Pope Francis comments on disciplining children

11 February 2015

According to a BBC report, Pope Francis appears to confuse smacking, correction and punishment with discipline and guidance.

The Pope is reported to have said: "One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say 'I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them."

"How beautiful," he added. "He knows the sense of dignity. He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on."
Pope Francis outlined the traits of a good father: “One who forgives but is able to “correct with firmness” while not discouraging the child”.

Firmness does not equate to physical pain or invasion of a small child’s physical integrity and smacking does not correct unwelcome behaviour by showing the child what is wanted. It may “teach” other things such as distrust of a parent, resentment and that it is ok to hit when you are angry.

The Pope does not elaborate on what he means by “not discouraging the child” – he may mean something like not damaging the child’s emotional health.

Read four Guardian writers responses to the Pope’s comments here.

International child advocates will be drawing the Pope’s attention to the wealth of research information that now exists about the risk factors and poor outcomes that are associated with physical punishment and the excellent information that is available about positive non-violent parenting.