailing that ensued would have shattered glass.

A woman at another checkout immediately dove in and began accusing the butt paddler of being the worst type of mother ever. It started to get ugly and I started shaking my head. The woman who dove in saw me shaking my head and said: So what are you going to do about it? Nothing, I bet.

This kind of thing drives me mad. Seems to me that these days we are all a little bit too much in one another’s business. I don’t know the mother of the child. I don’t know if she smacks her child regularly or not. Whether she does or not is actually none of my business. It is also nothing to do with anyone else in the supermarket. I wish she had refrained from the paddle your butt countdown, but there it was.

If I ever saw an adult laying into a child in public, I would certainly say something. But one gentle smack shouldn’t really raise an alarm. Perhaps it was the paddle your butt phraseology that alarmed the woman who dove in. Perhaps she expected something more violent and reacted to that. Either way, it was unfortunate that she had to drag me into it. Eventually, her groceries were rung up and packed and she left. I was relieved because I wasn’t really in the mood to take the moral high (or low) ground regarding butt paddling.

The entire incident bothered me. Where do you draw the line when it comes to the actions of others? Am I going to say something when I hear a boyfriend call a girlfriend a bitch in public? Am I going to chastise people for smoking in front of their kids? Am I going to tell someone off if they use a plastic bag for their shopping instead of a green bag?

No, I am not.

I think it’s important to accept that not everyone you meet or see or come across will do things you approve of. You can’t react to every single incident otherwise you’ll spend the whole day raving like a maniac. I don’t really want to carry a soapbox with me everywhere I go.

Battles must be chosen. Wisely, if possible. No one wants their visit to the supermarket ending in some kind of brawl. I just want to get my canned tomatoes and toilet paper and out of there with as little mention of butt paddling as possible.


26 thoughts on “PADDLE YOUR BUTT

  1. Gosh, am I first?

    What a horrible expression “paddle your butt” is.

    Like you, I have rarely smacked my children but I most certainly do not believe it should be outlawed. There was some research recently (I’ll have a look and see if I can find it after posting this) which showed that children who had been brought up with occasional smacks were more successful than those who weren’t. I think often a quick light smack is less harmful than long-lasting punishments where the children have forgotten what they are being punished for. I know it would be more successful in terms of sorting me out if I were being naughty.

    I would be very wary of smacking my children in public because of the busy-body types around.

    You see some really horrible behaviour in children sometimes and in general this is where parents have failed to enforce the limits they set and provide consistency.

    I think I feel similarly to you but perhaps slightly more pro-smacking (maybe because I have more children).


  2. Here is the article

    Not sure how to put it in as a link. Perhaps I should try? Not sure if that will work or not.

    Anyway, the article says it’s only children who are smacked into adolescence who suffer ill effects. Can’t imagine smacking a teenager I have to say!


  3. I think far too many parents let children get away with behaviour I find absolutely appalling and have had to control myself from giving the kid a whack myself. As a former teacher I know what happens in a class with no discipline- nothing. The same in a home without it.

    I think the point at which I might intervene (but likely from another angle) is much lower here in Botswana then I would have when living in America for example. I have stopped my car and shouted at mothers who have let their children wander into the road for example. Here we are all parents ( the common greeting to a crowd is – Dumelang batsadi ba me- Hello my parents) and have an obligation to reign in such wayward behaviour. This is, sadly, fading as western individualism takes control.

    In your case I would have asked Ms Busybody why she did not intervene to assist the parent when the child was misbehaving. I would have. Why watch a mother who is just trying to get through a shopping trip be bullied by the child’s bad behaviour and then have the audacity to undermine the mother, in front of the child no less, when she is pushed to her limit?


  4. I’m in the “occasional smack on the seat when warranted” camp. But not after age four. Of course, by then they have an understanding of what you are saying and can try to change their behavior with a verbal cue from an adult. Not that they’ll do that… πŸ˜‰

    I have been in situations similar to the one you experienced, on both sides of the coin, and Lauri was right when she asked where the busy-body was when the kid was being a pill. That’s where I’ve stepped in. Sometimes I’ll try to distract the kid with a silly face or a wave, or if that doesn’t work, I’ll just smile and say something to the parent like, “moments like this sure can make grocery shopping with the kids last forever.” Anything to let the parent know they’re not alone. I am still grateful to the woman who did that to me when the Minions (ages 2 & 3) were being pills at the store. There was no judgment, just support. If you have kids, chances are you’ve been in that predicament, and it’s usually when you’re already exhausted.

    It does drive me nuts when parents just allow their kids to just run amok and “express themselves” to the world. Well, maybe the world doesn’t need, or want, to hear or see those expressions. Really.

    Um, rant over. Sorry. I need to go hug my darlings and thank them for surviving my chaotic brand of parenting.


  5. I am also on the fence when it comes to slapping being used as a form of discipline. I tend to agree with your statement:

    “saying NO in a calm, assertive voice, setting limits and boundaries and being consistent in my approach to discipline.”

    I found the most effective way to ‘punish’ my child is to take away his favorite things. Or ‘grounding’ him for a period of time. And not backing down.

    But, I am very fortunate. My son isn’t much of a trouble maker and he basically follows the rules 99% of the time.


  6. Hi RELUCS:
    Thanks for that link. It doesn’t surprise me that research indicates the occasional smack isn’t a problem. The problem really is, as you say, not doing anything about the behaviour leading up to the smack. I mean, why wasn’t anything done about that little boy throwing stuff out of the trolley? Nick would never have done anything like that because he had limits set from very early on. Clear, consistent boundaries really make a difference.


  7. Very provacative, post. You got us thinking and talking about both issues. Discipline in any form needs to be done with love and from a position of being in control. When my son was very little his eczema was very bad and I tried to utilize a lot of “natural” methods. Sometimes they worked, some times they didn’t. One time, I was at the store with him and his face was scratched up –from his scratching because of the eczema. This woman looked at him and began grilling me as if I burned my son with acid. which dealt with the itch but didn’t always clear up the rash. I appreciated the concern — to a point. It was really weird.


  8. Hi LAURI:
    I agree with you 100%. Mrs. Busybody should have jumped in a little sooner. Then we might have avoided a bit of aggro.

    I really like the way you do things in Botswana. That’s the way it should be. Every parent looking out for every child. I really like that.

    Hi KAREN:
    You would have been (and are) an awesome Mum. I have to laugh when you mention the kids ‘expressing themselves.’ I have heard that phrase used so many times to excuse bad behaviour. I can really do without that form of self expression.


  9. Hi JORGE:
    And to you too.

    Hi MELEAH:
    My son is the same. Thank God. For me, it’s the not backing down part that has worked as he’s gotten older. He knows if I say it, I’ll do it. He also knows that I am always fair. See what good Mums we are!


    Yours is such a familiar story for me. Nick had chronic eczema as a child too. It was all over his face and upper body. When he scratched it he really did look awful. People used to ask me all the time what it was, if it was contagious, if eczema really did look like that. At first, I appreciated their concern but then I felt their questions were very intrusive and that there were insinuations being made about how well I was caring for my own child. There is nothing worse than having to justify yourself to a complete stranger. Very offputting. I am so glad we have the eczema and asthma under control now. You’re right – it was an odd experience.


  11. I have only ever occasionally smacked my girls across the back of the legs and that was years ago. I didn’t hurt them, just hurt their feelings. I personally don’t think it does them any harm at all but I draw the line at using anything other than an open hand. No wooden spoons…nothing at all.

    When to intervene can be very problematic and on most occasions I think people should mind their own business. If the child is in imminent danger then of course people should step in and do it quickly, but this sounded like a mother who was giving the kid a fair opportunity to correct his behaviour. Certainly she used an unfortunate term for it but in the end it sounded like the kid deserved it. Imagine if she hadn’t gone through with her threat? Everyone would be saying “well no wonder the child doesn’t listen…he knows she won’t carry out her threats”. The poor thing was never going to win.

    I’m not sure why Ms Busybody took exception to you though. Too much time on her hands perhaps……


  12. I’ve always thought a clip across the ear from a copper did more good that any amount of ASBOs or fines … and, if you complained to your parent, they’d ask which ear did he hit? then give you another one to match.

    Problem arises, as others have said, because people can’t tell the difference between a disciplinary smack and abuse. I did intervene once, when I saw someone kick a child … (not only did I give her an earful, but demanded her name and address, and threatened to report her to the police and the NSPCC. Whereas, if she’d just smacked him, I’d have just walked on by.


  13. I was smacked as a kid and it never did me any harm. But, there’s a line between smacking and abuse. You can see how the need to protect children from abuse has turned smacking into one of those things you shouldn’t be doing. But, at the end of the day, as long as the child is safe and learning the lessons they need to, we should all just butt out of each others’ business and let each other raise our kids the way we feel they should be.


  14. I have always been ambivalent about jumping into someone else’s situation in public. On several occasions I’ve been on the train when something really messed up is happening — a man calling a woman names, another man unwilling to move his things from the seat next to him so someone can sit down, etc. In almost every case I haven’t said anything because I figured it was none of my business. I hope that if any of these situations had involved physical violence, I would have helped in some way.

    The story you’re describing is a difficult one. I was spanked growing up and it seems it hasn’t had any negative aftereffects through the years. While I don’t agree with any type of abuse, the one good thing spanking did was reinforce a specific type of fear of my parents — basically, if I didn’t live by their rules, I was going to get whacked. I don’t want to condone spanking children, but at the same time, I think many children don’t learn respect or fear of their parents anymore, which is also causing societal problems.


  15. I had very strict parents who were really not the best at disciplining. I was smacked around as a kid and probably way into my early teens and I have vowed that when I have children of my own I will never smack/slap/hit them around! We used to get hit for some really stupid reasons. I will never forget how one day I came home for lunch and saw my father hitting my brother because he wasn’t eating his soup. My brother had stayed home because he was sick and didn’t want to eat because he felt sick and wanted to throw up. I think some parents don’t deserve to be parents.

    I will probably discipline like you – “saying NO to my kids in a calm, assertive voice, setting limits and boundaries and being consistent in my approach to discipline. ” If I would see a parent smacking their kid away I think I would intervene but a little slap on the butt probably not. That other lady had no right to give you grief!

    Why does life have to be so complicated sometimes?


  16. Excellent post, Selma. I agree with you about the ‘butt out, it’s not your business’ part, unless someone is being victimised I guess and really needs help of some sort. I disagree about the smacking, though, as I think it is a method parents choose to use or not, and there’s a huge difference between hitting a child around the head or kicking their backside and actually smacking them on the bottom. I used the bottom smacking method with my sons when they were growing up. I really hated doing it but I also did not want my boys to end up as out of control delinquents, either. I am also using smacking to help control my daughter’s behaviour when I have to. Again, I don’t like it and would rather be able to calmly and assertively say to her – oh darling please do what mummy is asking of you. Unfortunately does not always work. I always warn her, as I did with my sons and like the mum in the supermarket did; in other words I give her a choice – do what you should be doing (ie, what I know she understands she should be doing) or get a smack. I also don’t think the government has the right to tell parents how to discipline their children. Again, there is a huge difference between discipline and child abuse. No parent should be driven to the point of no return when they may end up in an out of control state and do something deeply regrettable. Children have a way of pushing buttons at times, they have no idea how annoying their behaviour can be when a parent does not set boundaries.


  17. This was a really good post Selma. You’ve highlighted a common issue with parenting today, and I don’t know if there is a right answer. I grew up in the ’70s too, and my mother would smack me if I misbehaved – never in public, but when we got home. In my case, it worked. We are in a different time now, and I think that things are very different. With some children, a small smack may be warranted. With others, a time out may suffice. Unfortunately, there are cases of both happening, with things being taken to the extreme. I’ve read articles about people really beating their kids, and that is not right. I also remember reading an article back in the UK about a father who lightly paddled his daughter’s behind in the dentist’s waiting room when she was being uncontrollable. Another parent called the police and the man was arrested. The child wasn’t even crying – she was now behaving. The police arrested the man, and ended up spending the days leading up to Christmas in jail. He wasn’t even allowed to see his children on Christmas Day. I don’t remember how the story ended, but I do remember him being allowed supervised visits with his children, despite the protests of his wife and his children.
    I’m not a parent, but I’ve had a hand in raising children. As tough as it was for me at times, I can only imagine how tough it is being a parent. I only hope that when the time comes I can do the right thing for my children. I guess that is all that any parent can ask for.
    I think that you should consider putting this post in a newspaper column. I think that a lot of parents would like to read it.


  18. Hi GYPSY:
    I think Mrs. Busybody took exception to me because I shook my head which indicated disapproval of something. It was of her, actually. People can be difficult, can’t they? I always seem to get dragged into these types of situations. Maybe I should spend my whole time at Coles talking on the mobile like everyone else – then I’d be left alone πŸ™„
    (I included the eye roll for you XX)

    You’ve got it in one. Since when has a swift smack on the bum been child abuse? People need to start worrying about themselves a bit more, I think. Strewth.

    Hi VIC:
    I couldn’t agree more. Extremely well said πŸ˜€

    I agree. I couldn’t have said it better than myself!


  19. Hi KATE:
    You are so right re. the spanking. I think if it is used as it was meant to then there are no issues with it.

    I agree with you. Jumping into situations in public these days can be quite dangerous. I see a lot of negative behaviour on public transport – mainly just people being really selfish and inconsiderate – but if you say anything to them they are so aggressive. So it seems best to say nothing.

    Hi TBALL:
    I think it’s just the way of the world at the moment. Everything is so complicated. I am sorry to hear about your experiences. Your poor brother. He couldn’t help feeling sick.

    Yeah. She didn’t have any right to give me grief. I should have paddled HER butt πŸ˜†


  20. Hi ROWE:
    You’re right. I have a real problem with the government creating legislation re. spanking. What I don’t like about it the most is the assumption it raises that everyone is beating up their kids. Come on, that’s just ludicrous. And some kids do need it. Discipline is the business of the parents of the child – no one else. People these days are just so quick to judge.

    Hi MANOJ:
    You are very kind to say that. Thanks so much.

    That is awful about that man arrested in the waiting room. That should never have happened. I wonder if the police even considered his side of the story? Shocking.

    And you’re right – parenting is hard work. It’s the toughest job I’ve ever had!


  21. Hi Selma, I haven’t anything to add to what the others have said. However,I’d like to know how it was that Nick came to flush your wallet down the toilet in a violent, negative way.



  22. Hi DAVID:
    I don’t remember actually what was violent about it apart from the fact that he threw the wallet into the loo. Thank God he didn’t ‘go’ first!

    Hi GYPSY:
    You’re welcome πŸ™„


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