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Category Archives: parenting

Smack or not to smack? A sting in the tail.


Smacking cruelty or discipline


To smack or not to smack?  The debate rages on. Max Pemberton a journalist and NHS psychiatrist has caused a bit of a stir. He claimed that smacking doesn’t cause deep seated psychological damage to children.

The issue was also aired on GMT on Tuesday 15th August. “Parenting Guru” Sue Atkins  and  Pro Smacker Katie Ivens both argued their cases amidst some input from Jeremy Kyle.

In the wake of these opposing views – I’d like to invite Dr Pemberton and Ms Ivens to shadow me on a working day. A working day where the affects of child violence, often verbally disguised as discipline, are all too poignantly seen. In a few cases with tragic consequences.

In theory, many would agree that the occasional controlled smack carried out by a loving parent does not harm  kids in the long term.

Imagine a situation where your toddler suddenly runs into a busy road.  There’s no time call him back.  Instinct  ensures that you grab him, often roughly, by the nearest part of his body to prevent a tragedy.

This is necessary manhandling, fuelled by adrenaline. Most of us have done this and followed it up with a hug of relief, thankful our child is safe.  When a smack follows rather than a hug of relief, what is it really about?  Is it to teach? Is it an outward expression of parental rage, a venting of feelings of failure for taking the eye off the ball so to speak? Is it perhaps an asserting of adult control over a smaller individual?  Is smacking for the good of the child or to soothe the bruised adult ego?

In spite of this argument, there may be a case for smacking but consider this. If all parents’ had adequate ego control, positive coping strategies and good emotional regulation, perhaps controlled smacking might be acceptable on some occasions.

The hard truth is the abused children we clinicians meet up and down the country have never experienced a controlled smack in an environment of care.

The reality is that many children are physically abused daily under the pretence of smacking and good discipline.

When a parent loses control, and physically chastises a child (which is often how smacking happens), it is often explained as disciplining an out of control child.

The situation is often that the parent has snapped, has in the moment lost parenting skills and has instead  reacted physically to the child’s behaviour.

Smacking would be ok perhaps, if all adults could remain rational, calm and in control of their emotional regulation in times of stress,

The huge number of physical abuse cases are evidence that many parents have neither the emotional resilience or practical skills to manage their children’s difficult behaviour and resort instead to physical punishment.  A smack in the hands of an angry and out of control adult can escalate into extreme violence. This is often under the misguided notion of discipline.

Physical abuse is one of the primary causes of both attachment difficulties in children and more enduring mental health conditions. This is a primary reason why smacking is not acceptable. Smacking is the thin end of the wedge.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard Chartered Consultant Psychologist



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Santa Claus: Myth or Lie?

santa claus, Myth or Lie

Santa Claus is alive and well!  Myth or lie?

I recently reviewed a research report by a psychologist who claims that it may be dangerous for parents to ‘lie’ to their children about the existence of Santa Claus.
The article went further, it adopted the bold standpoint that parents run the risk of taking away a child’s trust in them by lying about the existence of Santa. The argument is, if we lie about Santa and children later learn the truth, how then can we ever be trusted?
Centuries ago, Plato believed a myth is a noble lie. Myth is a concept that unites a culture or tribe. Myth is a process that bonds us together as people. In these difficult times, it’s true to say we need cohesion and connectedness more than ever before.
It’s true one should never directly lie to a child. Engaging in and enjoying the Father Christmas myth is totally different to the practice of lying. The continuance of age old myths is precisely that which bonds us together through and across generations. Is the tooth fairy a lie? Are Apollo and Neptune lies? Is Hans Christian Anderson a scoundrel? Or is JK Rowling guilty of destroying trust? No, each of these is either a myth or a creator of myth.
There needs to be a clear distinction made between myth and lies.
A lie is an untruth, told to hide the reality of a situation for many reasons. Usually, it is to deceive someone or to escape punishment. Sometimes it’s a ‘good’ or utilitarian lie as described by Kant, told with the intention of preventing hurt. Nevertheless, it is still a lie and in Kant’s view wrong. A matter for one’s own conscience perhaps. My grandmother always said, “It’s better to be hurt with the truth than made a fool of with a lie”.


Myth is a different concept. It really does not fit into these categories.
St Nicholas and Later Myths.
Father Christmas, Santa Claus or Papa Noel, emerged from the character St Nicholas of Myra, a bishop believed to have originated from what is now southern Turkey. Popular culture morphed him into Santa Claus in America and then Father Christmas in the UK. He has been visiting children since the 1700’s. It’s interesting to note that in the first illustration of Santa Claus by Nast 1883 – civil war, he is wearing a star-spangled jacket and striped pants.
The myth has powerful social elements. It’s great how talk of Father Christmas bridges the gap between the young and the old, between social class and between faith groups.  Father Christmas is a common denominator between us. He binds us all together.

Myth Binds Culture

If we now remove myth from culture, we destroy common threads that bind us. We throw away imagination and we discard tradition. More worryingly, children lose childhood and memories. They also lose powerful generational models of parenting. So much of ethics, conscience and morality is contained in myth. Lose a myth and fun reduces. More importantly the ability to think abstractly reduces.
Ask any child who no longer believes in Santa Claus whether they felt deceived by their parents over the issue?
I think I know the response. What’s your view?
Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard  Chartered Consultant Psychologist.


Guyer. Paul, (2006), Kant. New York: New York, Routledge.
Moravcsik.J, (1992) Plato and Platonism: Plato’s conception of appearance and reality in ontology, epistemology and ethics and its modern echoes. Oxford.


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Autism – Top tips for reducing sensory overload at Christmas

 Top tips for Xmas

 Top tips for reducing sensory overload at Christmas

Christmas can be great fun for all. A time for good old fashioned family fun. A time when the usual routines follow Santa back up the chimney and melt in the snow.
Yeah right! Not usually the case if you have a son or daughter who has a diagnosis of Asperger’s/Autism.
The change of routine; the carefree get up when you feel like it, the eat when hungry routine usually causes havoc. Havoc leads to a visit from those Autism bad elves; Anxiety, Meltdown and Sensory Overload.
Kids with Asperger’s and Autism can have a great Christmas too. But, it takes a little preparation. The tip is to start the planning early. This allows the child to take on board the necessary information that he or she needs to prevent a spike in anxiety as Christmas draws nearer. Try these simple tips to squeeze the best from the Christmas season.
  1. If you visit  friends or family take food you know s/he will like. No new clothes during the holiday. Use only clothes that are well worn and comfy. If necessary, bribe grandparents not to buy clothes as presents.
  2. Make a mind map of the Christmas celebrations with your child. Design the main days with him or her. Pens, coloring pencils and Post It notes are a must! Explain in full how things will work.  It’s a good idea to devise a strategy for the lack of structure (which other family members need). You do this by describing the kind of things that might happen. Explain that family members may get involved in a range of activities. This allows a mental map to be made in your child’s brain. This reduces anxiety.
  3. Provide a safe space free of sensory overload. Allow your child to take ‘time out’ there, especially when you notice their stress levels rising. No decorations or trees in this place at all. It is fine to allow him or her to eat cheese straws in this den on Xmas day. The big day is not the time to press your child to eat different items.
  4. Have a few of your child’s favourite activities ready. This is just as important as chopping the veg in advance. You might think this is boring at such a fun time BUT the child will appreciate the familiarity.
  5. Take your sensory kit wherever you go. This will reduce the chance of overload.
  6. Scale down expectations. Think ‘It’s a normal day with injections of joy’.
Each of these little things will reduce sensory overload and help you all to enjoy the festive season.  Baa Humbug!
Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard  – Chartered Consultant Adult, Adolescent and Child Psychologist   We  are providers of  independent autism assessments throughout southern England  through Treetops

reducing sensory overload at Xmas


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Parents: Are you a nagger or scaffolder?


Parents: Are you a Nagger or a Scaffolder?

I returned my three eldest grandchildren to their parents after their usual Friday tea.  Their brilliant mum’s smile quickly changed to a look of concern. She watched as each child discarded coat and bag to the floor rather than to the colourful child sized pegs in the hallway.

Why”, she asked, “Can’t they remember to empty their lunchboxes or hang up their uniforms. Why must I remind them every day?”  She continued – “Everybody says they are lovely kids – so why do I constantly have to nag them to do these simple tasks?”  This may also sound familiar to you.

Showing true allegiance to the three amigos, I cautiously suggested she might be about to engage in a spot of ‘scaffolding’ instead of a bout of ‘nagging’.

Over half a century ago, the Russian psychologist, Vygotsky introduced the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) or Scaffolding. Scaffolding is a process where an adult helps a child master something that the child could not otherwise manage alone. Tidying up after themselves does not seem to fit the definition or does it?

Emotionally healthy children are usually totally caught up and immersed in the possibilities of their world. They are bubbling over with the potentialities of life, or they should be. In the few hours after school, they made clay fish in the studio, (now drying for firing and glazing). Spellbound, they had silently watched a marsh harrier and two buzzard’s hunting field mice. They had noisily mastered a drum routine and provided the lowdown on Justin Bieber’s newest hairstyle. Over tea they’d debated truth and honesty. Is it ever ok to lie?  Specifically, “if you don’t want to go to tea at a friend’s house, is it better to tell a lie rather than hurt their feelings?”

Yes, they had to be reminded to wash their hands before tea, prompted to  flush the loo and encouraged to wash hands again. They also needed prompting to remember to take their school clothes home. I believe the word ‘scaffolding’ trumps ‘nagging’.

Kids have busy brains. A preoccupation with their immediate interests ensures they lay down the pathways that leads to a rounded adulthood. The downside is that their cognitive and emotional processing can’t always keep up with their appetite for life.

Parents be reassured – your children won’t grow up to be lazy because they forget to put their lunchbox crusts in the garbage. Children’s frustrating forgetfulness usually means they are simply flying with the wonder of life. Parents are both blessed and cursed with having the job of getting their kids to touch down to earth long enough to do the housekeeping of life. Ironically, nagging is folly – a child isn’t primed to respond to a nag- they know a nag is on a loop, so there is no need to comply quickly. Positive reinforcement may be the way to go.

Now, whose are these trainers on the doorstep?

 Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes.

Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard Chartered Consultant Adult, Adolescent and Child Psychologist

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