HITTING kids just isn't a good way to teach them how to behave.
In 1978, when I first started my speaking business, the idea that disciplinary tactics should not include physical punishment was almost revolutionary. But I felt that it was neither a necessary nor an effective way to discipline children.
But today, increasingly we know and believe that we do not need to physically hurt children in order for them to learn right from wrong. Today's parents have a host of skills and resources to help them raise children without using violence. The idea of hitting kids reflects an attitude toward children that no longer exists. The research is in. It shows that the risks of physical and psychological harm are definite. We now accept that children are not chattels; they are human beings who possess all of the basic human rights including freedom from physical harm.
But, there are still questions that I hear about the topic. So, let's address them. There are many who express the belief that spanking is not hitting.
All I can answer to that is that any time an open hand moves with speed toward a body part, that is a slap or a whack. The fact that the body part is the bottom of a child is irrelevant.
Hitting is hitting no matter what other names we give it, and if we believe that violence is never an answer, we won't hit our children.
What about the criminalization of well-meaning parents who hit a child? Section 43 of the criminal code states that "every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances."
In my view this section is unnecessary to our criminal law because it exists simply to justify the physical punishment of children. For some parents it offers permission to hit kids.
Although banning spanking would mean that hitting children would fall in the same category as hitting adults and would therefore be an offence under the criminal code, it would rarely be prosecuted.
Prosecution is only appropriate where it is in the public interest. Prosecutors have that discretion in deciding whether an offence should be prosecuted. In the case of the spanking of children, guidelines could require parenting education, parent support and guidance or a simple reminder that hitting children isn't permitted in Canada.
Think about a situation in which a couple is in a major argument and one slaps the other. It's not particularly serious and is a result of the heat of the moment. There is likely not going to be a charge of assault placed on the perpetrator.
What about using force to keep a child from harm? Would it be illegal to grab a toddler who is about to run onto the road? How about wrangling a preschooler into a car seat? Or taking the hand of a child to remove them from a classroom when they are disruptive?
Consent to reasonable force can be either express or implied. It is express when, for example, written consent is given for a medical operation. It is implied when the person against whom the force is used would have consented, if competent to do so.
The common law has long recognized that parents and teachers may have to use reasonable force to remove a child from harm, put an unwilling child to bed, in a car seat, or on a school bus.
These are common, child-caring actions for which the law implies consent on the part of the child. They are entirely different from hitting a child for correction and do not constitute an assault.
Over the years, the courts have adjusted the law to reduce the ways in which parents can hit their children. They can no longer use switches, paddles or belts, but only hit with an open hand. You can no longer hit a child on his head. And children under the age of two or over 12 are not to be hit.
Why won't Canada join the more than 30 countries that have in one way or another stated that their children will not be physically harmed in the name of child discipline?
Our children deserve the best we can offer. Positive discipline which never includes causing them physical pain but does teach them right from wrong will prepare them to become capable adults.
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There is more information on physical punishment and the research at repeal43. org and at cheo.on.ca/en/ physicalpunishment.
Kathy Lynn is a professional speaker and author.