The Yes Vote – NZ Referendum on Child Discipline 2009

positive discipline

Positive discipline (also known as positive parenting) is about guiding children’s behavior in ways that enhance children’s self esteem, model desirable behaviors and encourage the development of self-regulation of behavior and responsibility (rather than dependence on external threat to achieve conformity). It does not mean that children do not have limits set on their behaviour or that they are not expected to conform with rules.

Physical punishment is not a part of positive discipline – it is a painful form of punishment that models a violent act, is often administered in anger and retribution rather than as part of guiding a child’s behaviour. Children often don’t understand what they are being punished for and what is expected of them. It detracts from the development of a strong bond between a parents and child or to the child’s sense of safety and security so essential to their healthy development.

Effective discipline is underpinned by:

  • Warmth and parental involvement
  • Clear communication of expectations
  • Giving children reasons
  • Clear limits
  • Being consistent
  • Protecting children from situations that will lead to difficult behaviour occurring.

See our parenting tips for examples of how to put these principles into practice.

These ideas underpin the work of the Government initiative SKIP (Strategies with kids: Information for Children). SKIP is part of the work of the Community and Family Service division of the Ministry of Social Development. It works in partnership with major community organisations, has developed informational pamphlets and other resources and provides funding for locally led positive parenting initiatives many of which have been extremely successful in engaging local parents and their communities.

Before Section 59 of the Crimes Act 1961 was amended in 2007, the statutory defence contained in it was regarded as implicit permission and therefore endorsement of the use of physical discipline. Its existence was inconsistent with what is now known to be best for children.

Two of the most significant reasons for maintaining the present law as it are to:

  • Set a standard in law that is consistent with positive and effective discipline
  • To support government and community efforts to promote positive and effective parenting.

New Zealand’s child discipline law is a good one.
The law supports positive parenting.
The law increases children’s protection from assault.
Please email your MP and ask them to support retention of the current law.

Attitudes about use of physical punishment are a real factor contributing to child abuse. This is because of things like escalating levels of force in situations where mild smacking does not work, growing lack of empathy for a child’s pain over time and unintended injury arising from the assault. Most people who physically abuse a child say that they were trying to discipline the child. Physical punishment is a known risk factor for child abuse.

Other factors also contribute to child abuse. These include poverty, drug and alcohol abuse and intergenerational family violence. They are real too. Attitudes about physical punishment can be addressed through the law change and through parent information and support. Efforts to reduce the use of physical punishment are part of the bigger picture of reducing child abuse, and a part of changes that will, in time, make a difference.

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

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