I remember the first time I smacked a child. I was kneeling down, drying him off after his bath, just chatting away, and then - whack - he hit me with a headbutt that Nate Myles would have been proud of. Before I even had time to think - whack - he copped a smart smack on his fleshy little thigh. It was a reflex action, the whole thing over in a couple of seconds. We stared each other down for a few seconds and got on with playing Lego.
But that was 20 something years ago, I was baby-sitting a colleague's son, Ted, who must have been about three at the time. A lovely kid, he laughed a lot, was cuddly, a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed angel. That's why the headbutt surprised me so much. But my reaction surprised me too.
I didn't grow up in a household that smacked. I can only remember one time my mother smacked me and I can't even remember what it was for. I can't remember my father smacking me at all. When I had children I didn't really give smacking much thought. It's not something that I said I would or wouldn't do. But I did it. I have smacked my children.
And now the Royal Australasian College of Physicians wants to make it a criminal offence.
A smack can be a useful tool in certain situations. Especially with young children who don't have the language skills to understand a stern talking to. A smack should never come without words though, whether it be a quick firm no, or an explanation of why the smack was given.
And that's the key here. A smack should never be given with malice or forethought. A smack should never be given without that follow-up explanation. That's when you start crossing the line into a beating. And no child should be beaten. That's the criminal offence.
Smacking is something we discussed in our circle of mothers. We all did it on occasion. It wasn't something we were proud of, or bragged about, but we all agreed that sometimes it was all that worked. With tantrum throwing toddlers, with rambunctious boys who just needed to be jolted back into silence, in those reflex situations. We spoke about it because perhaps we were looking for alternatives.
Children reach a natural age where smacking has no purpose. When their verbal skills are developed enough to understand the discipline being handed out. Words can have more impact than any physical act. Sometimes words can hurt even more.
Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is the setting of boundaries. We should all discipline our children.
So while I have smacked I have never felt really good about it. There is nothing worse than seeing your red handprint on the backside of a child. Perhaps that in itself is a good indication that there are better ways to do it.
But then we could all be better parents on occasion.