Speak up? My mother smacked my four-year old daughter

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock Photo: iStock

Question: My mother has smacked my four-year-old daughter several times.

Not hard, just a whack on her bum through her clothes when she backchatted her. Mum used to smack us kids too and I don't think it did us any harm, but my husband isn't happy about it. He wants me to say something or else he said, he will.

My daughter enjoys going there, she's at my mother's house every day and I need the break. My daughter said Mum spanked her, but she didn't seem fazed. I don't want to spoil what's a good thing.

Answer: It's good that your daughter can be with her grandmother, that they both enjoy time together and you are getting some help and breaks.

None of this though is dependent on your mother being able to discipline your daughter as she wants. It doesn't matter if your four-year-old isn't fazed by the occasional smack. And it's not relevant that you got smacked as a child and it didn't do you any harm. The main issue is that smacking children became illegal in New Zealand nearly a dozen years ago. In Australia there are rules around it according to the law.

I agree with your husband that you need to have a talk with your mother. Perhaps there are a few things that could be discussed and one particular concern might be the amount of time your mother spends minding your four-year-old. Is your mother coping with this?

Does this child need interaction with other children, perhaps kindergarten some days? A bored child is going to get into mischief and perhaps this child of yours is bored. And does your mother feel able to say no, occasionally? Grandparents need to be treasured – not used – and it might not be just you who needs the break.

If the arrangement really is satisfactory, then you'll need to discuss ways your mother can manage Miss Four when she misbehaves. Perhaps talk about methods you use, time out, removing a toy etc. You could explain that studies show smacking children undermines their feelings of safety and security. We're all better off living in an environment where physical punishment isn't tolerated. 

The New Zealand  anti-smacking bill (passed in 2007) divided the country at the time. Many felt it would criminalise good parents.

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However, it has settled into itself and moderation and common-sense reign. Agencies and the police are not hunting down grandmothers who give four-year old's a smack on the bum but, having said that, any reported smack is still dealt with and investigated.

No-one wants to go through such a trauma, so you do need to have a chat and help her find other ways to control your child. 

* Mary-anne Scott has raised four boys and written three novels for young adults, all of which have been shortlisted for the NZ Book Awards for children and young adults. As one of seven sisters, there aren't many parenting problems she hasn't talked over.

* Please note that Mary-anne is not a trained counsellor. Her advice is not intended to replace that of professional counsellor or psychologist.

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