Posts Tagged early childhood

Toni Christie: Spare the rod and free the child

May 17, 2009

I support the new law regarding child discipline – it is an important step in the way forward for a more peaceful and positive New Zealand.

I am the Principal of Childspace, a group of five private child-care centres and a mother of two children who have never been smacked.  I am a member of Amnesty International Children’s Rights network and also a passionate anti-smacker.

I believe the upcoming referendum on the Child Discipline Law is absolutely ridiculous, expensive, and unnecessary.

Shifting societal attitudes no longer condone smacking as a socially acceptable form of punishment for our children.  The more we learn and understand about young children the less acceptable smacking becomes.  This can very easily be illustrated by the opinions of our own country’s top experts on early childhood, education, and children’s rights.  I would challenge anyone to find a leader in any of these fields who condones smacking.

Ian Hassall’s book “Hitting children – unjust, unwise and unnecessary” (1993) is crystal clear.   Prior to the law reform in 2007 he stated that “…research evidence is that it [hitting] is a poor way of inducing good behaviour and performance.”  He goes on to point out that “…the law does not permit us to inflict pain on anyone other than our children.”  Animals are afforded greater protection by law.  Trespassers are also afforded better protection by law as section 56 of the Crimes Act allows the use of reasonable force except with a blow or an object.  So no wooden spoons or belts for trespassers!

There used to be a commonly held view among New Zealanders that children require the occasional smack to keep them in line.  In fact at a party prior to reform I broached the subject with a group of people who didn’t yet have children of their own.  Most were emphatic that they would be using smacking as a punishment for their as yet unborn children.  Upon further questioning it seemed their rationale for this was that they were smacked and they turned out alright.  It is exactly this cultural norm that the law change has challenged.  It can only be positive for the children in this country that we are now sending a message to present and future parents that smacking is an inappropriate and illegal reaction for an adult to have towards their child.

Not so long ago society argued that women, slaves and prisoners must be kept in line by the use of physical force.  These are now considered part of a barbaric and ignorant past.  There are not many things we could be sure of one hundred years from now but one of them is that it will no longer be legal or socially acceptable to bring harm to your own children.  This also will be considered part of our barbaric and ignorant past.

I was smacked when I was a child and I can still remember my mother reaching for the hairbrush she used to smack me.  I can also remember her placing her hands around my throat and telling me that sometimes she could just strangle me.  Is this justified and reasonable force?  Or is it out of control parental anger sanctioned by the law?  Either way I cannot blame my mother because she was young, poor, and living in a society where her elders, peers, and the law saw physical violence toward children as acceptable.   Now we know better and we must help educate parents about how to teach children in non-violent ways.

In the early childhood programmes for which I am responsible we spend a great deal of time and effort modelling and teaching the children appropriate ways of dealing with angry or frustrated feelings.  The children pick up our non-violent approach very easily. We do, however have families where we know smacking is the method for dealing with these feelings and the impact on those children is huge.  They are quicker to anger, less emotionally stable, have shorter attention spans, more inclined towards bullying and less likely to behave appropriately.  These children also tend to come from less educated family backgrounds than their peers. In her 1993 report on physical punishment in the home in New Zealand,  Gabrielle Maxwell concludes that “The most highly educated group were more likely to report explaining and discussing matters.  They were less likely to report telling off, yelling, or smacking. ”

The 2007 Child Discipline Law was such a positive thing for the future of our country.  It would be criminal to amend it in any way now.  Children are not parental possessions, they are people with rights of their own.  Questioning of the practice of hitting children tends to make people feel uncomfortable.  Perhaps they have not questioned the practice themselves?  Perhaps they have an idea that it isn’t quite right?  Perhaps they now feel some guilt that it was their practice as a parent in the past?

Bringing in the 2007 law has been a consciousness-raising exercise.  It would be naïve to suggest that it has eliminated the practice completely, and it is simply scaremongering to suggest that parents will be charged for a light and occasional smack.  But it is making parents question their reasons for wanting to smack their children.  Just as not all wives are safe from spousal abuse, not all children are safe from smacking, but any law change that reduces the violence in any form has always been a change for the good of society.

New Zealand was one of 193 countries to ratify the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child.  Article 19 of the Convention clearly states that legislative measures should be made to ensure children are safe from physical violence while in the care of their parents.  Since the 2007 law change, we are complying with our obligations under the convention.  Let’s not turn back the clock on this.

Should we be teaching children to rule with force?  Could our country become a more peaceful place to live if children were safe from violence inflicted by the people they love most in the place they should feel most safe?  Spare the rod and free the child. 

Vote “YES” in referendum 2009.

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

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