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Can I Smack my Child?

View profile for Adarsh Patel
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For years, many calls have been made for the English Government to reform the law regarding smacking and hitting children. In England and Northen Ireland, any use of physical chastisement is illegal unless it amounts to a reasonable punishment. However, in Scotland and Wales, it is completely illegal to do so.

Unfortunately, English Law is not clear and precise when proving an answer as to whether a parent can smack or hit their child. Under section 58 Children Act 2004, it is unlawful for a parent or carer to smack or hit their child, unless it can be regarded as a reasonable punishment. Unlike Scotland and Wales, the law in England and Northern Ireland provides more questions than answers.

What is a Reasonable Punishment?

There is no exact answer as to what would be regarded as a reasonable punishment. It is not defined by English legislation and whether a smack or a hit is reasonable would depend on several factors, such as:

  • Age of the child.
  • Force used when smacking/hitting the child.
  • Where the child was struck on their body.
  • The behaviour presented by the child which required punishing.

However, what is evidenced from case law and further legislation is that any physical chastisement which amounts to actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm, wounding, or child cruelty, will be regarding as unreasonable. The low threshold of actual bodily harm means that a smack or a hit which results in bruising and swelling will be classed as an assault and a criminal offence. A parent or carer can be face prosecution if their physical chastisement amounts to any of these offences. Further even if a criminal prosecution does not take place there could be child protection concerns raised and procedures followed as a result of a child being smacked or hit.

Other Parenting Techniques

Smacking or hitting a child may be common for parents as this was the way they were parented as a child. It is advisable for parents to not smack or hit their child, given the lack of clarity in English law and that it can cause a child significant emotional and physical harm. Other methods or techniques which can be used instead are:

  • Praise good behaviour so that it will increase.
  • Criticise negative behaviours, not your child.
  • Allow children some control in their choices and decisions.
  • Take the time to explain why your child’s behaviour is bad.
  • Show lots of emotional warmth.

How can we help?

If you have hit or have been accused of hitting your children, it is likely that you will have level of involvement with the Local Authority and their Children Social Services Team. We understand that this can be very stressful and that is why we are here to help and provide advice. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement. Please contact Johnson Astills at either our Leicester office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough office on 01509 610 312 and ask or a member of the Care Team. Alternatively you contact us through our free online enquiry form or email us at and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.