Saturday, February 04, 2006

It Hurts You Inside - children talking about smacking

What does it feel like to be smacked?
'it feels like someone banged you with a hammer' (5 year old girl)

It Hurts You Inside

In 1998 the National Children's Bureau and Save the Children UK conducted a unique exercise in surveying the views of young children on smacking. The findings are summarised below. The full report It hurts you inside – children talking about smacking by Carolyne Willow and Tina Hyder is obtainable from the National Children's Bureau.

The two organisations decided to carry out this unique consultation for two reasons. First, most physical punishment in the family is directed at young children - including babies and toddlers – and therefore their perspectives are critical. Second, we decided to focus our discussions with children on smacking as this particular aspect of physical punishment is so commonly and forcefully defended.

Appropriate methods to elicit and record young children's views were considered carefully: we wanted to be sure that children could talk freely and openly about smacking, and that they would not be influenced by adult views on the subject. That is why we – the two project workers, both experienced in consulting children – decided from the outset that children would not be informed about our organisations' considered view that smacking is wrong. Children were told they were the experts on smacking, and that our organisations were seeking their views alone. We also stressed the importance of children sharing their own individual thoughts and responses rather than copying their friends' answers.

What we did

During July and August 1998 we carried out 16 small group discussions with 76 five to seven year-olds (there was one four year-old) in six schools and two summer play schemes. One school was an independent fee-paying school, another was a Church of England school, and the rest had diverse catchment areas. In 14 of the 16 discussions a teacher or other school/play scheme representative was present throughout. Parents were fully briefed in advance and gave written permission for children to take part. Children's consent was obtained at the beginning of the discussions, when they were advised that they could opt out at any stage of the proceedings (either by leaving the room or not answering particular questions). Only four children - all five year-olds - decided not to complete the group discussion.

Each of the school groups were divided according to age so that five, six and seven year-olds were questioned separately. The two groups from the summer playschemes were mixed.

Who we listened to

We listened to slightly more girls (57%) than boys (43%); 32% were five years old, 32% six years and 36% were aged seven. One child was four years old. 20% of the children were from Black and minority ethnic communities while 18% of the children said they needed special help in school.50% of those who took part live in the South of England while 26% live in the Midlands and 24% in the North of England. The majority (51%) of the children were living with both birth parents and siblings.

What we asked

To assist our discussions with children we commissioned a community artist to create a story book with a central character (later to become Splodge) children could relate to. Splodge was introduced to children as not knowing much about our world. To help Splodge understand smacking, a series of questions were put to groups of children, who answered questions in turn.

Splodge's questions:

  • Who knows what a smack is?· Why do you think children get smacked?
  • Who usually smacks children?· Where do children usually get smacked?
  • What does it feel like to be smacked?· How do children act after being smacked?
  • How do adults act after they have given a smack?
  • Adults smack children but why don't children smack adults?
  • children smack each other but why don't adults smack each other?
  • When you are big do you think you will smack children?
  • Do you know anybody who doesn't like smacking?· Who thinks it is wrong to smack?
  • How can we stop children being smacked?

The initial story book was piloted among under eight year-olds and some amendments made to both the illustrations and the text. Although we describe our interaction with children as 'discussions' in reality they were more like question and answer sessions. Children did discuss questions among themselves but our role was restricted to questioning and clarifying points where there was possible ambiguity.

What we heard

This consultation exercise produced ten major messages:
Children defined smacking as hitting; most of them described a smack as a hard or very hard hit.
Children said smacking hurts.
The children we listened to said children are the main people who dislike smacking followed by parents, friends and grandparents.
The vast majority of the children who took part thought smacking was wrong.
The children said children respond negatively to being smacked, and adults regret smacking.
The children said parents and other grown ups are the people that mostly smack children.
The children said they usually get smacked indoors and on the bottom, arm or head.
The children said the main reasons children are smacked include: they have been violent themselves; they have been naughty or mischievous; they have broken or spoiled things; or because they have disobeyed or failed to listen to their parents.
The children we listened to said children do not smack adults because they are scared they will be hit again; adults do not smack each other because they are big and know better and because they love and care about each other.
Half the children involved in this consultation exercise said they will not smack children when they are adults; five year-olds most often said they will not smack children when they are big.

What children said

- a representative selection of direct quotes :

Who knows what a smack is?

'It's like very hard hitting and it hurts you' (6 year old girl)
'something what hurts people' 'grown ups hit you with their hand - it's something hard' (7 year old girl)
'it really hurts' (5 year old girl)
'A smack is when people hit you and it stings and I cry' (5 year-old girl)
'it's when someone is cross with you they hit you and it hurts' (7 year old girl)
'[a smack is] parents trying to hit you, [but] instead of calling [it] a hit they call it a smack' (7 year-old girl)

Why do you think children get smacked?

'When people have been naughty and they 're fighting they get smacked by [their] mum or dad' (6 year-old boy)'
'[Children get smacked] when you fight with other people, when you throw stones and things' (7 year old boy)
'maybe [you] do painting on the carpet [or] drawing on the settee [or] not tidying your room up – if you play with paint and get it on something. And if you knock your mum's favourite glass over and it smashes' (5 year-old girl)
'well, if it was time to tidy up your room and you only had an hour and you wasted all the hour reading books, you could get smacked' (6 year-old boy)
'because their parents tell them not to do something and they do it' (7 year old girl)

Who usually smacks children?

'well, I think mostly family and sometimes friends who get quite cross with you like [your] mum and dad, grandma and granddad and friends that live quite near here, in the same street' (6 year-old girl)
'their parents or your mummy or your daddy or your granddad or your auntie or your grandma or people in your house - a big person has to hit a little person because they 're naughty' (5 year-old girl)
'sometimes your uncles and aunties are there and your mum and dads are there they can smack you really hard or they can smack you with a cane' (5 year-old girl)
'usually their parents and relations and occasionally you might get a teacher' (7 year-old girl)
'your parents usually smack you and if your auntie is annoyed with you she might smack - or [it can be] any of your family' (6 year-old boy)
'thieves, kidnappers, mums and dads [and] nasty men' (5 year-old boy)

Where do children usually get smacked?

'[children get smacked] in a corner because the parents wouldn't want to do it so everyone could see cos then [the children] might call someone else and they might come and take the children so they'll go in a corner and smack' (6 year-old boy)
'at home or normally where nobody else is' (7 year-old boy)
'if there were thousands of people looking, then [the] mum as well as the child will get very embarrassed probably it would be a bit rude to do it in front of everybody (7 year-old boy)
'when you go shopping and take something and you go and ask your parents and your parents will hit you and embarrass you' (5 year old girl)
'on my bum, on my face, on my head and on my arm and on the belly and on the legs' (5 year-old girl)
'I think children usually get smacked on the side of their face or on their tummy. Sometimes it depends how they were. If they were really naughty, it would be on their bottom but sometimes it's usually on their hands' (7 year-old)
'[they] hit you on the head where they're not supposed to hit you' (7 year-old boy)

What does it feel like to be smacked?

"it feels like someone banged you with a hammer' (5 year old girl)
'it hurts and it's painful inside - it's like breaking your bones' (7 year old girl)
'it's like when you 're in the sky and you 're falling to the ground and you just hurt yourself' (7 year old boy)
[It feels] like someone's punched you or kicked you or something' (6 year old boy)
'[Children feel] grumpy and sad and also really upset inside' (5 year old girl)
'[It] hurts your feelings inside' (7 year old girl)
'You feel you don't like your parents anymore' (7 year old girl)
'it feels, you feel sort of as though you want to run away because they 're sort of like being mean to you and it hurts a lot' (7 year old girl)
'when you get smacked sometimes we get angry because sometimes when my mum smacks me you get angry' (6 year old boy)
'it feels like [they] shouldn't have done that, it hurts. It feels embarrassed, it feels like you are really sorry and it hurts' (7 year old girl)
'I think it probably makes you feel ashamed inside' (7 year old girl)
'it hurts people and it doesn't feel nice and people don't like it when they are smacked' (5 year old)
'[It makes you] grumpy and sad and also really upset inside. And really hurt (5 year-old girl)
'Sometimes may feel that inside like their tummy hurts' (5 year-old boy)
'You're hurt and it makes you cry [and] drips come out of your eyes' (5 year-old girl)

How do children act after they have been smacked?

'Cry, and sometimes if they haven 't got a handle on their door in their bedrooms - like I haven't - they lock themselves inside' (5 year-old boy)
'They cry, also they weep [and] they might think their parents are silly' (5 year-old girl)
'Sometimes they get sent to bed. They start crying. And sometimes I get sent to bed and I get no tea later' (6 year-old boy)
'They might cry, they might get upset and they might have to go to bed' (6 year-old girl)
'they act naughty and start to hurt people... they're very angry and the adult thinks they can do as he wants (5 year-old girl)
'Some of them if they're really naughty they do the same mistake again and if they're good they learn from their mistake' (6 year-old boy)
'Try and do their hardest to try and get it right or don't do it again' (7 year-old girl)
'Sometimes they just keep quiet, because they feel really embarrassed and sometimes they just try to be good and try to do the best thing... it actually depends what you have been smacked for' (7 year-old girl)
'They get angry and grumpy and cross with their mummies' (5 year-old girl)
'I've thought of another answer – if they're very little, they might think it's right to smack and go off and smack somebody else' (7 year-old girl)

How do adults act after they have given a smack?

'they sort of walk around very fast' (5 year-old)
'get a grumpy face, like that [shows teeth]' (4 year-old boy)
'I think they feel a bit sort of sorry but they don 't want to say, but they do' (7 year-old girl)
'they wished they hadn't done it but they know it's because they just had to do it and they probably feel ashamed at their child' (7 year-old girl)
'they don't feel like they wanted to smack in the first place' (5 year-old girl)
'if they're outside the door talking to someone then they could just come in and smack you and then go out again' (6 year-old boy)
'well they usually are still quite cross and if you need them afterwards they don't really reply. They just keep on doing what they do' (6 year-old girl)

Why don't children smack adults?

'because if they smack adults the adults smack them back and it hurts' (6 year-old girl)
'adults are bigger and the adults can smack harder than children' (7 year-old girl)
'That's simple! Because it's very rude to smack your parents because they're bigger and older and they might hurt you back and they might be silly when they're drunk and they might hit you' (7 year-old boy)
'adults are bigger and stronger and people treat them more seriously' (7 year-old girl)

Why don't adults smack each other?

'Grown ups grow out of the habit and if they still have the habit they don't smack each other, instead they smack children' (7 year-old girl)
'because they must respect each other cos if they smacked each other they won 't like each other' (5 year-old girl)
'because they go to bed with each other and they need each other and they sleep together. They give a cuddle and they give a kiss and they shout at each other' (5 year-old boy)
'My mum and dad have smacked each other because daddy was doing hard things to mum. And I kicked him, and I smacked him and kicked him' (5 year-old boy)

When you are big do you think you will smack children?

'I would smack children when I'm at the age of 20 or an adult because if I'm a parent you have to smack children' (6 year-old boy)
'No, because I think smacking is not very nice and I when I grow up I hope my children will be nice. And I'm not gonna smack them because I don't want to smack my children because say when they grow up and they can still remember that day when they got smacked... and then they'll start a fight... and they'll smack little children' (7 year-old boy)
'...I wouldn't smack any of my children anyway because they will just start smacking other people and if I smack someone then they are going to start smacking other people, because they think grown ups do it and if the law didn't allow smacking I would just send them out to their room and let them have a think about it' (7 year-old girl)

Do you know anybody who doesn't like smacking?

'me, because it hurts very very much and you could just say to the children "go in your bedroom for a few hours and watch the tele and later I'll have your tea ready''' (7 year-old girl)
'my friend – she's six - cos when she bes naughty she always gets smacked and she doesn't like it. And I don't like getting smacked either because it hurts so much' (7 year-old girl)
'my mum doesn't like smacking cos if she does she'll just have to do it again and again and her hand will get sore and she won 't like it she won 't be able to cook with it and do stuff' (5 year-old girl)

Who thinks it's wrong to smack?

'I think it's right and wrong because if dogs are naughty you have to smack them' (7 year-old boy)
'I think it's good and bad because when you've been naughty it teaches you not to do it again' (7 year-old girl)
'[Me] because they go in a sad face' (4 year-old boy)
'It's painful and it sets a wrong example for other people' (7 year-old girl)
'it hurts and you could break a bone or something. If you did it hard enough, you could damage something' (7 year-old girl)
'Me, because probably you did it by accident and it looked like you did it on purpose and they smacked you and it was wrong to smack' (7 year-old girl)

How can we stop children being smacked?

by being good for all your life' (7 year-old girl)
'if they [children] be good all week and all month... they won't get smacked' (5 year-old girl)
'[adults could] try not to smack them' (7 year-old girl)
'if it is against the law and if people who are in special organisations have the right to put posters up in places saying... "please can you stop smacking children''' (7 year-old girl)
'I was just thinking that if they changed the law then a lot of people will realise what they had done to their child and they would probably be happy that the law was changed. If they don't change the law they will think "oh well, the child doesn't mind so we can keep on doing it". But if they realise that children have been talking to adults about it then I think they will definitely realise that it hurts their child and they will be very upset with themselves' (7 year-old girl)
'Well you can say "well, how would you feel if somebody bigger came up to you and smacked you?" And say things like that and [say], "it doesn't help at all because you're just going to make it worse"' (7 year-old girl)
'if there were only six - but I don 't think there is – then I don 't think he [Tony Blair] would change the law. If there is a lot of people like, I don't know, 70 or something then I think he would definitely change the law' (7 year-old girl)

This unique report offers adults and the UK Government a window through which they can clearly see the distress, pain and hurt caused to children by the continued social and legal acceptance of smacking. The National Children's Bureau and Save the Children would like to see steps taken to ensure that our youngest citizens have the same legal rights to protection from any form of assault as older people. This will not only - over time - greatly reduce children's suffering, it will also substantially improve relationships between parents and children.
To order a copy of the full report, contactNational Children's Bureau,8 Wakley Street,LondonEC1V 7QE.Telephone +44 (0)20 7843 6000.

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