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‘A society which views smacking as acceptable is one in which children are far more at risk of being exposed to abuse’

When it comes to parenting, no other issue seems to invite as much debate. Even the Prime Minister has an opinion. And many appear to agree with him.

“What’s wrong with a good smack every now and again?’’ I often get asked. Usually, the answer is provided for me: “It didn’t hurt me as a kid.’’

Because Triple P doesn’t try to tell parents what not to do, I’ve often avoided a confrontational approach when it comes to stating the case against smacking.

Rather than say that what they were doing was wrong, I would suggest to parents that the problem with smacking is that it simply doesn’t work and that there are plenty of other strategies that do.

But now I’ve changed my mind, simply because the evidence shows that a society which views smacking as acceptable is one in which children are far more at risk of being exposed to abuse.

At an individual level, Triple P helps change parent behaviours which are known risk factors for child maltreatment.

Such behaviours include the ability to control emotions, reactions and impulses, inappropriate expectations of childhood behaviour, lack of empathy, poor parenting skills, lack of knowledge of parenting techniques and the use of harsh discipline.

At a family level, Triple P also acts to reduce risk factors by reducing family conflict, stress and isolation.

But the role for Triple P with individuals and the family is only part of the picture.

Research also shows that a major risk factor for child maltreatment at a community level is social tolerance or acceptance of the use of physical force and discipline with children.

Research also shows that a major risk factor for child maltreatment at a community level is social tolerance or acceptance of the use of physical force and discipline with children.

If we want to wipe out child abuse, we need to work on everything we can modify.

And social acceptance of smacking is one of them.

Every time you smack a child you’re teaching them it’s ok to use aggression to get your way.

Is that what we, as a society, would want?

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Disclosure statement

The Triple P – Positive Parenting Program is owned by the University of Queensland. The University through its main technology transfer company, UniQuest Pty Ltd, has licensed Triple P International Pty Ltd to publish and disseminate the program worldwide. Royalties stemming from published Triple P resources are distributed to the Parenting and Family Support Centre; School of Psychology; Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences; and contributory authors. No author has any share or ownership in Triple P International Pty Ltd. Matthew Sanders is the founder and an author on various Triple P programs and a consultant to Triple P International.