Rodney Hide: Why I smacked my 3-year-old

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Sometimes, kids just have to do what Mum and Dad say, no cajoling, no explaining, just do it. Photo / Thinkstock
Sometimes, kids just have to do what Mum and Dad say, no cajoling, no explaining, just do it. Photo / Thinkstock

Quick. Call the cops! I smacked my 3-year-old.

It wasn't Once Were Warriors. Far from it.

It was considered. It was discussed. It was a very light tap to the bottom.

I hadn't wanted to smack her. It doesn't seem right to me. And I don't want her growing up scared of Dad.

Our not-smacking has worked, mostly. I love it that my little girl doesn't conform, that she's carefree and wild. I don't want her regimented.

But, just lately, she has started to be defiant. And to revel in it. I have played along. She doesn't want her shoes on. Fine. We go to the park barefoot. Some days we sit on the side of the road watching the birds and everyone else rush to work not worried that we are late for preschool.

Often, too, she has her own reasoning. She refused to go to her room for her afternoon nap. I ended up tucking her up with a rug and a pillow under the coffee table near the door. It's where she had taken to hiding out.

She explained later she was waiting to see if the Easter Bunny would return. But the more we played along, the more defiant she became.

We were in danger of her taking over the household.

There's a point, too, I believe, when contemporary punishments become cruel and unusual. My little girl is tough and stubborn. She has learned to outlast me in the Naughty Corner.

The decisive point came on an aeroplane flight. She didn't want her seatbelt on. I found myself trying to explain civil aviation regulations and Newton's Second Law to a 3-year-old. I thought "this is nuts". Sometimes, kids just have to do what Mum and Dad say, no cajoling, no explaining, just do it. Why? Cos we say so, that's why.

That night, when the defiance kicked in, I explained what was to happen. I warned her twice. It didn't physically hurt but the tears were huge and heart-wrenching. I hated it.

But when the tears were over, and the naughtiness acknowledged, with hugs and kisses, what a different girl.

She's now happier than ever, easier to manage and play with, and she has learned in a 3-year-old way that there are boundaries and there are consequences.

It would be derelict not to teach her that, one way or another.

And, thankfully, it's still Dad she calls for deep in the night when Mr Bogeyman comes knocking,

I never gave the law a thought. Perhaps I should have. Amending Section 59 of the Crimes Act proved hugely controversial and I could hardly plead ignorance. But I spent too many years in Parliament to look to politics for parental guidance.

Besides, Section 59 is contradictory and confusing. It says that I am justified in using "reasonable" force to prevent "the child from engaging ... in offensive or disruptive behaviour". That's me, I'm sure.

But then, "Nothing ... justifies the use of force for the purpose of correction". So that wasn't me.

And, "To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints ... where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution".

Brilliant. Smacking is banned. With loopholes to enable smacking. It's the perfect political solution: everyone is accommodated.

And outside the smacking brouhaha, we parents must just get on with it. We are not perfect. But we do our best. And we love our kids to bits. That's what counts. Not what Sue Bradford, Helen Clark and John Key have to say.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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