November 2005

A Working Definition of Smacking

In August 2005 a private school in Auckland caused a media stir by giving parents a pamphlet "A Working Definition of Spanking".  The pamphlet was published by Family Integrity, a Christian organisation, with a strong belief that physical punishment is an essential part of child discipline.  The pamphlet can be viewed on

The pamphlet justifies spanking and attempts to define the difference between loving smacking and violence in terms of the aims of smacking (to suppress rebellion), objectives (respect for legitimate authority), methodology (calmly and safely applied) and outcomes (restoring relationships that have been disrupted by rebellion).

The text implies that spanking is an essential part of discipline and no reference is made to alternatives although the pamphlet does mention that verbal instruction, affirmation and loving, long term parental commitment must accompany spanking.  It fails to recognise that a child may be confused by the juxtaposition of love and affirmation with infliction of pain.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the pamphlet is lack of safety advice.  Parents are instructed to hit in a calm and reasoned manner, with a hand or implement on clothed buttocks or limbs.  But the pamphlet does NOT say:

  • never hit a baby - babies are easily injured and will not understand why the person who provides their security is hurting them
  • never hit if you feel you will lose control
  • never hit around the head or neck.

In EPOCH's view there is absolutely no evidence that spanking and hitting are an essential part of guiding a child to behave well and there is considerable evidence of poor outcomes associated with the use of physical punishment.