The one thing I'm really ashamed of is smacking my little boys, writes JENNI MURRAY

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Jenni Murray (pictured) says she applauds Wales for making smacking children illegal

Jenni Murray (pictured) says she applauds Wales for making smacking children illegal

From half a lifetime of bitter experience, I know that smacking a child is wrong. I suspect too few in England — where assaulting a child can be defended as ‘reasonable punishment’ — would consider a quick slap on the thigh domestic violence, but it is.

We do not believe slapping a woman is ‘reasonable punishment’. It’s illegal, as it should be for children. So I applaud Wales, which this week joined Scotland and 60 other countries around the world in making smacking children illegal.

Spare the rod and spoil the child was at the top of the list of my mother’s methods when it came to childcare. Discipline was her greatest concern. Untidy bedroom — bare bottom smacked. Swearing in the street — a real walloping with the back of her hand.

Failure to do my share of washing or drying the pots — a slap on the legs and an hour sitting on the stairs or in her bedroom with no books or toys, just time to think about my misdemeanours.

I once spent the time pulling faces and sticking out my tongue, muttering about how much I hated her. She stormed into the room in a fury, slapping me painfully across my cheek and telling me I must never pull such a face again.

How did she know, I asked? She hadn’t seen me. ‘Mummies,’ she intoned, ‘know exactly what their children are doing, all the time.’ I was only five and it was years before I realised, she’d seen me reflected in her dressing table mirror.

My mother was scary, but I don’t think her violence made me any better behaved. The spare the rod philosophy persisted in infant and junior school. In my convent school at the age of six, a girl had been giggling and swearing in the boys’ toilets. The boys’ mouths were washed out with soap and water, literally.

We girls were asked to reveal which girl had been misbehaving. No one would rat on Barbara Mary Green, so we were all lined up with our hands out and beaten hard with the buckle of Sister’s belt.

When I moved up to a Church of England junior school it was a ruler that was used as a punishment weapon.

It’s hardly surprising then that when I became a mother, I too adopted the lines from Proverbs 13:24, ‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.’

I was never as brutal as my mother, but there was many an occasion when I lost it and a smack was the inevitable result.

The most shameful and embarrassing incident took place during a weekly shop at Tesco. Ed was six; Charlie two. I’d had a long week and was exhausted by their constant bickering.

I’d struggled to get them into the car and Charlie in the trolley. I’d specified no sweets and no crisps, just wanted to hurry round and go home, feed them, bed them and sleep.

Ed dawdled, Charlie pestered, I got more and more frustrated.

Finally, at the checkout, I found bags of sweets and crisps in the trolley. They’d been working together to defy my orders and thought I wouldn’t argue in front of the cashier and the queue. I snapped.

I slapped the pair of them on the back of their legs and shouted a lecture on the evils of disobedience and stealing. They sobbed, saying sorry over and over. I felt like the worst mother in the world.

And it wasn’t just the once. Two small boys would inevitably think fighting each other and making a lot of noise was great fun. I disagreed. A smack for both of them would ensue.

Why did I think that hitting them would make them understand that hitting each other was wrong?

Why did I spank them, when they ran off to play with friends, then came home late, leaving me insane with worry? I loved them. I was relieved they had returned safely.

Why did I think that physical violence would make them feel loved and welcome?

In England, assaulting a child can be defended as ‘reasonable punishment’, writes Jenni. Pictured right, a stock image of a mother disciplining her son

In England, assaulting a child can be defended as ‘reasonable punishment’, writes Jenni. Pictured right, a stock image of a mother disciplining her son

There is nothing I’ve done in my long life that has made me as ashamed as hitting the little boys I adored. That I could believe physical punishment was an acceptable form of discipline.

After each incident I was racked with guilt. I always apologised for losing my temper. I comforted myself with the knowledge I was not breaking the law. I never bruised them or injured them in any way, but I know I was wrong.

England and Northern Ireland are the only parts of the UK where the physical punishment of children is still allowed. Scotland banned it 18 months ago. Wales changed its law on Monday, recognising that kids need the same protection from assault as adults do.

Children are the most vulnerable members of society and surely deserve as much, if not more, protection from violence as grown-ups. Permitting such assault violates our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Reform in England is long overdue. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has been campaigning for a ban since 2009.

A recent YouGov poll found that more than two-thirds of adults in England and Northern Ireland believe it is a mistake to physically punish a child, yet only 28 per cent of 18-24 year olds say they were never physically punished.

There was also clear evidence from research carried out last year by University College London that such punishment is ineffective and often harmful.

Still, though, we see it often. I was in the supermarket recently when a two-year-old girl had a mammoth temper tantrum and her mother beat her bottom mercilessly. It certainly didn’t improve the child’s behaviour.

She screamed, obviously in pain. I felt I should go over and say something. Perhaps explain I knew how the mother felt, but say how awful and pointless I thought her behaviour. I didn’t. I just walked on by. Maybe if I’d been in Wales or Scotland, I’d have reported her.

I think it’s difficult for anyone who’s never had to deal with a child for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to know how hard it can be for a mother to keep her temper and not lash out.

It’s exhausting and frustrating, but it’s up to us as parents to learn violence is unacceptable and the Government to make it illegal.

Winning more contracts than matches 

Emma Raducanu (pictured) has won far more lucrative modelling contracts than tennis tournaments since she stormed through the US Open

Emma Raducanu (pictured) has won far more lucrative modelling contracts than tennis tournaments since she stormed through the US Open

Emma Raducanu has won far more lucrative modelling contracts than tennis tournaments since she stormed through the US Open. 

She’s flogging Dior, Tiffany, Evian, British Airways, Sports Direct and now . . . Porsche.

Hang on. How many 19-year-old new drivers would be safe behind the wheel of a Porsche? 

What a triumph for Rachael Blackmore — the first female rider to win the Grand National and now the first woman to lift the Cheltenham Gold Cup. What a jockey and, oh dear, why on earth didn’t I back her?

What a triumph for Rachael Blackmore (pictured) — the first female rider to win the Grand National and now the first woman to lift the Cheltenham Gold Cup

What a triumph for Rachael Blackmore (pictured) — the first female rider to win the Grand National and now the first woman to lift the Cheltenham Gold Cup

How wonderful to see Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her husband Richard holding hands and smiling earlier this week. And what a relief for her to be back in a country, at a press conference, where she’s free to contradict her husband — and criticise her government for its failed attempts, over six long years, to secure her release from Iran. Five Foreign Secretaries indeed! 

How wonderful to see Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured) and her husband Richard holding hands and smiling earlier this week, writes Jenni

How wonderful to see Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (pictured) and her husband Richard holding hands and smiling earlier this week, writes Jenni

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