‘We shout at and smack our children: how can we stop?’

07. February 2018 Love and Sex 0

Take a deep breath, step away and avoid bust-ups with your kids, says Mariella Frostrup. Failing that, seek professional help

The dilemma I have two lovely little girls aged six and three and a wonderful husband who helps a lot with childcare. I work full time and my husband works four days a week, so we’re busy, but I do have some paid help. I worry that we both have very short fuses, and our girls are exposed to a level of anger that isn’t appropriate. I want them to grow up in a calm and loving household, but we both blow up. I calm down immediately, but am full of remorse for shouting at or smacking our older girl. The younger one isn’t often naughty. My husband uses phrases like “shut up” or “go away”, which I would never say to a child. I’ve spoken to him about it and he does try, but our elder child can be very provocative. We both grew up in homes with strict parents, where we were smacked. We now struggle with the fact that our eldest is deliberately naughty and defiant. She is terribly jealous whenever the younger one gets any attention. How can we keep the atmosphere calm? We were never angry like this before we had children.

Mariella replies Brace yourself for the backlash. There’s one parenting topic guaranteed to draw gasps of disapproval, and paroxysms of judgmental rage – particularly from those Michael Gove would deem “the liberal elite” – and that’s smacking. It has also, in my lifetime, become an uncomfortable demarcation line between the haves and the have-nots in terms of what’s deemed acceptable. Patronising pity tempers our outrage when (in a stereotypical scenario) a working-class mother lashes out as she trails her four children round Tesco’s. But when an educated professional, with exposure to contemporary new thinking, commits a similar act of violence, judgment levels crescendo.

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