National Safeguarding Unit (NSU) - Safe Activities For Everyone

Find out about smacking and physical chastisement on children 

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Information and awareness about smacking and physical chastisement on children.

Parents and others acting ‘in loco parentis’ in the UK are currently allowed to use “reasonable chastisement” (mild forms of physical punishment) when disciplining their children (unless, as in the case of schools, for example, they are forbidden to do so by virtue of other regulations). However, The Crown Prosecution Service Charging Standard, means that hitting a child hard enough to leave visible bruising, grazes, scratches, minor swellings or cuts, now constitutes the criminal offence of actual bodily harm. This carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Nobody else can legally physically chastise a child, even if the parent has given their permission.

Anybody else using physical force to punish or discipline a child may be accused of physical abuse and is committing a criminal offence.

This includes:

  • slapping
  • smacking
  • tapping
  • punching
  • hitting with any object (including shoes, rulers and cooking utensils)
  • twisting ears
  • pinching
  • burning
  • scalding
  • causing pain and discomfort by making children sit or stand in uncomfortable positions for long periods, and many other behaviours.

There are many different views about physical chastisement, but it is widely accepted that hurting children is not the best way to teach them right from wrong – nor are methods that involve humiliating or threatening children, shouting at them, or destroying their confidence. There are other ways to discipline children that are much more effective.

Some alternatives to smacking and physical punishment:

  1. give love and warmth as much as possible
  2. have clear, simple rules and limits
  3. be a good example
  4. praise good behaviour so it will increase
  5. ignore behaviour you don't want repeated
  6. criticise behaviours, not your child
  7. reward good behaviour by hugs and kisses
  8. distract younger children or use humour
  9. allow children some control - choices, joint decisions
  10. if a punishment is necessary, then removal of privileges, 'time out', or natural consequences all work better than smacking.

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