Archive for January, 2010

The APS Parent guide to helping children manage conflict

January 22, 2010

Understanding some of the stresses that parents undergo in parenting children is an important issue that has received little attention in the recent media debate around a US study on the effectiveness of discipline and smacking children.

Parenting children can be especially challenging during the long summer holidays when families often spend more time together. Warmer weather can also see tempers fray.

Australian Psychological Society (APS) President, Professor Bob Montgomery, said it is helpful for parents to recognise that holiday time, although traditionally for fun and relaxation, can also be quite stressful.

“Children might be squabbling more than usual, asking for things, seeking attention. This can be exhausting and frustrating for parents, with some parents more likely to lose their temper with their children. It can be helpful for parents to use one or more calming strategies before this happens – such as talking to a friend and letting them know how you are feeling, or taking some slow, calming breaths, and saying things to yourself like “stay calm‟. Some parents find that walking out of the room, having a drink of water, or playing some music can help them to calm down, and regain control so that they can deal more effectively with their children.”

Research shows that physical punishment for bad behaviour does not work as well as other ways of disciplining children.

  • If a parent frequently uses physical punishment, children often have trouble learning to control themselves.
  • Physical punishment on its own does not teach children right from wrong.
  • Physical punishment makes children afraid to disobey when parents are present, and when parents are not present to administer the punishment, those same children are more likely to misbehave (Gershoff, 2002).
  • Hitting or spanking your child is likely to decrease the quality of your relationship with them.

The APS Parent guide to helping children manage conflict, aggression and bullying contains useful information about how to manage a child‟s behaviour in an effective way, without being aggressive or unduly punishing the child. More useful strategies include the use of logical consequences, time out, or withdrawal of consequences. This practical guide is freely available from the APS website.

Ending legalised violence against children worldwide – Global Report 2009

January 22, 2010

A recent report published by the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children provides information about world wide progress towards universal prohibition of all corporal (physical) punishment of children.

There are now 26 countries which have enacted laws prohibiting corporal punishment of children in all settings. New Zealand is, of course, one of these. In many other countries there are positive commitments and campaigns underway. The report provides extensive information on the status of countries world-wide.

In New Zealand it is many years since physical punishment was legal in settings other than the home (banned in 2007) but in some parts of the world children are still beaten in schools, penal institutions and alternative care settings and are the victims of outdated, inhumane and violent practices.

Introductory messages to the Report from Marta Santos Pias (Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Violence against Children), Professor Yanghee Lee (Chairperson, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child) and Professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (previously the Independent Expert who led the UN Secretary General’s Study On Violence against Children) all make it clear that respect for children’s human rights to dignity and physical integrity through the banning of corporal punishment is a critical part of protecting children from all violence.

Children’s human right to dignity, physical integrity and full protection from violence are the fundamental underpinnings of a legal ban on use of force in the correction of children. All too often this fact gets lost as New Zealanders debate parent’s perceived right to discipline their children as they see fit and the irrelevant question of whether a small smack does any harm.

“Research” shows that smacking is good for kids?

January 8, 2010

Recently there have been reports in the media in New Zealand and internationally drawing attention to an unpublished study by Marjorie Gunnoe at Calvin College in Michigan USA that purports to have found that children who are smacked occasionally do better at school than children who are never smacked. These findings are, of course, being made much of by proponents of physical discipline – including those who would like to see New Zealand’s 2007 child discipline law overturned.

It needs to be said at the outset that the case for bringing children into line with all other citizens in regard to their rights to protection from assaults does not primarily rest on whether or not smacking is effective or good (or bad) for children. We do not ask the same questions in regard to whether or not assaults might be effective in controlling other groups of citizens whose reasoning is sometimes less developed than other adults – the aged, the mentally ill and those with intellectual disabilities, for example. Removing the legal justification for assaults on children is fundamentally an issue of human rights to full protection from attacks on bodily integrity.

However, that aside, there is now a huge volume of credible research internationally that shows consistently that children who are physically hurt in the course of discipline often have poor relationships with their parents and are more likely to have poor developmental outcomes including emotional problems. Physical punishment is also consistently shown to be a risk factor for child abuse ie children who are physically punished are more likely to be hit hard and suffer injuries than those that are never hit or smacked. Children who experience and witness violence in their own homes can come to regard hitting another person as an acceptable way of behaving.

The following points are relevant when considering the media coverage of Gunnoe’s study:

1. The institution which undertook the research is an avowed sponsor of ‘faith-based inquiry’ not open scientific inquiry. Their stated vision is: “Through our learning, we seek to be agents of renewal in the academy, church, and society. We pledge fidelity to Jesus Christ, offering our hearts and lives to do God’s work in God’s world.”

2. The lead researcher has published work which seems designed to confirm established beliefs of some conservative Christian communities.

3. She is not a recognised contributor to the scientific literature in this field.

4. The report of the study findings has not been published in a recognised scientific journal and so has not been subject to the scientific scrutiny associated with such publication.

5. The media reports are second or third hand and subject to the accompanying distortions.

6. The methodology of the research is unknown. Important points that bear on the validity of its reported conclusions are:

  • Were the smacking and non-smacking groups selected and matched so as isolate smacking and non-smacking as the only significant variables upon which the conclusions were based?
  • How were smacking and non-smacking defined? Was there a severity scale?
  • What were the outcome measures that purportedly distinguished between children who were and were not smacked? Were they chosen so as to be reliably and consistently measurable and were they important? Was the difference statistically significant?

7. If the reported conclusions are legitimate, they require support from repeated studies if they are to have any credibility, i.e. they could be unrepresentative results.

8. Calling an investigation ‘research’ can be aimed at investing it with a respectability that it does not deserve.

Beth Wood and Ian Hassall

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

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