There’s a great national debate taking place in Ireland at the moment around the area of child abuse. Sorry, I mean slapping. Actually, scratch that, I do mean child abuse. Hitting is abuse, it’s physical abuse no matter how light, how hard, or who administers it.
As the teacher and child psychologist Haim G. Ginott put it:
‘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.’
I understand, and have sympathy for, people who have nothing else in their toolboxes to deal with children. Rather than use tools that don’t work, however, they need to go and find tools that do. In order to find such tools, they need to go looking for them; and they won’t go looking for them unless they feel they need to. There is no argument for hitting children. I’ve heard people try to explain it over the past few days saying things like ‘you can’t reason with a toddler’ and the truly wonderfully rationale ‘it never did me any harm’. With regard to the former, I think people who say that mean ‘you can’t bend a toddler’s will as easily as you might like’. It is possible to reason with toddlers, you just have to be willing to try. You just have to be willing to meet them where they are. You just have to be willing to see things from their point of view.
As for people who claim that being hit did them no harm and, therefore, they are quite right to hit their own children, I really do beg to differ. If you were hit as a child and you hit your own child/ren, then all you are doing is perpetuating the cycle of abuse, which you can read more about here.
So much of our acceptance of child-hitting stems from our attitude to children as ‘belonging’ to us in a proprietary sense. We view them as our property and forget that it is a privilege – not a right – to be a parent. We also have a duty to do our best. I’ve heard a lot this week about how ‘all parents want what’s best for their children’, I simply don’t believe that. I have encountered too many children and adults whose parents clearly had no desire to do what was best for their children, but rather a desire to do what was was easiest for them (the parents).
It takes bravery to break a cycle; having broken the cycle of abuse in my own family, I know how hard it can be. I have heard people on vox pops on radio talking about how ‘everyone’ hits their children, and that it’s perfectly okay. But do you remember when ‘everyone’ used to drive without wearing a seat-belt? And how ‘everyone’ used to drive after a few drinks? And how ‘everyone’ used to drive and use their mobile phone at the same time? We’ve changed those attitudes, those habits and the laws around those issues, so there’s no reason we can’t do the same with this issue.
It takes a change in public perception and attitudes before a change in the law will be accepted by society. Last week’s marriage referendum in Ireland is indicative of this; the referendum would never have passed, opening the way for the laws to be changed, if Irish society had not changed thinking and attitude towards its non-heterosexual members. It took a lot of campaigning, a lot of discussion, a lot of heartachingly honest conversations in public and in private to bring about this change.
I am hopeful that the current examination of our attitude towards hitting children is the next step in our journey towards respecting the rights of children – which is not something we have a habit of doing in this country.