To Smack or not to Smack? By Esame Okwoche

To Smack or not to Smack? By Esame Okwoche

I was walking down to the train station the other day, minding my own business, well not really… when I happened upon an incident that piqued my ever roving curiosity/interest. So I did what close friends have warned me not to do, or to do less of – I moped.

I moped at this white mom and her rambunctious four or five year old son from across the road. I paid little attention to the mother at the beginning, my attention belonged to the fluffy haired, red lipped creature, who kept bumping into passersby, threatening to run into the road, and proceeding to roll his chubby golden self on the ground.

I smiled. He reminded me of Simba – relentless, reckless and totally restless.

‘Awwwww! Totally cute!’ I said in my mind. Then suddenly, the mother’s raised hands and open palms thrust itself into my optical space and my smile waned into a frown. She was about to smack the child, but noticing my disapproval, her hands froze in mid-air, the conflated look of anger and surprise plastered across her face told me she was deciding  what to do with her raised hands.


At that moment, my judgment gown was fully on.

How dared she?

How dared she want to smack that little cutie, that munchkin? But therein lies the problem with judgment, judgment has a short memory.  Judgment tends to forget to remove the log in its own eyes, before speculating on the speck in another’s eye.

In judgment, we forget the times our ‘errant hands’ flew in irritation at our kids, looking for where to make contact with. I forgot when years back in a shopping mall my daughter lodged her bottom on the floor of a toy shop and refused to leave until I bought her some toy. I forgot to remember how I pulled her by the ear as I spoke into it, then plucked her from the ground and carried her out of the shopping mall, totally vexed. When we got home, I gave her two smacks with the wooden spoon and she has walked the straight line ever since.

To smack or not to smack is a heavily debated/controversial issue as most topics are today. In talking about an issue as sensitive as this, it is expected that arguments of extreme cases will crop up. Victoria Climbie-like cases of horror and the extreme darkness of the human heart for example; and often the issue of ‘to smack or not to smack’ is framed along this paradigm.


In the UK, the law guiding smacking does not allow parents or carers to smack their child, except where this amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’. What constitutes ‘reasonable punishment’ is often determined by the nature or extent of the smack, or the circumstances leading to the smack or the age of the child etc. It is advised that ‘reasonable punishment should be carried out not in anger, but in a ‘contemplative mood’.

Whether smacking is carried out in anger or calm or sorrow at a child’s unruliness; many of our Nigerian mothers have no qualms about dropping that errant hand on any part of our anatomy. This is actually called hitting not smacking, and it is often accompanied with an exaggerated kissing of the teeth and a synchronized cutting of the eyes. Our mothers remain unapologetic, convinced that this type of punishment, is not only appropriate for their children, but also an expression of love and also of fear. Fear that if they spare the rod, their children will go off the rails, become a spoilt brat, or a drifting no-do-gooder, lacking discipline and ‘home training’.

Some Nigerian or African mothers raising their kids in an extremely patient and tolerant Britain, often start off behaving like the Romans; they read countless books on motherhood, troll the Internet for dizzying mum to mums websites that dish out even more nauseating advice on naughty corners, time outs, naughty sleeps? Really? A child should have an afternoon nap anyway. But they trudge on, trying to treat children like adults. To bad behavior they say things like:

‘Now we will behave ourselves, wouldn’t we?’ as if they are together in the bad behavior, or ‘Now you will eat your food nicely, wouldn’t you’ when the child is clearly not eating nicely, but throwing the food all over the floor and screaming their little heads off.

Surely such children need stronger words, clearer guidance, a smack maybe. They demand you to say NO, STOP. We need to be the parent, not a mate.

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