Dr Miriam Stoppard says parents who do smack should "never have had children in the first place". The key, she says, to good behaviour is knowing how to "achieve co-operation" and that involves a lot of talking. A clip round the ear administered by a parent on a child when the child is rude is the "worst thing possible". She said: "That is akin to a parent saying 'I don't care what you think and I don't give a stuff what is bothering you at the moment'." Since parents were 50 per cent responsible for older children's bad behaviour, they should "sit down and talk to them and ask them what they are feeling when they talk to you [rudely]."
Children aged between four and six needed to be shown how not to do things, such as slamming a door or slapping a puppy because they did not respond to being told. "They don't have the brain power to know how not to do it," she said. If a child runs into the road, "the best thing you can do is cuddle or kiss them a lot and say 'I don't like it when you do things that worry me or make me angry or unhappy.' Children respond very readily to that."
Dr Dorothy Einon, lecturer in psychology at University College, London, and author of The Golden Rules of Parenting, takes a slightly different view. She says a "ceremonial smack" such as a tap on the hand could be appropriate if a child runs into a busy street. "You should get down to the child's level so you are eye to eye and say 'No' very firmly and just tap their hand, although not so much that it hurts," she said. "Then you should say 'I would be very sad if that car ran you over and you were not here any more' so the child knows he or she is special. But running into the road is a special case. The trouble with smacking is that it arouses children and they can become too aroused to know how to stop." If a child is screaming for chocolate in a supermarket, "you should withdraw all attention, adopt a poker face and pick them up and hold them while looking the other way. You don't do anything until they stop crying and then you say "It's such a pity when you cry." Older children should be sent to their room, as long as it did not contain a television or computer they enjoyed, or have their computer or Playstation withdrawn for a "realistic time".
Noël Janis-Norton, a learning and behavioural specialist and director of the New Learning Centre in Hampstead, said children who understood rules were much less likely to test their parents by misbehaving. "Rather than give a child a lecture, you should have a talk-through," she said. This required a parent asking questions of a child ahead of an event such as supermarket shopping. "A parent could ask 'When we are inside, where do you have to be?' and then wait for the child to say 'I have to hold your hand'. Five minutes of preparing for success with a talk-through can prevent many problems from erupting. "Before a child goes ballistic, parents should notice what they are doing right. If they are not grabbing things off the shelf, you should mention what a child is doing right. "With older children, rather than say, 'If you do this, you can have that' you should say 'When you put the dishes in the dishwasher, you can have your TV time."
Cassandra Jardine, author of How to be a Better Parent and the mother of five children aged five to 14, said star charts were a useful way of motivating children and making them aware about how they behaved. Holding a child also contained its anger. "The thing to remember is that a slap or bellow is ineffective in the long term because it doesn't motivate children to want to please. Most children do not get smacked regularly. Parental criticism, nagging, irritation and fault-finding can be much more injurious to a child's self esteem and the parent-child bond because 'verbal smacking' does happen frequently, often daily, in many families."