Duncan Garner: There's never an excuse for smacking, let alone hurting a child

Duncan Garner says his father smacked him (hard) but he has broken the cycle now that he is a parent.
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Duncan Garner says his father smacked him (hard) but he has broken the cycle now that he is a parent.

I supported the anti-smacking law in 2007 (when so many others didn't).

I did so because I was a young father at the time with two girls aged 6 and 4. I couldn't imagine smacking them.  They were too small and too precious.  

And what on earth would smacking really teach them? Wouldn't they hate me for it?

I grew up with a father who absolutely loved us, but who disciplined us the only way he knew. It was physical and yes, sometimes, it was brutal.

I remember running on to a neighbourhood street as a young bloke, narrowly being missed by a car, and Dad hauling me in and whacking me around the legs. I sobbed for ages.

My late father knew no other approach. He grew up with a tough father so his generation carried it on. Step out of line and get a smack (or three). 

Sometimes we copped an open hand across the bottom and legs. Other times he'd use a piece of cut-off rubber hose pipe from the washing machine. That one really hurt. It stung. It left red marks.

I readily admit we weren't easy children. My older sister largely kept out of trouble, but my twin sister and I  fought a lot. Dad had a short fuse and would say we deserved it.

Once, when I was bigger, I smacked him back. That was the last time he smacked me. But the problem is it only taught me to fight fire with fire.

So when I became a parent I had to learn new techniques. I have had to learn about reasoning with the kids, talking calmly, finding other punishments. 

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I'll be honest, it's been enormously hard. I've failed as many times as I've succeeded. Kids don't come with an instruction booklet.   You learn every day. 

That's why I say the anti-smacking legislation was necessary – and successful. The sky hasn't fallen in. Marauding gangs of spoiled teenagers haven't seized control.

Where the Labour government failed was in the political marketing. They allowed opponents to call it the anti-smacking bill. The name took hold and eventually Labour was booted out of office (everyone seemed to forget that National's John Key supported it too). 

It was, after all, about keeping children safe from adults looking to use the legal loophole of "reasonable force" to justify assaulting their children. 

Eight years later, fewer and fewer parents are being investigated for smacking their children.  In 2013 there were 176 cases, the year before it was 277. 

The courts haven't been clogged with loving parents in trouble for smacking their children on the bum. 

One of the law change's real successes is that it has required a discussion about non-physical ways to discipline children.

Any parent who hits their child around the head, or who uses an object, deserves to face a police investigation. It is against the law to whack another adult – no parent should be allowed to do it to a child.

Tragically, what the anti-smacking law can never control is our shocking record on child abuse. That's because we have an underbelly of lawless mongrels raising children. They shouldn't be allowed anywhere near them. 

In this country a child is admitted to hospital every second day with injuries arising from either assault, neglect or maltreatment, according to health researchers.

The latest to die is 14-month-old Ihaka Paora Braxton Stokes in Christchurch. The detective in charge said he had never seen such a serious attack on a child. 

Meanwhile on the Kapiti Coast this week police were investigating the death of a six-month-old girl from a severe head injury.

Six children have died already this year from domestic violence.

As a country we have a long way to go. Some communities remain a dark, dangerous place for our children.

We need to get to a place where everyone understands you can never justify inflicting physical pain on a child.

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 - Dominion Post

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