Kiwi families say they are increasingly using positive parenting techniques because they work, according to 100 ordinary families’ descriptions of their own parenting methods.
Interviews were conducted with 117 parents from 100 families as part of a Families Commission Blue Skies funded project that investigated what kind of discipline strategies are used by today’s families with their pre-school children. Researchers Julie Lawrence and Anne B Smith also asked families to record their discipline practices in parenting diaries.
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.
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
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)
Kathryn Ryan interviews Prof Anne Smith, Murray Edridge, and Bob McCoskrie on Radio New Zealand’s Nine to Noon programme this morning.
Anne Smith is Professor Emeritus at Otago University’s College of Education, and discusses her research on child discipline that shows that less than 10% of parents feel that smacking is effective; she says that most of the parents involved in her study that smacked their children regretted it afterwards, and that the smacking had more to do with the parents’ state of mind, tiredness, etc than the child’s behaviour.
She also discusses parents’ reaction the current law. In her study, 47% supported the current Child Discipline Law, 27% were against it, with the rest undecided.
Prof Smith said that only a tiny minority of experts believe that smacking is effective, and that the present law is working well.
Murray Edridge (CEO Barnardos) and Bob McCoskrie (Family First) comment on the research and the referendum.
More evidence is emerging that Kiwi parents are favouring positive parenting strategies for disciplining their children over smacking or hitting.
New Zealand is nearing the second anniversary of the law change that gave children the same legal protection against assault as adults.
New information on family discipline practices is being presented tomorrow (Tuesday June 16 2009) in Wellington at the Families Commission annual research seminar. The early findings are from the second report on a study of 100 families carried out by Otago University researchers Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith. The report, funded by the Commission, will be published in a few months.
Professor Smith said, “In our research four out of ten of the parents said that they occasionally smacked their children. However, less than one in ten felt it was effective.”
In contrast, timeout, which was the most commonly used disciplinary strategy was thought to be effective by four out of ten parents.
“Parents who had been brought up being whacked as children were often determined to do it differently and had moved away from smacking their own children.”
Professor Smith said the parents in the study were much less accepting or supportive of physical punishment than those in studies done ten and 20 years ago. These latest findings agreed with a 2008 survey done funded by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
Chief Commissioner of the Families Commission, Dr Jan Pryor, says the repeal of Section 59 sent a clear signal that hitting children was not acceptable and this study shows attitudes appear to be changing.
“Consistent parenting strategies which use rewards, distraction and consequences such as timeout are proven to be more effective at teaching children self discipline than physical punishment.
“The law is working well, parents are not being criminalised for trivial offences and there is growing understanding and use of positive parenting strategies,” she said.
The researchers found that submitters to the select committee who saw children as “human beings” were more likely to support the 2007 law change than those that regarded children as “human becomings”.
The second article by Julie Lawrence and Anne Smith, A place where it’s not ok to hit children, looks at how professionals approach the task of communicating, guiding and advising families with young children about disciplinary issues. They found that parents sought advice on discipline, and that most professionals disagreed with the use of physical discipline but expressed caution about telling parents that they thought smacking was harmful. The research was conducted before the law change and it is possible that professionals now have an added challenge – how to tell parents about the law change.
A major implication of both these pieces of research is the need to continue to raise public awareness about child development, positive child discipline and the law.
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