Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith: Family discipline in context

June 16, 2009

Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith presented their interim findings from their research at Otago University today at the Families Commission’s Annual Research Seminar.

We’re pleased to be able to bring you a slideshow and audio of their talk.

Audio:

Abstract:

Family discipline is a controversial topic which has been debated for centuries, and which is known to have a lifelong effect on the well being of children. This report provides a snapshot of the views, experiences and practices of a sample of 100 New Zealand families, in relation to the discipline of their preschool children.

Parents/caregivers were asked about what they believed about discipline, how they disciplined their children, and the type of support and stress that they experienced with parenting. The study also looked at the effect of child and family characteristics and context over time, on discipline. The study used a multi-method approach, involving semi-structured parent interviews, parent diaries of disciplinary events over three days in a two week period, and a standardised tool, the Parenting Daily Hassles scale. One hundred and seventeen caregivers comprised the national sample – 99 mothers, 18 fathers, one grandfather and two grandmothers. The findings include the following headings: beliefs about discipline; disciplinary practices; the influence of child and family characteristics, stresses, context and support. The findings suggest a more favourable picture of New Zealand parents’ disciplinary practice than previous research has, showing that the majority of parents took an authoritative (firm but warm) approach, and suggests that professionals who work with families could benefit from professional development programmes focusing on effective approaches to discipline.

Background:

  • Research shows disciplinary practices during childhood have lifelong consequences
  • Most previous research has focused on broad surveys and physical punishment – NZ parents favour relatively negative disciplinary techniques (Ritchie & Ritchie; Maxwell)
  • Need for better parent education and support in context of legal change in NZ
  • Little knowledge of the challenges parents face in using discipline in everyday contexts

Research questions:

  • What do New Zealand families with preschool age children believe about appropriate disciplinary practices for children?
  • What are the range and typical uses of discipline in New Zealand families?
  • How are family disciplinary practices influenced by context and events over time?
  • What type of support (if any) do families receive in their parenting with young children?

Summary of findings:

  • Majority of parents use authoritative or mixed approach (ie sometimes they are permissive)
  • Positive methods (rewards, praise and reasoning) more commonly used than negative methods (smacking or shouting). Timeout the most common punishment.
  • No enthusiasm for physical punishment.
  • Own experience of parenting important – but can be rejected.
  • Books and TV hugely important source of info and support.
  • Family and friends important supports but also early childhood teachers (other professionals less mentioned)

You can also download the presentation (PDF)

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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