August 7, 2009
Terry Dobbs wrote an insightful piece in today’s Herald, discussing the results of her research and its implications for improving behaviour outcomes for our children. Here are some excerpts:
Proponents of smacking argue it is not child abuse and that smacking and child abuse are not related issues. They claim that physical punishment is only used as a last resort, that smacking is lightly administered and harmless and should be used when a parent is calm and loving.
But how real is this – what do children tell us? In 2005, as part of her Master’s thesis at Otago University, she interviewed 80 children aged between 5 and 14 years old about their experiences and understanding of family discipline. They were from ordinary New Zealand households with no history of child abuse or neglect.
Some 91 per cent of children in the study said they had been physically punished.
Adults may define a smack as something a lot gentler than a hit, but children were clear that a smack is a hard hit that hurts both emotionally and physically.
Fear and pain may sometimes achieve short-term obedience, but in the long term these emotions are unlikely to contribute to positive behavioural outcomes or promote children’s effective learning.
Many of the children believed smacking did not work as a disciplinary tool. They said that the use of time out, having privileges removed or being grounded were far more effective means of discipline.
The children’s responses render many adults’ claims and justifications highly suspect. It is also concerning that quite large numbers of children reported adult behaviour that was in fact abusive.
[Progressing to more effective discipline techniques means] moving on from a number of deeply held and understandable attitudes and emotions – coming to terms with the fact that your own loving parents hit you (they knew no better), that you may have harmed your child’s development (it’s never too late to change that) and that the law can be regarded as a positive move for children rather than an unwelcome imposition on adults.
Our 2007 child discipline law is only two years old – let’s give it time to help New Zealand grow happy, healthy children.
Read the whole article.
Also see a copy of the report “Insights”, which describes the results of Terry Dobbs’s work, and was commissioned by Save the Children