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Smacking / Assault

Is smacking illegal?
Under Section 58 of the Children Act 2004, it is unlawful for a parent or carer to smack their child, except where this amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’, though this is not defined in the legislation. As such, whether a smack amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case, taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the nature of the smack. Physical punishment will be considered ‘unreasonable’ if it leaves a mark on the child or if the child is hit with an implement such as a cane or a belt.

It is illegal for teachers, nursery workers and child care workers to smack another person’s child. If a person is employed privately by a parent, such as a baby sitter or nanny, the parent may give permission for that person to smack their child as long as it is reasonable and does not amount to an offence.

When is smacking a criminal offence?
A parent can be charged with a criminal offence if they harm their child.

It can be tempting to think that a smack sorts out disobedience or bad behaviour in a child, however it does nothing to teach your child how you want him or her to behave.

How to discipline without smacking

  • Have clear and simple rules and limits;
  • Be a good role model;
  • Praise good behaviour so it will increase;
  • Ignore behaviour you don’t want repeated;
  • Criticise behaviours, not your child;
  • Reward good behaviour with hugs and kisses;
  • Distract young children or use humour to put a stop to bad behaviour;
  • Allow children some control and a role in joint decision making;
  • If a punishment is necessary, remove privileges such as the TV or play time, or put the child in ‘time out’ – natural consequences are better.

Whist smacking children is not illegal in this country, the numbers of parents and carers who smack their children is decreasing and lots of those who continue often do so because they are not sure that other methods work.

In society parents are not allowed to physically harm their children regardless of any individual, cultural or religious justification. As a result, child protection professionals will assess incidents of physical ill treatment of children, in order that they can understand, prevent and explain the consequences of further incidents.

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